Phast Phood – One, two, three…onigiri!

Looks like PhDJ’s in an Asian summer spell with the recent posts–the siomai and the lunchtime haiku.  While the Western world is preoccupied with football and psychic octopi, from which takoyaki balls are made from, here’s another Asian food post.

Project Onigiri - the tools

In a recent care-package from home, my mother included my never-been-used twin onigiri molds.

Now, wait a sec…what IS an onigiri?

As is nicely explained here, onigiri is a pressed rice ball.  Well, “ball” here can come in different shapes, like triangles, cylinders…even Hello Kitty heads. Traditionally, onigiri were made by hand, hence the basic ball, triangle and cylinder shapes . Nori (a kind of seaweed, often roasted and pressed into sheets) wrappers are optional–though they serve as edible Saran wraps, as these rice balls are often packed by travellers.

Onigiri in mold

For this set of onigiri, I used a mold. For practical reasons–as much as possible (since it’s summer), I want to minimize hand contact with cooked food to prevent spoilage, AND I hate the feeling of sticky rice between my fingers!

Materials

  • Short-grain Japanese rice
  • Nori sheets
  • Savory fillings – I used canned salmon and leftover dal cooked in masala
  • Fine sea salt (optional)
  • Onigiri mold…or your ultra-clean hands (with a bowl of salted water nearby)

Methodology

  • Cook Japanese rice according to product instructions.
  • Rinse the insides of the mold.  You may sprinkle salt* to coat the inner walls.
  • Fluff rice. Half-fill the mold with the rice (do not press!). If you have fillings on hand, make a shallow well in the center.
  • Add the filling, then loosely cover with more rice. Cover with the other half of the mold and press down.
  • Unmold the rice ball.  Serve as is, or wrap it with nori.

Results and Discussion

Rice. Sorry to say, but our favorite staple–long-grain Thai rice–just doesn’t cut it.  I had to learn it the hard way in a previous attempt, with brown jasmine rice.  Japanese rice is sticky enough to keep its molded shape, but not too sticky and heavy like glutinous rice.

Salt? The simplest onigiri is an unfilled rice ball coated with salt with a strip of nori to keep sticky fingers at bay while eating.  Salt here serves as a flavoring AND as a short-term preservative (well, unless you bury it in salt, but the result will be very unpalatable BUT preserved).

Plain vs wrapped

Fillings? One great thing about onigiri is that anything that goes well with rice can be stuffed inside the ball, triangle, cylinder…what have you. 🙂 Just make sure that it’s sufficiently dry enough to not seep through the rice and make the structure crumble, nori or no nori.

No mold? Well, you can try using a small teacup + cling-film…or just have very clean hands dampened with salted water.

Wrapping up

What makes this dish as a perfect item for packed lunches and quick food for grad-school foodies is that this can be made in 15-minutes flat, provided that there are fillings on hand.  15 minutes–that’s the average time in cooking rice.

One, two, three, onigiri!

To simplify things further, especially for those watching their budgets and summer calories, the fillings can be made in advance and stored in the fridge.  Or the rice balls can be made in advance, wrapped in nori, then in cling-film, then placed in freezer bags and boxes before storing them in the fridge (or freezing them)–to eat them, just pop a piece or two in the microwave for a minute then it’s good as fresh.

I foresee a week of stuffed onigiri and a cup of fruit yoghurt for my lunch…

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5 Simple Rules to Eating Weißwurst

One of the things that’s good when somebody finishes a Ph.D. degree in our lab, aside from the consolation that there is an end to the misery, is the celebratory buffet afterwards. Traditionally thrown by the lab folks for the graduating student, I think all the Ph.D. students who graduated in the past two years in our lab, organized the buffet themselves (well with a little help from Mom). Where canapés are the norm, Kathrin broke the mold with her post-defense buffet.

You may remember Kathrin from one of my previous posts. She taught me how to make Spätzle from scratch. One thing I failed to mention was she’s from the great German state of Bavaria, home of Oktoberfest, the Dirndl, Lederhosen, and FC Bayern. Her family (parents, grandpa, uncle, and cousins) drove all the way from Bavaria to Saarland and brought with them kilos worth of Weißwurst.

I have stayed in Germany for 3 years now and I must say that I have never ever tried Weißwurst before Kathrin’s defense. It’s more of a Bavarian thing. I live in Saarland, where Schwenker, Merguez, and Lyoner are all the rage.

There are a five simple rules to enjoying a Weißwurst.

Rule #1: It must be cooked in hot water

Weißwurst is never cooked on a grill, unlike other sauseges in Germany. It is made with thin sausage skin which might burst when put on a hot grill. Instead it is poached slowly in hot, not boiling, water for 10 minutes. Never use boiling water as it is too hot for the sausage skin to bear.

Rule #2: It must be eaten before noon

We didn’t follow this rule because Kathrin’s defense was in the afternoon but, the Weißwurst is traditionally eaten before lunch. Why you might ask? It is prepared without any preservatives, ergo must be consumed as soon as possible, preferably the morning it was made.

Rule #3: It MUST be eaten with a pretzel and sweet mustard

There was one comedy moment during the buffet when Kathrin’s dad, who was manning the Weißwurst pot, sent one of our foreign students back because she asked for a piece of Weißwurst whilst having a piece of Butterkuchen on her plate. He was horrified by the idea of mixing the two together.

A pair of Weißwurst must be eaten with pretzel and sweet mustard. Not just any sweet mustard, I was told. It has to be Händlmaier Süßersenf. My other German colleagues started to disagree, but Kathrin shut them down with her very aggressive persuasive “Nein!”. She argued that Händlmaier is the original, therefore the only choice for sweet mustard.

I know I wrote a pair of Weißwurst. The other one was still in the pot.

Rule #4: It must be skinned before eating

Unlike most sausages in Germany which are eaten whole (not all at once!), the Weißwurst has to be carefully taken out of its skin before consuming.

There are several techniques:

  1. Suck out the contents from one end of the sausage, a technique called zuzeln.
  2. Make an incision lengthwise and remove the skin using your knife and fork.
  3. Slit one end of the sausage and with the skin flap caught between the knife and your thumb, peel the skin in one solid stroke.

Thorsten, our office’s biggest fan of Bavaria, taught me the third technique and I must say it’s the fastest way to get the skin off of the meat.

Rule #5: It can only be partnered with Weizenbier (wheat beer)

This is not a strict rule, as not everyone are fans of Weizenbier. Traditionally, Weißwurst and Weizenbier go together. Weizenbier is not as fancy as wine, but unlike Pils that one can drink straight from the bottle, Weizenbier must be served in a Weizenbierglas.

Weizenbiergläser

So there you go, five simple rules to enjoy a Weißwurst. Abide by them while in the presence of a Bavarian.

These rules are Chef-approved!

Travel PhooD: Ladurée

Address: 75, Avenue des Champs Elysées, 75008 Paris, France

Damage: 10€/8-piece boîte simple (1.25€/piece), 14.90€/8 pieces in a gift box, 5.90€/Mont Blanc

My discovery of Ladurée, one of Paris’ most well-known luxury pâtisseries, began much like my obsession with macarons themselves – suddenly and inexplicably, but a pleasant surprise.  Macarons are simply baked meringues made of almond flour, but the double-decker maracons, invented by Pierre Desfontaines of Ladurée in 1930, feature a creamy ganache centre sandwiched between two delicate meringue shells.  Today, Ladurée sells (according to Wiki) 15,000 of these babies a day – given the lineup Kookie and I encountered today (a nice balmy 23C in Paris), that’s not too hard to believe.

There are several locations around Paris, though the original one is near Place de Concorde, just off of Rue Saint-Honoré.  The one that I always visit, without fail, though, every time I’m in Paris is the Champs Elysée location – it’s the most easily accessible, and I don’t have to make an extra trip to get there (l’Arc de Triomphe is just up two or three blocks).

Ladurée sells much more than just macarons; they also do delicious flaky pastries and some gorgeous looking chocolates.  But let’s not kid ourselves – most people are here for the macarons.  There is a wide selection of core flavours – vanille, citron, pétales de rose, caramel, pistasche, among others – as well as some few season-specific flavours, such as noix de coco and menthe in the summer, and marrons and praliné in the winter.  The reason Ladurée is so famous for them (other than the fact that they did indeed invent this style) is that they are fantasically delicious.  The texture of the meringue is perfect – a crispy shell with a delicately chewy interior.  To feed my macaron addiction, I’ve had macarons the world over, but nothing compares to the first macaron I ever had from Ladurée (vanille, Christmas Day, 2007)…except other flavours from Ladurée.  So far, the only other place that comes close is Pierre Hermé, but I find the flavours a bit out-there sometimes (Ladurée is very tranditional).

As well as rotating flavours, the gift boxes also change their design every month.  This month features several mademoiselles wearing various Ladurée pastries – Camélia here is sporting a Saint-Honoré hat.

The other thing Ladurée is famous for is its desserts- Saint-Honoré, Religieuses, Divin, Ispahan, and Mont-Blanc.  You’re not allowed to take photos inside (of course, I didn’t know that when I took the pastry photo above), but it’s truly amazing to see all their desserts lined up behind the counter.  As a treat (ok, an extra treat), I bought a Mont-Blanc to take home (yes, on a 5-hour bus back to Saarbrücken.  Somehow, it survived).

I have yet to eat it, but I’m sure it will be delicious.  And I guess the next time I’m in Paris, we’ll get a review of Pierre Hermé (I have to try his signature Ispahan)!

Travel PhooD: Thomas Haas

    City: Vancouver, Canada
    Location: 998 Harbourside Drive, North Vancouver; 2539 West Broadway Avenue, Vancouver
    Eaten: Small hot chocolate and double-baked almond croissant
    Damage: $11.08CAD

    There used to be a bakery called sen5es that made gorgeous cakes in the Metropolitan Hotel in downtown Vancouver.  Their head pastry chef, Thomas Haas, also did dessert consulting for the restaurant attached to the hotel, Diva at the Met (so, unsurprisingly, their desserts are also delicious!).  The Met started renovations a few years back and, as such, I didn’t ever get a chance to try any of their cakes.  However, I soon discovered (thanks to the internet) that Chef Haas also owned a bakery and chocolate shop out in North Vancouver – why not go straight to the source?

    The trek out to North Vancouver was a rather long one, a good two hours one-way, so I always set aside an entire half day to go (it’s not somewhere you go on a whim unless you have a lot of free time).  I’d have to walk about 30 minutes from the nearest bus stop to the pastry shop, which was located at the end of a quiet industrial street – not exactly the place you’d expect to find a world-class chocolatier and pâtissier.

    Thomas Haas is a fourth-generation pastry chef, whose great-grandfather opened the Café Konditorei Haas in Aichhalden bei Schramberg in the Schwarzwald (eng.: Black Forest) in Germany in 1918.  He is one of the top pastry chefs in Canada and has won a number of awards, and every time I go back to his shop, I’m so excited to try his chocolates.  So when I heard from my former professor at UBC that a second location in Kerrisdale had been opened, I absolutely had to go visit.

    Though I really love Haas chocolates (my favourite is the vanilla with smoked Hawaiian sea salt chocolate caramel, but do try them all), the star of his pastry case has to be the double-baked almond croissant.  Out of all the croissants I’ve eaten anywhere in the world (and I’ve eaten a lot more than I care to remember), this has to be the best one.  Yes, the BEST one.  Better than Paul, better than Ladurée – I’ve never had a croissant like it before.  The outside is incredibly golden and flaky, smothered in thinly-sliced toasted almonds and a light dusting of powdered sugar; inside is a soft, sweet almond filling.  You can tell they don’t skimp on the butter with every delicious, crispy bite.

    The hot chocolate was rich and silky dark chocolate with a thick layer of foam and a cocoa powder heard dusted on top.  An excellent accompaniment to any of the desserts, but together with the croissant, it was a little too much for one person.  I still felt really full four hours later.  A better idea would be to go with friend, get two hot chocolates, and split a croissant.  You’ll also feel slightly less guilty if you decide to try a second dessert. =)

    The Kerrisdale location is a little more spacious and has more seating, but I still think the chocolate selection is better at the original North Vancouver location.  If you’re lucky, you might even seen Chef Haas himself!

    Travel PhooD: Breakfast at Medina’s

    City: Vancouver, Canada
    Location: 556 Beatty Street, Crosstown
    Eaten: Soft-boiled egg, bacon, and Belgian waffle with white chocolate pistachio rosewater sauce
    Damage: $12CAD + tax

    David N. (who treated me to breakfast – thanks, honey!) and I like to joke that Medina represents everything that is simultaneously great and absolutely wrong about Vancouver.  Located in Crosstown, a bit of a developing (read: gentrifying) neighbourhood sandwiched between the affluent Downtown core and homeless/prostitution/drug-riddled Downtown Eastside, and next door to our old first-year dinner hangout, Chambar, Medina looks like a typical Vancouver café from the first step inside.  The glass windows run from about three feet off the ground up to the vaulted ceiling, and single light bulbs hang from the ceiling.  The bar sits on the right side, the espresso machine waiting, with a few stools lined up at the counter.  Along the opposite wall (brick, of course) runs a padded bench behind lacquered wood tables.  The restaurant itself is narrow, but long – typical, because Vancouver retail lots seem to be becoming increasingly disproportionately rectangular (window space must be a premium!).

    Bacon and eggs, Medina-style

    The food at Medina’s is quite good – in addition to the typical eggs-bacon-fruit fare (which, as I will explain later, is not all so typical after all), there are brunch specials like Les Boulettes (2 poached eggs, spicy Moroccan meatballs, cilantro, hummus cucumber tomato salad and a piece of grilled focaccia) and the Fricasse (2 fried eggs on braised short ribs, roasted potatoes, carmelized onions, arugula and smoked applewood cheddar with grilled focaccia, both descriptions from Medina’s website!), which I can both heartily recommend, as we tried them the last time I was in Vancouver.  Their waffles are slightly crispy with a soft inside, with additional sauces on the side (ranging from classic mixed berry compote and fig orange marmalade to the more adventurous milk chocolate lavender and white chocolate pistachio rosewater).

    Ever wonder what $1.25/slice bacon looks like? You're looking at it.

    I said I’d say something about the bacon, so here it is.  If there’s one dish that really just embodies why exactly I would call Medina’s just plain wrong sometimes, it’s this one.  First of all, four strips of bacon shouldn’t cost $5CAD.  Ever.  Granted, it was really good bacon, but that’s not the point.  Secondly, this ain’t no Average Joe rasher, no sir – this is thick-cut, farmers-style bacon.  And lastly, it’s served on a square white plate with – get this – a drizzle of balsamic on the side.  Too much, perhaps?

    Overall, Medina’s is a good place to sit down once in a while and have a chat with some friends over breakfast or brunch.  The food is good, but it definitely won’t be cheap (if you are looking for cheap breakfast food, Denny’s is both cheap and filling – Grand Slam, anyone?).  The service is attentive, but the place really isn’t all that big, anyway.  I’d come here again, but only once every few weeks as a nice treat!

    Travel PhooD: beard papa’s

    City: All over!

    Damage:  $9CAD/half-dozen, $1.75 each

    With a name like beard papa’s, one wouldn’t really guess that this was a cream puff chain.  However, this popular cream puff shop has expanded far beyond its Japanese roots, to Vancouver, New York, Sydney, and even London (on Oxford Street).

    Is it called Beard Papa's because his head looks like the cream puffs (or the other way around)?

    There’s more than cream puffs for sale – they also offer cheesecake sticks and chocolate fondant – but the real stars are definitely those giant cream puffs.  About the size of a small fist, these treats have a flaky outer shell with a freshly-piped creamy filling more akin to custard than whipped cream (though it’s a mix of both) – guaranteed to change your view on cream puffs.  In addition to the classic vanilla flavour, they also offer several specialty flavours in rotation: caramel, strawberry, chocolate, and my personal favourite, green tea.

    Mmmm, green tea
    A more conventional flavour, caramel

    Travel PhooD: Japadog

    City: Vancouver, Canada

    Location: Burrard and Smithe; Burrard and Pender; 530 Robson St. (coming soon)

    Damage: $6.25CAD for one Okonomi hot dog

    The Japadog stand is somewhat of a Vancouver institution.  What started out as a creative twist to regular street vendor hot dogs has become so popular in recent years, they’ve actually been able to set up a second location, and are opening a store on Robson street by the Central Library (who’d ever heard of a chain hotdog stand?!).  And it just keeps getting more popular – what recession?

    I think I picked the wrong day to come (I'm halfway through the queue)...

    Japadogs are essentially normal hot dogs – the kind you would buy from any stand on Robson St./Burrard St./etc. – with Japanese toppings.  In 2005, Noriki Tamura, the owner of Japadog, wanted to open a street food stand.  However, due to archaic Vancouver by-laws, only pre-cooked, ready-to-eat foods are allowed to be sold, which basically means no crêpes, no curry fish balls…heck, I’m not even too sure fries are ok.  Probably not.

    So basically…you can sell hot dogs.  But there are so many hot dog stands in Vancouver already (since no one can sell anything else!); how do you attract customers to yours?  The answer – make unique toppings that would appeal to locals and tourists alike.  Throw in a few colourful signs and cute Japanese service (read: lots of quick bowing and ‘お好みです!プリズインジョイー!/Okonomi desu!  Pureesu enjoy!’ – they’re so polite! ♥♥♥) and voilà! – Japadog was born.

    I’ve visited quite Japadog a number of times, mostly when I feel adventurous or particularly Vancouver-y.  Japadog is rather popular, so most days, the queue is about 15 minutes long.  On a sunny day, be prepared to wait almost an hour!  If the queue is especially long and you’re starving, drink something while waiting in line – it can be slow torture, because the closer you get, the more the tantalising the smell gets, gently teasing your olfactory senses until you get to the front of the line…

    …only to order and go and stand in the pick-up line (cruel, eh?).  But from here, you can see how they make the toppings!  First-timers normally get the Terimayo – a beef sausage dressed in Japanese mayonnaise and teriyaki sauce with shredded nori (dried seaweed).  However, since I’m not the biggest fan of teriyaki sauce, I prefer the Okonomi – pork sausage with fried cabbage, okonomiyaki sauce (just a bit) and Japanese mayo, topped with bonito flakes.  There’s also the Oroshi – a generous scoop of grated radish on top of a pork sausage with green onions and soy sauce – and the Ume – raw red onions on a pork sausage with ume (plum) sauce.  There’s even an Edamame version – Edamame beans packed inside a sliced pork sausage – but I have yet to try it.

    Here’s another thing I discovered here – wasabi (deu.: Meerrettich) mayonnaise is fantastic.  Its pleasant light green colour, coupled with its subtle kick of hotness, almost ensures that I will never again be satisfied with regular Japanese mayo.

    I have to admit, Japadog is not exactly the cheapest hot dog you’ll ever have, or perhaps even the tastiest.  It is, however, an interesting experience definitely worth checking out!

    Travel PhooD: Granville Island – Lunch with a View

    City: Vancouver, Canada

    Damage: $7.06 for a slice of tortière and a 355mL bottle of Raspberry Guava Koala

    One of the most quintessential Vancouver hotspots is Granville Island, nestled under the Granville St. Bridge and jutting out into False Creek.

    The highlight of the Island is the Public Market, home to numerous fresh produce stands, organic and whole foods stores, bakeries and sweets, seafood, cheese and charcuteries.  It’s most busy in the summer, when throngs of tourists and locals alike pack the narrow corridors inside and spill into the outdoor patio.

    Outdoor dock

    When the weather is fair, the dock outdoors makes a great place to grab a bite to eat, though most things bought in the Market itself are admittedly overpriced.  It’s a better idea to bring lunch with you (there’s a Save-On-Foods about a 20-minute walk from the Island which most people pass by on the way in anyway), but if you find yourself starving, or just curious as to what the stalls have to offer, my best suggestion is to pick up something from a place that doesn’t look like a food-service stall.  Of course, you can always skip lunch and head straight for something sweet…

    …but if you have a craving for something a little more ‘normal’ (a relative term, I assure you), you can buy a few buns and some cold cuts from one of the meat places and make yourself a sandwich, or grab one of the premade items at a bakery.  On this particular day, I bought a slice of tourtière and a bottle of raspberry/guava Koala from Laurelle’s Fine Foods, a bakery that sells ready-to-eat pies and salads.

    For those of you that don’t know (which will be most of you), tourtière is a French-Canadian meat pie traditionally served during the winter holiday season.  Warm and savoury, the ground meat, usually pork, is spiced with nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and sage; the smell is reminiscent of rustic Christmases gone by.

    If you’re still hungry after lunch, you can also grab a small snack at any of the stalls.  My brother’s favourite place is Lee’s Donuts, where you can buy freshly baked cake donuts by the dozen.  I, however, think the best deal in the Market are the sticks of pepperoni at one of the meat places – the price of $1/stick hasn’t changed in almost ten years.  And for dessert, maybe a cake from Stuart’s – Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, anyone?

    The White Queen Project (or how I decided to join in the PhDJ baking wagon)

    February is historically the most stressful time for me.  With only 28 days (or 29 during leap-years), work seems to pile up quicker than other months, not to mention that it’s the month with the notorious commercial holiday called “single awareness day” (SAD – a.k.a., St. Valentine’s Day).  So instead of being crabby and sick (I was, and still am, down with the winter colds), I decided to go on a personal project in which to focus my stressed-out energies.

    When the going in the lab (and love) gets tough, the tough goes…to the kitchen. And goes cooking, or baking. Or whatever.

    In the spirit of sharing my affection to others, I chose baking.  Challenging for someone whose last memory of baking was when she was a nine-year-old helping her mom make plain cake.  Obviously, I have no solo skills in this area of kitchen-craft.  But I just had the audacity to tackle this famous Julia Child recipe, “Reine de Saba (Queen of Sheba)” .  And, being my contrary self, I changed the chocolate-butter icing for a white-chocolate-with-amaretto version.

    Thus, the White Queen Project was done, on St. Valentine’s Eve, nonetheless.

    The White Queen

    Don’t be fooled by the white-chocolate—this fair lady has a dark, fudgy (and mischievous, with  almonds and amaretto) heart.

    The white queen has a dark heart
    The White Queen's cross-section before she disappeared somewhere in ACL

    And, judging by the oohs and aahs of the Sunday taste-testers (thank you for being my guinea pigs, ACL guys!), and how fast the plate was cleaned off…well, SAD was a happy day for me this year. Despite the colds and the fever.

    My rating for this recipe? This was easy to follow…except that  of “folding egg whites”.  Believe me or not, the cake featured here was actually my second attempt that night.  Just don’t ask what happened to the first one. O_O;  For PhDJ purposes, Julia Child’s Reine de Saba is an STFW for newbies like me, but a quickie for experienced bakers like Kookie and David.

    And I want to do the White Queen Project again.  For a different occasion, like a status change. 🙂

    Christmas Markets – Germany and Beyond

    Falling snowflakes always make me smile, but now, at the top of February, even I’ll admit that the snow on the roads is starting to get a bit annoying.  Somehow, snow before Christmas always seems like a pleasant surprise, and snow after the New Year just seems to be a hindrance.  Yes, I wish it was still December, too.

    Last December, Joanne and I went on a bit of a mini-tour of Europe, stopping by several Christmas markets on the way (9 in total).  Christmas markets (deu: Weihnachtsmarkt or Christkindlmarkt) are very traditional for Germany and usually coincide with the beginning of Advent.  Dating back to the Middle Ages, there’s one in almost every German town (or so I’ve been told).  Some were small and quaint and some were massive, taking hours to navigate.  Some cities – Prague, Berlin, Vienna – had several.  So which one was the best?  Find out below…

    Saarbrücken

    Saarbrücker Weihnachtsmarkt with friends

    My Christmas market experience started this year, as it did the year before, in my current place of residence, Saarbrücken.  One of the most unique aspects of the market here is that, twice an evening at 17:00 and 19:00, Santa Claus flies across the market in a sleigh running along a wire.  Now, I can imagine this would cause a whole slew of legal problems in North America – what happens if the sleigh falls, or something drops on someone from that height, who do we sue – but the Europeans, I find, have a much more lax sense of safety and a greater sense of adventure.  He is accompanied by David’s favourite Christmas song (Wi-Wa-Weihnachtsman, komm mit deinem Schlitten an…).  There are typical Saarlandisch specialties, a mix of French and German cuisine, including Joanne’s favourite Christmas market snack that year – Schwenker.  And of course, there’s always the wonderfulness of standing around drinking Glühwein with a large group of friends =)

    Strasbourg

    Christkindlmarkt at Place de la Cathédrale

    The self-titled ‘Capitale de Noël’, in the Alsace region just across the border from where I am, has a number of Christmas markets.  The nicest ones are at Place de la Cathédrale and the one at place Broglie (Christkindelsmärik).  The one in front of the cathedral is especially breathtaking at night – the glow from the stalls, the smell of tarte flambée (deu: Flammkuchen), ‘Glüe Wein’, four-cheese baguettes, spiced apple cider, and freshly made crêpes.

    Rothenburg ob der Tauber

    Quaint Rothenburg ob der Tauber

    My friend Florian once said to me, “Rothenburg ob der Tauber?  Yes, I know where that is.  But why would you want to go there?!  There’s nothing!”  Well, Flo, perhaps you don’t understand their magic appeal on tourists like me 😉  Rothenburg fulfils every image I ever had of a quaint medieval Christmas – it’s that good.  The market itself is a bit small, since there’s only so much space, but the setting makes it feel very traditional.  Be sure to also stop by Käthe Wohlfahrt (Herrngasse 1) for Christmas, any time of the year.  And stay away from Schneeballen – you’ve been warned.

    Nürnburg

    Am Nürnburger Hauptmarkt

    The most dominant feature of the Nürnburger Christkindlmarkt is the shear abundance of Lebkuchen, the most famous of which comes from Lebkuchen Schmidt (Plobenhofstrasse 6, am Hauptmarkt).  Lebkuchen is a soft, gingerbready cross between cake and a cookie, with honey, nuts, and spices, but without those horrible green and red “fruit” pieces as in fruitcake.  Nürnburger Lebkuchen is a Protected Designation of Origin, and is one of the first things that I buy during the Christmas season (I could polish off a 10-pack in two days).

    München

    Münchener Christkindlmarkt at Marienplatz

    The heart of Bavaria features a sprawling Christkindlmarkt that runs down Neuhauserstrasse and Kaufingerstrasse to Marienplatz, the heart of the city.  There, the market lies in front of the Rathaus, lively and filled with Glühwein and grill stands.  I found that the Münchener market also had an unusual number of roasted nut stands…not that I’m complaining.  There were toasted almonds of all sorts – normal sugar, Nutella, dark chocolate, cinnamon, even a special Christmas blend – and it served as my late-night snack on the overnight train to Rome.

    Wien

    Freshly baked doughnuts at the Wiener Rathausplatz Weihnachtsmarkt

    I experienced my first Germanic Christmas market here in 2007 with Candy, and I will never forget the taste of fresh Apfelkrapfen from the Weihnachtsmarkt in front of the Rathaus.  I had the unfortunate experience of eating an ice cream cone filled with meringue dipped in chocolate (I can’t remember what it was called, but I didn’t know what it was at the time)…I wouldn’t recommend these.  I WOULD recommend, however, you pick up a Käsekrainer at one of the many stands – it’s a delicious cheese sausage in a warm bun jacket filled with ketchup and mustard.

    Salzburg

    Crisp apple strudel with warm vanilla sauce

    The Christmas market in Salzburg has possibly the most fantastic natural setting of any of the Christmas markets I’ve ever been to.  The smell of freshly baked Bretzeln and intricately painted egg ornaments (you break, you buy) are set against the stunning backdrop of the Austrian Alps.   Drop by a café anytime for some crisp apple strudel – even better with warm vanilla sauce – “these are a few of my favourite things…”

    Prague

    Freshly fried langosh with garlic and cheese

    I absolutely LOVE Prague – it’s one of my favourite cities in Europe – largely due to the hearty Czech cuisine.  Trdelnik, Morovian smoked ham on the spit, Goulash with soft bread dumplings to soak up the sauce – all good stuff.  The Prague Christmas market sells my number one favourite snack of all the snacks in any Christmas market I’ve ever been to – langosh.  This is a Hungarian snack, fried dough topped with garlic oil, cheese, and ketchup.  Sure, you may not think that sounds delicious now, but when it’s freshly deep-fried and served straight away, you might not be so sure anymore…

    Berlin

    They should put a Christmas market here, too - how wicked would that be?

    The Berliners sure do love their currywurst, so of course they sell it at the Christmas markets, too.  In fact, they even have a machine that chops up the wurst into even pieces in about 2 seconds.  They also have an outdoor skating rink at the one by Alexanderplatz.  The Christmas market at the Gendarmenmarkt is really pretty, with a huge Christmas tree and all the tents topped with stars, but it’s 1€ admission.

    • Best Atmosphere: Wien
    • Best Food Overall: Strasbourg
    • Best Food: Langosh from Prague
    • Best Kinderpunsch: Rothenburg ob der Tauber
    My merry collection of Christmas market mugs

    More to come in PhooD Adventures!