Taste of Edinburgh 2011

This was my second year visiting my local annual Taste festival and although it’s a fun summery thing to do with friends, I stand by last year’s verdict; I would never pay full price for a ticket.  The £16 entry fee gives you access to what is essentially the Edinburgh Farmer’s Market with a few extra stalls.  If you were hoping  for oodles of freebies, you’d be disappointed. You won’t get a taste of Edinburgh until you shell out for the festival’s own currency, Crowns, which only come in £15 books.

I’ll end the criticism there though, because if you do shell out you can expect to sample delights from some of Edinburgh’s finest restaurants, such as The Plumed Horse (but more on that later), for around £5 a head. So despite being a typically stingy Scotsperson I had a wonderful afternoon and got the chance to try lots of tasty food. My core party consisted of  my boyfriend and two of my friends (Samand Euan). After grabbing a book of Crowns each, we set off to begin our day.

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REVIEW :: 21212 Edinburgh

212123 Royal Terrace, Edinburgh, Midlothian, EH7 5AB
0845 222 1212

My first visit to a Michelin Star restaurant this weekend seemed like too interesting an experience to let pass unmarked, so I’m kicking Jemma Eat World off in style.

My flatmate decided that for her 27th birthday she wanted to grab some friends and go somewhere special for a girly lunch. We’d heard good things about Geordie chef Paul Kitching’s new “restaurant with rooms” 21212, which received it’s first Michelin star within a year of opening.   We booked a private dining area for Saturday and six of us got all dressed up for a visit to the Royal Terrace premises.

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Sardinian Food I Have to Try: Next Time

Although I had some truly delicious food while I was in Sardinia, I was slightly disappointed that there were a few local delicacies that I didn’t get the chance to try. I’m going to put it down to being on the wrong part of the island for some of them,  and not having the right transport to venture into the hills (the Sardinian countryside does not lend itself well to pedestrians: the only argument we had on the trip was whether to walk home down the side of a motorway with no pavement, or to walk home along an unlit country road that we’d only used once before, in broad daylight).

I’ve already decided that I want to go back to Sardinia, this time armed with a camper van.

So what will I be trying to get my lips around next time?

Source: Wikipedia

Cazu Marzu

I had wanted to try it this time around, but was too scared to ask any of the locals about where to get it from! Cazu Marzu is probably the most famous Sardinian food, for all the wrong reasons. The regional D.O.C cheese, Pecorino Sardo Maturo, is left to fester well beyond the stage of ‘fermented’ and onto ‘decomposition’. Disgusting enough, but then add in the live cheese fly larvae writhing around and it takes it to a whole new level!

Apparently you have to shield your eyes when you’re eating as the little blighters can jump up to 6 inches! If you’re too much of a wimp to eat live larvae, then apparently you can put your cheese in a bag and suffocate them. You’ll hear a sound like popcorn as they try to escape, and once that stops you can eat. Gnarly.

The one thing that freaks me out most about Cazu Marzu is that the larvae can survive the digestion process and set up home in your intestines. Which is fine until they start boring through your intestinal wall, leaving you with bloody diaohroeah.

Porcheddu

I’m really not making any friends in the vegetarian sector, am I? Porcheddu is little baby piglets, roasted. Traditionally this is done over oak chips in a hole in the ground,  with the local herb mirto. Apparently this is eaten all across the island, although I can’t remember coming across it in Posada or La Caletta (then again we didn’t eat out very much; with our self catering holiday and a basic grasp of Italian we managed to live like royalty on a very small budget).

I love a good hog roast, so I’m afraid to say porcheddu will be on the list. Sorry PETA.

Source: MySardinia.com

Sea Urchin

They might look spiny and scary, but sea urchin

s are apparently rather palatable. A traditional Sardinian dish is pasta al Ricci, which involves a sauce made from sea urchins (and tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, etc). According to Travel Food Phil, it tastes the way that sea air smells.

The best way to try sea urchin is attending the sea urchin festival, Sagra Del Bogamari, which is held in Alghero during January and February.  I’m definitely adding it to my bucket list; the thought of standing on the lido tucking into a halved sea urchin with a slice of bread and red wine during what would be the height of winter in Scotland seems far too tempting.

Bottarga

More commonly known as ‘Sardinian caviar’, bottarga is pressed and dried smoked mullet roe. From the sounds of it, locals treat it in a similar way to parmesan or truffles and grate it onto salads and pasta. It’s mostly produced in the South, around Cagliari, but a quick Google search shows me that there’s a big export market for this delicacy. Of course this piques my interest, so next time I jet off to Sardinia I’ll be keeping an eye out especially for it.

Myrtle liqueur

We actually saw this in a few shops, but never got around to trying it. The Myrtle, or Mirto, seems to be very popular in Sardinia. Although it’s not strictly a food, I reckon it will be worth having a little sip. Particularly if I want to wipe the memory of eating live maggots out of my mind. Yeuch!

I’ve since learned that most Sardinian restaurants are happy to provide some local delicacies: just go in and ask for the Menu Degustazione which is what I’ll be doing the next time I visit this wonderful island.

Sun, Sand and Sardinian Wine

I’m sure regular readers will have noticed that while I love me some wine, I don’t really like Italian wine that much. It puts me in mind of the little girl who has a little curl right  in the middle of her forehead, from the old nursery rhyme; When Italian wine is good it is very, very good but when it is bad it is horrid.

Like most wine producing countries, I reckon they keep the very best for themselves. On our first day in Posada we headed along to the local supermarket and were pleasantly surprised by the cheap price of big bottles of wine: this big bad boy only set us back a few Euro.

Big bottle of local table wine (boyfriend used for scale)

We were pretty impressed by this purchase, but we soon discovered that it was nothing.

A few days later we ventured to the old town and stumbled into another small market to pick up some water so that we wouldn’t become dehydrated. Here we found a big vat of wine that looked a bit like a boiler. There were empty plastic cartons on a shelf to the side. You can buy the wine in a 3 liter container, or a 5 liter container.

We got 3l of tasty local wine for just under 5 Euro.

It took some effort to pour!

Three. Litres. of wine.

It wasn’t the best wine I’ve tried by a long shot, but combined with the hot sun,  delicious food, and beautiful scenery I’d count it as one of my favourite wine drinking experiences.

Whispering sweet nothings to my canister

We soon found that this was the norm in a lot of shops. On an evening jaunt to nearby seaside town La Caletta we found a little booze shop that sold a couple of D.O.C reds and a white. I managed to snap a pic of the shop owner filling up a container for us.

The wine came out of what looked like a petrol hose

The next morning we wandered along there to pick up a big bag of crisps to accompany our lunch of bread rolls and Pecorino sardo. While in town we picked up some D.O.C red wine. Fried potato snacks, three litres of vino, and lovely hot weather: you can imagine my reaction, right?

Although the D.O.C wine was a little more expensive, seven Euro really wasn’t much to sniff at! We would have the wine with most meals, although we did restrain ourselves at lunch-time and only had one glass (evenings were a different story: our apartment was in a very secluded area and there wasn’t much else to do!)

Al fresco lunch of red wine, bread and olives

To get to the beach we would wander through a nature reserve with lots of farmland. There were some animals, like cows, goats, and guard dogs,  and a big lake in the middle. This was always an interesting walk as the farmers would sell their wares by the side of the road including (you guessed it) their own wine!

a rather windswept looking James!

We were never brave enough to follow the sign, as our Italian is less than perfect, but I reckon if we go back to Sardinia we’ll just have to give it a shot. We’ll also have to try finding the local cheese cazu marzu; the wine went perfect with the other pecorinos we picked up so I’m curious to see how it will fare against cheese fly larvae!

Some cheese with that whine?

It was a pretty sad moment when we had to leave a bit of wine so that we could fly home.We had a little family of empty plastic bottles by the last day!

Our babies!

It was also sad that I’d drunk so much on our penultimate night that the last day of my holiday was spent shivering, vomiting, and convinced that I was going to die of Malaria!

I’m looking forward to my next adventure to a wine producing region, and am hoping it will be just as productive.

7 Great Reasons to go Self Catering in Sardinia

In my very early twenties I made the mistake of booking an all inclusive trip to Spain with my friend Sarah. We ate in the hotel buffet once and found the food to be utterly disgusting. Tepid meat sat in trays next to dried out chips and plastic cheese.

After that we dedicated the rest of our holiday to finding cheap bars and restaurants to dine in,  or buying bread and cheese from the Spar across the road to take back to our room (where we proceeded to watch Springwatch. Rock ‘n’ roll!)

Following such a terrible experience,  it was a no brainer that when James and I booked a romantic trip to Sardinia we decided to go self catering.

If you’re still debating the merits of all inclusive vs. self catering, here’s my handy guide to the benefits of going it alone!

  • You’re more likely to pick up the language. When we arrived in Sardinia we couldn’t speak a word of Italian, but a few days in I was sauntering up to the butchers counter asking for “due salsicce pollo per favore.”
  • You have more control over what you eat. You can still go to restaurants if you want, but you also have the control to cook your own food the way you like it best. Don’t like spicy food? Don’t add spice. Don’t like salt? Leave it out.
  • You have more control over when you eat. Going full board or all inclusive means that your meal times are dictated by the hotel. If you want a midnight snack or a 5am breakfast then forget it.
  • Sardinia is expensive. Granted we stayed in Posada, which was actually cheaper than Edinburgh in some instances, but if you want to stay in uber trendy Costa Smerelda going out every night will see you burning through traveller’s cheques pretty quickly
  • You can try local produce. Some of the awesome things we tried include blue pecorino cheese, thin crispbread called pane carasau, and local wine sold by the bucket. It’s unlikely that these would have appeared on a hotel all-inclusive buffet.
  • You really live the local culture and lifestyle. We’re used to 24 hour supermarkets here in the UK, but in Sardinia local shops close for 2 hours in the afternoon for a siesta. We found ourselves getting up earlier to get supplies, and then retiring to our apartment when the hot sun was most punishing.
  • You explore more of the area. My parents have always taken me on self catering holidays, and every time my dad will get up early and scout out the area for bakeries, supermarkets, and street markets. We end up seeing a lot more than we would if we headed to a restaurant every night, and my dad even has a pet favourite supermarket (the Portuguese Pingo Doce).

Those are just a few reasons off the top of my head, if you can think of any more please leave a comment. Suffice to say, I’m definitely into self catering holidays and am yet to be convinced otherwise.

 

What to Eat in Sardinia

When we chose our trip to Sardinia, we purposefully decided to go a bit off the beaten track and visit Posada in the Nuoro region. This was far from the glitz and glamour and fancy restaurants of the Costa Smerelda; in fact we only ate out a few times during our whole stay.

We went self catering, so a lot of our food was home cooked. I highly recommend going self catering in Sardinia.

Here are the best things that we ate in Sardinia.

Chicken

Orange Chicken

Whilst honing our conversational Italian, we’d visit the butcher counter in each supermarket we visited. What we found on one of these visits was that chickens in Sardinia are huge, and they don’t taste like chicken. You know how we think everything “tastes like chicken” due to the bland, cotton wool style flavour? Well Sardinian chicken is far meatier. We bought chicken legs twice, and served them up with some beans in a tomato sauce with courgettes. It definitely pays to go self catering.

Local Cheese

Pecorino

Sardinia is the home of hard ewe’s cheese, Pecorino Sardo. When bought in the UK it’s like Parmaggiano’s poor relation, but in Sardinia it really comes into it’s own. There are a number of different Pecorino’s, including a blue that we really didn’t want to throw in the bin but after 12 hours in a warm suitcase we did have to say goodbye once we got back to the ‘burgh. The cheese’s were fabulous on their own, on some crisp-bread, or on a crusty roll with a few crisps and a slice of ripe juicy tomato. Don’t judge me.

Grilled fish

Grilled to perfection

We found a fishmonger just around from our villa. Although they didn’t gut the fish for us, I figured out how to gut a fish pretty quickly. These white fish were perfect simply grilled with a little lemon in the middle. They were pretty cheap too; the only time we felt ripped off was when two Corsican sea bream set us back around £20, and I’m fairly certain they were off as well.

Bone-in steak

Steak!

Another visit to the butcher counter left us with a couple of huge steaks; with the bone still attached! It’s very rare to get this sort of cut in UK supermarkets so we were pretty happy with ourselves. They were far cheaper than in the UK, too. Tender, juice, and perfect served with a little grilled tomato, garlic and rice (I thought the olives added a particular ’70’s flare).

Coffee and Cakes

Pastries & Coffees

Seriously, don’t believe people when they say Sardinia is expensive. James and I would usually breakfast at our villa on crisp-bread, Pecorino, biscotti and fruit but when we did venture into La Caletta early one morning to find some anti-histimines (there were loads of mosquitos, and they enjoyed feasting on Scottish and Irish flesh) we stopped off in a cafe. Expecting to splash out, we were a bit confused when the waitress only asked for three Euro for both coffees and cakes! Wow.

Airport pizza

Pizza from Olbia Airport

Did I mention how much I love Olbia Airport? On our last day we decided just to hang about at their outside bar, as we had our suitcases and it made more sense than lugging them around and stressing about catching a bus (public transport is apparently not Italy’s strong-point; and this was according to the girl in the tourist information center!). We decided to grab a spot of lunch and found ourselves with proper Italian standard style delicious pizzas.  Eat here before going through security.

What Not to Eat in Sardinia

Departure lounge calzone

Unpleasant.

Like I say, eat before you go through security! We did, but then our flight was delayed quite heavily. Look at the defeat in his eyes.

As you can tell we missed out on a lot of essential Sardinian cuisine. But I’m hoping to return some day soon, and I have a list compiled of Sardinian delicacies that I won’t be missing out on next time…

Posada, Sardinia :: My Favourite Pictures

On Valentine’s Day this year when James suggested booking a holiday together, there were certain criteria that had to be met. It had to be somewhere warm and relaxing, but also it had to be slightly off the beaten path: no Costa Brava or Algarve for us.

Before looking into it, I hadn’t really heard of Sardinia before. I knew about Corsica to the North and Sicily to the South-East, but Sardinia had never appeared on my radar. A lot of Brits obviously feel the same, as there were very few flights and the only direct one we could find left from London. On the way home we had to stop off in Leeds, too.

Our destination of choice wasn’t even on the Costa Smerelda; the millionaire playboy part of Sardinia that’s so popular with Middle Eastern oil barons. We chose instead to head to the unassuming village of Posada, in the commune of Nuoro, a little further down the coast. Strictly speaking, we weren’t even in Posada; instead our apartment fell on a stretch of road between Posada and San Giovanni.

We stayed at the Villa Magnolia, which I would heartily recommend; not just because our host Cesare saw us struggling along the side of a country road with our suitcases and picked us up in his car, but because it was such a lovely stay! We even made friends with a crazy cat and a little blonde dog called Julio.

After spending ten days in the Sardinian countryside, I cannot wait to go back. Here are my absolute favourite pictures from the trip. Well, my favourite ones that don’t involve me looking like a complete plonker that is!

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