Baikal (Байкал), the Soviet Coca-Cola?

Baikal (known in Russian as Байкал “bai-kal”), was first created in the Soviet Union in the late 1960s’  partially as a response to Coca Cola’s rapidly expanding presence throughout the world.  Although Coca Cola wasn’t even being sold in the country at the time – even Pepsi beat them to the punch – Baikal’s producers wanted to instill pride in the nation. Thus, they adopted the name Baikal, showing deference to the storied Siberian lake, the largest freshwater lake in the world by volume.

How would I describe the flavor?  Different.  It had a hint of coniferous tree, processed sugar, and some unusual mix of herbs which I couldn’t quite place at the time.  Apparently, Baikal’s ingredients include black tea extract, lemon oil, cardamom oil, eucalyptus oil -what?  can we even consume this one? – and eleutherococcus senticosus, aka Siberian ginseng aka devil’s bush, known to be both an adaptogen and part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

You may not think of Russia these days as a soda powerhouse, and that’s possibly because you didn’t grow up in the Soviet Union, or in a Russian-speaking neighborhood.  They’ve got quite a loyal following for some drinks – if I can find the picture, I will also write about the neon green tarragon-flavored soda – and the flavors from decades ago sound equally tantalizing.


Does pine-flavored soda intrigue you?  Or, have you given up on sodas all together and go straight for the sugar packets?

It’s Not a Bagel, it’s an Obwarzanek (Krakow, Poland)

At the end of the day, it’s all carbs, carbs, carbs.

But the question wasn’t about that. It’s about the relationship between a bagel and an obwarzanek, the most famous edible export of Krakow, Poland. Did one descend from the other?

It does seem like the obwarzanek, which stems from the Polish word obwarzać (=to parboil), was the first of the two circles of doughy goodness to have been recorded somewhere, as far back as the late 1300s. German immigrants are to said to have introduced to Poland the salty, twisty snack known as the pretzel, which then transubstantiated into a ring with a giant hole in the middle, today’s obwarzanek.

obwarzanek Krakow Poland
Obwarzanek Krakowski, Krakow, Poland

And yes, I wrote transubstantiate because religion — specifically, Catholicism — played a much bigger role in Polish society at the time. Indeed, when Queen Jadwiga, the first female ruler of the Kingdom of Poland, during Lent chose to eat obwarzanek over sweet pastries — both were considered luxury items at the time, with the former being composed mostly of wheat, and the latter of wheat and sugar — their consumption spread … among other aristocrats (Indeed, rye was the grain of choice until the price of wheat substantially lowered for working-class consumers).

But that’s just one story. Another recounts the tales of Polish soldiers gobbling up obwarzanki (the plural form) before a 1410 battle with German troops. That’s the patriotic spin on the rise in popularity of the ring of boiled dough.

No matter which anecdote intrigues your taste buds, it’s difficult to overlook the impact that Jewish peasants had on baked goods. To wit, for centuries, European Jews weren’t even allowed to bake anything (let alone sell baked goods), due to the fact that 1) they were considered enemies of the church, ergo 2) they couldn’t get involved with bread, since it was directly connected to the holy sacrament of the eucharist.

However, in the 1200s, the Polish Prince Boleslaw the Pious decreed that Jews could finally handle bread; since many gentiles (non-Jews) assumed the bakeries were poisoning the finished products, Jews mainly stuck to boiling the dough. They sold rye obwarzanek — salt, sesame seed, and poppy seed — on the street until prohibited from doing so again by the Krakow bakers guild in 1496.

 

Polish Protected Geographical Indication Symbol
Polish Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) Symbol

Skipping ahead quite some time in the history of obwarzanek, we’ve made it to 2010. The obwarzanek krakowski (denoting that it’s originally from Krakow) was added to the European Union’s Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) list that year, meaning that something by that name could only be sold in Krakow and Wieliczka counties. The PGI symbol mandates a specific weight, production process, and shape for whichever food item falls under its aegis, although the ingredients don’t all have to come from Krakow/Wieliczka.

So, if you see something called obwarzanek being sold in another part of Poland, Chicago, or Giza, it’s a counterfeit! Step away from the fake, and visit Krakow for the real deal:

 

Mar Azul Tomato (Spain)

If you were asked to name your absolute favorite food in the world, what do you think it would be? An ingredient? Something seasonal? Something you have only found overseas? A pastry?

For me, it’s the tomato. There are so many varieties and hybrids to keep me occupied — e.g. cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, pear tomatoes, kumatoes, and baconatoes (I wish) — not to mention they’re healthy, can be eaten as is or turned into sauces, and even work as a hand fruit.

Barcelona supermarket tomatoes
My Tomato Paradise, Ametller Origen Supermarket, Barcelona, Spain

A hand fruit? But tomatoes aren’t all sweet. For the savory ones, I might eat them plain, put some seasoned salt and pepper on them, maybe even a little olive oil. Occasionally though, I encounter a sweet one that rivals baklava, raspberry chocolate cake, or any processed dessert.

In this case, I’m talking about the tomate Mar azul (aka MarAzul).

mar azul tomato spain
Mar Azul Tomato, FROIZ Supermarket, Vigo, Spain

Created in the beautiful Mediterranean climate of southeastern Spain (link in Spanish), the Mar azul (in Spanish, blue sea) gets its particularly unusual purple-blue color due to the significant amount of anthocyaninsantioxidants that give some fruit/berries their red, blue, purple, or black color.

Due to the anthocyanins, this tomate is even higher in vitamin C and vitamin B6 (one that supports the immune and nervous system); it was also one of the most delicious foods I have ever eaten.

Indeed, the MarAzul is one of endless reasons I love visiting supermarkets no matter I go. And I can’t wait to go back to Spain to have myself a tomato buffet.

Supermarket Specialties, Part 1: Turkey’s Migros

Every time I’m traveling somewhere, I will visit a local supermarket. Part of the reason is to check out food souvenirs, then there’s also forgetting — or misplacing — a toiletry (without hyperbole, I have about 11 nail clippers), staff preparing food for you while you shop, and the best part, making a picnic out of a bunch of local eats.

I believe some countries do supermarkets miles better than others, having found that Belgium, Spain, Thailand, and Turkey steal the show for their variety, local foods, and overall quality of what’s available. Belgium has the sweets and butter, Spain tomatoes and cheeses, Thailand a mix of Thai and international eats, and for our first part in the supermarket series, Turkish supermarket chain Migros

A Quintessentially British Lunch

A “quintessential British lunch” is quite open to interpretation; indeed, replace the word British with any other — let alone Welsh, Scottish, or Manx — and there’s just as likely to be a debate.

Of the handful of times that I’ve visited the United Kingdom, save for a couple of trips to Belfast and Edinburgh, I’m mostly stayed in England. I know, I know, it shouldn’t be that way, but I’ve had to go for work, too.

Nevertheless, I’ve gotten a bit familiar with eating in the UK, e.g. finding new flavors of potato crisps, and where to find the nearest Marks & Spencer to see if they have my favorite chocolate tortilla chips in stock (obviously, they taste better than they sound; I suppose that’s why they’re never in stock).

It has become quite clear to me that, while British food, say Yorkshire pudding, shepherd’s pie, and a ploughman’s lunch, are good, the country seems to excel in the unhealthy. After all, it’s the home of Cadbury, the place where I first discovered Kit Kat peanut butter, flapjacks, and …

fish and chips.

fish and chips English lunch
Fish and Chips, Sticky Toffee Pudding, Mushy Peas, Malt Vinegar, York, England, United Kingdom

Although I rarely eat fried foods, there’s something about the combo with the malt vinegar that really sells fish and chips to me. My first experience with that popular food was at a London restaurant called Geale’s, back in 1993.

If you’re curious about a brief backstory of fish and chips, Sephardic Jews from Portugal and Spain fled persecution in the 1500s, taking with them the tradition of preserving fish in flour the day before the Sabbath (Saturday) so that it could be cooked Saturday after sundown (cooking was prohibited on the Sabbath). Only in the mid-1800s did the meal start to grow mass appeal, when it began to be sold in Lancashire and London.

I only thought to order it with mushy peas after discovering how good they were at a Nando’s Peri Peri restaurant, only to be let down because Nando’s didn’t prepare these.

For me, however, the pièce de résistance was the sticky toffee pudding. If that were as easy to get in the U.S. as it is in England, I’d be in <<huge>> trouble.

Kvint Brandy, Transnistria’s Most Popular Culinary Export

Sadly, Transnistria has been in the news lately vis-a-vis the heart-wrenching conflict in Ukraine. I’ve written this post simply to introduce to you Transnistria’s chief export, Kvint brandy, which is so popular that it even makes an appearance on their currency.

While traveling through Eastern Europe a few years ago, I ended up in Chisinau (or Kishinev), the capital of Moldova.  It’s a small but busy city in the former Soviet republic, in which Romanian and Russian are the principal languages– Romanian due to its ethnic and historical ties to the region of Bessarabia, and Russian for its annexation by the Soviet Union.

Using Chisinau as my base, I looked in to possible day trips; after a brief search, one particularly unique locale popped up: Transnistria.

It was an anachronistic trip to Transnistria’s capital, Tiraspol, given the Soviet-era monuments and buildings, but this is a blog about food and drink, right?  Indeed…and it’s time to introduce Transnistria’s most famous culinary export, Kvint brandy.

KVINT -an acronym which translates to “divins, wines, and beverages of Tiraspol” – was founded in 1897 as Moldovan producer of wine and vodka.  Divin is an abbreviated way of saying brandy (from the Romanian phrase “distilat de vin), with a pun taken from the Romanian word divin signifying “divine” or “marvelous.”

KVINT introduced brandy to its collection in 1938, and has since formed quite the formidable presence in Transnistria, accounting for 4-5% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP)!

The company is now owned by a local conglomerate called Sheriff, which runs everything from supermarkets to the recently successful football club Sheriff Tiraspol.

To show its national appreciation to KVINT, I guess, the central Transnistrian bank added its headquarters to the back of its 5-ruble banknote:

To add a personal anecdote to the backgrounder, when I first made it to Tiraspol, I went to a Sheriff market looking for a bottle, having been tipped off to the brandy from a nice hotel worker in Chisinau.

Long story short, a few older women chuckled at me as I wandered the streets of the Transnistrian capital, brandy in one hand, camera in the other.

Gardening at Istanbul’s Ancient Belgrade Gate

For this particular lengthy city walk, I was in Istanbul, Turkey, making my way from the tourist hotspot of Taksim, all the way to the unofficial Uyghur capital of Zeytinburnu. As is typical with my city walks, I rarely have a desired route in mind, instead letting the five senses take me down a given street. This constitutional took around 2.5 hours, with a couple of stops in between for dessert, and spinach.

Spinach?! Why???

istanbul belgrade gate gardening
Gardening at Belgrade Gate, Istanbul Ancient City Wall, Turkey

Named in honor of Ottoman Emperor Suleiman the Magnificent’s conquest of Belgrade in 1521, the Belgrade Gate (in Turkish,  Belgradkapı) forms part of Istanbul’s ancient city wall. I only chanced upon it at random, yet it proved to be a unique spot, even in a city full of impressive locales.

In fact, I discovered some farmers who happened to be tending to crops right beside it.

Locavore produce mixed with local history?

This right here is why I travel.

By the way, I’ve never tasted spinach more delicious than that.

Istanbul’s Van Kahvaltı Evi, for Your All Day Turkish Breakfast Needs

You might know Turkey best for its döner kebabs, baklava, and dried fruit. But did you know that breakfast, called kahvaltı (kah-val-TUH) is the most important meal in Turkey?

In my experience, most Turkish hotels will offer some combination of raw vegetables, breads, cheeses, cold cuts, and sweet spreads like honey and jam. Everything tastes fresh, there’s variety, even at the most humble of lodgings, and you can be sure that tea comes a flowin’.

turkish breakfast Van Kahvalti Evi
Delicious Eastern Anatolian Sampler Platter at Van Kahvalti Evi, Istanbul, Turkey

However, if you’ve just got a short stay in Istanbul — even a long layover — why not check out Van Kahvaltı Evi for a primer on Turkish breakfast and hospitality? They’ve got two branches, the main one in Cihangir, near Taksim, and another in Nişantaşı, both on the European side of Istanbul.

Which Airports Have On-Site Supermarkets?

As much as I personally love finding new foods to eat, I feel that much better when I can share some of the findings with family and friends. Though, it would be fair to say I don’t always remember to get to a city supermarket for some last-minute local food souvenir shopping.

That’s a big part of where airport supermarkets shine. Besides being good places to buy snacks and sandwiches at downtown prices — $6.99 Chex Mix at Hudson News, I’ll see you in hell — they’re typically found before security checkpoints (so that anyone could get their shopping done), and if you can’t donate them, are good places to use up those coins weighing down your pockets.

Although they are most commonly found in European airports, Asia sports a handful, too. The * next to each listing means I can personally vouch for the supermarket’s existence; this list will be updated as I discover more.

Airport Supermarkets

Amsterdam Schiphol, airport code: AMS*
Albert Heijn: there’s a shopping center in the airport Arrivals Hall, where the buses/cars enter the terminal, and one level up from the train station. Drinks, snacks, prepared foods such as Indonesian rice dishes.

Brussels, airport code: BRU
Louis Delhaize: In the Arrivals Hall. This one not only has typical supermarket products, but also a small post office.

Dubai, airport code: DXB*
Carrefour: Terminal 3, Arrivals Hall. Unlike most of the other listings, this one is 24 hours.

zaatar manakish and kamaruddin drink
Manakish bil Zaatar and Kamaruddin Ramadan Drink, Carrefour, Dubai Airport Terminal 3

Frankfurt, airport code: FRA:
REWE: Terminal 1, by The Square at the airport rail station.

Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen, airport code: SAW*
Airport Market: if you have just arrived, it’s all the way to the right in the Arrivals Hall. Drinks, snacks, and a sandwich/meze (appetizer) counter.

London Heathrow, airport code: LHR
Marks & Spencer: In the Arrivals Halls of Terminals 2, 3, and 5.

Munich, airport code: MUC*
Edeka: Terminal 2, Level 3.

Munich Airport Edeka Supermarket Food
Lunch at Edeka Supermarket, Munich Airport, Terminal 2

Paris Charles de Gaulle, airport code: CDG
Marks & Spencer: Terminal 2, section E.

Singapore Changi, airport code: SIN*
FairPrice Finest: Terminal 3, Basement 2. Also, in the Jewel shopping complex, Basement 2.

Vienna Schwechat, airport code: VIE*
Billa: Terminal 1, Arrivals Hall.

Zurich Kloten, airport code: ZRH
Migros: Ground floor, between the railway station and car rental desks.

Four Eats – and One Beer – in Antwerp, Belgium (VIDEO)

Since my last visit to Belgium was in 2007, I figured that it was time to go back to the land of fries, chocolate, and although I rarely drink it, beer.

antwerp belgium train station facade
Antwerp Train Station, Belgium: Very Cool Façade

With just a couple of days in Antwerp — home of a beautiful train station, massive diamond trading, and court portrait artist Anthony Van Dyck — I had to make tracks in my food quest.

How many stone do I weigh now? It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Belgium once again proved that its chocolate, fries, and beer are a dangerous trifecta too good not to want to try.

Need proof?

%d bloggers like this: