Green tea cocktail

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At Cobra Lily in Shanghai, where I had the Chinese cheese starter, I also went for a slightly unusual cocktail. It was happy hour after all. This cocktail was a Japanese inspired affair with green tea syrup, midori – a Japanese melon liquor, and lots of gin. The cocktail was beautifully presented in an ice-cold cup along with a traditional bamboo green tea whisk.

The drink was covered by a thick layer of beaten egg white, very much like an Italian meringue. When eaten on its own it was just like eating meringue, but when mixed in with the rest it simply gave the drink a creamy texture. The taste wasn’t actually overly bitter from the green tea, neither did I taste much melon. It could really have been any gin based drink in there. I did love the presentation though.

Fear Factor – 1 / Taste Test 8

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Chinese cheese

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It is a common myth that there is no such thing as Chinese cheese. Now, it’s definitely true that the Chinese don’t traditionally eat cheese. Even nowadays with the influx of western culture, they hardly touch this tasty substance. It actually makes sense if you think about it. People by nature are lactose intolerant. We only started eating cheese in Europe due to a lack of protein.

It is not true, however, that there is absolutely no cheese whatsoever. Some nomadic people on the outskirts of the country have so little produce that they need to maximize every food source they can. Some tribes in Inner Mongolia make a kind of rock hard candy out of milk that is dubbed as cheese, but there is one tribe in the southern province of Yunnan makes a “real” cheese out of goat’s milk called “rubing”.

It is a little like feta in the sense that is soft, yet doesn’t melt. It has a mild milky flavor just like mozzarella. I visited Yunnan before, and had it served almost like a caprese salad, along with some fresh tomato. On a recent trip to Shanghai I visited restaurant Cobra Lily where I had a starter of grilled rubing, served with a salad of mint and pomegranate. It was a great combination, that somehow reminded me of a Thai dish called “larb”.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 9

Curry leaf tempura

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Last year I visited Colombo in Sri Lanka, and I had to visit a Japanese restaurant. Don’t worry I had plenty of local food and rice and curries, but this particular place made it to the top 50 best restaurants in Asia, and that made me curious. It turned out that “Nihonbashi” was indeed a great restaurant, and I still consider it among the best restaurants I have ever eaten at.

My partner and I ordered a wide array of smaller dishes to share including, of course, sushi and sashimi, but there were also a few more unusual items on the menu. One of those was a curry leaf tempura. Curry leaves are native to Sri Lanka and are an essential ingredient in making curries. Hence the name. Obviously.

Curry leaves are often sold dried, as they turn  bad quickly, but at Nihonbashi fresh leaves were used. They were served with a very light, but very crispy tempura batter. To be perfectly honest, I don’t recall any distinct flavors from the leaves. Perhaps the frying had dulled them down, or maybe they just aren’t very strong to begin with. I did find that the crackle of the tempura coating gave a wonderful texture, and made this a perfect snack to munch on.

Fear Factor – 2 / Taste Test – 7

Goose breast

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Only recently did I try goose for the first time. It was served sliced cold at breakfasts in Poland. Little did I know that just a few days later I would have my second serving. This time I ordered fried goose breast at restaurant De Sjuuteaendj in Holland. This restaurant was voted the greenest and most organic restaurant in The Netherlands and is only a stone’s throw away from my parents’ house.

The duck breast came sliced and was perched on an autumnal barley risotto with mushrooms and a beer gel. The risotto was just perfect even though I couldn’t taste any beer. The star of the show, however, was the goose and not the barley. Unlike in Krakow the fat was rendered and the skin beautifully crisp, making it a lot more appetizing to eat. The meat was left pink which left it juicy and tender. This was a vast improvement on the previous serving, although I did like that at the time.

Fear Factor 0 / Taste Test – 8

Veal sweetbreads

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Sweet breads are one of those things that chefs always rave about, yet I had never tried. I knew they were some kind of gland and often fried, but that was as far as my knowledge took me. Then last summer I went to visit my family in Holland and took them to a local restaurant called Sjuuteaendj which was voted the most organic restaurant in The Netherlands. As a main course I went for the slow cooked veal, which was served with – you guessed it – sweetbreads.

It turns out sweet breads are a kind of gland that is only found in young animals, which is why I’ve only seen veal sweetbreads served. At this restaurant they were also cooked first and then fried until crispy. This is done to increase the textural experience, as it is very soft if only boiled. I didn’t get a very strong taste of it, but I still thought the texture was a bit mushy and strange. I didn’t dislike it, but I didn’t exactly like it either. I hope my sister enjoyed the second one I gave to her.

Fear Factor – 3 / Taste Test – 5

Bottarga

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I remember when I first saw bottarga on Masterchef a couple of years ago. I was as taken aback as the contestants as I couldn’t figure out what it was, or how to use it. The hosts then explained that it was the dried egg sack of a fish which I believe was a tuna. In Sicily it has been used for ages and is often grated over a fresh bowl of pasta.

That’s exactly how it was served to me at Franceschetta 58 in Modena. This restaurant is chef Massimo Bottura’s second restaurant that is much more affordable than his three starred Osteria Franceschana which was voted best restaurant in the world.

I had ordered a bowl of orecchiette, ear shaped pasta with cherry tomatoes and bottarga with breadcrumbs. Bottarga must be an expensive produce because it was used quite sparingly. On this picture it’s the yellow flecks, not the black which are the breadcrumbs. I tried some on their own and they tasted mildly fishy and were a little chewy like orange rind. I didn’t get the flavor bomb I was expecting though. Perhaps they should have been a bit more generous with the serving.

Fear Factor – 5 / Taste Test – 6

Fried goose liver

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I’ve eaten plenty of pâté in my life, but I had never actually eaten any unprocessed liver. That is if you don’t count foie gras, which is highly fattened. Normal liver always is much redder in color. I’d seen it cooked on TV where the chef would leave it slightly pink in the middle. At a traditional Polish restaurant in Warsaw called Polska, I ordered some goose liver.

The small livers came in a pan with apples and a very sweet, sticky sauce. The liver wasn’t pink at all. In fact it was so well cooked through it had almost turned gray. I don’t think liver is normally cooked like that, but I honestly didn’t mind. At least this way there was none of that peculiar texture one associates with organ meat.

I’m not going to lie and say I loved it, but I didn’t mind it either. It was better than expected. The texture was like a fine meat loaf, and the flavor was, surprise, slightly coppery due to the blood pumping through the livers. The combination with the apples worked well, but I did feel the sauce was too sweet for my taste. Perhaps a more traditional side of onions would have been more appropriate.

Fear Factor – 6 / Taste Test – 6

Sea buckthorn sorbet with licorice toffee

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I had written before about a licorice and sea buckthorn chocolate I tried in Finland at the airport. To my surprise I came across another variation of this combination at restaurant Ed Red in Krakow. It was a sea buckthorn sorbet, served with chewy salted licorice toffees and mini meringues.

The sorbet was quite sour, as sea buckthorn is an acidic fruit, but it wasn’t unpleasant. It worked very well together with the salty toffee that h ad a hint of licorice in it. The balance of flavors was almost perfect. My only slight criticism is that I found the meringues lacked crunch.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 8

Veal brain

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At Ed Red in Krakow, where I had the bull’s testicle, I also tried some veal brains that my friend was eating. I had tried brains before in China, and really didn’t like it then, but you always have to give things a second chance, so in I went.

The brain wasn’t served whole as a piece, but mixed with herbs on a piece of bread. In looks and in texture it really resembled scrambled eggs. It was really creamy, but thick at the same time. The last time I had brains I didn’t like that texture, but as this one was mixed it was just like eating any porridge or scrambled eggs. The taste was a lot better too with the added herbs and spices instead of just eating it plain. If you hadn’t known it was brains, you would have eaten it with no problem

Fear Factor – 9 / Taste Test – 7

Rosemary crème brûlée

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After a great meal at Polish steak house Ed Red, it was time for dessert. I had my eye on an intriguing rosemary flavored crème brûlée , but the waitress informed me that the ice-cream it came with contains nut. Now, I’m not allergic to nuts, I just genuinely dislike the taste, so I ordered something else. However, my friend was kind enough to let me try the crème brûlée she had ordered for herself.

My first bite was one of those very rare wow-moments. My eyes literally sprang wide open and I heard a moan of approval escape from somewhere deep within me. I’ve only had that on maybe two or three other occasions. I mean, it was so unexpected to find rosemary in a sweet dish. I know it said so on the menu, but I had assumed it would just be a hint of the herb. Instead it was as obvious as a deer hunter dressed in orange. It really did work, the mixture of herbs and creamy, sugary pudding.

Fear Factor – 1 / Taste Test 10