Turkish Food and Tulips

Every year the town of Morges holds a tulip festival for which over 120,000 tulip bulbs are planted in the Parc de L’Independence. The festival runs from April when the tulips start flowering through to the middle of May when the bulbs are dug up and sold off. During the festival there are various weekends with different themes such as a sports weekend and a music weekend.

However the weekend that caught my eye was Istanbul weekend. For the past 5 years Istanbul has donated 10,000 bulbs to Morges for the festival and in return Morges dedicates one weekend of the festival to Turkish food and music. I have no idea how this partnership came about, but it sounded interesting so I popped along to see the tulips and sample the food.

Turkish Flags and Tulips

Turkish Flags and Tulips

The first thing that I tried was a minced beef Gözleme. These were being prepared to order by two women. One would roll out the dough to a thin circle, rolling it onto and off of a rolling pin to stretch it out. When it was the desired thinness and size she would then fill it and fold it in half. The other lady would then cook it in a large flat pan, brushing the outside with oil to prevent it sticking and turning the Gözleme frequently until the dough was cooked and had puffed up.

Rolling the dough for Gözleme

Rolling the dough for Gözleme

Cooking the Gözleme

Cooking the Gözleme

The result was a moist, fried, half-moon shaped, filled flat bread which was then cut in half to serve. It was a little greasy with both the oil on the outside and the fat from the beef inside, but the bread was wonderfully soft and the filling tasty. I really enjoyed this, if there hadn’t been other dishes I wanted to try I would have given the spinach and the cheese options a go as well!

Beef mince Gözleme

Beef mince Gözleme

The next dish I sampled was a small köfte wrap. This consisted of two large patties made of beef, onions and a lot of parsley accompanied by some salad, more parsley and a generous sprinkling of sumac and dried chilli and all enclosed by some flat bread.

Beef kötfe and salad

Beef kötfe and salad

The patties of beef had been cooked on a BBQ and were tender and ever so slightly pink in the middle which I loved – I’m a big fan of burgers etc which are still pink in the middle. The parsley salad was fresh and the sumac gave everything a zing. This was a really tasty kebab and despite having no sauce added it wasn’t at all dry.

My final destination was the sweets stall. Here are large array of different Turkish desserts were available. I decided to try a selection of different desserts and opted for several different baklava pieces, some Tulumba (a small straight donut in syrup), a rose shaped Şekerpare (pastry in syrup) and another rose shaped pastry dessert which was filled with cooked apple whose name I have forgotten.

Bakalva and tulumba

Bakalva and tulumba

I’d not tried Turkish bakalva before and so I have no idea if these examples were indicative of the general style or not, but I found the pieces all to be a little soft. They had been soaked in so much syrup that there was no crispness left in the filo and even the nuts seemed to provide very little crunch. They weren’t particularly unpleasant, just a little soggy and a bit overly sweet to me. The same goes for the tulumba which was very soft and exceedingly sugary!

Rose shaped Şekerpare and another Turkish dessert

Rose shaped Şekerpare and another Turkish dessert

For me, the two rose shaped desserts were the best. For all its soaking in lemon sugar syrup the Şekerpare was actually not too sweet at all. Towards the center where the syrup hadn’t quite penetrated it was a little dry, but other than that I really enjoyed it. But the dessert whose name I have forgotten was easily the best, the pastry filled with a delicious sticky apple mixture which was both sweet and tart. I wish I knew what it was so I could look it up!

Overall I really enjoyed the food I ate, particularly the two savoury dishes. It was great to not only try some authentic Turkish cuisine but to also be able to watch it being prepared. As for the tulips, they were stunning. There were so many beautiful varieties on display and it was lovely to stroll around the park enjoying them.

Greek Delights

To me, the Greek cuisine is very underrated.  While most people (in the UK at least) are familiar with the staples of Mousakka, Tzatziki, Feta and Halloumi the broader spectrum of Greek cooking doesn’t seem so widely known and it can be pretty hard to track down a good Greek restaurant in many cities.

I have visited a few Greek islands as part of holidays and always enjoyed trying all the different dishes on offer.  However it’s been quite a few years now since I was over there and while it’s fun to recreate things at home, it’s always great to enjoy the real deal.  As a result I was really excited that, in addition to all the food I on the boat, I would also be able to sample some authentic Greek cooking while on the Islands and in Athens.

My first Greek stop was the island of Santorini where I embarked a short boat trip round to Oia in order to take in the amazing view of the caldera.  Sanotrini is famous for its wine and I was keen to try some so after a while walking round in the (scorching) heat and taking pictures we popped into a little taverna for some refreshment.  Rather than opting for an expensive bottle we went for a carafe of the unnamed local white which was delicious and at €4 for 500mls an absolute bargain!

Santorini wine

Santorini wine

Refreshed, we then caught a bus round to Fira, the town above where the ship was moored.  After a bit of a look round we popped into another taverna for snacks before heading back on board.  Here we shared a Greek salad and some of the pies of the day, which turned out to be feta.  The portions for each were huge: five crisp and flaky individual pasties which were divine and a very generous portion of fresh salad topped with an enormous slab of feta.

Some of the Greek Salad

Some of the Greek Salad

the delicious feta pies

The delicious feta pies

Our next Greek destination was Mykonos where unfortunately I had already eaten before leaving the ship and so wasn’t able to try any of the amazing fresh fish and seafood that was on offer.  It wasn’t all bad news on the food front though as after some exploring to build up an appetite I was able to sample some delicious homemade baklava down on the waterfront.

A hunk of baklava

A hunk of baklava

Many times when I’ve had baklava both and home and abroad it’s has been made and served as bite size pieces but there was nothing dainty about the baklava at this restaurant.  We were given a colossal slab of filo, nuts and honey all of which tasted divine.

The final Greek destination was Athens where we stayed for one night and where I managed to indulge my craving for gyros.  Gyros is basically a traditional kebab, but bears no resemblance, either visually or in flavour, to the processed “meat” you get in most UK kebab shops.  Instead thin layers of spiced pork are built up on a skewer and interspersed with layers of fat and then rotated and cooked slowly resulting in the amazingly tender and moist pieces of meat which I can’t resist.

A plate of gyros

A plate of gyros

It’s usually served one of two ways: either on a plate with the accompaniments (fresh tomato, sliced red onion and garlicky tzatziki) and pitta on the side or as a quick takeaway snack with the meat et all in wrapped in the pitta bread.  Being greedy over the course of our stay I tried both as well as a slight variation of take away version with the gyros meat replaced with chicken souvlakia (an individual skewer of meat marinated in lemon garlic and oregano)! All were wonderful and I wish I had time (and the stomach space) to have eaten even more.

take away gyro and souvlaki

Take away gyros and souvlaki

For our one evening meal in Athens I reluctantly held back from consuming yet more gyro in order to sample some other dishes – fried cheese with figs and giouvetsi.  The fired cheese with figs was exactly as it sounds, rounds of crisp fried cheese topped with confit figs and a fig and honey dressing/sauce, a ridiculous rich and indulgent starter.   Giouvetsi is a classic Greek dish of soft slow cooked beef or lamb chunks (mine was actually veal) baked with orzo pasta in a cinnamon spiced tomato sauce.

fried cheese with figs

Fried cheese with figs

giouvetsi

Giouvetsi

Overall I can’t praise the Greek food and wine I consumed highly enough.  I didn’t have a single bad/meal or dish and I can’t wait till I can go back sometime and eat more.  In the meantime I’m going to have to see if I can find a good Greek restaurant in Geneva and I’ve brought back some authentic dessert filo to have a go at making my own baklava!

Cruise Food

A couple of weeks ago I finally embarked on my much needed and eagerly anticipated holiday – A week’s cruise stopping in Italy, Greece and Turkey and bookended by stays in Rome and Athens.  I was hoping, among other things, to get experience some great regional food and to luxuriate in not having to cook for a few days.

Unfortunately things did not get off to a good start as my first meal in Rome (some very tasty spaghetti carbonara followed by roast veal) ended up giving me food poisoning!  As a result I didn’t eat much for the rest of my Rome stay apart from Gelato!

Luckily I was feeling much better by the time we made it to the ship and ready to explore all the different food options.  I was travelling on the Ruby Princess, whose dining venues included hot dog, burger, pizza and ice cream stands by the pools, a couple of buffet style casual dining venues, a café, three formal dining rooms (all serving the same food) and two specialty restaurants (one of which I never actually stumbled across) so there was plenty to choose from.

Mass catered food is always a bit hit and miss and this proved to be the case with the food on the ship.  Breakfast was a mixed bag with a superbly tasty and meaty range of sausages and fresh English muffins countered by the wateriest beans I’ve ever encountered and horrifically overcooked eggs in the buffet section.  You could get freshly poached eggs in the formal breakfast section but no sauce or beans and due to time constraints, service was very “relaxed”, I only visited this once.

Breakfast in the formal restaurant

Breakfast in the formal restaurant

Lunch was always a large and varied affair with a huge range of different choices available at the buffet, the pizza and burger stations and the café.  As with breakfast, the buffet had highs and lows.  Some dishes were delicious and some were disappointing, but the extensive choice meant that you could always find something that suited your tastes.  The pizza section provided perfectly crisp slices which made a great lunch option or afternoon snack.

A selection from the buffet lunch

A selection from the buffet lunch

Another buffet selection

Another buffet selection

For our evening meal option we had gone for “Anytime Dining” meaning we could go at any point between 6pm and 10pm rather than being tied to the same time each night.  This flexibility worked really well and despite its popularity we never had to wait more than 10 minutes for a table whenever we did turn up.  In the evenings the starters and desserts were consistently great, I didn’t have a bad option on the entire cruise.  Particular highlights were a fragrant and light crab cake and a wonderfully fresh ceviche.

Cevich

Cevich

Blueberry and peach crumble

Blueberry and peach crumble

Similarly beef main courses (all cooked to order) were always spot on.  Hot juicy and perfectly rested these never failed to please.  Unfortunately all the main courses that weren’t beef tended to be both overcooked, cold and lacking in flavor.

Prime Rib

Prime Rib

A tasteless "blackened" rockfish

A tasteless “blackened” rockfish

An unappetizing crawfish dish

An unappetizing crawfish dish

My biggest overall disappointment with the food was that it was not possible to try any sort of local cuisine.  The choices available, while varied, were always quite traditional and US centered and while I accept that this is probably what most of their customers were after, it would have been nice to have at least one local dish as a possibility for the more adventurous diner.

Another niggle was the service in the formal dining venues.  Particularly that if one diner finished before the other their plates would be removed while the other was still eating.  While I understand that the staff were very busy and under pressure this seemed very rude and intrusive and became a real annoyance.

Despite some of the criticisms above I enjoyed a lot of the food on this cruise (how could you not enjoy free ice cream all day!).  I think that if I had had longer on the ship I would have been able to make better choices as it took a few days to figure out what was good and what wasn’t.   For example, it wasn’t until our last full day that we finally tried out the 24hour café which, it turned out, served really tasty salads and scrumptious little desserts that I really wish I had discovered sooner!  They also cooked fresh egg and bacon muffins in the morning, something I would have indulged in every morning had I known!