Cinque Terre: Ligurian food & travel

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View of the Ligurian Sea on my hike from Monterosso al Mare to Riomaggiore.

 

 

After a few hours in Pisa, I boarded Trenitalia and made my way to the picturesque Cinque Terre (pronounced as “ching-queh te-reh”) and Portovenere. Really wasn’t sure what to expect, but as we were approaching the first village, Riomaggiore, we saw a glimpse of the sparkling blue ocean, the colourful little buildings, and terrains of vineyards and lemon trees from afar. Everyone on the train began cheering as we made our way to the last (and biggest) village, Monterosso.

 

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Riomaggiore

The minute I stepped out of the train; lugging my massive luggage to the beach front, I knew I was in it for a treat. The atmosphere of Cinque Terre was laid back, happy and definitely had that “community” feel. Cinque Terre is a great place if you enjoy being part of a small village. There are no big brands there – only small independent shops selling local fresh produce, gelato, fried seafood, focaccias, local artisanal products, and more gelato..

The lack of corporate and commercial development definitely helps maintain the charm of Cinque Terre eventhough it brings millions of tourists a year (2.5 million last year!). People can only access and leave Cinque Terre by boat, trains and walking trails. There are cars too but car services in and around Cinque Terre are ridiculously expensive – I rather walk for a day!! This also helps protect Cinque Terre, a UNESCO heritage ❤

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Terraces of vineyards, olive groves and lemon trees

Cinque Terre, meaning 5 lands is made up of 5 villages – Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Cinque Terre is located in the Province of La Spezia and lies on the Ligurian Sea. I love how the local people have built terraces on a steep landscape to maximise the land they have to grow grapes for wine, olive groves and basil herbs. Besides maximising agriculture land, it also ensures that the plantations have sufficient sunlight and irrigation. These farmers have really thought it out well and boy, they must be really fit to be climbing up and down everyday.

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Portovenere


I chose to go to Cinque Terre simply because of the beautiful buildings and the ocean, yup simply for those reasons. I wanted that Italian coastal experience. Little did I know, I was going to be exposed to the Ligurian cuisine!

Italy, being a huge supporter and living example of Slow Food, Italian cuisine is very much focused on using fresh, seasonal produce. So I wasn’t surprised that Ligurian food is made using ingredients local to the region of Liguria and in fact, it is the fresh local ingredients that make Ligurian cuisine well, Ligurian-ly tantalizing..

Being on a student budget, I kept my expenditure low and ate mostly local Ligurian street food. But I definitely did not stinge on trying Ligurian food.

My top 6 INexpensive local Ligurian food to try:

  • Trofie al pesto (5-10 Euros)

Trofie is a Ligurian pasta made with flour and water (and no eggs). It is rolled up into squizzly shapes and cooked with basil pesto. The basil pesto is especially famous because of the quality of the basil leaves grown in Cinque Terre. They say it’s the combination of the temperature, sunlight and water available there.

Make sure there is “Pesto alla Genovese” on the label to get the most authentic basil pesto!

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Fresh basil outside trofie al pesto stalls

  • Monterosso tart (3 Euros/slice)

It was and is one of the best tarts I’ve ever tasted. Monterosso tart is a pie like dessert made of short crust pastry on the outside, layered with a thin layer of sponge cake, followed by a bit of lemon or apricot jam then a thick layer of custard/creme patisserie and lastly, melted dark chocolate. It sounds sweet but the custard/creme patisserie was surprisingly not sickly sweet at all and the chocolate was bitter enough to offset the sweetness of the tart. I bought the tart only to try it for the experience but ended up having one everyday! Definitely a tart to re-create!

Monterosso tart is one of the many pastries that is baked by the local baker, Laura. Laura has been baking local pastries since 1966. No wonder many local people were worried that Laura’s bakery and her secret recipes would be destroyed after the 2011 floods. But thank god she reopened and rebuilt her little empire of local homemade, Ligurian pastries. Laura’s shop is called Pasticerria Ariagianale Laura in the historic center of Monterosso.

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  • Limoncello (free tasting)

A lemon liquor that is usually consumed as a chilled “Digestivo”; a drink after dinner to aid digestion. Limoncello has a strong lemon flavour but does not have the sourness of the juice or bitterness of the peel. I’m not a huge fan of alcoholic drinks so a free sample was enough – yup, I was being a cheapskate!

There are lemon trees growing all around Cinque Terre. Almost every 100m I walked, there would be several lemon trees. I tried grabbing some during my hike but it was too far to reach. Too bad. Lemons are very easily grown in the warm climates of Cinque Terre.

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A local shop selling artisanal products and lemon-based products on the side. Lemon vodka granita anyone??

  • Chickpea bread – Farinata (sold by weight : 2-3 Euros/slice)

Farinata – a local savoury specialty – is a chickpea flatbread baked in a wood-fired oven. It is the perfect healthy gluten-free snack when you’re craving something salty to munch on or for a light lunch. It should be crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. Some say it’s an acquired taste but for me, it was love at first bite! ❤

  • Focaccias (3-6 Euros/slice)

Fluffy flat Italian bread, similar to the texture of a pizza base. The most traditional ones are foccacias drizzled with olive oil and salt. Now, there arr many with different toppings like olives, caramelised onions, tomatoes and cheese with herbs and many more 🙂

The plethora of vegetarian/vegan foods available, I think is a huge reflection of the religious beliefs of the local people who are supposed to be Catholics and therefore, have meat-free days once a week or at least regularly.

  • Mixed seafood cones – Fritto miste (5-10 Euros)

Freshly caught seafood. Lightly battered. Enough said.

 

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My motivation to hike over from Manarola to Riomaggiore for the best seafood cone.

It was definitely 5 days well spent enjoying the seaside, hiking several times between each village and indulging in local Ligurian food. When you learn and embrace another’s country or province’s cuisine, you learn a whole lot more about their culture 🙂

Buon Apetito!!

Xx

Generation Kitchen

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malaysian national drink recipe - teh tarik

[Recipe] Teh Tarik: Malaysia’s National Drink

Teh Tarik is a hot frothy milk tea made of condensed milk (or evaporated for less sweet) and strong black or Ceylon tea. Delicious! (in moderation)

Teh Tarik (in Malay) literally means pulled tea because the mamak guys actually pull the milk tea to make it frothy & creamy! Nowadays, the mamak guys usually use a milkshake machine to froth the milk tea up because it’s faster. As a kid, it was always entertaining when the mamak guys put on a show of pulling guys pull the Teh Tarik from mug to mug and then seeing milk tea “moustaches” on happy customers’ faces. The mamak guys would be really cheeky too by pulling it extra long; making my heart skip a beat but not a single drop would go to waste…


Tip 1: Typically, the Malaysian BOH tea is used to steep the tea for Teh Tarik but you can use any black or Ceylon tea. Just make sure it is of high quality. The quality and amount of the tea used really determines the aroma of the Teh Tarik. I’ve tried making Teh Tarik with less aromatic teas, it looked and tasted like dirt water. Seriously, it was quite bad.. 🙈

The Malaysian BOH tea is a local tea grown and processed in Cameron Highlands (in the state of Pahang). This tea plantation all began when the English conquered Malaysia 🌿 If you go to Cameron Highlands, you can visit tea plantations and enjoy tea with scones or sandwiches just like you would in England, with slight modification for the local taste.

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Typical Malaysian breakfast: A stack of kaya butter toast, 2 soft boiled eggs and a cup of teh tarik

Teh Tarik can be found in any kopitiam shops or mamak stalls. It’s consumed anytime of the day. For me, it’s best in the morning with my breakfast (see above) or midnight at mamak stalls when you watch the football on the big screens ⚽️ It truly completes the mood of cheering for your football team with your family and friends. Best nya!! ✌🏽️ For non-Malaysians, this article (The Mamak Stall Culture) sums it up very nicely about why mamak stalls are so special.

 


Health advice:

  • Consume this tea in moderation because of the condensed milk, which is high in sugar content.
  • Those with poor digestion or have a sensitive stomach, like me, should minimise the consumption of this beverage because the high caffeine content would “erode” or increase inflammation to the stomach lining.
  • If you are going to have Teh Tarik, make sure you 1) drink a cup of warm water before & after the milk tea (advice from the Traditional Chinese Med doctor I’ve been seeing) and 2) are not drinking it on an empty stomach.

 


Makes for 4 people

Ingredients

  • 10 tbsps black or Ceylon tea leaves
  • 1/2 cup condensed milk, to taste (or evaporated for less sweet)
  • 4 cups hot water

Method

  1. Steep the tea for 1 hour
  2. Add the condensed milk and mix it well
  3. Froth the milk tea using the pulling method, a milk frothing equipment or a milkshake machine. For the pulling method: Pour the tea from one mug to another mug from a distance. Repeat the action between the two mugs for 4-5 times until the milk tea is frothy enough. Do not over-pull because the milk tea will lose its heat.
  4. Serve hot and enjoy

Xx

Generation Kitchen

6 Lessons from Sekinchan Fruit Orchard

31st January 2016

One of the highlights of my trip to Sekinchan was the free tour of his fruit orchard (Wan Chai Mango King) – My grandma, aunt and I were in 7th heaven! ❤

I’ve never met anyone so passionate about agriculture and fruits like this fruit vendor. You can really feel his energy when he’s sharing his knowledge about the Malaysian local fruits, how to grow them and how to choose the good quality ones.

After about an hour in the fruit stall, we ended up with many kilos of golden dragon mangoes (as long as my forearm!), kedongdong, kafir lime, jambu air and guava. It was so interesting, it would be a waste not to share what I know now 😀

Here are the 6 lessons:

1.Golden dragon mango tree: Cut the centre of the mango tree to allow sunlight to reach the hidden centre of the mango tree. Basically, keeps the mango tree nourished with sunlight.

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Notice the branches growing outwards? Yup, that’s because they cut the centre of the tree deliberately to create space for sunlight to get in. That’s a sign of sweet mango coming right up! 😀

2. Jambu air tree: Wrap the budding flowers with a plastic bag to keep birds and insects from eating it up. It is a crucial stage of growing a jambu air plant. If you wrap it a little too late, the jambu air plant will not grow. Even if it does, it’s definitely not market quality. Jambu air is a low calorie & healthy fruit to eat but so hard to grow 😦

3. Soursop fruit: According to the fruit farmer, he says this is the most perfect soursop he has ever grown. So perfect, he wasn’t willing to sell it to us because he wanted to eat it hahaha

  • The prickly bits of the soursop should not be too spaced out but more importantly, not too close to each other
  • It should be luscious green
  • It should not too soft (otherwise it means it’s overly ripen).

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    See how beautifully spaced out it is all around? Except the middle part where the prickly bits are close together but that’s okay.

4. Nangka plant (jackfruit): Sweet sweet jackfruit. This fruit doesn’t need to be treated like a princess, thank goodness! The main thing would be to cover the fruits with a plastic bag (with holes so it doesn’t get sweaty in the bag. Eeek!) and with newspaper.

I’m guessing the newspaper is to absorb the moisture the fruit will create some           vapour due to the warm temperature in the bag. Time to wrap this fruit up before the animals and birds get to it!

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Huge but still green so it’s not quite ready for eating!

5. Guava fruit: The best type of guava are the sweet and “crispy” ones. Literally crispy, not hard and crunchy. This are some tips from my grandma for choosing perfect guavas

  • Choose the ones with light coloured skin
  • The tip of the guava should be relatively flat (more rounded than oval), firm but not rock hard.

It’s okay if it has brown bits on the fruit. Imperfection is beautiful and in this case, tastier!

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That’s as green (skin) as I would go. Strange isn’t it that lighter ones are generally better quality! 🙂

6. Keeping flies away from the plants and humans: This was so cool. He hung these yellow sticky bags around his farm which were filled with sweet liquid to attract the flies. The flies will get stuck onto the yellow bags and hence won’t attack the plants or humans. Kinda sad for the flies but it made the experience in the farm a lot more pleasant.

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All the flies stuck to the bag!!!

Hope you enjoyed it!

Xx

GK