As a kid I was a bit of a tricky eater. I would eat things separate but not together, didn’t eat Lasagne until I was in my late teens and was horrified of chicken on the bone, to date it is still the least favourite thing to do, together with gutting fish.
We used to go to my Granma’s house every weekend and she would make an amazing pork roast for us, a classic Austrian dish. She had a wood fired Aga and this made for the most amazing taste, which is just unbeatable. I was always fascinated by her cooking and she would show and teach me a lot of things and recipes. I feel totally blessed to have had such an amazing person in my life and learn from her.
Greece was our holiday destination for years, we would drive with our boat from Vienna to a tiny place, island hop every day and in the evenings eat at the little restaurant next to the rooms we rented for the summer. I fell totally in love with lamb souflaki and still being a tricky eater not much else. I have tried other things but only started to really appreciate them later on.
In my teens I was like most teenagers, still fuzzy over everything and a puritan, so never mixing my foods. When my Granma or Mum cooked my favourite dish, Wiener schnitzel with parsley potatoes and cucumber salad, I would eat it in stages, saving the most favourite, the potatoes, until the end.
I was born in June, the month of potatoes and strawberries and to this day absolutely love both of them. My mum, at some points thought, I would never eat anything else apart from those two things. Up until then I wasn’t cooking too much and when I did, the kitchen turned into one big mess, looking like a battle field.
Later on I turned vegetarian for years, at some point I just didn’t like the consistency of any kind of meat, not because of any other reasons. As a kid I ate pheasant, boar and all sorts of other game and enjoyed it but from one day to the other I couldn’t. I still have those days sometimes if I think too much about it.
In my late teens, I worked as a waitress with a very good friend in a high class Turkish restaurant in the center on Vienna. They had dishes I never seen or heard of and when starting my shift in the mornings the chef let me try a few things. I came to know and love Vitello Tonato, an amazing dish I will soon try again and post. He also asked if I want to try cow’s brain and tongue, which I politely declined and until today have not tried. I know it is a specialty but not my cup of tea. They also made lobster there and when I asked about the welfare of the lobster when cooked in hot water, he said to put it in head first is the best, most humane way. I only later learned that it is air escaping that makes this strange noise.
I didn’t stay there for very long but something has started to inspire me. My friend Parvin and I were later cooking for friends and it turned out brilliant every time, even once when the ice cream melted and we ‘transformed’ the dish into vanilla cream. No one ever knew any better and it was fantastic.
Parvin is Austrian with Iranian descent, although I have had some Iranian food before, she introduced me to a bunch of new and heavenly dishes. She has recently published her first cook book and is now working on a second one. Check out her page here.
Around that time I then worked in a café on the Viennese Naschmarkt, which was owned by Turks and I was also surrounded by market stalls. I was a brilliant place to work and the café itself is famous for its, exotic salad. A marinated chicken salad, with a secret recipe dressing, avocado and Austrian pumpkin seed oil. Of course they also had other dishes that contributed to my passion for food. In the mornings we used to sit on crates and had pastrami omelets or just feta, olives and other bits for breakfast before work started. There I learned the few phrases I can say in Turkish.
Soon after that I left Austria to explore the world and first stop was France, Paris to be exact. Well it goes without saying that my culinary world experience just broadened. Being a vegetarian for years before, my thought was that I didn’t want to restrict myself from any foods and miss out on divine flavours.
I had this lovely bistro just next door from the place I used to live and I would go there and eat things that I didn’t know, nor in some cases was able to pronounce. I spoke no French at all apart from what I heard in songs and that wasn’t appropriate to say the least. It went all well and I enjoyed everything but one, the dreaded Andouillette AAAAA. It is considered a delicacy and in short is a coarse-grained sausage made with pork (or occasionally veal), intestines or chitterlings, pepper, wine, onions, and seasonings. As soon as I cut into it I knew that there was no way I could eat it. This is the only meal I ever sent back in France and come to think about it, ever.
On the other hand I got introduced to wonderful things, I tried everything. Escargots, Chevre chaud a miel, foi gras, beef carpaccio are on my top 10 list. I have also been to a small Portuguese fish restaurant that had people waiting in line outside for a table. The restaurant didn’t have a menu, you would just tell them how big your group was and they dished up everything, literally everything. It was amazing.
After France I went to the US and apart from the shock of portion size and the waste of it all I also found lovely stuff there. Green bean casserole with crispy fried onions is a dish they have for thanksgiving; I could eat it much more often than that. I was fortunate enough to move about quite a bit but the Cajun cuisine of New Orleans really left an impression. Crawfish boil, boiled peanuts, blackened alligator, alligator sausages, the endless varieties of hot sauces, dirty rice, deep fried oysters, Po’boys and all kinds of fish are just a few. I absolutely love turtles, they have turtle soup with sherry in New Orleans and I never thought that it would taste so delicious. While I ate it, I felt like in the episode of the Simpsons when Homer brought up his lobster, then accidentally killed it in a ‘nice hot bath’ and ate it. It was a mix of sorrow paired with the absolute gorgeousness of the soup. It was odd but fantastic at the same time. I started cooking for people and totally enjoyed them enjoying my food, if that makes sense. My confidence and passion started to grow above liking and cooking recipes to wanting to share amazing dishes with others.
I also got to travel and stay in Brasil for some time, amazing food there too. Fish dishes from the north, the classic feijoada, arroz e fejao, the various fruit juices you have never heard about in Europe, coxinhas, churrascarias restaurants, the list is long. The three things that stood out for me were suco de caju (cashew nut juice), suco de acai (Acai juice) and coxinhas (Chicken
croquettes) with hot sauce. If there was no other food in the world, i could live on those alone.
Eventually I found my way to the UK and although English food can be perceived as bland, it is comfort food and not all that bad. Yes, fish and chips are the staple, which the country is most known for but there are also lovely stews, pies and all sorts of pickles.
I continued my tradition of dinner parties, even applied to be on “come dine with me”, a show with 4 contestants competing for the best dinner party and a narrator that took the piss out of everyone. They called me back after submitting my application, asking all kinds of questions. I didn’t make it, which in hindsight is a good thing. I guess I just wasn’t scandalous enough, the show took a turn at this point with contestants hating each other on the first night, plus again the narrator making fun of everyone.
Now the passion is in full force and after a few years of watching “Masterchef” and working on the courage, I am close to applying. I mean I learned techniques, a vast array of dishes and one of the finalist is following me on twitter. So it is something on my bucket list.
In the mean time I thought that a blog is a good way to share my passion and perhaps also work up the courage to develop a cookbook, like my friend Parvin has done in Austria. I do sometimes think that it is funny how we both got super involved in cooking but being in different countries.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my culinary journey and stay tuned for more great things to come.