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Omurice Greatness in Kyoto

Fu-ka in Kyoto, JapanFrom the outside, you can barely even tell that Fu-ka is a restaurant.  Tucked away in a quiet residential street near one of Kyoto’s many shrines, it’s pretty much the definition of a hidden gem.

Fu-ka in Kyoto, Japan

They have a small menu that focuses on curry; I went with the curry omurice (which, for the uninitiated, is a Japanese dish that consists of an omelette on top of a pile of rice).

Fu-ka in Kyoto, Japan

The curry had a mild but satisfying flavour, and the chunks of beef were nice and tender — but what really made this dish stand out was the omelette itself.  They say that the truest test of a chef’s skills are the way he makes an omelette, because it’s so simple to make but incredibly difficult to do well.

Fu-ka in Kyoto, Japan

If that’s the case then the chef here must be pretty amazing, because this might have been the best omelette I’ve ever had.  It was silky, creamy, and luxurious; at first glance I thought it might be a bit underdone, but there was none of the sliminess you get from undercooked eggs, just a uniformly velvety texture that was downright magical.  It was so good.

Delicious (Not Seafood) Stew

Stew in Busan, South KoreaAfter visiting the Jagalchi Market, I was walking along the nearby vendor-festooned alley looking for something seafoody to eat.  When you visit a country’s largest fish market, you’ve pretty much gotta eat some seafood.  It would be weird if you didn’t.

I eventually found a stand with a few benches set up that had three big vats of stew they were serving up.  There were a couple of ladies eating something that looked quite hearty with noodles, so I sat down, pointed at their bowls, and I was off to the races.

Stew in Busan, South Korea

The owner of the stand got a bowl, filled it with some noodles, topped it up with stew from one of the bubbling pots, then finished off the bowl with a heaping spoonful of some kind of chili paste, and another spoonful of minced garlic.  She added a bit more broth on top, and then handed me the bowl.

Given the proximity to the Jagalchi Market, I had assumed this was going to be a seafood stew of some sort. It was not.  My disappointment quickly faded away, however, when I realized how delicious it was.

The stew was filled with huge chunks of ultra-tender beef brisket, blood cake, leeks, and the aforementioned noodles, all in an intensely flavourful, sweat-inducingly spicy broth.  It was so good.  And for only 4000 won (less than five bucks Canadian), it was a pretty amazing deal.

Crunchy Fried Tubes in Amsterdam

Kroket from Eetsalon Van Dobben in Amsterdam, NetherlandsOne of the more popular foods in Amsterdam is a version of a croquette called kroket. It’s deep fried, with a very crunchy exterior and a creamy interior with chunks of beef. It’s really good.

Kroket from Eetsalon Van Dobben in Amsterdam, Netherlands

The first place I tried was a diner called Eetsalon Van Dobben. They serve the kroket on a pillowy-soft and fresh buttered roll, which works really well with the hearty, very crunchy croket.  Mustard is provided on the side, but I feel like its tasty enough that further ornamentation is unnecessary.

Kroket from Febo in Amsterdam, Netherlands

The second place was called Febo, which has an interesting layout in that it’s essentially a giant vending machine.  You find what you want, stick your coins in the slot above it, then open a little door to retrieve your food.  But there’s an actual kitchen and people replenishing the little food lockers throughout the day, so  it’s not like you’re eating stale food (the thing I got was  hot enough that it burned the inside of my mouth pretty thoroughly).

Kroket from Febo in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Though you can get a version in a bun, I went with just the fried tube on its own, which was similar to Eetsalon Van Dobben’s version, but with an even crunchier shell.

Kroket from Febo in Amsterdam, Netherlands

It’s a delicious fried tube of creamy, meaty goodness.  There’s really not much more to say about it than that.

The Line Failed Me

The Green Bench Cafe in Dublin, IrelandI’ve written before about how I’m powerless to resist a line-up for food.  Yes, some restaurants can be over-hyped, but generally speaking if a place is popular enough to generate a long line, the food is probably pretty good.

So I got pretty excited when I saw the line at the Green Bench Cafe, a takeout joint (or “takeaway,” as they call it here) that’s well known for its sandwiches.  I mean, look at this crowd:

The Green Bench Cafe in Dublin, Ireland

All those people can’t be wrong!

The Green Bench Cafe in Dublin, Ireland

Or maybe they can.  I got the beef brisket sandwich, and it wasn’t bad — there was actually a lot about it that I quite liked.  But the beef (and you can’t really tell from the picture, but there was a lot of it) was super dry.  It was somewhat jerky-esque.  It kinda sucks all the moisture out of your mouth.

Burger Disappointment in Glasgow

Bread Meats Bread in Glasgow, ScotlandHaving had surprisingly amazing burgers in Germany and England, I was ready for the burger at Bread Meats Bread to be similarly mind-blowing.  It’s one of those places that comes up regularly in “best of the city” lists, so I figured that I was in for a treat.

Yeah, not so much.

Bread Meats Bread in Glasgow, Scotland

Looks good, doesn’t it? If only it tasted even close to as good as it looked.

It was surprisingly lousy — the patties were rubbery and tough, with almost zero beefy flavour.  Aside from the fact that the grind was way too fine, I’m assuming they mixed salt directly into the ground beef, which transforms the texture of the meat into something closer to a sausage.

Bread Meats Bread in Glasgow, Scotland

I mean, look at the picture of the burger’s midsection.  Note how the patties are stiff as a board.  That’s just wrong.

If it weren’t for the other two burgers I’ve had on this trip, I’d write this off as “well, I guess Europeans just don’t understand hamburgers,” but clearly they do.  In particular, the cheeseburger I had in England would probably be in the top ten burgers I’ve had in my life.  So what’s the deal?

You Know What I Like Best? The Price.

Piemaker in Edinburgh, ScotlandWhen you’re traveling on a budget, there’s nothing more satisfying than finding a cheap meal that’s actually good.  A great example of this?  A delightfully affordable pie shop in Edinburgh called Piemaker.

Piemaker in Edinburgh, Scotland

I got a Scotch Pie, which is filled with a peppery mixture of very finely ground beef (the texture kind of reminded me of the filling of Jamaican patties).

Piemaker in Edinburgh, Scotland

I also got a haggis roll, which features greasy puff pastry (seriously, look at how oily the bag got after about 15 seconds of contact with this thing) filled with a generous amount of haggis.

To be honest, neither was anything too memorable, but the price?  I paid £2.50 for both — around four bucks Canadian — for a meal that was tasty enough and surprisingly filling.  Somehow, when it’s that cheap, it just tastes better.

Pie and Mash and Eels

Goddards in London, EnglandThere are a lot of traditional British foods that you can very easily find back home — meat pies?  All over the place.  Fish and chips?  Yep, they’re everywhere.  But the type of eels that they serve in really traditional pie shops in London?  I don’t think I’ve ever seen those back home.

There are actually a couple of distinctive things about the pie shops here: the aforementioned eels, obviously, but also the greenish sauce that you can see here:

Pie and mash and eels at Goddards in London, England

It’s called liquor sauce, and it’s traditionally made with the same liquid they use to cook the eels, along with a generous amount of parsley.

It looks kind of like gravy, but tastes nothing like it — it has a bright, herby flavour that compliments the meaty pie really well.

As for the eels, they were ultra-soft — almost gelatinous — with a funky, fishy flavour.  I liked them, but I can definitely see why they’ve mostly fallen out of favour over the years.  They’re a little bit intense.

A Delicious Deli Sandwich in London

Beigel Shop in London, EnglandI’m a pretty huge fan of stuff like pastrami and Montreal smoked meat, so when I found out that they have something similar in England called salt beef, it instantly shot to the top of my list of things to try.

Salt beef sandwich from Beigel Shop in London, England

I went to a place called Beigel Shop to try this, and between the very fresh, slightly chewy bagel and the ultra-tender salt beef, this was clearly a sandwich for the ages.  The addition of thickly-sliced pickles actually complimented the beef quite well, adding a vinegary sweetness that rounded out the salty, fatty beef.

There’s also an insanely generous amount of meat in the sandwich; at less than five pounds, it’s an absolute steal.

Eating Steak Frites in Paris

Le Relais de L'EntrecoteLe Relais de l’Entrecote is so admirably single-minded about its dedication to steak frites that there’s literally no menu.  The only questions from the waitress are what you want to drink, and how you want your steak cooked.  That’s it.  If you want to eat something other than steak frites?  Get the hell out.

The meal starts with a salad dressed with a very simple (but very delicious) vinaigrette.  Again, this isn’t a choice: you just get it, whether you want it or not.

Salad

Given that there’s only one thing on the menu, the rest of the food comes pretty quickly.  I requested my steak rare, and it came cooked to an absolutely perfect rare.  It’s topped with a herby, mustardy sauce, and served with a generous pile of perfectly golden fries.

I’m not normally a sauce on steak kind of guy — I feel like steak tastes pretty great on its own, plus if you’re not getting it well done (and please don’t get it well done), the added moisture is completely unnecessary.  But rules are meant to be broken, and when the sauce is this good?  Yeah man, pour it on.  More, please.

Steak frites

The sauce works perfectly with the fries, too, and then when you’re done, you can mop up what’s left with a piece of French bread.  It’s so good.

When you finish all that food, they come around and give you a few more slices of steak, another pile of fries, and more of that delicious sauce.  I was pretty full at this point, so I kinda wanted to say no, but do I have the willpower to say no to delicious steak and fries, no matter how full I am?

No; the answer is a resounding no.

At 26 Euros (about 40 bucks Canadian), even with the second helping, it’s hard to call this place a bargain.  But sometimes you’ve just gotta say “screw it” and spend the money, especially when it’s this good.