Scandinavia

This week, a tour of Denmark and Sweden. I´m off to visit a packaging show in Göteborg, and taking in a few Danish customers on the way. Direct flight Venice-Copenhagen, courtesy of Maersk air. Typical Danish cuisine is served on board: I have a choice of a slice of pizza or lamb kebabs, with a chocolate muffin to follow. Doh! But as if to make up for it, I am given an excellent fruity Australian Chardonnay-Semillon!

All of USA in a post

Sorry for the lack of news in this USA trip, but there hasn’t actually been much to write home about!!

A lot of jetting around back and forth: Chicago – Minneapolis – Detroit, back to Chicago, then over to Newark, NJ, and finally home via Frankfurt. As you can imagine, much of the time was spent in the air, at airports, or getting to and from airports… In-flight “service” in the US is non existent, consisting at best of a bag of peanuts and a drink, even in so-called “First” class on UA or NW. So the majority of the Americans carry on board the offerings of the airport food counters: “Cinnabons”, garlic pretzels, Chicago pizzas, Big Macs to take away. You can imagine the mix of smells in a departing aircraft!!

The *few* highlights of the trip include:

* general chaos at airports due to “security”, with passengers milling back and forth, not knowing which check point to go through. There is a new organization – the TSA – that apparently has been given authority to *break open* your suitcase locks if it so desires. (I am in dispute with UA about this…)

* the *excellent* beer to be had in Minneapolis – a few glasses of Summit Pale Ale (served cold, naturally) helps to take your mind off the ferocious Minnesota winters, particularly if downed together with a Walleye sandwich (fried fish from the many Minnesota lakes).

* lunch in a private club on top of a Detroit skyscraper, to which a kind customer invited us. A great shrimp salad, pity that it was pouring with rain so there was no view…

* Good dinner at the “Chicago Chop House”:http://www.chicagochophouse.com/, an institution among Chicago steak houses. Lively, crowded ambiance, a tender 24 oz. New York strip steak, a great Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – Stelzner Vineyards 2000. Expense accounts only. Hey, but a steak is a hunk of meat on the grill, can be done at home too…

For the rest of the time, it was mostly cheeseburgers on the fly!

USA

Off for a week to the USA. Usual yearly trip to the cleaning industry convention, that is held this year in Chicago. Alas, no opportunity this time to visit sights as the Grand Canyon!

My trip today takes with a short skip Venice – Munich, a rather longer hop across the Big Pond to Chicago, then a jump to Minneapolis for a some customer visits before hitting the Windy City again. Will be jetting around most of the week.

Just now, comfortably ensconsced in an Air Dolomiti ATR-72 with a grand view of the snow-covered Zugspitze on the right. Wunderbar!

Le picnic, c’est chic!

It must be the heat of this torrid summer: the French have discovered the pleasures of the anglo-saxon picnic! Mind you, they don’t pack mere egg-and-cress sarnies in the hamper, but the distinctly more foodie sandwich pain aux raisins, chèvre frais, copeaux de fenouil et pulpe d’olive, complete with a bottle of vintage Champagne…

Read more in this article in The Economist!

Another Bosphorus dinner

More customer visits today, mainly in Istanbul itself. Our man is doing his job well and he knows loads of people, most of whom seem to regard him as a good friend. Whilst driving around, I notice how green Istanbul is: there are no great parks, but everywhere squads of council workmen are busy, planting flowers or watering small garden beds by the road side. There is certainly a big effort to prettify the city.

We stop for lunch in Galatasaray, right in the city centre. We are in a small restaurant just off Istiklal Caddesi, the main Istanbul shopping street. It’s a small, homely place, and the food is homely too: Aubergine kebab, which turns out to be like a tasty aubergine and tomato ratatouille, a side of yogurt and cucumber, a few dried figs to finish. This is a typical dish that the Turkish family eats at home – meat kebabs, shish, döner and köfte are not the norm at all!

More meetings with yet more tea in the afternoon and into the early evening. No time to brush up at the hotel before dinner: as it’s my last evening in Turkey, we’re off to a special meal tonight! We drive out towards the shores of the Bosphorus and go to Park Fora in Kurucesme, near Örtaköy where I had the Happy Hour party two days ago. Park Fora is a large seafood restaurant set on a terrace amongst landscaped gardens with a great view over the straits. This is decidedly an upscale establishment and so are the patrons.

Sea bass As the sun sets and the candles are lit, a bevy of waiters bring our dinner. Several meze to start with, including shrimps, puréed aubergine (a real staple here in Turkey!), deep fried anchovies and squid. The main course is a huge sea bass baked in salt. The waiters put on a show cracking open the salt shell, and the taste of the sea bass is equally spectacular: this particular way of cooking seals in all the juices, and the fish is exceptionally tender! A couple of baklava sweets and a good Turkish coffee rounds off this excellent meal!

As we enjoy our dinner, the conversation spaces far and wide, but one comment from my Man in Turkey grabs my attention: “You do realize that all this would be banned, if the Islamists start ruling the country?” he remarks, waving his hand at the tables around us. “They will impose shariah law, ban alcohol and cover the women up! Then I think it would be right for the army to restore order.” I stare at him dumbfounded: does this mild, progressive man really contemplate the possibility of a military coup? Modern Turkey is a country of contradictions, with the two poles in society far apart. In the well-to-do areas of Istanbul we pass on the way back to the hotel, Western consumerism is rampant, with a concentration of Ferraris, Porsches and BMW SUVs greater than in any other European city.

Asia

Today we are off to Asia! Even to jaded travellers, there is a certain frisson of excitement as you pass the huge suspension bridge over the Bosphorus and you see a sign “Welcome to Asia”! The start of a vast continent… a few hours driving and I could be in Vladivostok… But to Istanbulis this is everyday commuting, and the Asian suburbs of the city are the fastest growing in Turkey. So many live here that they have even built a new airport to serve the Asian side inhabitants.

We do the usual drive around customers and drink yet more tea! As we pass through the towns, I notice how many Turkish words have a French origin: kuaför = coiffeur, şöför = chauffeur, viadügü = viaduc. Could this have been inspired by the francophile Atatürk, who latinised the Turkish alphabet? Once you get the hang of the curious spellings, Turkish isn’t the obtuse language it seems!

K�fte Lunch at a small resort by the Marmara seaside. Our restaurant is a köftecisi – a köfte meatball restaurant called Kekik (translates as “oregano”). Köfte are wonderful things, and ideal for a light meal: I have a mixed köfte dish, featuring spicy Adana köfte, plain grilled köfte and cheese köfte (I assure you, an entirely different experience from a Cheese Whopper!!). A tomato and cucumber salad and a little portion of rice by the side. A Turkish coffee and I’m done!

More visits in the afternoon, usual mixture of large and small companies. In the evening, we move back towards the European side, crossing by the second suspension bridge over the Bosphorus. It’s getting a little late by the time we get back near the hotel, and I’m tired so we have a quick dinner at Dürümcü Baba in Yesilköy. The speciality here is dürüm, that can best be described as a Turkish fajita: tender chunks of grilled lamb wrapped up with salad in a flat bread. With a couple of slices of watermelon, this makes for a quick and tasty meal!

The Bosphorus

Great start to the day – the hotel is right by the seaside and when I fling the curtains open I have a great view out from the 24th floor towards the glittering waters of the Sea of Marmara with many ships at anchor and the Prince’s Islands beyond.

Busy morning at our distributor’s office discussing the market situation and our strategies, then we move out to visit a few customers to the west of Istanbul. The city is expanding rapidly, with a lot of migrants from the Anatolian countryside. As a result, housing development and construction sites are everywhere and high rises dot the hills. Where houses go, mosques will follow, I see many minarets taking shape.

The companies we meet are a wide mixture: from modern, professionally managed organizations in smart, functional premises, to distinctly dingier outfits in dimly-lit concrete prefab buildings. One thing in common – the Turkish industrial areas all seem to have dirt roads full of potholes! As part of the meetings, a cup of Turkish coffee (kahve) or tea (çay) in a tulip shaped glass is invariably served.

After our last afternoon meeting we head off to a cocktail party! The transport company used by our distributor is hosting a “Happy Hour” for their customers. The location could not be more spectacular: a cocktail bar in Ortaköy, right on the shore of the Bosphorus. We sit by the lapping water, sun setting over the green shores of Asia on the other side of the straits. Huge tankers and small fishing boats ply the waters linking the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, the domes of a white 19th century mosque are just in front and the minarets of Sultanahmet in the distance. With this great view, we pass a Happy Hour indeed!

Ortaköy is a trendy area of Istanbul, narrow streets with old wooden buildings and small squares lined with cafés and restaurants. It is here that we choose to dine, in a balik (fish) restaurant. We ate a few snacks at the cocktail, so we have a light meal – the usual starters, salad, aubergine, börek, and then a plate of grilled shrimps. Turkish drink: raki and water!

Istanbul dinner

Dinner time! My Man in Turkey arrives, and after a short consultation, we decide to go to Kasibeyaz in Florya, just on the other side of the airport and one of my favourite restaurants in Istanbul! This is an et lokantasi, a restaurant specialising in meat, and the kebabs here are delicious! It is a large establishment, featuring even a large playground for the children, but the number of waiters is astonishing, and service is fast.

MIT takes care of the ordering and soon the starters arrive, plentiful and varied in the Levantine tradition: puréed aubergines, yogurt, a couple of puff pastry cheese börek, some raw spiced meatballs eaten with a leaf of lettuce, and a lahmacun, a small “Turkish pizza”, with parsley and minced meat on top.

The main course is also varied: we have chosen to order a küçük porsyon – a small portion, rather in the Spanish tapa style – of several dishes. We have Adana köfte, spicy meatballs named after the southern Turkish city where spicy food is the norm, a couple of very tender lamb kebabs, roast lamb slices, and finally Adana kebab. A few glasses of excellent Efes Pilsen beer from Izmir to accompany the feast.

To finish we share a classic Turkish dessert: künefe, a nest of pastry threads with honey and soft cheese, served warm. Delicious and very filling! An altogether excellent meal!

Istanbul arrival

This week I’m off to Turkey! A regular occasion for me, and always a pleasure as the Turks are a friendly and hospitable people and their cuisine, in the immortal words of the Michelin guide, “vaut un voyage”! This is another distributor support trip, to talk shop with our Man in Turkey and a few customer visits to show the flag.

Usual early morning start from home to catch a 7:45 flight from Venice to….Vienna! It may seem a little strange, but it is in fact a convenient connection eastwards, faster and cheaper than travelling with Alitalia via Rome. The Venice-Vienna leg is in a somewhat cramped Dash 7 turboprop, fast changeover to a roomier A320 to Istanbul, but full of screaming babies that don’t let up screaming until we arrive! Thank God the flight is only 2 hours long!

Two long queues to join at Istanbul airport: before you go through the immigration queue you have to first get a “visa” (in reality an visitors entry tax stamp) – cost 10 Euro for Europeans but 100 USD for Americans!! I wonder why this disparity??

I am met by my Man in Turkey in the arrivals hall and he takes me straight to the Polat hotel near the airport – about 17 km out of Istanbul centre, but comfortable and convenient for his offices. With a cheery goodbye he leaves me until the evening. What can I do but relax by the Olympic poolside for the rest of the afternoon? Every working day should be like this!

Bretagne > Alsace

Somehow I fell in a communications black hole yesterday, so no update was posted. But having set off yesterday morning from Rennes, after much, much driving, I’m now back in Alsace. Several meetings a day and travelling do not allow any time for sightseeing, but I ended up yesterday night in Blois, in the midst of the Loire valley. Tourist country, of course, and my hotel had a coachload of American pensioners on tour. The château at Blois was the royal residence for many years, but its outward appearance is less impressive than nearby Chambord or Chenonceaux. The inside decoration is supposedly a masterpiece of the Renaissance, but naturally it was closed at time I arrived.

ch�teau de Blois

Today I spent a lot of time driving on the D-roads. As you know, all main motorways lead to Paris and there are few roads going across France. But it turns out to be no problem. I am driving in the heartland of France, in the Saulois, the Cher and the Yonne. The straight, empty roads take me through woodland with many ponds and little villages (the men here still wear flat caps and rotund women emerge from the boulangeries with baguettes in hand). In one of these villages I see a sign for Fromage de Ch̬vre fermier РI cannot resist and buy a couple of Crottin de Chavignol to take home.

Fromagerie

I finally join the A6 motorway, and skirting past Dijon, head for a meeting in the Franche Comté and then onto my overnight stop in Mulhouse.

Mulhouse

Mulhouse is of course a German town that has been only been French (on and off) for about 200 years or so. As in much of Alsace, the architecture is Germanic, with a cathedral similar to Freiburg’s. The locals speak a curious Franco-German dialect. The old town is pretty enough, but is sadly ringed by many ugly 1960s and 1970s concrete buildings.

Aux Caves du Vieux Couvent

For dinner tonight I select Aux Caves du Vieux Couvent in 23 rue Couvent. This is the place to go for Alsace specialities. The atmosphere is rustic, wooden beams, red checked tablecloths, tall green wine glasses and frescoes on the walls. I choose the menu terroir where every dish is accompanied by its own little glass of Alsace wine:

First off with Presskopf à la Vinaigrette, which as the name suggests, is a slice of pressed meat (don’t ask….) with vinaigrette dressing, served with a gherkin and capers. Not exactly to my taste, but one has to sacrifice oneself in the sake of culture, no? A glass of Syvaner starts the series of wines.

Next, a slice of Tarte à l’Oignon, oniony of course, but very delicately so, with a nice crunchy base. Glass of Tokay Pinot Gris – much nicer than the Italian Pinot Grigio that I find invariably acidic!

The main course is Choucroute fine au Riesling, featuring caraway seed sausage, Frankfurter, Speck and a pork chop over a small hill of sauerkraut, with a couple of boiled potatoes. Did I tell you Alsace food isn’t exactly light? Ideal of course for a cold winter’s day, but it’s midsummer now!! A good glass of Riesling helps to wash it all down.

More arrives: Munster cheese with acacia honey – beware, one of the “stinkiest” cheeses in France when ripe, but this one is nice and sweet. Why the honey? I don’t know the origins, but it combines wonderfully with the cheese! And the glass of Gewürztraminer that accompanies it is delectable!

What better to conclude the meal with a refreshing fruit sorbet? Naturally enriched by a squirt of Marc de Gewürztraminer!

Excellent value at EUR 25!

Another recommendation in Mulhouse is Au Bouton d’Or in the Place de la Réunion (Rothüssplatz) – a fromagerie with a vast selection of cheeses, where I will shop tomorrow morning before heading home.