Friday, 23 September 2016

CHINA: 6 must-eat dishes from Xi'an's Muslim quarter

What to eat in Xi'an's Muslim Quarter

braising sheep hooves in Xi'an, China
China's ancient capital of Xi'an (here's my post on how to spend a couple of days in Xi'an) once marked the terminus of the Silk Road. The trading opportunities drew people from across Asia, and migrants became an integral part of the city.

Fast forward to today and the result is an exciting melting pot of cultures and religion, which also happens to be the failsafe formula for great food - check out my culinary adventures in Penang in Malaysia for another good example of this.

In Xi'an's Muslim quarter, you'll find sights familiar to both Chinese and Middle Eastern culture. 

Hawkers roast walnuts, carve watermelon, and pick out the seeds from giant sunflower heads. Perspiring cooks stir-fry cubes of spiced lamb in roaring woks set over screaming-hot coal ovens. Steamed mutton and beef dumplings stacked high in bamboo baskets sit alongside vendors selling a kaleidoscope of fresh fruit, and little old ladies frying potatoes for optimal walk-and-eat snackage.

It does get busy; Xi'an as a whole sees a lot of tourists. Mostly Chinese. But it's fun to get swept along with the hungry crowds, and if that's your thing, get there for around 7.30pm. If you prefer to avoid the masses, and for easier photo opportunities, head over in the afternoon or early evening. Either way, and regardless of how hungry you are, you won't end up spending much more than around 40 Yuan (£5) to get totally stuffed. 

Below are a few pointers on what to eat in Xi'an's Muslim Quarter. As ever, it's by no means an exhaustive list, but it's certainly no bad place to start.

scenes from Xian's Muslim quarter, China

1) Rou jia mo - steam and griddled bread sandwiches with lamb or beef

These aren't exclusive to Xi'an - the Chinese are pretty good at stuffed sandwiches, where they're called rou jia bing across the rest of the country. But the local dialect in these parts refer to them as rou jia mo, and you won't be finding any pork in them.

Instead, the bing are stuffed with chopped beef brisket, a bit like corned beef, but more moist. The meat is braised and cured in a vat, then the cook takes a big cleaver to it on a wooden block. The bread is split open, covered with a slick of chilli oil, and stuffed with the beef. Often enjoyed with some sesame cold skin noodles, the two together are great.

2)Pao mo - bread and mutton soup

This bread and mutton soup is found across Xi'an, but especially in the Muslim quarter. 

This was gorgeous - tiny cubes of torn bread, thin rice noodles, chopped greens, braised mutton, and a thick meaty broth, served with pickled garlic and sweet chilli paste. Hugely comforting, full of flavour - it's a signature local dish to seek out when here. And it's only about £1.80.

The way the locals eat it is that they tear the bread into the bowl themselves, then it gets whisked back to the kitchen where the chefs add the rest of the ingredients (see the video below) to make the final soup. 

But my bread was already torn; I suspect it was easier for the lady to do it herself than try to explain what I was supposed to do. Either way, it's lovely stuff.

3) Hammered nut candy

There are two main observations to note with this guy below. Firstly, that's not dough he's stretching. It's in fact warm sugar. Secondly, I watched him for a while, and not once does the sugar touch the spit-covered floor. Skills.

Xi'an is obsessed with nuts, and their sweets reflect that. This guy repeatedly folds and stretches hot sugar across a hook, then the candy gets transferred to a large wooden stump where it's sprinkled with nuts. Guys then go at it with big wooden mallets, pounding the nuts into the warm candy until it hardens , then it's cut into pieces. 

The mallets are pretty noisy and always draw a crowd, as does the sugar-stretching boy. Fun theatre, and a tasty sweet treat.

4) Fried liang fen - green bean starch jelly

I walked past this assuming it was animal based, because we're in China, and the Chinese eat everything, right? Wrong. I mean, the Chinese are pretty good at eating all of the animals, but that doesn't mean they don't love their veggies. And in fact, the whole Muslim Quarter and the city of Xi'an as a whole is a great place for vegetarians, in a country where meat is a symbol of prosperity.

These were cubes of liang fen, a sort of tofu-like jelly made with green bean starch. They were studded with chillies and spring onions, and fried in shallow pans. Outside of Xi'an they're often served cold and coated in a hot chilli Sichuan sauce. But these ones retained both kinds of heat well, and got nice and crispy round the edges. Another great snack to graze on as you walk and scout for the next treat.

5) Persimmon doughnuts

Oh boy, did I love these. I actually had them in a restaurant in Xi'an, rather than the Muslim street food strip, but wherever you go looking for them, make sure you do actually find them.

These are interesting in texture, and have fantastic flavour. Inside they're dense and chewy a bit like Japanese mochi, thanks to an unleavened dough made from dried persimmons. But outside they're fried and crisp. There are apparently lots of varieties available, each with a different filling at the centre. 

But if you don't know the language, and you don't know what options are available, just point to what the person before you ordered. You can't go too far wrong.

6) Skewers

Speaking of the Silk Road, there's a restaurant in South East London called Silk Road, and they're particularly well known for their cumin-crusted lamb skewers. And you'll find exactly these in Xi'an too.

The Chinese as a whole are prolific consumers of things on sticks, be that grilled, fried, simmered, or however else you can think of cooking them. This is particularly prevalent in Xi'an where you'll find grilled lamb or beef shish kebabs on pretty much every street throughout the city; it's almost impossible to return to your room after wandering the streets without honking of meaty coal smoke.

In the Muslim Quarter though, there's more choice. You'll find tiny chunks of fatty lamb coated in chilli oil and dusted in cumin, dried chillies and salt. There's also mutton, beef, lamb's liver, chicken wings, quail's eggs, all of the sausages, all sorts of vegetables, and most other things you could think of.

Sticks go for around 1 Yuan a pop, which is like, 12p. Try to resist spending more than 40p on these supremely tasty skewers, or you'll struggle to find room for everything else. 

How to get to Xi'an

Finnair were the first Western European airline to fly non stop to China; it was Beijing in 1988. They were also the first Western European airline to fly to Xi'an. Another claim is they were the first airline in the world to send SMS messages to customers regarding their flights. Which is fitting, seeing as SMS was invented in Finland.

Their minimum connection time in Helsinki is 35 mins, and they're rather proud of their extremely low statistic of only losing 4 in 1000 pieces of luggage - that's a very good number.

I was lucky enough to experience their fully flat beds in business class, which included some of the best food I've eaten at 30,000 feet. That's thanks to the new culinary collaboration for long-haul business passengers, with world-class chefs Steven Liu from China and Sasu Laukkonen from Finland, launched in April 2016 this year.

Think such Nordic delights as cucumber and dill soup with yoghurt and smoked salmon tarter; pressed beef neck with celeriac puree, herb butter and spring vegetables; Peltolan Blue and Viinitarhuri Finnish cheeses; organic Finnish ice cream by Jymy; and a very healthy stock of the excellent Finnish Napue gin, voted the best gin in the world to have with tonic, according to the International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC).

Get a couple of those down your neck along with some fine bubbles, and you can start the holiday well before you get there.

aboard a Finnair flight from Helsinki to Chongqing


Note: This trip and the flights was hosted by Finnair. Thank you to everyone involved for a truly wonderful experience. Must get back to China...

All views remain my own, as always.

Related posts
CHINA: How to spend 2 days in China's ancient capital, Xi'an
CHINA: 8 Sichuan dishes to eat in Chongqing

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

CHINA: How to spend 2 days in China's ancient capital, Xi'an

Xi'ans Muslim food district, China

How to spend two days in Xi'an

After spending a couple of days in Chongqing - one of the country's emerging mega-cities - we took a domestic flight to nearby Xi'an in Shaanxi Province, to experience a truly ancient pocket of China.

It's a humbling 3000 years old, and was the country's capital during no less than thirteen dynasties, spanning 1000 years. Once the terminus of the Silk Road, it brought migrants to China from the likes of Mongolia and Korea, as well as Muslims. The result today is a vibrant and exciting melting pot of cultures and religion, and some seriously good food (check out my post 6 must-eat dishes from Xian's Muslim quarter).

Xi'an's glory days - occupied by great emperors, merchants, warriors, poets and courtesans - may be long gone. But the history remains, and there's a lot of it to take in. The Ming-era city walls are still there, and the narrow lanes and street hawkers of the Muslim Quarter will keep most people entertained for hours. Dynastic enthusiasts could easily stay busy for a week.

Below are a few pointers on what to see and do that could nicely fill a couple of days or so. As always, if you're able to stay longer, do. I wish I had extended my trip by two more days, as I felt I'd only just tapped the surface. I really enjoyed Xi'an and it's intimacy. And I absolutely loved the food. I hope to be back some day.

What to do in Xi'an

Take a morning Tai Chi lesson

How zen does our Tai Chi master in white look below? We popped over to Revolution Park one morning to both witness and participate in some of the daily group exercise routines that take place. It was full of elderly people working up a sweat, bending and flexing whilst doing aerobics, dancing, Tai Chi, playing sports, and generally putting us young bucks to shame.

We were privileged to have a Tai Chi grand master show us some basic moves, having practiced the discipline himself for 30 years. His precise and fluid movements drew a big crowd, who also stuck around to watch (and film) us westerners give it a go too. We did pretty well in the heat; it's far more demanding on the body than it looks! Kudos to the little old ladies who can lunge with far greater stability than the rest of us - great glute action. 

And it reminded me of that time I was coerced to join in a similar activity in the village of Mae Rim near Chiang Mai - that was a great evening.

There's nothing stopping visitors turning up and latching onto a group, copying the movements. It's good fun.

Revolution Park, 53 Siwu Road, Xi'an 710004

early morning Tai Chi in Revolution Park, Xi'an

Marvel at the vast Army of Terracotta Warriors

This UNESCO heritage site is so much awesome, really. All these thousands of clay statues were accidentally discovered just 40 years ago, which is pretty cool in itself.

So, what's the story? In a nutshell, two thousand years ago, three large underground pits were created, housing these armies of soldiers with real weapons in their hands. The Qin Dynasty emperor at the time, who these were made for to protect him in the afterlife, made no recording of their existence - he wanted them to remain a secret forever. He even had those who designed the pits killed so they couldn't reveal how to find them. They were hidden there, covered by a wooden roof and buried under five meters of soil, for 2000 years.

Fast forward to the 1970's and a farmer stumbled across some fragments as he was digging his field to make a well. The rest as they say, is history. The farmer himself did pretty well out of the discovery; credit to him for not keeping it a secret for fear of angering the gods (as his friends wanted to), and sharing it with the relevant authorities. 

Two thousand soldiers currently stand, but archaeologists estimate there are around 8000 in total. They're still excavating and reassembling the pieces today. Only one terracotta warrior was found completely in tact - the kneeling archer (the close up below). The rest were smashed to pieces which have painstakingly been put back together over the last 40 years, in what is possibly the world's biggest jigsaw puzzle.

The place is fascinating, and there's so much more to it than I can do justice here. Saying it's a must visit when in Xi'an is an understatement; people from around the world visit Xi'an because of the Terracotta Warriors. Heck, my boyfriend joined the queue at 6am one Saturday morning to ensure he got in, when some of the warriors were loaned to the British Museum in London a few years back. He was a little envious I got to see the real deal.

It costs about 200 RMB (£23) to get a taxi from Xi'an city to the Terracotta Warrior museum, and is roughly a fifty minute drive. My advice is to get a guide to talk you through the history of it all; it will really bring it to life.

Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, Lintong, Xi'an

the Terracotta Warrior Museum, Xi'an

Learn how to make (and eat) dumplings

The latter is a lot easier than the former, let me tell you. I've
tried making Chinese dumplings before; let's just say I'm lacking in natural talent.

Xi'an was the capital of the whole of China for a whopping 13 dynasties spanning more than 1000 years, and it's regarded as the home, if not the birthplace of the fine art of dumplings. And who doesn't love a good Chinese dumpling. No one, is the answer to that.

Rice isn't grown in this part of the country as the climate is too dry, and it's too far from the sea. Instead, corn and wheat is the staple, which means noodles and dumplings are the carb of choice in Shaanxi cuisine. 

De Fa Chang is one of Xi'an's most famous restaurants, and it's the place to visit for dumplings. The chefs craft these little packages of joy in every conceivable shape, colour, and with a whole host of fillings. Enjoying a dumpling banquet here is highly recommended (see below), but if you can get someone who knows the lingo to organise a dumpling demonstration for you too (perhaps ask your hotel concierge to give them a call), all the better for it.

De Fa Chang, 3 West Street, Lianhu, Xi’an +86 29 8721 4060

dumpling making at De Fa Chang Restaurant, Xi'an

Soak up Xi'an's Muslim quarter

Look for the old Drum Tower located in the northwest quadrant of the ancient walled city, and you have the main entry to Xi'an's Muslim Quarter. Initial impressions are dominated by loud hawking and bright neon signs. But spend a little more time here and you'll soon realise it's an area steeped in history.

This neighbourhood has been home to a largely Muslim population since the 7th Century AD, and many say the local cuisine found in these parts have changed little since then. I'm writing a whole separate post on what to eat in Xi'an's Muslim Quarter - stay tuned.

Expect lots of tourists. Tons of them, mostly Chinese. But walk these streets, sample the street food, and soak up the great atmosphere. And when it all gets a bit too hectic, head to the serenity of The Great Mosque.

Unlike most mosques found across the rest of the world, The Great Mosque in Xi'an is completely Chinese in construction - not a dome or traditional minaret in sight. Built in 742 AD during the Tang Dynasty, it's a stunning example of Islamic culture and traditional Chinese architecture blending seamlessly, and is one of the most revered mosques in the country.

The Great Mosque, near the Drum Tower on 30 Huajue Lane, Xi'an

scenes from the Muslim quarter and the Grand Mosque, Xi'an

Where to eat in Xi'an

Full on Shaanxi feast at Shaanxi China Folk's Restaurant

This small chain started as a modest eatery, expanding to eleven sites across Xi'an since it launched in 1999; they're very popular with locals after classic Shaanxi cuisine. We visited what's probably the most accessible location on The North 2nd Ring Road. As is often the case with Chinese restaurants in China, it's big. Covering two floors, it also has an 800 square meter banquet hall to accommodate big events.

All sorts of beautiful food was brought to our table, including stuffed lotus root, a whole fried chicken, vegetables and more. But the winning dish, and one of my favourite things I ate throughout the whole China trip, was their you po mian (biang biang) - hot oil noodles. Wide and very long belt noodles, ground meat, vegetables, black vinegar, red-hot peppers, and garlic, with hot oil being added last, then the whole thing is tossed. Simple and so very excellent.

Bai Xing Chu Fang (China Folk’s Restaurant), No.111-1, Weiyang Road, Weiyang District, Xian

Shaanxi dishes at Bai Xing Chu Fang (China Folk’s Restaurant)

you po mian at Bai Xing Chu Fang (China Folk’s Restaurant), Xi'an

Dumpling banquet at De Fa Chang dumpling house

Following on from the dumpling demo above, we went on to enjoy De Fa Chang's fourteen course dumpling banquet. A formidable array of stuffed dough with some serious tourist appeal, pretty much everyone who visits Xi'an will come here to experience this. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as the majority of those tourists are Chinese. And if anyone knows a good Chinese dumpling, it's the Chinese. Right?

There were loads of different colours and shapes, with fillings like duck and sesame, pork with black fungus, pork with leek, and spicy chicken. There were Shaanxi fried dumplings with celery, pork and chilli, even more dumplings, plus half a dozen non-dumpling plates for starters. It ended with the Empress Dowager Cixi Hotpot, which involves your fortune being told by how many teeny chicken dumplings end up in your bowl. I got three, which means a good career, I'm told. I have to say, I really enjoyed this meal. 

De Fa Chang has been at the foot of the historic Bell Tower, serving up bite-sized parcels of pleasure, since 1936. They boast over 300 varieties of dumpling, and I would advise going for the full on banquet set menu served upstairs, rather than choosing from the a la carte downstairs. For all that food, it was only around 150 RMB per person, about £15. Be sure to get your hotel to book ahead.

De Fa Chang, 3 West Street, Lianhu, Xi’an, China, +86 29 8721 4060

dumpling banquet at De Fa Chang dumpling house, Xi'an

Ancient Qin Dynasty feasting at Qin Restaurant of Real Love

Any excuse to don a cool ancient Chinese outfit in a restaurant with a funny English translation. Qin Restaurant of Real Love is a Qin dynasty themed get-up, housed in a modern high-rise. The meal involves a series of small dishes that capture the flavours and techniques that once graced the dining tables of emperors.

What struck me was how very Japanese this experience was, from the table set up, to the way of eating, to the traditional attire which looked exactly like a kimono. Of course, the response to me raising this observation was that the Japanese stole all this from the Qin Dynasty. I'm sure the Japanese have a similar, but opposing view.

Dishes were very different to modern day Shaanxi meals, altogether much more delicate in flavour. Think hot and sour soup, seasoned cold noodles, smoked fish, deep-fried meat balls with spiced salt, boiled white radish with abalone sauce, steamed pumpkin with fried vegetables, steamed bean curd, stewed pasta with pork and vegetables, and pan-fried golden persimmon cake.

You'll receive a copy of the menu written in both Chinese and English, along with a stamp of the emperor's seal on the back - a nice souvenir to take away.

traditional Qin Dynasty banquet at Qin Restaurant of Real Love, Xi'an

Where to stay in Xi'an

I had a very pleasant stay at the Hilton Hotel in Xi'an, with an elegant and large room and a glass wall separating the bathroom to the rest of the space. It's in an ideal location, set within the ancient City Wall, and very close to landmarks like the Bell Tower, which is where you'll find De Fa Change dumpling house.

Hilton Hotel Xian, 199 Dongxin Road, Xin Cheng District, Xi'an 710005

The Hilton Hotel, Xi'an

How to get to Xi'an

Finnair were the first Western European airline to fly non stop to China; it was Beijing in 1988. They were also the first Western European airline to fly to Xi'an. Another claim is they were the first airline in the world to send SMS messages to customers regarding their flights. Which is fitting, seeing as SMS was invented in Finland. 

Their minimum connection time in Helsinki is 35 mins, and they're rather proud of their extremely low statistic of only losing 4 in 1000 pieces of luggage - that's a very good number.

I was lucky enough to experience their fully flat beds in business class, which included some of the best food I've eaten at 30,000 feet. That's thanks to the new culinary collaboration for long-haul business passengers, with world-class chefs Steven Liu from China and Sasu Laukkonen from Finland, launched in April 2016 this year. 

Think such Nordic delights as cucumber and dill soup with yoghurt and smoked salmon tarter; pressed beef neck with celeriac puree, herb butter and spring vegetables; Peltolan Blue and Viinitarhuri Finnish cheeses; organic Finnish ice cream by Jymy; and a very healthy stock of the excellent Finnish Napue gin, voted the best gin in the world to have with tonic, according to the International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC)

Get a couple of those down your neck along with some fine bubbles, and you can start the holiday well before you get there.

aboard a Finnair flight from Xi'an to Helsinki

China Guides

Finnair worked with the China International Travel Service for the guides that accompanied us in both Chongqing and Xian.


Note: This trip and the flights was hosted by Finnair. Thank you to everyone involved for a truly wonderful experience. Must get back to China...

All views remain my own, as always.

Related posts
CHINA: 8 Sichuan dishes to eat in Chongqing
CHINA: 6 must-eat dishes from Xi'an's Muslim quarter

Saturday, 20 August 2016

RECIPE: Almond and thyme-crusted macaroni cheese muffins

A recipe for macaroni cheese muffins with an almond and thyme crust

I don't need much of an excuse to eat cheddar, a cheese that's most definitely in my top five favourites. So when the nice folk over at Danish cheese brand Castello asked me to come up with a simple recipe that 'breaks the rules', using one of their three Tickler cheddars, I needed little persuading.

macaroni cheese muffins
I've taken inspiration from a classic Cypriot dish called firin makarna (oven-baked macaroni cheese), where grated halloumi is used to make a cheese sauce, it's layered with lamb mince, baked in the oven, allowed to cool and harden, and served at room temperature portioned up into cubes. It's a different baked take on what is one of my favourite plates of food in the world: halloumi pasta with lemon and mint

Instead, I've stuck with a classic cheese sauce using Tickler Extra Mature Cheddar, omitted the lamb so it's good for veggies, added some spinach to help with the fibre quota, and jazzed them up with a thyme, almond and breadcrumb crust for extra flavour. I've also made them into individual muffin portions, so they're perfect picnic and party finger food. They're really very good. But then I guess it's hard to go too wrong with pasta and quality cheese.

RECIPE: Almond and thyme-crusted macaroni cheese muffins 

Makes around 18 muffins

For the cheese sauce
600ml whole milk, room temperature
50g unsalted butter
50g plain flour
350g block of Castello Extra Mature Tickler Cheddar, grated (keep 30g aside) (pic 2)
Fresh nutmeg
Black pepper

For the muffin crusts
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsp olive oil
1tsp butter
1//2 tbsp of thyme leaves
50g panko breadcrumbs
30g of grated Castello Extra Mature Tickler Cheddar (what you kept aside from above)
20g toasted almond flakes

For the muffins
400g elbow macaroni

70g baby spinach, roughly chopped

Here's the link to the step-by-step recipe for these macaroni cheese muffins with almond and thyme crusts on the Castello website for you to try at home. If you do, we'd love to know how it went! You can share your cheesy pasta muffins on Instagram and Twitter tagging @CastelloUK, or using the #DiscoverTickler hashtag. And tag me as well please - I'd love to see too. 

This is a sponsored post, in partnership with Castello, as part of their #DiscoverTickler campaign. I hope you get to try this recipe - it's GOOD. 

ingredients for almond and thyme-crusted macaroni cheese muffins
making the macaroni cheese muffins

making the macaroni cheese muffins

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

USA: 10 places to eat in downtown St Petersburg, Florida

Where to eat in downtown St Pete, FL

a moody St. Pete waterfront
I happened to be in the States for last year's Independence Day. Specifically Los Angeles, in what was week 28 of mine and the other half's eight month round-the-world travel stint (I've almost been back a year now - boy, that time has flown). I happened to wind up there for this 4th July too, thanks to the lovely folk at Visit The USA.

They asked me if I'd be keen on visiting St. Petersburg in Florida (close to Tampa), to discover the city through the medium of food, and share some intrepid culinary reporting with my readers. The answer was of course, yes. And by pure coincidence, my visit fell over Independence Day.  

I would be going on my own, with no itinerary and no schedule; I'd be free to seek out the best eating spots of my own accord and order what I want; I'd be able to call being a grazing glutton for five days in a new city 'work'; and I could totally make some new pals over street party beer drinking in the name of America's birthday (that's what they do, right?). I was well up for the task. 

It was a fab trip, and I'm really starting to get the draw of solo travel. There's no one to answer to, and it forces you to embrace your surroundings more than you might do with a familiar face in tow.

making new pals in St. Pete
Probably because of this, I ended up in a whisky bar one night, watching an adorably nerdy and simultaneously excellent blues band who were so good, I bought them a round of Jameson, and had one too many myself (I didn't leave the room until 1pm the next day). 

And I met some lovely lads in a café, who invited me to join them watching the July 4th fireworks. We ended the evening guffawing over cocktails and the hilarious differences between the English spoken in our two countries - thanks again guys. 

From my non-stop eating in St. Petersburg, with visits based on recommendations from locals and my own research, here are my favourite picks.

an all American breakfast at The Hangar
Restaurant, St Pete

1) The Hangar Restaurant & Flight Lounge

Some of the best meals I had in St Pete. were the breakfasts. I'm talking big portions of all-American classics; the things Brits will always order whenever we hop over the pond. You just can't find this stuff in the UK.

Get yourself to The Hangar Restaurant at Albert Whitted Airport; it's a very small one right on Tampa Bay for private aircraft. Order the Applewood smoked bacon, stone-ground grits, buttermilk biscuit, an iced tea, and get some biscuit gravy as an extra. What a way to start the day - it was terrific.

The Hangar Restaurant, 540 1st St SE, St. Petersburg, FL 33701

hangover-busting brunch at Cassis, St Pete

2) Cassis American Brasserie

This was on the morning after that night of whisky. It was July 4th, I was worried most places would be closed, and I'd figured I'd almost certainly missed any brunch menus that might have been on (remember, I left the room late). 

I did a bit of dazed wandering down Beach Drive, and just before the point of collapse - a horrid hangover with unrelenting humidity is most unpleasant - I found myself in front of a couple eating outside (how?!), with eggs on their plate. Exactly what I wanted.

AC and a great corned beef hash at Cassis Bakery, with two sunny side up eggs. Yeh, that hit the spot.

Cassis American Brasserie, 170 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg, FL 33701

homemade Reuben knish made with love
from Saturday Morning Market, St Pete

3) Saturday Morning Market

If you happen to find yourself in St. Pete over a weekend, I'd recommend the Saturday Morning Market. 

Their mission: to be the heart of St. Petersburg, where people feel a strong sense of 'joyful connectedness and creative community'. 

You'll find real farmers, great food, interesting crafts and lively music, with a range of gourmet ready-to-eat and take-home treats.

Still on UK time, I got there bright and early and had my first breakfast stop of the day: a Reuben knish with home-cured corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and potato. Plus a ginger kombucha over ice because I was already wilting, even at 9am.

Saturday Morning Market, 100 1st Street SE, St. Petersburg, FL 33701

all of the legs at 400 Beach
Sunday buffet, St Pete

4) 400 Beach Seafood & Tap House

Another weekend must do is the Sunday buffet brunch at 400 Beach. Buffets are a done thing in America, and done well - very much unlike the UK, where they're generally considered a bit naff.

There are a lot of them in St. Pete, but I didn't find another that offered all you can eat crustacean. Alaskan snow crab legs a plenty, I spent a glorious hour cracking, poking and sucking the hell out of those things like I was on commission.

There's other stuff too, like fresh salads, fry up staples, an omelette station, a carving station, and a whole little room of desserts. But it's the crab that brings the boys and girls to the yard.

400 Beach Seafood & Tap House, 400 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg, FL 33701

iced coffee and scone to beat the
FL heat at Banyan Café, St Pete

5) Banyan Café

Banyan Café on Central is a great spot to take some respite from the oppressive summer air. I intercepted a morning's wanderings with their iced Kahwa coffee and one of their fresh homemade scones, with mango and cinnamon.

It's also where I bumped into my 4th July pals (see above), and then got chatting to another guy who was visiting from California, to see if he should up and move his business here. Who then joined me for lunch (see Bodega below). Sure, why not.

Those Americans sure are a friendly bunch.

Banyan Café, 701 Central Ave, St. Petersburg, FL 33701

lunch fuel on Central,
The Cuban from Bodega, St Pete

6) Bodega

There is much online rhapsodising about The Cuban sandwich found at Bodega on Central. 

A shack with a chalkboard menu and paper dinner boxes, the menu at Bodega is inspired by the islands of Latin America, alongside a fresh juice bar to help with that heat (I know I keep going on about it, but it really was so hot).

In your sandwich expect roast pork ham, Swiss, pickles and mayo, and out the front expect a queue. I felt a bit like an extra in the film Chef.

Bodega, 1120 Central Ave, St. Petersburg, FL 33705

getting those greens in at
The Cider Press Cafe, St Pete

7) The Cider Press Café

Whilst it's tempting to fill your boots on carbs and protein when visiting the States, it's important to get those greens in.

A good spot for this is the Cider Press Café for some sunshine eating in the form of Florida inspired plant-based food.

I ticked off some of my fibre quota with The Cider Press Salad: mixed greens, apple, carrot, berries, smoked pecans and an apple cider, ginger and lemon dressing. And a kale, spinach, banana, mango and pineapple smoothie for good measure.

The Cider Press Café, 601 Central Ave. St Petersburg, FL 33701

big ice cream game from Paciugo, St Pete

8) Paciugo

Everything really is bigger in America. This was probably the largest ice cream I've ever been given, and it was only a regular.

A national chain founded in 2000 by Italians who moved to Dallas and missed the flavours of Italy, Paciugo's gelato is made by hand each day and comes in a brain-bending number of flavours

I got scoops of four much-loved classics - a fab chocolate sorbet, pistachio, coffee and salted caramel. It was all over my hand within seconds; I had to upturn the beast into a tub and attack it with a spoon.

Paciugo, 300 Beach Dr, Ste. 120, St Petersburg, FL 33701

steaming pho for a hot day at La V, St Pete

9) La V

I might have still been acclimatising to the heat and humidity on my first evening, but it didn't stop me chasing a steaming bowl of pho.

I found a lovely bowl at La Vie, with 12 hour stewed beef broth and generous amounts of meat, all paired with a hoppy Tampa Bay Old Elephant Foot IPA.

And then I knocked out by 9pm, as it was 2am in my head.

La V, 441 Central Ave, St. Petersburg, FL 33701

seafood-focussed fine dining
at Sea Salt St Pete

10) Sea Salt St. Pete

I was told I wasn't allowed to visit Florida and not eat groupa. I'm all for unwritten rules, so here she be. A glorious blackened groupa fillet from Sea Salt St. Pete, with a very nice Sancerre. 

There are few things more pleasurable than having a fancy pants solo meal with cocktails and wine and small and sweet Kumamoto oysters from British Columbia and great service - it was a pretty sweet evening.

Sea Salt St. Pete, 183 2nd Ave North, St. Petersburg, FL 33701

This is a sponsored post in partnership with Visit The USA, as part of a campaign to showcase the flavours of the country, one destination at a time. If you end up visiting St. Pete and trying out any of the treats above, I'd love to hear about it!

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