Getting souped up for winter

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Lifting the lid on Transylvanian ciorbă soup

Today is the first day of winter in Australia.

And it’s cold!!! Cold for Aussies means fifteen degrees. Brrrghhh.

It’s sprung up on us because we generally skip autumn and go from the rays of summer straight into a determined chill. It always takes me by surprise and yes, I’m subsequently writing this in a robe and slippers.

So it seems like the perfect time to talk soup and I have many fond memories to ladle out.

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Ciorbă soup housed in a dome of bread

Like this ciorbă de fasole cu costiţă afumată soup I had in Sighișoara, Romania last year. I’d heard about an infamous Transylvanian soup, in this case made with beans and smoked ham served in bread, and wanted to track it down. The soup was just as dramatic as the medieval fortress of Sighișoara itself and so delicious. I took particular joy in scraping the inside to extract broth-soaked bread, layer by layer.

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Filled with a heady bean, pork and spice laden soup

I only made it about halfway through before my stomach gave up. It filled me up for a day and was only 15 lei – around €4.

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Freshly served elk soup

My good old friend, Estonian elk soup, is the ultimate comfort food in a bowl, served alongside elk pies and pickles and accessorised with a complimentary Estonian wench to serve and rouse on guests.

I wonder if there’s a symbiotic relationship between how cold you feel and how much you enjoy your soup – I’d say definitely yes.

I remember feeling like an icy pole when I went to Iceland. And I was there in summer.

I constantly took refuge in the shops to momentarily melt and peruse expensive wool jumpers.

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Icelandic fish soup served on a delightful fish plate

In between I’d dart out for a hot dog and then some Icelandic fish soup which is rich, warming and full local seafood. My all-time favourite bowl was in Húsavík (the self-appointed whale watching capital of the world) with my friends Elfa and Siggi.

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That’s borscht at the front, vegetable soup at the back

My favourite soup for colour is always borscht and the versions I tried in Poland, especially at quirky milk bars, were sensational. The milk bars often serve a hot and cold version, both equally cerise and equally good, especially alongside a pierogi or five.

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A line up of traditional Hungarian soups

Now let’s talk about goulash.

But that’s not a soup; I can hear your muttering.

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Well in Hungary it is. Somehow the rest of the world misread the brief and turned it into more of a stew-like dish but on its home turf, gulyás is decidedly a soup. And boy do the Hungarians do an excellent job in merchandising this signature dish.

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Every festival or event you go to will have at least one stand with a cauldron-esque contraption full of the steaming stuff. They ladle out the beef and vegetable broth enthusiastically and serve it with chunks of bread.

Tureens of rich Irish seafood chowder

Tureens of rich Irish seafood chowder

I can’t talk soup without talking Irish seafood chowder. My most memorable bowl was in Doolin, a windswept cliff-hugging town in County Clare. Local seafood, tender potatoes and cream combine like some kind of x-rated threesome. It’s the only thing one should eat at the local pub with the bellow of traditional Irish music in the background.

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Perfectly chilled gazpacho

As a final wild card I’m going to throw in gazpacho – that’s for those of you on the other side of the world. I love love love gazpacho and don’t think I’ve ever had a bad version anywhere in Spain. This one came from Mallorca and the refreshing chill of the tomato, garlic and chilli was the perfect accompaniment to the hot sun of the island.

It almost makes me want to take off my slippers…

How The Fidgety Foodie became kind of a big deal in Estonia

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Tallinn old town

Something really cool recently happened to The Fidgety Foodie.

It all started with my first Fidgety Foodie post, back in October 2014, about Tallinn Airport. I was so taken by my experience there that I felt compelled to write about it. At that stage I had roughly two followers (thanks mum and dad) so the post came and went without much of a ripple.

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The cosiest airport I’ve ever seen

Until a few weeks ago when Tallinn Airport itself picked up on the post and shared it through their social media channels. Next thing I knew Estonia Tourism was promoting it. Then the Estonian Embassy joined the party. Before long my web traffic increased by 3000%. That’s pretty extraordinary for a neophyte like me. Not only was half of Estonia reading my post, but I was getting lovely comments and feedback about the blog. This welcoming reception is what compelled me to write about Tallinn in the first place.

I only wish I’d spent more time in Estonia to have experienced more of this beguiling hospitality. I had a mere 24 hours while travelling between Helsinki and Paris with my stoic Swedish friend Joakim.

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Tallinn old town

Estonia is a bit of a quiet achiever. Nestled by fellow Baltic neighbours Latvia and Lithuania, it was the birthplace of Kazaa and Skype, is home to world champion wife-carriers (yes it’s a real sport) and was the first country to win Eurovision with a black singer in 2001.

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Helsinki – Tallinn ferry

So what do you do with just 24 hours in one city? It wasn’t long enough to scope out the city like a foodie in my usual depth so I had to prioritise; food markets, supermarket and a wander through the old town were on the agenda once we stepped off the ferry from Helsinki.

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Choose a gravestone when you pick up your groceries

We headed to one of the food markets tucked away outside the walls of Tallinn old town. It was a mash up of fresh produce, antiques, Soviet war memorabilia and quite randomly, personalised granite gravestones.

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Fresh wild strawberries

Being summer, the berries were in top form and I especially loved the freshly picked wild strawberries.  Don’t be fooled by the size; each specimen offered a perfectly concentrated ball of intense strawberry goodness.

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Pretty pastel eggs

I really wanted to buy a carton of these gorgeous pastel coloured eggs but knew that wasn’t the most practical decision while on the road.

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Pickle pick-and-mix

My favourite find was this barrel of pickles. I love pickles at the best of times but being able to scoop them out of salty brine at my leisure was strangely thrilling. Read More

And the cosiest airport award goes to…

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You´re thinking Singapore´s Changi because it has a pool and a butterfly garden. Or Bangkok because you can get a massage 24 hours a day. Maybe Munich for its brewery?

No.

Not for me anyway. Airports these days seem to offer everything the so called modern traveller needs but the one thing I´ve always found distinctly absent from every airport I´ve visited is a personality, or god forbid a sense of humour.

Which is why my recent visit to Tallinn airport, en route to Paris, was such a surprise. Estonia´s capital is not usually setting international style benchmarks, but I found myself delighted and surprised several times while waiting for my flight. And not by the kids play area, unlimited free wifi and Skype video booths (although they were cool too).

The help-yourself library at Tallinn airport

The help-yourself library at Tallinn airport

First up was the the airport library where you can read and even borrow a book at your leisure, with the idea that you´ll return it on your way back or replace it with a book you no longer need. A genius idea that fosters a sense of community and environmental awareness.

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Book in hand, I walked into the nearby Kohver Café and was bowled over by the fact that this was not a chain café. Independent businesses are rarely, if ever, courted by airports. It was teeming with vintage décor and quirky styling, including coffee tables made out of antique suitcases (an idea I am totally going to copy). This café would look perfectly at home in Sydney´s Surry Hills or London´s Soho. Read More