Tag Archives: travel

Mustafa’s (Berlin, Germany)

After a whirlwind few months of nonstop transitions and different life chapters being written and read with a speed and intensity I simply couldn’t keep up with, I finally found some time to head out of the country for a few weeks. My first stop was in Berlin, where my best friend has been living for the last half a decade.

If you’ve never been to Berlin before, you might be surprised to find out that the food scene doesn’t exactly revolve around German food. One of the most common things to eat is a döner kebab, which is meat, salad and/or veggies, sauce, inside a flatbread. The closest phenomenon I can compare Berlin’s döner obsession to is the taco craze in San Diego (sorry SF, but you’re no match for my beloved San Diego tacos). Turkish immigrants have been migrating to Germany since the 1960s, and as a result, there’s quite a bit of Middle Eastern influence in the dining options around the city.

Though döner meat and flatbread have roots in the Middle East, Germans put their own spin on it by adding salad and sauces straight into the flatbread so that a meal could easily be eaten on the go. There’s probably a döner shop on every corner of Berlin, and each one has its own special variations on the salad and veggies, sauces, and how the meat is prepared. It actually does parallel the taco shops in San Diego in this regard; although there are an endless number of options that are all pretty good and all have their unique selling points, there are a few standout places that completely convert you through near-spiritual experiences. Despite the fact that you can get a döner anywhere in the world (from SF, to NY, to London, and even in Shanghai!), Berlin’s döner game simply puts everyone else to shame. And in the land of delicious döner kebabs, our favorite is called Mustafa’s.

I have to say that I was originally highly skeptical of Mustafa’s. There’s a lot of TripAdvisor hype around it, but when my best friend (who’s also well-versed in anything related to food) tells me that this is still the best döner kebab place she knows of after living in Berlin for 5 years… well, I just don’t question that kind of authority. The wait can be anywhere from 10-60 minutes, the longer end of which can be a long time to queue for a quick meal. It’s not a restaurant, but a small shack where you eat your food on the street after ordering it.

The verdict? Mustafa’s is definitely the best döner kebab I’ve had in Berlin (which means it’s safe to say it’s the best one I’ve had in the world). The flatbread was warm, soft, and soaked up the sauces wonderfuly without becoming soggy and falling apart. The sauces were just the right amount of heat, and they coated the meat luxuriously. One thing Mustafa’s does that I haven’t seen many other döner places do is to add grilled veggies instead of just cold veggies, and it gave the döner an entirely new dimension of flavor and texture. The meat was fantastic – perfectly cooked chicken that wasn’t dry at all, yet wasn’t so fatty it felt dense in your stomach. I could honestly have gone back for another if I didn’t have more plans to eat later in the day. That’s not to say it’s not a lot of food; I just have an obscenely large appetite.

I’ve been to Berlin maybe 4-5 times in the past few years, and make it a point to eat at least 1-2 döners every time I’m there – it’s that good! Though it doesn’t hold a candle to my friend’s 5 years of digesting döners, Mustafa’s is the one place I’d go out of my way to eat again the next time I’m in town, one that is definitely worth going out of the way for.

Seaside Escape: Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

When I first moved back to California after spending nearly three years abroad, I felt a nebulous gratitude for everything I had taken for granted on some level. Something I really missed while living in a concrete jungle was the proximity to the ocean. Not lakes, rivers, or beaches, but oceans. There’s just something rugged and wild about the water up in Northern California that gives it a slightly chaotic personality I love.

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Parker-Lusseau Pastries and Cafe (Monterey, CA)

I’ve been trying to squeeze as many trips into the end of summer as I possibly can, and managed one pretty well-planned daytrip to Carmel–you can find some snapshots and words here. Carmel is a trove of delicious food because almost everything is local. When I go places, I gravitate to places utilizing local, in-season produce, ideally from farmer’s markets. Not only are you supporting local farms and agriculture this way, but flavors that shine through are worlds apart.

Although we went to a number of restaurants in Carmel that day, I wanted to single out Parker-Lusseau. The original Parker-Lusseau opened in 1998, and is still a family-run business today. Anne Parker originated from LA, and met her husband Jean Lusseau while she was training as a pastry chef in Belgium. Guess where Jean Lusseau is from? Brittany, France, which also just happens to be the birthplace of my favorite chef, Dominique Crenn (of Atelier Crenn). Parker-Lusseau is the best bakery I’ve been to outside of France. And France has an absurdly high number of patisseries that are delicious. This quaint little shop bakes fresh bread every morning and it’s pretty much unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. I frequent Vive La Tarte and The Mill in San Francisco, but Parker-Lusseau easily blows them out of the water. It’s very much a small shop feel where people ask you what you thought of the pastries and keep up with what’s going on in their neighbors’ lives. I absolutely loved it and am certain I’ll be back during my next trip down to Carmel.

Kougin-Amann: A caramelized croissant made with extra butter and sugar so the outside gets extra crispy. In other words, an accelerated heart attack in baked form–one that is well worth the premature death. I had never had a Kougin-Aman before, and have to say that my life was changed. In the similar vein of how Atelier Crenn and Jiro Sukiyabashi changed the way I felt about fine dining and sushi, the Kougin-Amann at Parker-Lusseau redefined what it meant to be an exceptional pastry. The pastry is actually a specialty of Brittany, where Jean Lusseau is from. It tasted less like a croissant and more like a flaky donut; I think this is what the cronut was supposed to emulate, except the French have been doing better it for centuries!

Fruit Croissant with Fresh Peaches: A quintessential example of local produce incorporated into pastries. Summer is peach season, and the way these peaches from the local farmer’s market were folded into a buttery, flaky croissant was fantastic. Croissants are incredibly delicate in their texture and tastes, and I’m actually not a fan of the supremely oily/buttery ones because it tends to overpower the natural sweetness of the yeast. I’m partial to lightly accenting flavors such as apricot or peach. The tough thing about fruits in pastries is that most mediocre pastry shops tend to reduce and glaze them to a point of unbearable sweetness that sends you spiraling into a sugar crash induced food coma. That, and you can tell the fruit isn’t fresh, which is what makes all the difference in how Parker-Lusseau executed this gem of a croissant.

Apricot Pistachio Tart: So we already know I’m a sucker for apricot and peach flavors, but what you also probably know about me is that I have a mild obsession with trail mix, and make my own (because I hate picking out all the pieces I don’t like). It’s some gourmet trail mix that I do plan on sharing here at some point, and one of my favorite nuts is pistachios! I’ve found apricots to be slightly more subdued than peaches in flavor, which nicely offsets the density that pistachios can sometimes hold. I hesitated on this one because I tend to shy away from tarts, finding most of them to be horribly overprocessed and far too sweet, but the lady who didn’t judge me for coming back for a second order of pastries encouraged me to give this one a go. Unlike most tarts I’ve tried in the past, this one didn’t overpower with glaze and sugar; again, crediting this to their emphasis on fresh fruits.

Bichon (Puff Pastry with Lemon Cream Filling): I ordered this because I’ve seen a variety of meyer lemon and lemon in all sorts of things lately (ice cream, croissants, etc.). The tart/sweet combination works wonders when done right, and this bichon was no exception. Perfect puff pastry enveloping a lemon cream filling that clung delicately to the different layers of pastry. We have a lemon tree in our backyard, so I know what a good lemon tastes like! Good lemons are almost sweet, but not in the same way that meyer lemons are. The acidity is higher, but there’s none of that bitter aftertaste on your tongue.

Conclusion? Go. If there’s one place you must stop at in Monterey, it should be this one.

City Guide: San Diego, California

San Diego is one of the most stunning cities in the world. Surrounded by sand and water, there’s a number of ways to spend your time in San Diego, especially if you love food and nature. Home to the best tacos in America, and truly world-class beaches, it’s one of those places you’ll instantly find yourself slowing down and stopping to smell the roses once you’re there. I spent 4 years in San Diego for college, and have compiled a few of my favorite places! Places marked with two asterisks (**) are particular to San Diego–meaning you’ll have difficulty finding a place of similar caliber outside SD.

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City Guide: Shanghai, China

(Last Updated: Apr 1 2018)

Shanghai is my favorite city in the world (tied with San Francisco). I’ve lived there twice in my life, the second time for three years. If you want the absolute best food scene in the whole world (not exaggerating), the craziest nightlife, and a glimpse of what the future will look like, I highly recommend paying a visit, or even better–spending a few months to one year in the city. It’s such a special place to me, so I put together this guide for others to experience a bit of the magic Shanghai showed me. These recommendations lived as a Google Doc for a few years and have been shared with hundreds of friends and Airbnb guests–so I’m glad they’re now a bit more accessible to those venturing to China!

Shanghai changes super quickly, so it’s highly likely that places listed here will be closed or renovating. If this is a case, please do me a huge favor and leave a comment so I can keep the list up-to-date for other travelers.

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