Two weeks in Peru: my favourite places to visit, sleep and eat

Peru is an angular, muscular country, clad in the green of cloud forest, the brown of deserts and wide highlands, and the blue of lakes. It’s a place of natural extremes - the Andes are more sheer than any European mountain range I’ve encountered, the lakes are as vast as seas. Its also a place of natural abundance; many Peruvians are proud to tell us that 84 of the world’s 104 known ecosystems, and 28 of its 32 climates, are present in their country. 

We had less than two weeks in Peru, so we were restricted to the most urgent items on our bucket list: Cusco, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca and Lima’s food scene. If we’d had another two weeks, I’d have liked to journey West to see the rainforest, and then East to fly over the Nasca Lines and trek through the Colca Canyon. 

If we’d had another two months - and a better command of Spanish - I’d have stopped awhile in the smaller towns that most tourists merely pass through. The town known for making giant wheels of sweet bread, or the town hiding ‘South America’s sistine chapel’. Better yet, the town not remarked upon by any guide, where I spotted a mother and daughter dancing for sheer joy and, stopped at traffic lights, played the mirror game with a laughing boy in the bus opposite. 

To visit Peru is to open a door to a landscape and a history that is rich and complex, sometimes cruel, often beautiful; a door that is opened for you by a people who celebrate that richness, persevere through the cruelty and take real pride in the beauty. Below, you can find some of my favourite places to visit, eat and sleep, along with my favourite photographs.

Cusco door
Cusco skyline
Peru rail
Inca trail view
Taquile beach
Lima central square
Peruvian traditional dress

Which sites to visit

There are extensive travel guides on exploring Peru, but here are my top tips for the corners of the country to which we ventured. 

  • Explore Cusco - It’s easy to see why the Incas chose this beautiful, mountain-bordered place to build their capital. The Spanish conquistadors were equally enchanted and built their own places of worship on top of Inca sacred sites. We spent a very happy few days exploring the museums, churches and markets of Cusco. The Cathedral may grab attention with its prominent spot in the central square, but don’t miss the Convent of Santo Domingo, which sits upon the Incas' most holy site, Qorikancha or Temple of the Sun. Of the museums, our favourite was the Machu Picchu museum for its detailed, multi-language information and insight into the Incas' daily life. For a slower afternoon, take an hour or two to wander the streets of the artist’s quarter, San Blas, and pause at tiny Eusebio & Manolo for excellent Peruvian coffee, empanadas and sweet treats. 
  • Trek to Machu Picchu - There’s a variety of routes leading to Machu Picchu, with many people choosing to forgo the traditional Inca Trail for the Lares or Salkantay treks. Limited by time, we chose the shorter, two day-one night Inca Trail, getting off the train a little later and climbing steeply to join the route that runs through the cloud forests and amongst the most impressive Inca ruins, such as the agricultural terraces of Winay Wayna. The benefit of this route is that you come through the Sun Gate in the afternoon (rather than the morning), when the weather is more reliable, so your first view over Machu Picchu is clear and sunny - important for capturing those memorable photos. When we returned the next morning at sunrise for a tour, we found the site shrouded in mist and drizzle and were glad of the photo opportunity the previous afternoon! 
  • Sail on Lake Titicaca: Lake Titicaca - the largest lake in South America and one of the highest - has been beaten firmly into the tourist track. To escape the crowds, we organised a tour through Edgar Travel, a company committed to sustainable, responsible travel and visiting the less frequented, more authentic areas of Titicaca. We went first to a reed island, built and lived on by the Uros people, who survive predominantly on the income from fishing and, latterly, tourism. It’s a harsh, poor existence, confined to an island of just a few square metres, so I was unsurprised to learn that most young people have left for the mainland. By contrast, the ‘real’ islands, such as Taquile, seem idyllic, with their deep blue waters, wide sandy beaches and traditional way of life (though admittedly, women’s rights seem limited). Besides agriculture, handicrafts are a main focus and source of income. Men knit clothes for themselves and their families, with their spectacular hats indicating their age, marital status and societal position. Young women chose a partners not based on looks, but rather on the quality of his hat; in return for these knitting skills, she weaves him a beautiful belt to store keepsakes and coca leaves.
Cusco viewpoint
Street in San Blas, Cusco
Koirkancha / Santo Domingo Church
Eusebio & Manolo
Inca trail
Steps at Winay Wayna
Machu Picchu
Lunch cooked by porters, Inca Trail
Reed island, Lake Titicaca (1)
Reed island, Lake Titicaca (2)
Reed island, Lake Titicaca (3)
Taquile island (1)
Taquile island beach
Taquile island - man knitting
Taquile island dancers

Where to rest your head

  • Settle in at Tierra Viva - Although this small Peruvian chain of hotels is mid-range in terms of price, with deals often available online, they feel rather luxurious. We stayed in Tierra Viva hotels in Cusco and Lima, both of which offered great showers, huge wide beds and generous breakfast buffets. The hotel in San Blas, Cusco, has a particularly lovely boutique feel. Friendly staff greeted us as we hurtled back in from a day of sightseeing or trekking, and slowed down in the tranquil lobby with a warm cup of coca tea (when in Cusco) or emoliente (when in Lima). They were also very happy to make restaurant reservations, offer recommendations and book taxis. Comfort, peace and a generous welcome - what more could you need? 
Aji di gallina, Pachapapa, Cusco
Lomo Saltado, Huaca Pucllana, Lima

What to feast on

Peru's diverse climates, in which a diverse array of produce grows, heralds a diverse food culture. From fresh, citrusy ceviche (cured fish) to rich aji di gallina - shredded chicken in a gentle, spicy sauce thickened with breadcrumbs, nuts and cheese, then topped with boiled egg. A double carbohydrate is heartily endorsed; for instance, aji di gallina is served with potatoes and rice, whilst another traditional dish called lomo saltado (stir fried strips of beef) is accompanied by rice and chips. This range of ingredients and dishes keeps eating in Peru interesting, though potatoes - of which there are oven 300 varieties in Peru - are ubiquitous in every meal. 

With a few exceptions, our forays into the local cuisine were more ‘hit’ than ‘miss’. My top tips for eating out include the following: 

  • Try out a variety of restaurants…
    • Limo - Peruvian cuisine is tangled with the cuisines of settlers from many other countries, but there are three prominent fusions: Creole (Spanish-Peruvian), Chifa (Chinese-Peruvian) and Nikkei (Peruvian-Japanese). Limo is an excellent example of Nikkei cuisine, including salmon and avocado sushi rolls covered in panko, trout ceviche, seafood fried-rice and a contender for the best lomo saltado of our trip. Limo is owned by chef Coque Ossio, who runs a small selection of restaurants in Cusco. Of these, I’d also recommend Greens for lighter, organic, veg-centric meals and Pachapapa for traditional Andean cuisine, from aji di gallina to alpaca.
    • Amaz - If, like us, you don’t have time to visit the Amazon, you can get a flavour of jungle food at Amaz in Lima, run by vaunted chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino. We feasted on vegetarian ceviche, corn tortillas with shrimp, refried beans and salsa, river fish with nuts and mushrooms, and chicken cooked in a parcel of rice, egg and banana leaf. 
    • Rafael - Lima boasts 3 of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants and many more restaurants featured in Latin America’s 50 Best. We didn’t have the reservations, or the money, to splash out at the three best, but we did visit a restaurant on the Latin America list, run by Chef Rafael Osterling. Osterling owns a lauded cevicheria, El Mercado, but we headed for his eponymous restaurant, Rafael, which serves a fusion of Peruvian, Italian, Nikkei and Asian food. We turned up late, without a reservation, but the waiters were accommodated us at the beautiful Art Deco bar. I tend to mistrust menus that try to ‘do it all’, but everything we tried - and spied at neighbouring tables - was superb. My big bowl of earthy, herby green tagliatelle with mushrooms and truffle oil was particularly delicious.
Sushi rolls, Limo, Cusco
Trout ceviche, Limo, Cusco
Amaz, Lima
Amaz, Lima
Rafael restaurant, Lima

 

  • … but also visit out the markets - San Pedro market in Cusco is particularly good for both fresh produce and cooked meals. Although far more ordered than some markets I visited in Asia, San Pedro is still a riot of noise and colour. To your left as you enter, there are rows an rows of women selling delicious fresh fruit juices, each waving their (largely identical) menus to win your custom. To your right, you can buy groceries, with everything from giant bags of quinoa to dried fruit to fresh fish. Venture to the far end and take a seat at one of the food stalls, where you can dine with the locals. We enjoyed a two course lunch of quinoa soup and lomo saltado, which certainly wasn’t gourmet but was tasty, filling and cost the equivalent of only £1.50! 
  • Feast from the earth - Panchamanca (‘pacha’ translates to ‘earth’ and ‘manca’ as ‘pot’) is a method of cooking underground, whereby hot stones are placed in a deep hole, layered with food, covered with grass and soil, and left to cook. For native Peruvian people, pachamanca is linked to celebration, ritual and paying homage to the earth mother. For any visitor fortunate enough to witness the ceremony, it serves as a literal reminder of the connection between our food and our land. Meat, fish and (as always) several varieties potatoes were covered in herbs and cooked until tender; for dessert, there were baked bananas. Simple, filling, delicious. 
  • Take a tour with the Lima Gourmet Company - Treat yourself to a food tour with the Lima Gourmet Company, which combines a little sightseeing with a lot of eating. We spent a half day wandering Lima’s stylish districts, pausing for organic Peruvian coffee and lacuma smoothies tasting of caramel and custard (though I couldn’t tell whether that was the fruit or the ice-cream!). At a local market, we marvelled in the abundance of fruit and vegetables grown in this extraordinary country - my favourite being the luscious Edward mangos, meltingly smooth baby avocados and cherimoya or ‘custard apple’, which genuinely tastes of strawberries and cream. Then it was on to a lesson in making pisco sours and ceviche. To finish, we enjoyed a refined take on traditional Peruvian dishes at Huaca Pucllana, a renowned restaurant named after the fascinating pre-Inca site that it overlooks. It’s certainly worth the money for a tour from these passionate local experts, who evidently adore their cuisine and the cultural heritage with which is it inextricably linked.
Quinoa seller, San Pedro market
Food stall, San Pedro market, Cusco
Juice at San Pedro market
Pachamancha feast, Lake Titicaca
Lima market, Lima food tour
Making ceviche, Lima food tour
Making pisco sours, Lima food tour
Huaca Pucllana, Lima food tour

Il Canto del Maggio: a place to halt your wanderlust

It’s 8:30 am and already 26 degrees. I’m swimming in an azure pool, which reflects the brilliant, unbroken blue sky. Before me stretches a vista of Tuscan countryside, dotted with terracotta-roofed farmhouses and bordered by mountains; behind me is the shaded eating area where, last night, we feasted on local food and wine. Its at this moment that I decide I will never tell anybody about this place, for fear of it becoming crowded with holiday goers.

The problem is that, when something is so utterly lovely, it deserves - nay, it demands - to be talked about. Whether it’s a delicious meal or a brilliant film, I find the enjoyment of a special experience is always multiplied when shared. And so, here I am writing about Il Canto del Maggio, the dreamy Tuscan B&B and restaurant where I spent just a few days in June. 

Il Canto del Maggio could calm the wanderlust of even the most eager traveller. One arrives and immediately resolves to stay in this one location forever. 

Il Canto del Maggio

Stay

Book one of Il Canto del Maggio’s shuttered apartments, which run along a steep, cobbled path in a picturesque hamlet. 

Guests receive a cheery welcome from Simona and her little dog Bice - one of several pets who make up what Simona affectionally calls her ‘zoo’. Together, Simona and Bice show us to our apartment, La Castellana, which is set over two floors and has self-catering facilities. Although the apartment is (thankfully) cool and dark, the bright walls and rustic decorations lend it a cosy, colourful feel. The huge log burner would make it even more snug on a cold winter’s evening, but in the heat of early summer we are grateful for the air conditioning. 

Just down the cobbled path from the apartments lies the restaurant and terrace, where breakfast is served (more on that breakfast later...). Return back up the path to find the swimming pool. Swim here in the morning and you might be joined by two tiny, but brave, ducklings, whilst in the evening, swallows swoop overhead. To the fore of the pool, there is a sweeping view of the Tuscan countryside. To the right, there are vine-shaded sun loungers; to the left, the kitchen garden presided over by Simona’s father, Mauro, from which guests are free to pick vegetables. Observed from every new angle, this place gets more and more picturesque. 

Il Canto del Maggio (2)

Eat

Il Canto del Maggio isn’t only a set of tranquil rooms with a picturesque pool - it is also a fantastic restaurant. Indeed, many guests travel here primarily for its reputation of fantastic food. 

Those who, like me, believe that the best days begin at breakfast, will not be disappointed. The morning meal is served al fresco on the terrace, where greenery sprawls overhead and on every side. The breakfast table buckles with homemade cakes, tarts and pastries, as well as cereals, yogurt, fruit and cheese. If you’re lucky, there might be leftover pudding from the previous night. My favourites include a crisp, buttery crostata filled with cherry jam, a barely-sweet dark chocolate cake concealing globes of apricot, and a gentle yogurt cake flecked with fruit and chocolate.

Breakfast, Il Canto del Maggio

If you think you need never eat again after breakfast, the smells that begin wafting from the wood-fired oven in the afternoon will persuade your stomach otherwise. Dinner begins at 8 with an aperitivo at the restaurant or, in summer, by the pool. Starters are served buffet style, including tarts, salads, breads, cheeses and charcuterie. The primi piatti is pasta, delicate but daringly al dente, dressed with vegetables from the garden and soft cheese; a secondi of roasted meats pleases the carnivores, but we slow down to save room for dessert. And what desserts! There is a very fine tiramisu, panna cotta, and cherry and almond crumble. Best of all, there is a dark chocolate cake with serious squidge, its dizzying richness steadied by the sharp-sweet spike from an accompanying compote.

Dinner, Il Canto del Maggio (2)
Aperitivo, Il Canto del Maggio
Dinner, Il Canto del Maggio (1)
Dinner, Il Canto del Maggio (3)
Dinner, Il Canto del Maggio (4)

Unsurprisingly, we are rarely inclined to leave Il Canto del Maggio, but we find a good gelato shop, Cassia Vetus, in nearby Terranuova Bracciolini. Just around the corner, we pick up a quarter-wheel of cheese reserved for us by Simona after we praised it at dinnertime. If visiting towns further afield, we follow her recommendations for eating out. We also pick vegetables from the kitchen garden and make use of our self-catering facilities. When the unfailingly generous Simona discovers that we are cooking pasta with courgettes, she brings us a pot of her father’s pesto. The pesto tastes of sunshine - it’s proof that a few, fresh ingredients (and lots of good olive oil) produce the best flavour.

Self catering at Il Canto del Maggio

Do

Siena, Florence, Pisa and Bologna are all close to Il Canto del Maggio. Their proximity means it is possible to make day trips, or you could spend a few days in the city before heading to this secluded countryside B&B to rest and recover. Il Canto del Maggio is also a great base for smaller Tuscan towns and cities that lack tourist crowds, but remain abundant in the rich history, architecture and art of this region. 

Loro Ciuffenna
Loro Ciuffenna (2)

Start a day trip at Loro Ciuffenna, a medieval town of two halves where coloured houses rise up from both sides of a deep ravine. We wander across the Roman bridge, visit an old mill and pick up sun-saturated tomatoes and peaches at the market. Next, head on to the almost implausibly quaint village of Borro, where you will find artisan shops and an excellent vineyard that offers wine tasting. Drive on to seductive Arezzo in time for lunch at a restaurant on one of the streets running off the spectacular Piazza Grande. After lunch, we dive from the hot afternoon into the cool, shaded buildings of the Centro Storico, where churches, towers and aristocratic houses tumble down steep streets. 

Borro
Borro (2)
Lunch in Arezzo
Arezzo (4)
Arezzo (2)

To escape the crowds altogether, head up the winding roads that lead from Il Canto del Maggio into the mountains. Here, spend a morning hiking the network of paths connecting the little towns that grow out of the hillside. Signposts are rare and often faded, so if you have somewhere you need to be, then take a good map or a guide. I was quite content to wander out and back along the same path, with no destination in mind. We began and ended in pretty Poggio di Loro, where stone houses and archways are dressed with flowerpots and painted shutters.

Poggio di Loro
Poggio di Loro (2)
Tuscany

While I was charmed by these towns and villages, I found nowhere as enchanting as Il Canto del Maggio. It is the perfect, tranquil base to return to after a day of sight-seeing, but if you roll out of bed each morning and never manage to leave, I couldn’t blame you. This is a B&B that brings wanderlust firmly to a standstill.

 

 

Travel: A Short Guide to Granada

We visit Granada in late March, just as Spring awakens the city. Pale blue skies drift overhead and the breeze carries the scent of almond blossom, wisteria and oranges. We begin each morning eating breakfast alfresco, shuffling our chairs towards long fingers of sunlight that stretch along the narrow streets. By 11am, the sun is strong and growing warmer still; its movement across the plazas during the day, before receding, mirrors the locals’ movement from their cortados to their cervezas.

Our days are spent between Moorish palaces and Catholic cathedrals. We wander from the central Bib-Rambla area with its tall, Renaissance buildings to the winding, cobbled walkways of the ancient Albaycín, where scruffy, white-washed houses flaunt hanging plants and conceal peaceful inner courtyards. Above us, the Sierra Nevada mountains and the Alhambra - monuments to natural and manmade beauty - stand guard over the city.  

Of course, a trip to Granada must intersperse sightseeing with stops at cafés and bars, where one can slow down and absorb the Andulucían atmosphere. My short guide for a getaway to Granada aims to cover a little of each activity - it is by no means exhaustive, but will encourage your first explorations of this beguiling city.

Albaycin street (2), Granada
Albaycin street, Granada
Albaycin street (4)

 

Stay

A city break needn’t cost the earth and, in fact, I often find the more affordable accommodation has a little extra local personality. Hostal Rodri may not be the biggest, grandest hotel, nor the chicest boutique B&B, but it meets all my essentials for a solid place to stay: central location, clean room, comfortable bed and a good, hot shower. The proprietor is knowledgable about the area and is happy to provide advice. Crucially for me, who plans holidays based on the cuisine, several of his restaurant recommendations prove to be excellent - in particular, he directs us to the fantastic Taberna La Tana (but more on that below…)

 

Visit

Few people visit Granada without a trip to the Alhambra as their focus. And rightly so, for I was completely enchanted by this collection of palaces. Plan your visit around your appointed entry time to the Nasrid Palaces, each of which is a series of courtyards based on Islamic design, with every wall and corner adorned by magnificent domed roofs, intricately carved doors, painted ceramic tiles and lace-like plaster work. By contrast, the military area of the complex, known as the Alcazaba, is made up of huge towers and sturdy ramparts, whilst the manicured gardens and palace of the Generalife show that light, water and vegetation are just as important as bricks and tiles. 

View of the Alhambra
Pools, Alhambra complex
Alcazaba, Alhambra
Tiled archway, Nasrid Palaces
Generalife palaces, Granada
Generalife gardens, Alhambra

Back in the centre of Granada, it’s worth visiting the beautiful Cathedral, an attempt by the Catholic monarchs to compete with the Moorish monuments, and its adjacent Capilla Real (Royal Chapel). Other highlights of our trip include the Monasterio de San Jerónimo and Monasterio de la Cartuja. Work your way around their sun-dappled central courtyards, filled with the scent of orange trees, until you reach their spectacular chapels - the chapel of La Cartuja is particularly extravagant and considered one of the finest examples of the Spanish Baroque style. To experience curious cave-like homes, the flamenco feel and spectacular views over Granada, take the bus to Sacramonte Abbey and stroll back downhill to the city. 

Granada Cathedral
Monastry of San Jeronimo
Monastry of La Cartuja - courtyard
View of Granada from Sacramonte

Eat

Begin your day at Café 4 Gatos, where locals sip coffee at the darkened bar and tourists vie for a seat in the sunny courtyard with views up to the Alhambra. Our table wobbles between the cobblestones as staff set down freshly squeezed orange juice and tostadas as long as your arm, which are crowned with the best local produce and cost as little as 90 cents. The traditional Andalucían accompaniment is grated tomato and olive oil, but there are several other offerings such as Seranno ham, manchego or Spanish jam. At lunch time, more substantial toppings include aubergine and goats cheese, tuna with roasted pepper and caramelised onion, or smoked salmon, cream cheese and capers. Though the slices aren’t as large, it’s worth paying a little extra to try the local, organic wholemeal bread for its mellow flavour and soft crumb.

Cafe 4 Gatos, Granada
Coffee at Cafe 4 Gatos
Breakfast at Cafe 4 Gatos

In the evening, head to Taberna la Tana for superlative Spanish wines paired with great tapas. Behind the lantern-lit door, you’ll find a cosy bar dominated by floor-to-ceiling shelves of wine bottles. Its dark walls are decorated chaotically with strings of vegetables and vintage posters; its floor is crowded with locals and well-advised tourists. Arrive promptly for opening at 8:30pm if you want a seat. The sole lady behind the bar somehow manages to keep everybody satisfied and, despite our embarrassing lack of Spanish, suggests a number of wines to our taste. My favourite is the Cerrojo Criado en Barrica, a red from the Bodegas Jabalcón vineyard at the foot of the Sierra, which retains a light, elegant feel despite the depth of sweet, candied fruit and warm spices.  

Although most bars in Granada offer a free tapas with every drink, here they are particularly good - perhaps crusty bread with tomatoes or sombrasada (sausage pate) and mouth-puckeringly salty olives. Don’t miss ordering the cured manchego, warm goats' cheese with oil, homemade pepper salad or delicate artichoke hearts with dried tomatoes. A superb tortilla, leaking sunshine-yellow yolk from between layers of potato, is not on the menu, but seems to be offered to those in the know - make friends with the regulars and, if you’re lucky, they’ll let you try theirs and order another for you. 

Then, well fed, spend your night with a glass of something glinting ruby red until the blue-skied day is almost ready to begin anew. 

La Tana, Granada (2)
Artichokes at La Tana
Manchego at La Tana
La Tana, Granada

Recipe: Keralan squash curry

Kerala

When you go on holiday, I highly recommend staying with a local family. Short of living somewhere yourself, a homestay is the best way to gain a real feel - and taste - for the region’s culture. The growth of Airbnb and similar websites is making this style of travel easier, and safer, than ever before.

On a recent trip to Kerala, we stayed with the Nair family, who live 15 miles from the main tourist hub of Alappuzha. After several trips up and down the main road, we found our turning and followed the narrow path until tarmac became dirt track and track became river. There, a canoe awaited to transport us to the beautiful white family home on the opposite bank.

Kerala (2)

Almost immediately, we fell into the slow rhythm of life on the Keralan backwaters. We enjoyed early morning yoga, hours spent reading while sipping sweetly spiced chai tea and gentle walks through the local village where children paused their play to gaze at us. Above all, there was the luxury of having time to simply watch life pass by on the Pamba: women washing clothes and cutlery, men fishing from canoes, houseboats carrying inquisitive tourists, and the spectacular twice-daily procession of five hundred ducks being readied for Christmas feasts. 

Food, too, soon fell into a familiar pattern. For breakfast, there were idlis (steamed cakes made from ground rice and lentils) or dosas (fermented rice-flour pancakes), served with vegetable sambar. Best of all were the steamed cylinders of layered rice and coconut, or puttu, which one crushes with banana and sugar before sprinkling with crushed popadom for crunch. At lunch time, a trio of vegetable curries and stir fries were served on a banana leaf or in small metal pots. At dinner, the pots were filled with more vegetables, daal, perhaps a little fish, mutton or chicken. We learned that popadoms are for lunch, chapatis for dinner and a mountain of rice accompanies both.

Kerala (3)
Kerala (4)
Kerala (5)

As with may less wealthy countries I have visited, the people here intrinsically understand how to eat in a sustainable, healthy way: lots of vegetables, fruits and grains; a little dairy and a little meat; no undue fuss about oil or refined sugar. Everything is local, with few air or even road miles. Rice comes from the paddies behind, fish from the river in front or the nearby Arabian sea, fruit and vegetables from the garden, spices from the region’s mountains. The food’s flavour is that of the land, from sweet coconut to sour tamarind to spicy chilli.

Behind the flavours we enjoyed was the Nair family’s matriarch, Padma. I was lucky enough to spend a day in Padma's kitchen, where our language barriers disintegrated. It seems the patterns of chopping, sizzling, stirring, tasting and seasoning are universal. Happily, here I discovered that gourds, pumpkins, squashes, beetroots and beans feature heavily in their curries - perfect ingredients for creating a seasonal, cold-weather curry back in England. 

Kerala (6)

  


Keralan squash curry

I made this curry with a beautiful green Kabocha squash grown locally, but it would be equally delicious with any variety of squash or pumpkin available to you.

Ingredients

(Serves 4)

For the curry paste:

  • 20g unsweetened desiccated coconut
  • 2 tbsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp hot chilli powder
  • 50-100ml water

For the curry:

  • 1 tbsp rapeseed oil
  • 6 shallots
  • 1/2 a large squash (about 750-800g)
  • 1 tin of lighter coconut milk + the tin refilled with water
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • Salt
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes
  • 100g green beans
  • Mustard seeds
  • A handful of curry leaves (about 20 leaves)
  • 4 dried red chillies 
  • Coriander
  • Brown basmati rice
  • Chapattis (optional)
     
Kerala (7)
Kerala (9)
Kerala (8)

Method

  1.  Start by preparing all your vegetables. Finely slice the shallots. Peel the squash and cut into 1.5cm cubes. Roughly chop the tomatoes. Trim the beans and cut in half at an angle.
  2. To make the curry paste, fry the desiccated coconut in a dry pan set over a medium heat, stirring often to prevent it sticking or burning. Once the coconut is golden brown, remove from the heat and add the coriander and chilli powder. Leave to cool for a minute before transferring to a blender or food processor (keep the frying pan aside for later). Add 50ml of water and blend to a smooth paste, adding a little more water until it is a thick but runny consistency. Transfer to a small bowl, using a little extra water to swill round the processor and catch any stuck pieces that have become stuck.
  3. Warm 1 tbsp rapeseed oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat, add the shallots and cook gently for around ten minutes until they are sweet and soft. Now would be a good time to put your rice on to boil.
  4. Add the squash, turmeric and salt to the shallots, and stir before adding the coconut milk and water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 5-10 minutes until the squash is soft. Add the tomatoes, green beans and coconut paste, and simmer for a further 10 minutes until the vegetables are soft and collapsing into a thick sauce.
  5. Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp of oil in the frying pan and add the mustard seeds, curry leaves and dried chilli. When the mustard seeds start popping, remove from the heat and leave to cool a little before stirring through the curry.
  6. Leave the curry to stand with the lid on for 5 minutes before serving with a sprinkle of chopped coriander, rice and chapattis.
Keralan squash curry

Travel: Dining Danishly, a Guide to Eating Out in Copenhagen

For me, it seems almost unimaginable to plan a holiday without taking an interest in the cuisine of a destination. Food and drink are integral to understanding the life of a city: at the next table in any local café or bars there may be a business meeting taking place, friends catching up over drinks or a family celebrating their loved one’sbirthday. So, as well as visiting the galleries and museums, make time to venture out for breakfast, linger over a coffee and a pastry, shop in the nearby supermarket and heed local recommendations for dinner. 

In Copenhagen, in particular, food is celebrated, experimented with and savoured. Whilst bicycles may rule the roads, it is eateries who dominate the pavements. Alongside traditional Danish pastries and rye bread smørrebrød, one can also try excellent Neapolitan pizza, classic French food and experimental new Nordic cuisine.  Some of my top tips for eating in the city are below:

 

Mad & Kaffe - The lack of spare tables here, particularly on a sunny day, is a testament to Mad & Kaffe’s well-earned reputation as one of the best brunch spots in the city. Expect a magnificent smörgåsbord, with your choice of three, five or seven breakfast foods. Some of our favourites included avocado with chilli oil and almonds; yogurt with matcha and muesli; eggs scrambled with mushrooms; baskets of excellent rye bread; and of course decadent cinnamon buns and Øllebrød. On a hot day, I recommend the homemade iced teas too...

Mad & Kaffe

Sønder Boulevard 68

Granola - Start the morning slowly or relax over a leisurely lunch at this classic French-style cafe, with a 1950s feel and a beautiful wood-panelled bar. Perch outside or by a window to watch passersby on the fashionable Værnedamsvej, which is lined with tempting eateries, high-end interior design shops and colourful florists. We ate oozing croque monsieurs topped with fried eggs and the eponymous granola served with skyr, but were envious of the ‘big breakfast plates’ served to neighbouring tables. There are excellent fresh juices and the coffee, though not exceptional, comes with personalised sugar sachets and a crumbly, buttery biscuit.

Granola
Granola (2)
Granola (3)

Værnedamsvej 5

Sankt Peder’s Bageri - Who could fail to fall for a city that makes a pastry especially to help its citizens get through Wednesday? Head to Copenhagen’s oldest bakery for the Onsdagssnegle (Wednesday snail): a sweet, wholemeal dough filled with a cinnamon-heavy spice mix and sprinkled with your choice of sugar or icing. Best taken away and enjoyed with a superlative coffee from the Coffee Collective site in nearby Torvehallerne.

Sankt Peder's Bageri

Skt Peders Stræde 29

Grød - Goldilocks’ spiritual home would look very much like Grød. This grain-focused cafe serves perfect porridge, which is rich and velvety, yet retains the slight bite of oats, barley or spelt. Toppings range from the healthy, such as fresh fruit, toasted nuts and skyr, to the pure decadence of their homemade dulce de leche. In my (rather beautiful) bowl, a sweet apple compote flecked with vanilla was the perfect counterpoint to tart, strained yogurt, with homemade muesli providing a little crunch. Later in the day, there are excellent savoury options, such as a seriously creamy risotto topped with lemon oil, parmesan and seasonal asparagus or a fragrant chicken, ginger and peanut congee.

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Torvehallerne - Hall 2, Stade 8A, Linnésgade 17

Aamann's Delicatessen - This deli is the place for seasonally-inspired, though rather pricey, open sandwiches known as smørrebrød. Though deli was rather lacking in atmosphere on our visit, the superlative smørrebrød were a delight of contrasting textures and flavours: crisp, soft, smooth, salty, sweet, sour. The avocado with pickled shallot, garlic and lemon cream was delicious, but best of all was a a herb-salted salmon and cream cheese, lifted by a little heat from pickled onions, radishes and watercress.

Aamann's Delicatessen

Øster Farimagsgade 10

Meyer’s Bageri - In a city not short of bakeries, Meyer’s is certainly one of the finest. Established by Claus Meyer, co-founder of Noma turned restaurant entrepreneur, Meyer’s Bakery is the place to pick up your daily loaf, a lunchtime sandwich bursting with fresh ingredients, or a beautifully-plaited kanelsnurrer (cinnamon bun) made with valharona chocolate. Alternatively, stop by the deli on Gamel Kongevej for a light lunch or gourmet take-away antipasti and picnic boxes. The deli also serves a generous brunch of almost three courses, including fruit and granola, soft boiled eggs, sausages with raw vegetables, Danish cheese, pancakes with lemon curd, and pastries.

Meyer's Bageri

Gl. Kongevej 107

Mother - set in the heart of Copenhagen’s lively meatpacking district, Mother constantly hums with hundreds of clientele who flock to the long outdoor benches or, in inclement weather, the cosy indoor tables that overlook the pizza oven. The ‘mother’ is the sourdough starter that imbues their pizza with that addictive tang and chew. In true Neapolitan style, the blistered, pillowy crust harbours a thin base topped with the best Italian cheeses, cured meats and vegetables, as well as Danish smoked salmon and mozzarella made with organic local milk. 

Mother
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Høkerboderne 9

Madklubben - Friendly staff and relaxed atmosphere make Madklubben the perfect destination for drinks with friends, an informal supper or a nightcap. You can also order three desserts for around £10, making Madklubben a good place just for dessert. Excellent cocktails have afocus on liqueurs, fruit and citrus flavours; the ‘El Diablo’ of tequila, cassis, lime and ginger beer was particularly good. For those who would rather steer clear of spirits, there are several local varieties of beer on tap.

Madklubben
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Vesterbrogade 62

Host

Höst - Those in search of new Nordic cuisine, but not seeking to remortgage their house to pay for it, would be well advised to make a reservation at Höst. Perhaps Copenhagen’s most atmospheric restaurant, Höst creates the consummate romantic feel through its fluttering candles, white-washed walls and furniture, gentle indie soundtrack and a small forest of plants (yes, trees inside the restaurant). But while the atmosphere may lull diners into a sense of contentment, the food is designed to startle and delight. Sometimes such attempts to defy expectations don’t work, for instance a delicate piece of hake was overpowered by a strong chicken broth. However, in most cases our initial scepticism turns into pleasant surprise upon tasting, from an amuse-bouche of meringue with ham terrine and cress, pork shank glazed in a lingonberry jus, or ice-cream and rhubarb compote served with crisps.   

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Nørre Farimagsgade 41

Travel: three days in Positano

“Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone” - John Steinbeck


Steinbeck writes that on the narrow, corkscrew wrote to Positano he and his wife “lay clutched in each other’s arms, weeping hysterically”. We, too, watch with trepidation as the local buses knock into wing mirrors and slice apart signs. Yet with each hairpin turn the Amalfi seascape opens up before us and, at last, we reach a small bay where azure waters break upon a pebbled beach and multi-coloured, sun-bleached houses cling to the cliffs. Positano.

This town may famously attract affluent tourists but it becomes quickly apparent that the local community does not measure wealth in terms of money. Instead, people here treasure family and food. Such simple values ensure that Positano has remained a haven largely untroubled by the demands of frenetic, modern lifestyles.

Positano (1)

Here are my recommendations for the perfect retreat:

 

Sleep

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Above the top of the stack upon stack of houses that comprise Positano, you will find the small village of Monterpertuso. Five minutes further along a wooded track lies Colle Dell’ara, a serene guesthouse set among expansive gardens of sun-sweet tomatoes and lemons the size of melons. There is no need for air con because Clean, sparse rooms are cooled by the breeze that sighs through large wooden shutters. Below, the long terrace offers a view that rolls out over Positano and away, away down the Amalfi coast. Colle Dell’ara is a simple, sustainable home where even the wifi password, one of modernity’s few intrusions, reminds you to take life slowly.

The terrace is the focal point of guesthouse life. In the mornings, it is here that we eat a breakfast of homemade cake and fresh fruit; in the evenings, we drink house liqueurs looking
out at the lights of little coastal towns. It is on the terrace, too, that our hosts serve guests a dinner made entirely with produce from their gardens. Our glasses refill with Lacryma Christi, a gentle, stone fruit-flavoured white from the slopes of Vesuvius, and we enjoy four starters before the main course arrives: spaghetti cooked in lemon-infused water and stirred through with local provolone cheese. The pasta is fragrant, delicate and, like all life at Colle Dell’arra, reminds us that the simple things are often unsurpassed.

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Eat                      

Il Ritrovo (3)

The lauded La Tagliata in Monterpertuso has sadly turned from authentic, family-run trattoria to a business enterprise intent on seating as many tourists as possible. Instead, try Il Ritrovo down the road, which retains its family atmosphere.

Inside, the walls are piled with wine bottles and an open kitchens offers a sight of remarkably calm chefs, but for romance be sure to request a table outside on the candlelit, curtain-draped terrace with coastal views. Start with complimentary processco and tasters - perhaps bruschetta or parmigiana - followed by antipasti and an excellent house red. Stay for the soft, handmade pasta with borlotti beans and truffles or the substantial seafood stew. Share a tiramisu for dessert.

Il Ritrovo
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Do

The people of Positano may enjoy their food, but they need the fuel for climbing the steep steps that one faces on even the shortest journey. The most famous walking route in the area is the Sentiero Degli Dei, or Path of the Gods, named for its position on the edge of a precipice high above the Tyrrhenian sea. The uneven path can be unforgiving on your legs, but the scramble is more than worth it for the spectacular panoramic view. You can do the route in either direction - we hiked from Nocelle to Bomerano, took the thousand steps down to lovely little Praiano and caught the bus back to Positano for a pizza. Good walking shoes, water and a camera are essential - not to mention a well-deserved ice-cream at the end!

Path of the Gods
Gelato, Positano

Travel: Street Feast, from East to West

Vietnam

At Dalston Yard, one of three night food markets run by Street Feast, we are hailed by ‘Join London Union’ posters. This ‘union’ between Street Feast owner Jonathon Downey and Leon co-founder Henry Dimbleby is backed by everyone from Jamie Oliver to Gizzi Erskine, and aims to support entrepreneurship and employment by filling London’s disused spaces with food markets. Designed with entertainment in mind, these markets will be very different to the largely functional kerbside dining of Vietnam, where I first fell in love with street food culture.

Daily life in Vietnam is lived on the pavement, whether one is running a business, getting a hair cut or playing board games. In particular, most food is bought, cooked and eaten in public. Every street corner accommodates a vendor equipped with portable cart and wok; on every stretch of road you encounter a woman balancing two food-laden baskets on either end of a wooden pole. Peer inside the wok, lift the basket lid and you’ll discover a treasure – perhaps Bánh xèo, rice flour pancakes stuffed with pork, shrimp and fragrant herbs, or Tau Hu Nuoc Duong, silken tofu with sweet ginger sauce. These are not chefs, but ordinary cooks who specialise in one particular dish. In a country where the political system is corrupt and propaganda rife, the street and its food has become a site of democratisation, self-sufficiency and communal gathering.

With its power as both a societal leveller and outlet for creativity, it seems appropriate that London’s disillusioned  workers have increasingly turned to street food as a form of rebellion against routine career paths. In the last decade, bankers, marketers and professional chefs have requisitioned burger trucks or ice-cream vans and tuned into the marketing tools of social media, another site of democratisation and personal expression. Soon, Londoners were venturing far from their usual bus route or tube line to queue for gourmet morsels served on cardboard trays.

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Today many of London’s original vendors, think Meat Liquor or Pizza Pilgrims, have built restaurant empires, whilst those who remain on the pavement operate largely through collectives such as Kerb or Street Feast (now absorbed into the larger London Union). In doing so, have London’s street food vendors lost their independence?  The cynic may think so upon arrival at Street Feast, a post-industrial space where cleverly branded food stalls come complete with neon signage, chains of exposed light bulbs and, in one case, even a wine garden. It is a far cry from Vietnam, or indeed London’s earliest street food stalls, where you would be lucky to perch on a plastic chair of primary school proportions. Evidently, the street food scene is now as much about style as function.

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Yet such attention to stylish surroundings and a vibrant atmosphere ensures that street food is now viewed as a day out or evening entertainment, rather than simply a quick, cheap feed. Moreover, at Street Feast many of the best characteristics of traditional street food remain intact. With customers able to see exactly what is being cooked and how, Street Feast’s vendors must source fresh, sustainable and, where possible, local ingredients. And with vendors looking back to their own multi-cultural roots or learning the culinary techniques of other cultures, London’s street food scene offers punchy, exotic, fusion flavours. Aside from the food itself, the charmingly chatty servers, the shared tables and the hum of several hundred satisfied diners creates a sense of community.

I recommend you pay at least two visits to a Street Feast venue so that you can sample as many stalls as your appetite allows. My favourite? Breddos Tacos, where the owners aren’t constrained by adhering to ‘authentic’ Mexican flavours and instead play with more modern combinations. Try the Baja Fish taco: encased in a light batter, the gently flaking morsels of fish dance in the heat from fiery jalapenos and peppery radish, before being cooled by an ever-so-slightly sour lime aioli. Or head to Yum Bun for a soft, spongy bun bursting with unctuous pork belly or thick, almost-meaty mushrooms, a slick of sweet hoisin sauce and fresh greens for a much-needed crunch.

As part of collectives such as Kerb or Street Feast, now absorbed by London Union, I hope that vendors such as Breddos and Yum Bun are protected by permanent employment and a steady stream of customers, without losing their personality. As well as providing security for established food stalls, these overseeing companies also have a duty to nurture up and coming entrepreneurs. If they balance these responsibilities, an exciting time for London’s growing street food culture lies ahead.