Mountain High

Words & Photographs by Betty Ried 

There’s something otherworldly about the snow-dusted, wildflower-adorned peaks of South Tyrol. Found in Italy’s far north, just shy of the Austrian border, South Tyrol is an area of staggering natural beauty, a place full of the unexpected, a melting pot of cultures, histories and landscapes – and yet, thankfully really, it remains largely unexplored. And, while there is pasta, wine and sun in abundance, you’ll also find dumplings, snow, alpine forests, breathtaking mountain passes and wooden refuges that feel worlds away from the villas of Tuscany or waterways of Venice. This is an entirely different Italy – a place of magic and wonder where travellers can embrace all things adventurous or simply unwind in a singular, spectacular setting.

While South Tyrol has long been synonymous with wintery escapades – it had 1,200 kilometres of ski slops after all – this alpine wonderland proves glorious year round. With 350 mountains over 3,000 metres, seven nature parks and what feels like only a handful of visitors, how could it not be? Here the setting – think chocolate box villages found amongst soaring, time-ravened peaks, the terrain a collage of greens and greys – comes with a rather liberating sense of space.

With each passing season South Tyrol has been adding attractions to its tourism programme. A cable car takes early-risers skywards to watch the summer sunrise, mountaincarts speed down winding dirt tracks and the Plose Looping will leave you equal parts exhilarated and euphoric. Thanks also to a collection of rustic mountain lodges scattered throughout the region, everything remains accessible; Rossalm will delight youngsters after a morning tramping along the ‘WoodyWalk’, while Maurerberg Lodge, which sits at 2157 metres, serves up typical Tyrollean dishes and views you can get utterly lost in. Here you will also find around 16,000 marked hiking trails, mountain bike routes, spa towns, healing waters and mountain lakes – like Caldaro, Dobbiaco and Carezza – that are among the warmest in the alps, making them ideal destinations for wild swimmers. It’s no surprise to discover that locals have long made a  habit of heading into the wild the moment work finishes. Spend a few days surrounded by such beauty and you’ll find that this local pride is infectious. 

My base for South Tyrollean exploration was the newly-opened My Arbor, a modern and open, nature-inspired boutique abode found on the mountains above Bressanone. Bathed in light, the design is elegant and innovative, full of earthy tones and organic textures that make the space feel like an extension of the surrounding forest. Rooms are expansive, the view impossible to ignore and forest bathing de rigueur – as is lounging by the pool, feeling kinks loosen in the spa, indulging in a restorative multi-course meal, or letting time slip away in a mediative massage. 

Best of all though, South Tyrol is home to the Italy’s most northerly wineries and, thanks in part to the cooler climes, their wines are clean, smooth and distinctive. Known more for their white varieties, entire days can be spent visiting wineries like Novacella, which is found in an old monastery and is famed as much for its library as its coveted tipples. But whatever draws you to this mountain-filled paradise – be it wine, calm or daring do – know that a few days here will leave you breathing deeper and thinking clearer and that you’ll depart utterly in awe of all South Tyrol has to offer.

To learn more about South Tyrol, click here.

Seattle to the Cascades

City Life

According to locals, Seattle doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is remarkable really when you consider it’s perfect mix of nature and urban sophistication. This is an exciting and unpretentious city where you can feast on the spectacularly fresh bounty of the Pacific northwest, be passionate about coffee at Starbucks Reserve Roastery watching coffee mixologists work their magic, awe over Dreamliner production in the world’s largest building at Boeing, chat with producers and artisans at the historic Pike Place Market, admire excitingly curated artworks at the Seattle Art Museum (the building itself a masterpiece), take a day hike through Washington State’s evergreen beauty, explore ways to tackle some of the world’s problems at Bill and Melinda Gates Discovery Centre, spot one of the 75 resident killer whales on a whale watching tour around the San Juan Islands or merely gather and chat at any one of the swanky bars showcasing the best of regional creations.

A Savour Seattle Booze’n Bites tour helps you navigate the myriad choices in this food-centric city which, despite being settled by Methodist teetotallers and once boasting a pontoon in the middle of Puget Sound for clandestine drinking, has a refreshing ‘anything-goes’ attitude. Starting with ginger beer and whisky at Rachel’s, there are blood-orange margaritas with jalapeño infused salt served with slow-roasted sirloin tip tacos to try at San Patricio, vodka and triplesec lemongrass martinis paired with shrimp roll at The Martini Bar, Diller Daiquiris with a hint of cinnamon infused lime juice (slight lightheadedness eased with the accompanying Mufaletta  sandwiches) at The Diller Bar and finally Kilt Lifter beer and pretzels made from brewing by-products at Pike Brewing Co.

Friendly, artistic, dynamic and surrounded by magnificent landscape, a Seattle sojourn should be a definite on your wandering wish-list.

Further Afield 

Everybody loves the chance to unplug and get up close and personal with the real outdoors, the pristine wildernesses where seasons can change every hour and hiking trails meander through an alpine wonderland, but it’s the chance to combine this with a perfect road trip that makes it the ideal release from the madding world.

The Cascade Loop north of Seattle is a wonderful drive taking you from Puget Sound’s glistening waters, through a patchwork of fruit trees growing on Colombia River’s rich river flats (roadside stalls offering the best of their freshly picked sweetness), past Methow Valley farmlands and into charming towns like the Wild West-restored Winthrop (where a round of putt-putt and an ice-cream is perfect after a day of hiking, kayaking or fishing) and Leavenworth, whose Bavarian themed buildings sit perfectly below surrounding snow-capped mountains. Eventually you reach North Cascades National Park, whose beauty is astonishing despite it being remarkably lesser known than other parks.

Less than three hours from Seattle, it contains over 200,000 acres of old growth forest, 500 lakes and ponds, 300 glaciers, endless waterfalls which cascade down mountains even in the height of summer and a multitude of hiking trails. Everywhere the views are magnificent and the names evocative; Diablo Lake, Thunder Knob, Pyramid Peak, Rainy Lake, Cutthroat Lake, Liberty Bell, but if you really feel a vertical challenge is in order, take the Hart’s Pass Rd, rated one of the world’s most dangerous, and enjoy views into the heart of the North Cascades at Slate Peak Lookout.

This area is magical, the real-time panoramas better than any technological imagery available, and after a few days of hiking I thought I’d seen it all. My last night revealed yet another treasure though as the waxing moon and setting sun sat in the sky together, the scattered clouds over blue skies releasing gossamer raindrops that glowed golden in the sun’s rays, every season appearing to hint of its existence at the same time. Life’s natural bounty really.

Words & photographs by Angela Terrell 

XECO

The blossoms are blooming, the sun is out (occasionally) so we feel like it’s time to update our seasonal cocktail menu. And for this we look to the lovely crew at XECO who have released a collection of sherries that are worlds away from the somewhat dated drink you have come to expect (we’re talking the stuff you want to savour and make the star of your picnic spread, rather than something to hide in a trifle). Yep, XECO is making sherry cool again.

Hailing from Spain’s sun-kissed Andalucian region, sherry is having a bit of a moment right now and the ‘fino friends’ who founded XECO share more than just an appreciation of the tipple, they want to revitalise the drink while honouring its origins. Teaming up with local Spanish bodega Díez Mérito, XECO’s collection includes Fino (crisp and dry) and Amontillado (light and nutty ). Stunning with food, wonderful on its own and kind of perfect in a cocktail!

We’ve also can’t help but admire the the XECO labelling, which captures sherry’s Spanish and English connections – it has been traded between the two countries since the 13th century. Two sketched historical figures from each country (created by Ben Rothery) adorn the bottles (meaning they’ll make rather wonderful vases when the time comes) – historic feuds, friendships and unions beautifully re-imagined. Here are a few of our favourites and, as promised, a few cocktail recipes too!

To invest in a bottle (or three), click here.

“On Sherry: The destiny of a thousand generations is concentrated in each drop. If the cares of the world overwhelm you, only taste it, pilgrim, and you will swear that heaven is on earth.” Pedro Antonio de Alarcón

 

 

Food, Life and Love with Antonio Carlucio

Interview by Liz Schaffer & Photographs by Tom Bunning

Very sadly Commendatore Antonio Carluccio OBE passed away in November last year. We hope you’ll enjoy reading this interview with him, first published in Lodestars Anthology Issue 4, Italy. 

Proudly declaring himself to be a cook rather than a chef (by his own definition a chef is professional while a cook does it for passion), Antonio Carluccio was the quintessential Italian about London. Driven by his zest for food, life and Italy, it was the passing on of wisdom that inspires much of Carluccio’s work. Arriving in England via Austria and Germany, where he worked as a wine merchant for almost a decade, Carluccio launched a fleet of eponymous restaurants, ran some of the capital’s culinary icons, became a BBC fixture and was awarded an OBE, which he retitled his Order Boletus Edulis – the Latin name for mushroom, his signature. Young at heart, Carluccio’s enthusiasm was invigorating; proof that life should be lived in the pursuit of pleasure, ardour and flavour.

Your background and training are quite unconventional. Can you tell us about this and how you came to be a cook?

I was born on the Amalfi Coast and was the fifth son of a stationmaster. [We were] transported up North where I grew up near Asti, then I moved a little further up and worked for Olivetti. At the time Olivetti was something fantastic but I didn’t like it very much and I was thinking I could holiday on the Riviera and [there] I met an Austrian girl and we fell in love. She came to work in Olivetti and when my youngest brother died in 1960 she said, “why didn’t I come to Vienna?”.

I cooked all the time because in Vienna to have the food my mother used to [make] I had to cook. I remembered what she was doing because in Italy when you are the young son you participate in everything.

In Vienna I started to cook what I knew. I didn’t know very much but I cook and cook and I’m sharing it with friends and frequenting bohemian cafes. You meet incredible people and I like art so I met Oskar Kokoschka and Max Ernst and we were sharing pasta. I was having fun and cooking all the time. It was only when I came to England in 1975 [and] I was still cooking, that my ex-wife [suggested], “why you don’t [enter] the best cook competition of The Sunday Times?”. I did and I was in the final but for me it wasn’t professional, I was a wine merchant, but funnily enough the press began to contact me. For them I was ‘the Italian’, flamboyant and believing in mushrooms and pasta, and so I was in the press.

At the same time my ex-brother-in-law Terence Conran, the owner of the Neal Street Restaurant in Covent Garden, asked me to run the restaurant and I said, “look I don’t cook, I don’t do administration, but I will be there doing the restaurant and running it”, which I did. Then came the BBC and I did quite a [few] food and drink programmes. My first Italian series was going to Italy doing twelve half an hours in all the regions. The other series was with Gennaro Contaldo but I did quite a lot in between and I was also writing books. I can’t stay doing nothing.

Do you think people are drawn to the Italian attitude towards food?

Italians live for food. When we were children going to school in the morning you’re already preoccupied by what you would eat in the day. It was the end of war time and the question to other children was “what will you eat for lunch?” and after the meal it was “what did you have for lunch?”, constantly. I remember in the afternoon, when you’re boys you do things, sometimes we were stealing a cabbage from the field and cutting it very, very thinly. Somebody [brought] olive oil, somebody a bit of vinegar and salt and pepper and we were making salad with bread. It was the best salad ever.

Is there an ethos or technique that sets your food apart?

I created a motto for my cooking, ‘mof mof’, minimum of fuss, maximum of flavour, and as such I don’t go to the lengths to elaborate on food because the most important thing is the taste. If you have the taste the look can be indifferent.

In fact we have items in Italy called brutte ma buone, ugly but good; fruit, even biscuits, that show you the possibility of the flavour. I dedicate everything to that which is obtained by regional food. Italy is famed for its 20 diverse regions.

What do you think makes them so distinctive?

Italy was unified in 1861 but I think in spirit each region is a country. You find culture in Italy from everywhere because each one was coming, the French, the Persians, everybody, to Italy. Even Alexander the Great was there. They united Italy in 1861 but there are different languages, different dialects, different customs. But they are united in thinking of the food as one of the best things.

They may be united by a love of food but is there still competition between the regions?

Between little villages! If somebody makes a dish someone in the next village will say, “ahh but I do it with this and this and this”. Immediately there is a conversation. I remember as a child if you were encountering somebody on road and it was lunchtime you would say, “do you want to have lunch?”. It was very simple. They would come home with you. So this is the attitude of the Italian, they really care. I always say that Italy has two or three million Michelin starred chefs, they’re all the housewives.

What do you love most about Italian cooking?

The Italians, what they have in front of others, the Germans, Austrians, English, French, is the attitude. I remember when we used to live in the train station my mother would say, “go downstairs and see if the trains are departing on time” in order to put the pasta in the water so that when papa was coming up the pasta was perfect. When you grow up with this sense of procedure and [significance] then you know food is important. She was really thinking to please other people because cooking for others is an act of love.

[Because of the various regions and diversity] I think that Italy has a more complete menu. There are 600 shapes of pasta and each can be done as a specialty with a special sauce, special ingredients. Italians want good taste and they’re prepared to use all those wonderful shops. In Napoli especially there were shops selling only pasta, and the pasta was loose, not in packets but in drawers, and all the leftovers were put into one ‘special’ and this is for pasta e fagioli – bean soup with pasta – which is wonderful, all bits and pieces. So they really have fun. While other nations have fun in eating the Italian has fun in thinking and imagining it.

What advice do you have for prospective chefs?

You have to desire food, not being greedy but being discerning about what you eat, and pay attention and love your food. If you don’t have those three things you stop cooking because there would be no point, it would just be a job, no fun. Food, it’s not only preparation but fun in eating. It’s good for the brain, for the body, the spirit, for everything.

 

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Coffee and Culture in Champa Gali

Words by Lee Grewal & Photographs by Bhanu Uttam & Isabelle Hopewell  

The tight laneways of Saket in South Delhi, lined with sauntering cows and haphazard roadside fruit carts, are an unlikely gateway to one of the city’s best-kept secrets. But walk a little further into the village of Saidulajab and you’ll find yourself in a Parisian-style passageway complete with design studio, tea rooms, cafes and laneway seating. Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of Champa Gali, even locals are only just starting to uncover this creative Delhi hideaway.  

Until recently the poetically named Frangipani Lane was home to makeshift furniture stores, cow sheds and workshops, but it was transformed into the avant garde arts hub a couple of years ago and is slowly gaining in popularity. The community space holds a natural appeal for artists, writers and photographers who collect in the artisan coffee houses. Even though it’s been tried before, the success of turning a ramshackle village in Delhi into a cultural hot spot has given Champa Gali a feel all of its own.  

It’s only one street, but like the backstreets of European towns where the most creative and free-thinking cultures emerge, so it is with Champa Gali. The uni students with open laptops leaning against the whitewashed walls give the lane a youthful low-key vibrancy. Friends wander in and out of the little stores looking for original art pieces and handmade gifts. In the ambient reading room and tea house of Jugmug Thela, the owner calls himself the Chief Chaiwalla and is happiest serving customers his fusion chai blends and filling the space with spicy aromas. His was one of the first stores to open and Jiten Suchede is still the person most likely to share the secrets and history of Champa Gali with curious visitors.

This thriving little village lane is a hub for meetings, both social and corporate, with plenty of places to inspire. There’s Blue Tokai Coffee Roasters, where the aroma of coffee catches you as you walk in. Patrons mull over projects and catch up along the communal table that acts as the room’s centrepiece, while the shaded courtyard at the back is abuzz with chatter. If your taste buds seek something more, then the fusion flavours of Pho King Awesome will take you on a whirlwind trip around the world. With a mix of Asian, Mexican and Indian dishes it tastes like the Spice Route but feels like a rustic cafe and looks something like Mykonos. 

By day the street has a lovely rural feel, a fleeting escape from the jumble of mainstream Delhi just blocks away. Occasionally in the evening it comes alive with pop up events and offbeat music programs. Hosting art exhibitions, poetry and music nights, Champa Gali shares its soulful, blended experience with those looking for the unceremonious side of Delhi. And it’s blossoming into a liberating little urban neighbourhood along the way.

You can find more of 2gals work by clicking here.

Through the Larder

Källagården

For our new book with New Heroes & Pioneers (click here to find out more), Tom Bunning and Jen Harrison Bunning ventured to Skåne in Southern Sweden to meet the chefs and producers who are transforming the region into a gourmand’s dream. While their chapter in Lodestars Anthology: Pathways is a delight (please ignore our proud-parent bias), many of their wonderful images and words simply didn’t fit in the book – there are just never enough pages. So we thought we’d share some of their unpublished gems here below while we think of summer and Sweden’s foodie delights . . . 

. . . Hörte Brygga’s indoor kitchen is integrated into the dining spaces, the grilling shed with its up-cycled-rubbish-bin-smoker runs out to the terrace bar, which takes you on down to the sea, or back into the kitchen where the chefs and staff work amidst the guests, stopping every so often to change the record on the turntable. The menu is small and ever-changing, inspired by the best of whatever Martin can get from his producers, or pull from his generous store of pickled goods . . .

. . . Bookings can be made from March through to December for intimate suppers, tasting menu feasts and special evenings with guest chefs, but the rest of the time Hörte Brygga operates on an ‘open to all’ basis. By abandoning lunch reservations, encouraging people of all ages and from all walks of life to drop by for coffee, drinks, food, or a browse through the shelves of the farm shop in the newly-converted boat-house, Emma and Martin’s singular vision of a community-focused, produce-led, friendly place to eat has been more than just realised; it’s a triumph . . .

. . . Arriving at Villa Strandvägen is like stepping into a deliciously relaxed home from home. Designed in 1899 by acclaimed Danish-born architect Peter Boisen, this unassuming wood-panelled country home sits in a quiet corner of southern Sweden’s most southerly tip, amidst lush gardens and surrounding woodland . . .

With its seven cosy bedrooms, black and white photos from the owners’ personal collections lining the walls, and intimate drawing room-cum-kitchen-cum-dining room bedecked in New England-inspired florals and stripes, Villa Strandvägen delivers Swedish costal luxury with oodles of homely pleasure and a generous dash of romanticism . . .

. . . Nature-lover and hiking-enthusiast Helena is a modern farmer, conscious of her duty to handle the land and its offerings with a light touch, but also of her responsibility to keep her grandparents’ legacy alive. In addition to her core role as farmer and producer, she runs a bed and breakfast and local tours for visitors, sells meat and skins from her flock, and performs sheep-whispering on her apple-obsessed beasts . . .

. . . She is also savvy, for Källagården, together with some 90 other growers from relatively small farms in Skåne and its surrounding counties, is a member of the Äppelriket collective: an outfit that stores, sells and markets its members’ fruit as a single enterprise. By clubbing together, saving on storage space, packing costs, and labour, Äppelriket gives its members the power in numbers required to compete with bigger, more commercial farms on price and production, and the strength to protect themselves from grocers’ price wars. All in all, very simple, very effective, very fair, and very Swedish . . .

. . . The family-run Spirit of Hven distillery produces organic pot-distilled vodka, gin, rum, eau de vie and schnapps, much of it made from grain grown on the Island of Ven, but it is their single malt island whisky that they’re best-known for. Whisky enthusiasts can come here to stay in the 4* hotel, take a tour around the world-class distillery, or just to while away an evening in the Backafallsbyn bar with its some 500 different whiskies from the best distilleries around the world . . .

. . . Here at Spirit of Hven they’re practicing the art of precision spirit production. Mashing, fermenting, distilling, oak-cask ageing and bottling all takes place under one roof. The contents of bright copper stills bubble away in the distilling chamber, barrels are racked in neat rows in the adjoining cask room to age – some hooked-up to speakers for a dose of radio-wave maturation experimentation. Next door, bottle necks are hand-dipped in simmering wax to give them their distinctive seal, whilst upstairs in the laboratory, test-tubes spin and sampling machines blink continuously. This is the seriously scientific craft of spirit-making, and distillers from all over the world send samples to Hven’s laboratory to undergo their rigorous analysis process . . .

. . . Next stop, Malmö Saluhall: a bustling market hall that’s home to grocers, butchers, florists, fish-mongers, ice-cream parlours and food stalls in a formerly dilapidated 19th-century freight depot. At Papi’s open kitchen and bar we sampled spicy Fegatelli and damp cellar-hung mortadella procured from ham rock-star Massimo Spigaroli’s farm, soft strips of lardo and home-cured prosciutto, accompanied by hunks of chewy bread and a glass of very good red wine. Saluhall is busy but not overcrowded: it’s rather like our beloved Borough Market in miniature and without the hoards of tourists, and we could have stayed here all day, chatting wine and food with the guys over the bar and pottering around the stores. But next on the agenda was a not-to-be-missed date with the nation’s top pastry chef, so off we went to the old Rosengård district for our first ice-cream of the year with Joel Lindqvist . . . 

. . . We stepped off a busy main throughway into the serene Mat- & Chokladstudion world of grey-limed walls, birch shelves bearing assorted glass jars and beautiful books, with a vast oak tasting table at its centre. But this is no colourless land: this is Willy Wonka chocolatiering Skandi-style . . .

. . . There is no menu or wine list at Bloom in the Park. The menu is inspired by seasonal ingredients and changes each day according to what chef Titti Qvarnström can procure from her band of trusted producers, and from her own garden.

In the small patch of land around her home in one of Malmo’s sleepy suburbs, Titti has created a kitchen garden of dreams. With basket and scissors in-hand, we trail Titti around the garden as she gathers hyssop, goosefoot, wild strawberries, rose petals, elderflower and more, stopping here and there to smell or taste from our harvest, chattering all the way. One last stop to poach a few sprigs of mockorange over a neighbour’s wall and then we are on our way back to the city for lunch in a 60s shopping centre (us) and prep (Titti) . . .

. . . We left Bloom to wander back to our hotel, stopping for a nightcap in the buzzing Möllevången district. The Bloom card with its QR code to look up the menu and wine list for the evening sat on the table between us, but our phones stayed in our pockets and the menu remained unknown. For us, the magic of this particular meal could not be confined to a list of ingredients or a description of plating. Our evening at Bloom would remain the icing atop a perfect day, flavoured by the people we’d met, scented by our afternoon in our chef’s garden: its tastes, smells and textures committed firmly to memory . . .

Extracted from the full article, commissioned for Lodestars Anthology: Pathways.

 

 

The Nation’s Kitchen

Words & Photographs by Angela Terrell & Illustrations by Flora Waycott

This piece originally appeared in our Japan magazine – you can order a copy here.

The first thing you notice is the noise. Pedestrian crossings, escalators and subways trill and beep while alleyways resonate with emphatic voices luring you at full volume into shops and arcades. Totally bewildering at first, flashing lights, brash advertising and constant momentum only add to this raucous cacophony and you quickly find yourself a bemused observer of the throng. Yet Osaka is enigmatic and under this clamour is another world, one populated by friendly citizens who don’t take themselves too seriously, and plenty of paradox.

Wide promenades are criss crossed by neighbourhood laneways seemingly narrower than the cars navigating them. Fluorescent neon floods the sky whilst lanterns and a canopy of exposed power-lines light historic alleyways. Shrines, love hotels and street food vendors sit side by side, and immersed within the teeming masses, instead of feeling hemmed in, you experience a surprising sense of calm.

So how to explore the layers and ambiguities of Osaka? Getting your bearings from the top of its tallest buildings, the Umeda Sky Building or Abeno Harukas, is a start. But then it’s best to just meander, locals happy to help disorientated tourists lost in the maze. Composed of village-style neighbourhoods, you’ll uncover tiny vintage and design shops (not to mention cat cafes) amidst the quiet lanes of Nakazakicho or boutiques of bustling Umeda. You can walk for kilometres along the vibrant arcades of Shinsaibashisuji and Tenjimbashisuji, visit frenetic Amerikamura with its cutting-edge shops and quirky lampposts, or window-shop in a daze along Midosuji Avenue. Turn off throbbing Dōtonbori (following the scent of incense through seemingly empty alleys where jazz first appeared in Japan) to Hozenji Temple where the juxtaposition of pious worshipers and chaotic nightlife is enthralling.

Wherever you go, food is ever- present. Thousands of stalls and restaurants line the streets where Osakans happily kuidaore, or ‘eat oneself to ruin’. Known as ‘The Nation’s Kitchen’ from its roots as a major trade and rice storage port, today this food-centric city has a reputation for entrepreneurship and creativity, even boasting the first sushi train. The Japanese believe those from Tokyo will become paupers from buying shoes, in Kyoto from kimonos and in Osaka from food, and while regularly frequenting three or four restaurants and bars in one night could induce poverty, the rule that ‘cheap is good’ sees residents snub non-compliant eateries.

Whether enjoying over-the-counter Kappo style dining (in such close proximity the chef adapts ingredients to suit customers’ moods), tachinomi (where standing while drinking is the custom), or dishes from street food stalls, the fare is unfailingly good. Over days spent wandering through markets and arcades guided by replica plastic food and orderly yet eager queues – or even blindly guessing from menus – I ate my way through Osaka. In Dōtonbori I feasted on moreish takoyaki, dough balls filled with octopus then lathered in sauces. For something different, Takoriki in Karahori uses kombu dashi, red ginger and freshly boiled octopus to create delicious morsels served with Champagne. In Shinsekai, kushikatsu, deep-fried skewers, were covered in a light, crunchy batter, magically maintaining the sweetness of tomatoes and succulence of salmon. Dipping only once in the accompanying sauce lest I wreaked the wrath of fellow diners, they were a perfect snack. Numerous restaurants and stalls offered okonomiyaki, savoury pancakes loaded with a variety of ingredients (cabbage is a staple) then doused in decorative sauces. Once only a meal for the aristocracy, today it’s enjoyed by everyone, especially at Yukari which has been perfecting its recipes since 1950. Said to combat diabetes, the pork, shrimp and squid mix is a classic, precise flipping ensuring the ingredients are steamed perfectly before being topped with ‘dancing bonito’.

At Kuromon Market, a 190 year old destination for local gourmands, the seafood choices are plentiful but my pick for quality sushi is Ichibazushi where tasty morsels (customarily devoured in a single bite) are prepared with artistic flourish. Despite the language barrier it was a joy to interact with the chef as he cut and seared fish that tantalised my taste buds – although I declined tessa (pufferfish sashimi) despite knowing it wouldn’t be lethal in his expert hands. Markets also proffered yakiniku, beef barbecued over charcoal and seasoned with salt, sesame oil or sweet wasabi. While I was too full to sample the horumon barbecue, where every part of a chicken (including pieces I didn’t know were edible) is cooked, I later tried kitsune udon, the noodles floating in a light dashi unique to Osaka and topped with tofu. Having even found stalls selling giant candy floss and the world’s tallest soft- serve, eating myself to ruin had been accomplished.

Mirroring the conundrum that is Osaka, alongside these hectic food stalls and tiny eateries are some of the world’s premier dining establishments. At Michelin three- starred restaurant Fujiya 1935, chef Tetsuya Fujiwara uses childhood memories to create a progression of courses that excite the senses, the food more about the feelings and sensations they evoke than individual ingredients. Chilled wasabi pasta decorated with carrot leaf and topped with sorbet followed the curves of the lotus-shaped plate like a work of art. Smoke from smouldering embers under a chestnut pudding with coffee jelly rose like a magic potion, its scent reminiscent of traditional autumn hay-burning. More than just a meal, eating here is like unwrapping a seasonal gift from nature enhanced by youthful recollection.

But what creates the flavours of Osaka? Seaweed expert Junichi Doi believes it is umami, the savoury taste found in kombu kelp, the basis of all broths in Osaka. Wearing gloves to handle seaweed that had ‘slept’ in a box for four years, we studied its greenish-grey hue, admiring the quality of the Hokkaido harvest. Fully aged, it is prepared for sale in Doi’s shop so anyone from Michelin chefs to home-cooks can create delightfully aromatic dishes. Those equally dedicated to their craft are the knife- makers of Sakai, traditional craftsmen from Mizuno Tanrenjo employing centuries-old techniques to shape steel and iron into the sharpest of tools. Few have mastered this art, with knife making a descendant of sword making, famously produced in the region before the fall of the samurai. Locals take as much pride in cutting and slicing as they do in cooking, the right knife imperative in ensuring food’s piquancy is preserved.

Sated after days of dining, I required amusement and while Osaka is proud of its thriving comedy scene, traditional forms of entertainment also flourish here. Hoping to protect the arts for future generations, Yamamoto Noh Theatre holds workshops and has performances in Noh (mask theatre), Rakugo (comic storytelling) and Bunraku (puppetry) that, despite being written over 600 years ago, are just as apt today; family worries, jealousy and vengeful woes apparently timeless. Sitting in the audience with the troupe from Cirque du Soleil I became lost in stories told purely by animated expression, intonation and evocative movement; with my lack of Japanese it was the only way to listen. Being able to draw an audience into the histrionics requires enormous mastery and years of training (it takes 20 years to control a puppet’s facial expressions), but by combining commitment with newly written plays on contemporary issues this intense art will continue to captivate.

There are also plenty of nearby destinations for day-trips such as Himeji, with its glistening white castle and Koko-en Garden, and Nara, with its roaming deer. Above a valley of rice paddies and owering cosmos is Kōyasan, a sacred Buddhist site where temples abound and the divine entity Kōbō Daishi, who brought Buddhism to Japan, lies in eternal meditation. Pilgrims have visited the site for over 1,000 years and following some through the cedar-filled Okunoin, with its 200,000-plus graves and moss-covered monuments, was serene rather than sombre.

Mount Inunaki, near Kansai International Airport, is a spiritual mountain retreat guaranteeing tranquillity. Wandering along pathways built over 1,350 years ago, past pristine waterfalls and shimenawa ropes denoting hallowed ground, I contemplated my tiny place in this beautiful natural setting. The gods of fire and water (appearing in the form of a sword-swallowing dragon) can be worshipped here, wishes fulfilled and purification attained by the ascetic exercise of ‘waterfall meditation’. This ritual can be brutal, some monks staying under icicle-laced water for hours, although quicker reflection is acceptable for visitors. Afterwards, Minamitei is perfect for a kaiseki-style lunch where a sequence of artistically garnished seasonal dishes are served as you sit on tatami mats in private dining areas. Later, relaxing with mothers, daughters and gossiping grandmothers in the healing waters of the onsen I understood true satisfaction.

With so much to discover, it’s worth getting lost in Osaka’s flamboyance, for it is then that you’ll find quietness behind the noise and meet people that charm. All the while revelling in plenty of guilt-free eating.

Aro Hā

Translating to ‘in the presence of divine breath’, Aro Hā is a health and wellness retreat sure to inspire, invigorate and surprise.

Something has gone awry in our modern world. At a time when so much exists to make things easier, how is it that everyone seems so terribly busy? Somewhere along the way we’ve lost the art of taking a break, of disconnecting, of being in the moment. So when I discovered Aro Hā, a wellness retreat nestled in the sun-kissed mountains south of Glenorchy, I began to wonder – could this be the antidote to our increasingly frenetic lives?

Despite Aro Hā’s promise of quietude, I found myself hesitant to go. You see, I was a bit of a wellness sceptic. Perhaps most of us are, an unfortunate side effect of that aforementioned busyness. But, as with most things in life, if you give the unfamiliar a chance, it will repeatedly surprise you.

As it turns out, such nervousness was unwarranted for it’s remarkably easy to embrace the Aro Hā routine. Each morning I woke for yoga to the sound of a Tibetan singing bowl, while stars still filled the late-autumn sky. The view from the studio’s window – through which you can spy pre-dawn clouds hanging over Lake Wakatipu – may make poses wobbly but such faux pas are understandable. Readjusting for a better view of the sunrise is sure to complicate the downward dog of even the most experienced yogi.

Then I’d hike – uphill more often than not but wondrous nonetheless – before restoring my aching limbs in the Aro Hā spa. While this space may come with Nordic overtones when it comes to design, watching a trio of cows graze on a nearby hill while soaking in the outdoor plunge pool, you can’t doubt where in the world you are. Afternoons are filled with pilates, meditation, dynamic playground sessions (where you break a sweat moving to mighty fine tunes) and, the pièce de résistance, a daily massage. There are also classes in the kitchen, an open space where culinary questions are encouraged, flavours delight and edible flowers are grown in abundance.

Which brings me to the meals; colourful, nutrient-rich creations that demonstrate just how artful raw, vegan cuisine can be. Capable of keeping my penchant for cheese, caffeine and alcohol at bay, everything here tastes a little bolder and looks a little brighter with as many ingredients as possible grown on site.

Such repose and splendour wouldn’t be possible without a remarkable team. The friendly, knowledgeable staff – their skin aglow and their energy limitless – are a testament to the Aro Hā lifestyle; and the most glowing of all is Co-Founder Damian Chaparro, for whom Aro Hā is more than just a labour of love. He’s built a hideaway that showcases the environment (this luxury, eco-friendly complex simply couldn’t exist anywhere else) and remains on site to guide guests through their experience. He cares, smiles and informs, and acts as if every personal discovery is the first he’s been privy to.

Encouraged to abandon technology and lose track of time, I experienced periods of euphoria, followed by moments of exhaustion, somehow arriving at the end of my six day escape at a restful, more accepting place. For you see, odd things happen on retreats. You’ll probably cry and you might not know why. And if you do, the cause will seem far more conquerable come morning. And while the experience may lead to a physical change, what’s fascinating is how open you become, how much you’re willing to share. At Aro Hā you scale mountains, cross lakes, hike along icons (the Routeburn Track is as stunning as everyone says), dance blindfolded and embrace your inner child, leaving with a sense of calm you may have never thought possible. Scepticism be damned.

This piece appeared in the New Zealand issue of Lodestars Anthology – you can order a copy here.

Foragers of the Ballinskelligs

Photo essay by Johan van der Merwe & Tanya Houghton

‘Foragers of the Ballinskelligs’ is the first collaboration between London-based photographer Tanya Houghton and food stylist Johan van der Merwe. Having bonded over a shared passion for wild landscapes and the bounty they offer, the duo set out to produce a body of work that focuses on foraging along the Kerry coastline in Ireland.

Ballinskelligs (originally Baile en Sceilg, which translates to ‘place or village on the craggy rock’) has a wilderness-rich landscape, an amalgamation of coastline, mountains and huge areas of undisturbed bog land and forest. In awe of the landscape’s history and inspired by the diets of early settlers, van der Merwe and Houghton combined their knowledge and set out to forage for and catalogue some of the area’s edible flora and fauna, which includes shellfish (clams, mussels and oysters) and a wide range of highly nutritious seaweed.

Van der Merwe creates his recipes for the project using only the ingredients found foraging, while drawing on his rich culinary background. These dishes are one of the focal points of Houghton’s images, sitting alongside photographs of the landscape in which they were found. The resulting body of work is the first chapter in a continuing series by the duo to catalogue a year’s worth of seasonal foraging in this wild Irish landscape.

You can view more of Tanya’s work here and catch Johan’s food styling here.

Borough Market

Photo essay by Sébastien Dubois-Didcock

Tucked beneath the Thames Link Bridge in central London lies one of the most intriguing food markets I have ever had the chance to visit. This place, caught between the modern world and what I imagine a medieval London would have once looked like (although much, much cleaner) has, in many ways, captured everything I love about food. It is a culinary oasis in the heart of the city that continually draws me back. If you haven’t guessed, I’m talking about Borough Market.

I was first introduced to Borough Market by a friend who took me there to cure our jet lag with some good eats. Walking the small, winding paths that guided us from stall to stall, I was overcome by the variety of beautiful smelling food on offer. Pork sandwiches, vegetable curries, pad thais, Spanish paellas, freshly baked breads and, of course, mountains of warm pastries. There was something to make your mouth water at every turn.

Now, most people who have been to Borough understand that making a decision about what to eat isn’t always an easy task. And they’re not exaggerating. I could literally spend a week there and not have the same food twice; that was my experience on this most recent visit to London.

Waking up early to battle the morning commute to London Bridge was a necessary evil, given what awaited me at Borough. Wandering around as the merchants set up for the midday rush revealed why this market feels so different to the many I’ve encountered on my travels. Mixed in with the sounds of whistling coffee machines and the smells of aromatic spices was a deep appreciation of and respect for food and tradition. There isn’t a rush to set up stalls. Instead there is a sense of thoughtfulness and purpose. It was these instances, during my mornings at Borough, that made me recognise how much this London market values the food it offers and how this in turn helps to create the energy and atmosphere that makes it unique. 

Come lunchtime, the market’s energy changes from quiet reverence to organised chaos. As I made my way through the crowd of people pondering what to enjoy, freshly cooked delicacies enticed me from one stall to the next. This game of culinary tiki-taka quickly overwhelmed my senses, before I realised that I too could not decide what I wanted to eat.

When you get a chance to sit back and take in the Borough Market atmosphere you’ll be taken with the buzz, friendliness and foodie adoration. There is something about this place that makes people slow down and enjoy the time they spend eating; something that isn’t very common in a large metropolis. Most importantly, it is in places like this that one can witness the true power of food – where issues are set aside and a sense of community is created through a collective need. That is where Borough Market has found its strength, by bringing people together through food and a passion for doing it right.