Budva, Montenegro’s Mini Dubrovnik?

The old town seen from top of the citadel, with the modern city in the background.

As my time living in Rome draws to a close, I decided to travel to see other parts of the former Roman empire. One such place was just across the water in Budva, Montenegro. Budva was part of ancient Greece and it became part of the Roman empire in 200 BCE (150 years before Caesar, 200 years before Jesus).

If you want to avoid the crowds of Dubrovnik, visit Budva in the off season. I recommend staying at La Villa boutique hotel. Be silly and enjoy yourself making your own Game of Thrones video clips. Even if you have never seen GOT, Budva will charm you.

The citadel. One has to pay an entrance fee but it was worth it for the view.

The old town of Budva is a walled medieval city sitting on a peninsula in the harbor of Budva. It’s a tiny walled town with paved streets that match the same taupe stone buildings. Most of what one can see today in the old walled town of Budva was build in the 15th century CE (500 years ago).

The old city at night. I highly recommend off season as it is very crowded in the summer.

Montenegro is part of the European Union. If you enter by land from Albania, the border crossing may take you over an hour. Once we got on the road, Budva was only a couple of hours away (if you land in Albania), mainly because there is a stretch of road that is not highway. One gets a nice “local” route, bumping through neighborhoods and increasingly beautiful views. It all seems like potential for commercialism. Budva seems to be all resort hotels and construction, which contrasts so nicely with the old walled town. The staff at La Villa gave us good advice to park in the public parking and pay for a day pass (minimum is two day pass at 20 Euro) because otherwise the rate is per hour!

Sveti Stefan from a convenient overlook along the road.

On your way in or out, visit the other towns of Sveti Stefan and Bar. Sveti Stefan is another tiny jewel of a town. It was bought by a private resort so no longer open to the public during tourist season. Can you imagine?

Real Roman Scenes Seen from A Taxi

The quality of the photos is not high as most of these are shot from the car. Rome is not always beautiful. It is also a place of beggars, homelessness, trash, food banks, traffic, and always, the one eternal thing is tourists.

A beggar. Some will approach you and talk to you.
Typical mode of transport.
For the tourists…
Always luggage.
Selfies…
Lots of dogs here.
A selfie at the forum.

Roman Holiday Advice

So you are visiting Rome for a vacation? And you want my advice? I wrote about tourist information back in May but here is a reminder of what I would tell you if you asked me, “Where should I eat? What should I see? What should I do in Rome?”

In Testaccio market. Photo taken by a friend.

Eat pizza by the slice.

Go to Fuoco Lento for spaghetti carbonara.

See everything. Take a billion photos.

Walk and walk. Then walk some more.

That’s what you should do.

Happy new year.

I’m a Sucker for Pea Shoots – Food in Malta

The shrimp and scallop agnoletti.

As the year draws to a close and the days are finally getting longer here in Rome, I am thinking about fresh snap peas and pea shoots. I love fresh peas and I look forward to them. But, I’m also a sucker for pea shoots. Perhaps partly because they look so artistic. Like edible dancing decorations.

While visiting Malta, we went on a traditional food tour which was interesting. The variety of foods in Malta is as mixed as their culture so we tried Japanese, Italian, Maltese, and fusion (well, it was all sort of fusion).

Soup.

But, then one evening, we found a really delicious restaurant. It is called Grana Bistro and woah was it yummy. I only include a few photos but we had soup, spaghetti alla vongole, salt baked fish, grilled vegetables, bread, and. those amazing scallop and shrimp agnoletti (big ravioli). There were lots of pea shoots used on the various dishes.

Spaghetti alla vongole.

I ate them too.

Malta, the Fantastic

One of the things to see in Rome is the keyhole of Malta. Visiting Malta is so much more than that glimpse into the world of the knights of Malta. The tiny central island just off of Sicily is as fantastical as one imagines it to be.

Upper Barakka gardens, Valletta.

I visited on a cold winter day with torrential rains bucketing down like biblical times. Yes, I still loved it.

Photogenic shop in Valletta.

Maybe because of the weather, it was a better experience — free of the millions who flood the island every year searching for Gladiator or Game or Thrones…

Valletta, tourist and native.

We did a food and cultural walking tour. It was a great introduction to Malta.

Lots of streets in Valletta are steep.

The island of Malta has a long history as a embattled island due to its central location in the Mediterranean. To borrow from the Visit Malta site, “the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Romans and the Byzantines” and then the Berbers, Knights of Malta, French, and British all had influences on the island.

Famous harbor seen from the Upper Barrakka gardens.

St. Paul was shipwrecked here in current era 60 (AD). This is a big deal. Christianity is a big part of the island. The Knights of Malta were a Christian order which is considered sovereign, but now they are a Christian humanitarian organization. They have had different names at different times in history but they ruled Malta from the 1500s (when they were given Malta as a territory after fleeing Rhodes after the rise of the Ottoman empire) to the 1800s.

This mall also has subsidized public housing, right downtown, for as little as 30 euro per month.

Valletta has been the capital for 450 years and has a uniform look to it because it was built in three years. The buildings of the old town are all made of the same pale yellow rock that was quarried from the exact place where the buildings were built. In some ways, Valletta reminded me of the towns of Apulia like Lecce, Bari, and Polignano a mare. Maybe that is why I liked it so much. The stone is the same color as the stone used in Jerusalem.

Another instagrammable shop and remnant of the British influence.

Malta had a capital before Valletta was chosen. The old capital goes back 4,000 years and is located about 20 minutes drive from Valletta. Mdina, not to be confused with Medina, is the old capital and right outside its gate is Rabat, not to be confused with Rabat.

Gate of Mdina, the former capital.
Mdina is crushingly quaint.
The eight pointed star is symbolic for the eight “langhe” or rulers of Malta.
Mdina is a perfectly preserved walled city.
Mdina has a few pops of color other than the sandstone color of the native rock.

The language of Malta, like the people and culture, is also a mix. It has many words that are the same in Italian but I did not understand Maltese at all. No matter as they speak English as well.

The Beheading of John the Baptist by Caravaggio is in the church in Valletta.

Another reason to go to Malta is to see a Caravaggio painting. The church is also beautiful but to be in front of a Caravaggio is a special moment. This brings a visit to Malta full circle. Many consider Caravaggio to be the first cinematographer for his use of dramatic light and shadow. Malta, with its dramatic history, seems most famous now as a movie location.

The Valletta Street Food and Culture Walking Tour

Sandwich “lunch” stop. The drink was also traditional.

I rarely go on food tours because I prefer to wander around on my own. But the tour I took in Malta was an example of why one should take a food tour.

The tour is not just food. This is the view from the upper gardens where the tour guide explains a whole lot including which films were filmed here.

In Valletta, I joined a tour with the Valletta Street Food and Culture Walking Tour, found by my friend on TripAdvisor. This tour was great. Not just food, but culture, history, and movie locations.

The guide spoke excellent English (it’s one of the languages of Malta) and used a micrphone/headset system so you could always hear her.

It was good value for money, the walking was not too strenuous, and guide was great (guides must be licensed in Malta so they have to know their stuff).

Fried ravioli.

The cost is about $43 per person and for that you get four food and culture stops and three hours of information about Malta.

Horse meat stew.

The guide will ask you to pre-select if you want to try the horse meat.

Cheese and salami plate.

The amounts of food are not overly huge but enough that you will not need to eat lunch.

Coffee stop at a traditional bakery.

At the final stop, you get free beer, an appetizer slate, and a small main dish.

Dessert at the “dinner” stop.

Conveniently, the tour ends in a food hall so you can keep eating if you are still hungry or just want to sit for a while.

Medusa

The water is so inviting in Salina.

“Help me! Help! A medusa!” The cries for help and “medusa” interrupted my hazy soporific sunny afternoon. I looked toward the sound of the cry for help. It came from the aquamarine water where bathers had been enjoying the warm water. The cries continued in a warbling plaintive and pleading cry as the swimmers splashed furiously to get out of the water.

The young woman pulled herself up on the ladder to the boat and the angry red striations were erupting across her chest, shoulders, and neck like wildfire.

Marco, the captain, on the sound of the cries for help, had raced to the back of the boat to help the jellyfish victim. While the husband of the victim dabbed her dry, Marco sprayed a medicinal tonic on the jellyfish bites. I do not have any photos of the bites as I was not taking photos of the victim. But the bites looked like long strings or red mosquito or wasp bites.

The spray that cools the sting.

This was last summer and I was enjoying the shade from inside the boat while the rest of the group were swimming off the shore of Salina island near Sicily. That’s when I learned that the Italian for jellyfish. Medusa.

Jellyfish in the Monterrey Aquarium in California.

In Search of Spicy Chinese Restaurants in Rome

There are many Chinese restaurants in Rome, but I like spicy Chinese food (like food from Sichuan). I have been to about 15 Chinese restaurants at this point and I am finding that most are the “same same” — so I do not want to continue. The first three are places where one can get spicy “Sichuan” style food. The rest are where you can get okay Chinese food. ***update December 2022 — I did finally find really spicy food at the hotpot restaurant called Tianci Chongqing.***

The spicy hotpot is sure fire way to make sure you eat something spicy!

Sichuan, Via di San Martino ai Monti 33: It was supposed to be spicy but I didn’t think it was. The food was good. I took a Chinese person with me so maybe the food was better because of that.

Xiao Shenyang, Via di S. Croce in Gerusalemme 91a: On a dingy thoroughfare but if you can speak Chinese to the owner and he does the cooking, then you can get authentic spicy Chinese food.

ChongQing Impresiones, Via Vicenza 10: Near the train station with a casual cafe feel but excellent cucumber salad and other vegetables. I’ll be back. Sichuan style food but not sure about it.

Mi Cucina Cinese, Via Giovanni Botero 31: Located quite a bit out of the city (five miles is a long way in Rome) with good dishes but not worth the haul. They fried rice with beef and fried egg served on a massive iron hotplate is straight up comfort food.

These were interesting, and not bitter.

MiFang, Via Firenze 30: In Monti, and a bit fancy inside. They have excellent special fried rice but the portions are small. The sweet and sour chicken balls are worth it just because they are served in a bowl of ice… and still are hot enough to burn the roof of your mouth.

Tea & Noodles fried dumplings.
Inside Tea & Noodles.

Mandarin Chow, Via Emilia 85: Considered one of the best. I thought it was good but not sure it was the best, but maybe I have a faulty memory.

Tea and Noodles, Via Conte Verde 38. It’s comfort food when you need it. Homemade noodles and dumplings. While it is a casual cafe, the menu is extensive and even includes Peking Duck. The homemade dumplings, fried rice, chicken crunchies (not sure what they are called but that is what they were), and pork belly were probably the best things but I love the garlicky cucumber salad and the sour pickled radish.

Tea & Noodles chicken crunchies.
Sichuan – Dumplings in spicy oil, chicken with chiles, and hot and sour soup.

Apparently this plum drink is what one drinks with spicy food. It tasted a bit like ice tea.

Chinese Tea House, Via Otranto 3 in Prati: This place has an all you can eat sushi offer that one orders through a tablet at the table. But, they also have a Sichuan menu which is really more generic Chinese food. Not bad for generic. I’ll go back for the shrimp.

Online reviews say that the Tea House is hard to find but it is not. It’s covered in flowers, which you can see in the background.

T’Ang Cout, Via Filippo Turati 54: The service is nice. The place is well lit and pleasant. The food is okay.

Coconut tapioca dessert at T’ang Cout.

Oolong, Piazza di San Paola alla Regola: Very fancy with a strict Chinese owner. Outdoor seating, a vast menu, housemade noodles and dumplings, oysters, and the best part were the desserts.

This dessert at Oolong was the best thing there.

Heji.

Heji, Via Daniele Manin 61: This is a newish place and they are not finished decorating. It has a hole in the wall feel, and it located on a busy street with a tram line chunting along outside. The folks are friendly and they seem to do a massive delivery service.

Water spinach, kang kong, is very popular and is in season in the fall.

I also went to some others, like Green T, but I don’t recommend them. Green T had nice decor, too pricey, food was cold, and too fancy with no flavor.

The Most Beautiful Town in the World

Castel Mole has a fantastic arrival area overlooking the bay.

Of course it is in Italy. It is a little town perched above Taormina and we accidentally went to see it when we were traveling in Sicily. I thought we were going to the outlook in Taormina but instead the taxi driver took us to the town that looks out over Taormina.

In reality, the view is much more impressive than this.

The town above Taormina is called Castel Mole.

“Belvedere” is literally “beautiful to see” but there are lots of stairs everywhere to get there.

I am not sure who votes in the competition but it seems like there are endless beautiful towns all over Italy.

One of the signs indicates the status of the town as the most beautiful.

If you are planning a trip to this area, I recommend a local car service. They also do airport transfers. I found them when I wanted a ride from Taormina to Catania. 100 euro for a van. Divided up by a group, the price was about the same as the train plus taxi. But door to door.

This is a good car service. Stefania speaks English.

Foods of Piemonte

Russian salad.

One of the “chandelier” problems with Italy is that the food is delicious and one could spend a life time trying it all. That said, I have some food that I have liked more than others. I expected to like the cheeses of Piemonte as that is where much of the dairy farming happens. But, I found it not so exciting. Here is an article on some of the typical dishes to try. I only managed a few of them.

Agnolotti di plin.

Agnolotti di Plin are small stuffed pasta. The filling is usually a meat reduction and the one I had was surrounded by a chestnut paste adding to the gamey feel.

Raw meat. They love raw beef tartar.

Sausage stuffed vegetables.

An array of special appetizers with sausage, anchovy, truffles, cheese fondant, and eggs.

Egg frittata with cheese sauce.

Truffles.

Breadsticks. Grissini are apparently a specialty of the area.

Quail eggs and cooked tuna.

Russian salad. I actually liked this mayonnaise based salad of potatoes, carrots, and peas. The one I had was very fancy.

The pan pizza.

The Park of Monsters

Spoiler: It looks more amazing in photos, and in your imagination. But, it was still a fun outing.

This is the most monstrous of the sculptures.

The Bomarzo Monster Park in Lazio, a few hours from Rome, is supposedly where there be monsters. This article describes it quite well.

When done with all the other touristy places (what am I saying?), there will still be more places to explore near Rome. The monster park in the sacred wood, Bosco Sacro, is a place you can go wander around for a few hours. There is parking, bathrooms, and walkways. Most of the walkways are gravel and dirt and there are stairs so it is not a wheelchair friendly place.

The same architect worked on Villa D’este but this park is meant to be a fantasy world of the weird and scary.

On a bright sunny day, with children running around, this place does not seem scary. But, imagine if they opened it at night?

9 Best Korean Restaurants in Rome

There are only 12 so that makes it easier. I am listing the restaurants on flavor, authenticity, and selection.

Seoul Restaurant is old school.

Seoul: This place was filled with Koreans and the atmosphere is more family than business lunch. They have no mandu (dumplings) but otherwise a full menu. The service was fast and the flavors were authentic. Not a wide variety of panchan but at least the kimchi was okay. This is on the south side (also figuratively) of Termini. This newly renovated place is down in a basement and I think it is located where the previous highly rate Hana was once located. I would go back.

Seoul restaurant is newly renovated down in a basement.

Starbaps: This tiny three high table top take out place has five things on the menu (bento box, rice bowls, dumplings, rice cakes, and soup) but the flavor is authentic. But it annoys me that they deep fry their mandu as this destroys any “chew” factor. I go back all the time.

This a tiny place with a few high top tables.

Gainn: Perfectly acceptable place to eat Korean. Elegant enough for a nice meal. Near Termini on the nice side. Probably would take newbies here.

Gainn is a fairly classic Korean place.
HanCook in south Rome.

Hancook: New restaurant, pleasant atmosphere. They are a bit south of the center. The seafood pancake was good, but the bulgogi was bad. It tasted blah. The japchae noodles were excellent. They had no beef mandu (dumplings) but have small deep fried scallion gyoza. They also have pork dumplings in a money sack shape were “sold out” when I visited. The pork, seafood, and tofu stew was spicy and okay. The rice was not sticky Korean rice. The restaurant looks nice but there were not too many Koreans eating there even though the owner is Korean and the waitress is also Korean. She bops around in her mom jean shorts and speaks Italian. Might go back.

At HanCook, the bulgogi looks okay but it has no taste.

Jangbaeksan/Chang Bai Shan: It’s Chinese Korean. Perfectly acceptable Korean food. A bit far out down south of the center of town. Might go back.

Lettuce included at Jang Baek San.

Da Lui Bian BBQ: This place is listed as a yakitori (meat on stick in Japanese) place but the photos show Korean items. The Korean items are all fine. The bulgogi was more like roastbeef so not too sinewy. This place is also near the center of town so convenient. Might go back.

Large but few portions of panchan at Da Lui Bian.

Kombi Ni Ni: is a pan Asian place but they do make some Korean items. Very generic pan Asian but okay if your live nearby. It is actually a Korean owned shop but they are doing well enough that it takes 90 minutes to get the food so it is best to order online. I liked their fried chicken but it could have been fried anything. Good though. The kimbap (like sushi rolls/maki but these are with beef) were good too. No kimchi served with meals/bento boxes. A bit like Starbaps. Too far away to go back to.

Mamma Coreana/Corea: This is a bit like eating at a Korean mamma’s house. They have all you can eat which includes some basics including rice and soup. There are a few a la carte items but not much of a menu. When the food is done, it’s done. This is bare bones, TV on, children running around, businessmen on video calls with wife while eating, kind of place. I might go back.

Arirang is down those stairs…

Arirang: The food was very average, the location and facade make it a hole in the wall. This is the place that I’ve seen from when driving around Termini… I even walked around twice looking for this place with the Korean painted frontage… and then I searched on Google Earth… finally, I found it by reading other lists of Korean restaurants in Rome, but I clicked on the image search instead of the regular search. Read that list here. I would not go back.

I-gio: This is possibly the most trendy of the Korean restaurants. The restaurant is elegant. The food was okay but I didn’t find it good enough to finish or take home. I would not go back.

Galbi: This was another strange frankenstein of a place. The menu is made for Italians. If you want the food served more Korean style, the owner will do so. I wish him good luck, but I would not go here for Korean food. I might go back to grill steak on the mini grill for an Instagram video. Would not go back.

Biwon: Sad. I did not finish the food and I left quickly.

There are two other restaurants listed on Google but…

Kumkan-san: way outside Rome, near Ciampino airport. Temporarily closed.

Rist.coreano: Outside the ring road around Rome. I think this is only for organized tour groups and I don’t think this is really open to the public.

And then there are places with Korean food on the menu:

Raviolieri: It’s not Korean but while many restaurants are trying to get a piece of the “Korean chicken wing” action, this place actual has several pages of Korean items on their menu. The items are fusion Roman-Korean.

Most of the restaurants now make “Korean chicken” wings but they are not. They are chicken wings. Some have sauce. It is not the same as the ethereal rice flour wings of real Korean chicken wings.