I just returned from three weeks in Bolivia and Paraguay. In that time, I had 12 flights, five of which were required to get me from my home in Colorado to La Paz. Now why, you may ask, in this age of expedited air travel, does it take so many connections to travel 4,512 miles (or nine hours by air)? Budget, baby.
I’m also horrifically flight phobic, so for me to fly various Third World carriers from Miami to Bogota to Lima to La Paz (and then La Paz to Lima to Asuncion, and Asuncion back to Lima en route to Miami, followed by Dallas-Fort Worth to Denver), is probably the best example I can provide of just how much I love to travel. I really, really, really love it. I also really love having Xanax on hand when I fly.
One of the reasons I didn’t mind my layovers too much is that I happen to adore most South American airports, especially Jorge Chavez International in Lima (so many cools shops, free snackies, great Peruvian food!). And since one of the things I most like to do in South America is eat, I used my downtime to see if there was anything worth writing about, foodwise. Indeed there was, and so I present to you my findings. Feel free to send me some Xanax in return (kidding! I’ll take empanadas instead).
Miami International Airport
It’s hardly a secret that the Concourse D location of Miami’s beloved La Carreta chain rocks, especially in a sea of Au Bon Pain and Starbucks. Best of all, it opens at 5 a.m., so when I was rushing to make my 5:30 a.m. flight to Bogota, I was able to grab a jamon y queso sandwich en route. If time isn’t an issue, sit down and feast upon Cuban-style roast pork, stuffed green plantains or fufu con masitas, or a medianoche sandwich. Jorge Chavez International Airport, Lima
It’s all about Manacaru, the token Peruvian eatery in this gorgeous, progressive airport (they even recycle and post about water conservation). Every time I layover in Lima, I make a beeline for this full-service restaurant in International Departures, and order some empanadas and suspiro limon. Also known as suspiro a la limena; this achingly sweet, meringue-and-condensed milk pudding is the official dessert of Lima.
It’s no Gastón Acurio restaurant, but it’s pretty damned good for airport food; even the ceviche is sparkling fresh in my experience. It’s also great for when you’re dashing between flights, as they’re centrally located between gates, and have an entire case of grab-and-go.
They are open pretty much around the clock, serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and coffee.
El Dorado International Airport, Bogota
Never having been to Colombia, despite repeated attempts to plan trips, I was desperate for a taste of the national cuisine when I landed in Bogota. Thank god for the (wait for it) Juan Valdez Cafe. I happily resolved my caffeine jones, and ordered up some arepitas, mini-versions of arepas. These corn-and-cheese cakes are Colombia’s most iconic street food, and I was thrilled to be able to try them despite being unable to leave the airport. Gracias, Juan.
Most people that go to Sweden for their first time head to Stockholm, a beautiful city that is well worth a visit. But just outside of Stockholm you will find another Scandinavian gem: Uppsala. It’s a university town, and founded in 1477, the university is the oldest in Scandinavia. The fourth largest city in Sweden, Uppsala has managed to keep its quaint feel, the center a mixture of cobblestone streets, old architecture, and local residents on bicycles.
For me, Uppsala is a combination of cozy cafes and brightly colored houses. Although it is big in population, the city center feels small and welcoming, and because it’s a university town there’s plenty to do.
You could spend several days in Uppsala, but if you have the time for a day trip or two from Stockholm, here are a few things that I never miss when I am there. And although traveling to Sweden isn’t necessarily “budget travel” (you can blame that on the exchange rate) these things are all reasonably priced and/or free.
What to see
Domkyrkan – Uppsala Cathedral
You can’t go to Uppsala without visiting the cathedral. It dates back to the 13th century, and in the middle of town, its spires stand high above the rooftops – it’s no surprise that it’s the tallest church building in Scandinavia. It is an active cathedral, with not only the traditional mass, but also presentations and concerts. Every Saturday there is a free concert offered in the afternoon – well worth a visit. Domkyrkoplan, www.uppsaladomkyrka.se
Botaniskaträdgården – Botanical Gardens
The oldest botanical garden in Sweden, Botaniska Trädgården was founded in 1655 and was originally used for teaching students about botany and pharmacy. Today the gardens extend over 34 acres with some 11,000 species from all over the world. The original garden is today called Linneträdgården, Linnaeus’ Garden. Here you will find a museum and a cafe. Entrance to the Botanical Gardens is free (except for the tropical greenhouse which is 40 SEK) and entrance to Linnaeus’ Garden is 60 SEK. www.botan.uu.se
Gamla Uppsala – Old Uppsala
Take a bus out to Gamla Uppsala (Old Uppsala) for a feel of ancient Viking times. Just outside of central Uppsala, Gamla Uppsala is a historical site that has. During the Iron Age, this site was home to an established society as well as a place with religious importance. Gamla Uppsala’s main draw are its great Royal Mounds, three large mounds that stick out of the ground and are covered in grass. There was much speculation as to their significance, but in 1846 an archeological dig showed that it was in fact a burial ground. The identities of the people buried inside are unknown, but they were certainly people of importance. At the local Gamla Uppsala Museum you can learn more about the history of the area and the Royal Mounds (entry fee is 60 SEK). The site is perfect if you want an outdoor getaway; there is a nice selection of trails making for a good walk or run, perfectly free of charge. After a walk, grab lunch or coffee at Cafe Odinsborg.
In between the train station and the concert hall, Godsmagasinet is a design and craft gallery, featuring local artists. There are textiles, ceramics, jewelry and clothing, and if you are interested in Swedish design, this should be the first stop on your list. Explore the gallery and then grab a cup of coffee and an open faced sandwich in the cafe that’s located in the building. Rosalgsgatan 1, www.godsmagasinet.nu
Just outside of Gamla Uppsala you will find Ulva Kvarn, Kvarn means “mill” in English, and sitting right on the Fyris River, Ulva Kvarn was in use as a watermill from the early 1300s all the way until 1960. Today you can visit the old mill house, built in 1759, but there is also an entire collection of local artisan studios on site, making and selling traditional Swedish goods from blacksmiths to jewelry makers. There is also a good cafe on site, so it makes for a perfect day trip from Uppsala to go and explore the countryside. Ulva Kvarn, www.ulvakvarn.com
Where to eat
There is nothing more Swedish than coffee and a baked good. Here are some of my favorite cozy cafes around the city.
Located inside Uppsala’s library, Kardemumma is a quiet cafe in the middle of town. It has a quaint outdoor courtyard that’s very enjoyable in the summertime. They bake their own bread, and source much of their ingredients for sandwiches and salads locally. Try one of their chokladbollar. Svartbäcksgatan 17.
Cafe Linne Hörnan
An old fashioned styled cafe, Cafe Linne Hörnan is like stepping into a Swedish cafes from several decades ago. They serve breakfast, lunch and the traditional Swedish coffee break, fika, which means you can choose from a wide array of baked goods and classic Swedish cakes. Svartbäcksgatan 22, www.cafelinne.com
My mother ate here when she was a student at Uppsala University, and the decor and menu have barely changed. This bakery and cafe is an iconic Uppsala destination – it has been there since the late 1800s – and if you want a taste of traditional Swedish cakes, this is the place to go. Sysslomansgatan 5, www.ofvandahls.se
Getting to Uppsala from Stockholm takes 55 minutes on the train, just enough time to enjoy the scenery and drink a cup of coffee. Because it’s a common commuter line, there are frequent departures and tickets can be purchased at the Stockholm central station. A one-way ticket costs between 80-100 SEK (about $12-15).
Cafes are often a travelers hub, not just because you can kill your jetlag with a cup of espresso, but because they are inevitably the place where you go to sit and do some people watching and, while you’re at it, take a moment to get immersed in the local coffee culture.
If you’re a coffee drinker, finding the best cup in town is often an adventure in and of itself, sometimes leading to a city’s most off-the-beaten-path destinations. Remember: they may speak English, and you know what that grande latte is going to taste like, but it’s not at Starbucks that you’ll find your bliss.
Love coffee enough to travel for it? Put these 5 cities on your list of next destinations.
Strong Vietnamese coffee is made with a filter that sits atop your cup. It’s most often served with sweetened condensed milk. In Hanoi, you’ll find a variety of coffee shops, from the back alleyway hole-in-the-walls, to the more luxurious places where you can sit all day and use the Wi-Fi. Check out Hang Hanh (Coffee Street) in the Old Quarter, which is home to many cafes. And while you’re at it, get an iced coffee at least once (cà phê sữa đá if you’re working on your Vietnamese). You’ll need it in the Vietnamese heat.
Every Portlander has their local craft roast of choice, and you’ll quickly learn that although Stumptown is good, it’s not the only excellent coffee in town. If you like your coffee made with care – and we’re talking about both the beans and the end drink – break out of the box and check out places like Coava, Water Avenue, Ristretto and Heart. Just don’t order anything ridiculous like a double skim vanilla latte or you’ll be shamed out of the coffee shop quicker than you can say Portlandia.
While many cities may claim that they love coffee, only Vienna has a UNESCO status going for it. Going back to the 17th century, Viennese kaffehauskultur – coffee house culture – has the ultimate in recognition as part of Austria’s Intangible Cultural Heritage, honoring the city’s distinct atmosphere that can be found in its many coffee hubs.
As the Turkish proverb goes, coffee should be “as black as hell, as strong as death and as sweet as love.” Türk Kahvesi, or Turkish coffee, is certainly known as being such, and you’ll find it served in the numerous coffee shops around Istanbul. This kind of coffee is made by boiling finely ground coffee beans in a pot, and then serving the coffee in a cup where the grounds are given time to settle. If you like your coffee strong, this is the way to do it.
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
In the top ten of coffee exporting countries, Ethiopia has a coffee culture that goes all the way back to the 10th century. In the home, coffee ceremonies are a common thing and can often be quite elaborate. In Addis Ababa you will find a burgeoning cafe culture that offers both opportunities for more Italian-like drinks as well as true Ethiopian style.
Coffee! It’s the most addictive drug in the world. Many of us could barely function without it, but have you ever toured a coffee plantation? I hadn’t until I stumbled upon a coffee plantation and inn called Finca Rosa Blanca near San Jose last week. We were set to arrive in Costa Rica just before nightfall and the idea of immediately heading south to our first stop, Manuel Antonio National Park, in the dark didn’t seem enticing.
Finca Rosa Blanca (FRB) is only about 25 minutes from the San Jose airport and they offer coffee tours twice daily, so it’s an ideal place to start or end a trip to Costa Rica depending on your itinerary. Glenn and Terry, the American owners of FRB, moved to the country in 1985. Glenn’s mom purchased the land where the inn sits intending to build a vacation home, but she died and Glenn decided to open an inn on the land she purchased. Twelve years later, they bought some adjacent land that had been part of a commercial coffee estate with the intention of expanding their business to produce organic, shade grown estate coffee.
The inn is set in a lush, tropical forest in hilly Heredia. At night, the temperature dips and there is no need for air conditioning. We slept with the windows open and woke to the sounds of chirping birds, a delightful novelty for city dwellers. After a delicious breakfast, we met Leo Vergnani, our coffee guide, along with three other visitors who’d be joining us on the 2-1/2 hour tour. ($35 per person, kids are free) Our group included two Leos, two Nicks, and two Jens, plus me and my son, James.
As we walked across the street from the inn toward the coffee plantation, Leo told me that he was born near Venice, Italy, and his father, an engineer, moved the family to Costa Rica in 1978, after he was offered a two-year contract to work in San Jose.
“But we liked it here, so we decided to stay,” he said, before pausing and adding the phrase, muy bien.
In the roasting room, Leo gave us a primer on worldwide coffee production. There are 103 coffee species, and about 6,000 varietals, but only three species have commercial value: liberica, which makes up about 5% of the world supply of coffee, robusta, (23%), and Arabica, ( 72%).
Nicholas, a Frenchman who was on the tour to learn more about coffee for his job at a New York restaurant, made a joke about robusta coffee but Leo quickly corrected him.
“We never say robusta is terrible coffee,” he said. “It’s just a different species.”
Leo said that Norwegians drink the most coffee, while Brazil produces the most, at about 53% of the world’s supply. Vietnam is #2 in production at about 17%, though they only produce robusta, which was illegal to produce in Costa until 1978. Costa Rica produces only about 1.5% of the world’s supply of coffee.
“We used to be thought of as a banana republic and a coffee country,” he said. “But these days tourism is by far our most important industry, followed by high-tech and coffee is considerably further down the list.”
Leo told us a little bit about the lengthy process of becoming a certified organic producer and about how some corner-cutting producers add all kinds of nasty things to their coffee.
“Producers used to mix in arsenic but it was killing their customers,” he said. “Some used blood, iodine, and other things and then in 1894, they started using sugar.”
Nick, a thirty-something New Jersey native, told the group that his employer was conducting research on the dangers of sugar and scared the hell out of us all when he said, “The coffee you drink from Dunkin’ Donuts could kill you.”
“When you go to the store, the labels on the coffee usually don’t tell you anything useful,” Leo explained. “You want to know what region the coffee is from, the altitude of that place and lots of other things. You need to buy from reputable specialty stores and ask questions.”
He said that it took FBR 7 years to become certified as an organic producer and complained that the cost of the process unfortunately has to be passed onto consumers.
“Basically, the industry made such a huge mess, using sugars and all these things that today we have to pay more just to go back in time to produce coffee the way our grandparents did 60 years ago,” he said.
We trekked through the lush, tropical plantation, with Leo stopping to show us things, like how banana trees were essentially living “irrigation systems” (see photo) and offer insights, usually punctuating each sentence with the phrase, muy bien.
It was a perfect morning. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the temperature was about 75, the birds were singing, and there was a light breeze sweeping through the green terrain of banana plants and trees. I couldn’t have been happier.
Leo told us that in 2012 FRB produced 148 100-pound sacks of coffee, 80% of which was sold or consumed at the inn. FBR had just concluded its harvest in mid-January but there were still some beans left on the trees unpicked. Leo said that a typical workday for the coffee pickers was 6 a.m. – 2 p.m. They are paid based on productivity and good pickers make about $25-30 per day. Unroasted coffee sells for about $1.28 a pound on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
“Once roasted, we get about $16 a pound for our coffee, retail, or about $6-7 a pound wholesale,” Leo said, before noting that about 7-8% of what they produce goes to the U.S. and Canada through an importer called Café Milagro.
After our walking tour, we returned to the inn’s restaurant for a coffee tasting. Leo put a big scoop of cheap coffee from a producer that uses sugar in a glass of ice water and then put a scoop of FRB coffee in a second glass.
“You see,” he said. “The sugary coffee turns the whole glass of water a murky brown, but our coffee, it sights right on top of the water.”
So there’s a litmus test for you to find out how good your coffee is.
“Coffee tasters have no manners,” Leo said before giving us two FBR varietals to try. “I want you to put your nose to the drink, then moved it along the whole cup to breath in the aroma. Then I want you to slurp as fast and as noisy as you can. Pay attention to the tip of your tongue.”
My little boys, ages 3 and 5, loved Leo’s noisy slurping and then when he spit his coffee, they were truly thrilled (see video above). Leo gave us an introduction on how to taste for sweetness, acidity and bitterness and as the tour drew to a conclusion, there was only one more thing I wanted: more of their damn good coffee.
For coffee lovers, Scandinavia is a bit of a mecca. In the heart of winter, there’s nothing better than stepping into a warm cafe, brimming with people and their stacks of winter layers next to them, the windows steaming up as friends meet over coffee. In fact, in Sweden, coffee is such an important part of local culture, that there’s even a specific word for coffee break: fika. A verb and a noun, it indicates that time of day that you take a break from everything else to enjoy a strong cup of coffee accompanied by a delicious baked good. If there ever was a reason to travel to Sweden, this is it.
If there’s one thing that distinguishes fika in Sweden in the first months of the year it’s semlor. Cafes and bakeries are filled with the classic baked good, a flour bun filled with almond paste and topped with whipped cream and powdered sugar.
Historically, the fettisbulle, or semla, was made for fettisdagen, Fat Tuesday, a rich treat before taking on the fasting that comes with Lent. In the modern day world, however, it’s perfectly acceptable to eat a semla anytime between the New Year and Easter.
Want to know where the best places in Sweden are to score a semla? Start by consulting semlamannen, a food blogger who eats one semla a day between the first of the year and Fat Tuesday. For those with a Stockholm visit in the near future, score one of the classic pastries at Vetekatten.
If you are up for it, you can also make your own. Here’s my personal recipe, adapted from an old Swedish classic.
Classic Swedish Semlor Ingredients
100 grams butter (7 tablespoons)
1 1/4 cups milk
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
3 teaspoons powdered cardamom (the best is to get whole cardamom and grind it – that way you have small cardamom chunks)
2 cups blanched almonds + ¼ cup sugar blended in food processor
Inside of buns
½ – 1 cup milk
1. Melt butter in a saucepan and add the milk. Heat until the liquid is warm to the touch.
2. In a bowl beat the egg and add in yeast, salt, sugar and milk mixture. Mix until yeast is well dissolved. Combine baking powder, cardamom and flour and mix thoroughly. Cover the bowl and let rise for 30 minutes.
3. Place dough on lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Form into round balls and place on greased pan. Cover with tea towel and let rise until double the size.
4. Brush the balls with a beaten egg. Bake for 8-10 minutes at 450F. Let the buns cool.
5. Cut off a circular “lid” off of each bun and set aside. Scoop out inside of bun with a spoon or fork. Mix in a bowl with almond paste and add enough milk to make a smooth mixture. Fill buns with mixture and top with whipping cream. Place lid on top of whipping cream and garnish with powdered sugar.