Horseburgers: Slovenia’s Unusual Delicacy

horseburgers
Sean McLachlan

The horse has been with us for thousands of years. A loyal steed that has pulled plows, helped us migrate to new lands and carried us into battle, there is no more noble animal. We’ve honored the horse in myth, art and song, so what more fitting end to this fine beast than to eat it?

Horse meat is a good source of iron and is a free-range meat that’s low in fat. Horses produce far less methane than cows, so they’re easier on the environment too. As I mentioned in my post about Slovenian cuisine, Slovenia is one of the many European countries where horse is considered a delicacy. I’d never tried it before so while I was in the capital Ljubljana I decided to set out to one of the most popular places to eat horse – a horseburger stand called Hot Horse.

The branch I went to is in Tivoli Park, a large green area filled with families enjoying a sunny weekend. Hot Horse is located right next to a kid’s play park offering slides and games. No pony rides, though. That would have made my day.

Hot Horse looks like pretty much any other fast food place you’ve seen, with garish colors and plastic furniture. I ordered a horseburger, small fries, and a Coke for €6.50 ($8.67). As you can see, the thing was huge and slathered with ketchup and mayonnaise. I had to scrape much of this off to actually taste the horse meat.So how was it? OK. It does have a distinct flavor, a bit like beef but more mild with kind of a nutty taste. I enjoyed it but wasn’t converted. Of course, I was eating a horseburger in a fast food joint and not a horse steak at some fine restaurant, so perhaps I wasn’t experiencing horse meat at its best. Still, I came away more glad for the experience than impressed by my meal.

This made me think of all the other exotic meats I’ve tried – kangaroo, bison, alligator, ostrich – and how I wasn’t converted to them either. There’s a reason that beef, chicken and pork are the most popular meats around the world. They’re the most flexible, able to take on all sorts of different flavors depending on the recipe. They’re also cheap and easy to raise.

While the big three aren’t my favorites (venison takes first place, followed by game birds) they constitute 95 percent of my meat intake because they are easy to find, easy to prepare and easy to afford.

So if you’re in Slovenia, try out some horse. Just don’t expect Hot Horse to rival to Burger King anytime soon.

Check out the rest of my series, “Slovenia: Hikes, History and Horseburgers.”

Coming up next: Ten Random Observations About Slovenia!

horseburgers
Sean McLachlan

Vegan meets soul food at Souley Vegan in Oakland, California

souley vegan brings comfort food and vegan food togetherCraving the comfort of southern style cooking but don’t want the meat? Or maybe you just want a healthy option to soul food? Souley Vegan in downtown Oakland, California, can provide you with exactly what you’re looking for.

Owner Tamearra Dyson, a vegan since she was 16, grew up eating soul food. Her goal was to adapt the food that she loved into a healthy, vegan alternative that everyone could enjoy. According to Casey Capachi of OaklandNorth.net, some of the menu items include BBQ tofu, vegan macaroni and cheese, potato salad, cheese-less cheesecake, and yams baked with agave and organic raw sugar. They also have a Cayenne Lemonade, a tasty southern-themed cocktail.

Souley Vegan is located at 301 Broadway at the intersection of Broadway and 3rd in downtown Oakland, California.

10 best smartphone apps for food enthusiasts

truxmap smartphone app for foodiesNowadays, there is a smartphone application for anything and everything. Food enthusiasts, wine connisseurs, and beer buffs will love these 10 handy smartphone applications. From beer and meal pairing to restaurant finding to where to eat that spicy burger that Adam Richman inhaled on Man vs. Food last night, there’s an app here for you.

TruxMap

With food trucks being such a popular trend, it’s only right to include a smartphone app that caters to it. This application includes a real time gourmet food truck map for many major cities in the United States, including New York, Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Las Vegas and more. Once you download the app, you will first select a city. From there, you will be taken to a map that will show you where food trucks are open at that moment as well as locations that food trucks will be opening soon. Menus, food photos, directions, and the chance to submit your own reviews are other features of this app.

Available on iPhone and Android. Free.
epicurious restaurant finder smartphone app for foodiesEpicurious

Food lovers will enjoy using this app to search, browse, save, and e-mail over 30,000 recipes in their database as well as create shopping lists. Search for ingredients and browse through categories, such as healthy lunches or party snacks, to find exactly what you’re looking for.

Available on iPhone and Android. Free.

Zagat

Zagat is a well-known, trusted source in the world of restaurant recommendations, and their smartphone app brings this and more. While users will be able to browse over 30,000 restaurants to read reviews and ratings, there are other features to this app, as well. GPS allows for the ability to find nearby eateries, while their visual menus give people the chance to actually see photos of what they will be eating. Top Rated Lists, such as Best Burgers and Most Romantic, and the chance to write your own reviews are also available on this app.

Available on iPhone, Android, and Blackberry. $9.99 annually.

OpenTable

This is a great app for those who want to be able to find specific restaurants in their location but don’t want to pay a yearly fee for a smartphone app. OpenTable allows users to search restaurants by name or category, make reservations, view restaurant menus, get directions, and view interactive maps. You can even earn dining points that can be used to earn Dining Cheques for when eating at OpenTable restaurants.

Available on iPhone, Android, and Blackberry. Free.

cor.kz wine smartphone app for foodies Cor.kz

Wine connoisseurs will love this app, which gives users instant access to information on over 1,000,000 bottles of wine. All you have to do is type in the name of a bottle of wine or scan its barcode and the app will supply you with over 2,000,000 ratings and notes on the blend from wine experts. Other features include browsing by region or varietals, seeing Cor.kz staff wine picks, learning popular glossary terms on wine, and a “Daily Sip” magazine column.

Available on iPhone. $2.99.

Beer Hero

Brew lovers out there now have a smartphone app that caters specifically to what they love best, beer! This app not only allows users to read rankings of over 1,000 microbrews across the United States and find local brewpubs, it also helps you pair which food will go best with your beer of choice, and will tell you where nearby you can enjoy this perfect combination.

Available on iPhone ($1.99) and Android ($2.99).

Seafood Watch

This smartphone app was designed by the Montery Bay Aquarium in Montery, California, in order to help users find “up-to-date recommendations for ocean-friendly seafood and sushi”. Read reviews and ratings from others as well as post your own. Other features of this eco-friendly app include information on how different menu items should be fished or farmed, health guides, and GPS integration to allow for pertinent regional guides for users.

Available on iPhone and Android. Free.

tv food maps smartphone app for foodiesTVFoodMaps

The Travel Channel and Food Network come to together in this app to help users find the restaurants and eateries they see on their favorite TV shows, such as Man vs. Food, Best Thing I Ever Ate, Drive-Ins and Dives, and more. Find restaurants nearby, read reviews, get directions, and, when available, watch TV clips from the restaurant on YouTube.

Available on iPhone and Android. Free.

Tipping Bird

It can often be confusing knowing when to tip and how much when traveling. This app takes care of that for you by allowing users to choose the region they are in and get recommendations from the app on what the tipping etiquette is for different situations, including restaurants, bars, hotels, taxis, and travel tours. This app will also convert your home currency to the currency of your destination and calculate the tip for you. No thinking involved.

Available on Android. Free.

MyFitnessPal

For those who love food, this smartphone app makes it easy to indulge without going overboard. The app has a database of over 1,185,000 foods and restaurants to search nutrition facts, and allows you to log what you’ve eaten as well as your exercise for the day.

Available on iPhone, Android, and Blackberry. Free.

Hiking through Spain’s Basque region

Basque
Most tourists who visit Spain stick to the central and southern parts of the country–Madrid, Granada, Seville, Barcelona, and the Costa del Sol. They generally skip the greener, more temperate north. If they head north at all, it’s to stop in Bilbao in Spain’s Basque region to see the Guggenheim.

Yet the Basque region has much more to offer. In Spain, it’s an Autonomous Community, something more than a province and less than a country. The Basques have never had their own nation but have a fierce sense of independence. With a distinctive culture and unique language, as well as a deep history and beautiful landscape, the Basque region rewards those who want to see more than the usual Spanish sights.

I’ve joined Country Walkers to hike through Spain’s Basque region and even pop into the Basque region of France. Every day I’ll be hiking through a different part of this varied landscape, meeting farmers, priests, chefs, and historians, while sampling the local cuisine. That’s the sort of tour Country Walkers offers: hikes every day, and then plenty of local cuisine and wine to get rid of the bad effects of all that unnecessary exercise.

%Gallery-123934%The first day’s hike starts at Retes de Llanteno, a village so small it doesn’t even have a bar. Anyone who has been to rural Europe knows exactly how small that is. It does have a lovely little church, however, with a bell tower covered in curling vines. As we unload our gear an old man standing by the road asks Josu, one of our Basque guides, where we’re headed.

“The Tower of Quejana,” he says. “We’re taking the old mule track.”

The old man looks surprised. Nobody uses that track anymore, and in fact Josu had to go along the trail a month ago and hack away the vines.

“My father used to use that track,” the old man remembers.

Josu explains to us that mule tracks used to connect villages, but in the age of the automobile that intimate connection has been lost. People are more likely to drive to the nearest big city than visit the next village over. He’s reopening the tracks in the hope of restoring that connection, as well as attracting hikers.

The rains and rich soil have covered up most traces of his work. We duck under branches and trip over creepers. The woman in front of me stumbles, sending a thorny branch thwapping into my face, then she slips and undercuts my feet. We both end up in the mud. I pick myself up and start to remove ticks.

Soon we’re through the woods and climbing up a steep, open field under a blue sky. The contrast with the dark, damp forest couldn’t be greater. We keep climbing, up and up, until we reach a high promontory with a sweeping view of the valley below in three directions. We’re only ten miles from the sea, and I think I can detect a salty tang to the cool breeze.

This was a Celtic hill fort during the Iron Age, before the Romans conquered the region. A double set of walls protected perhaps 300 people, and its position ensured a good view over the entire region. Forts like this are found on hilltops all over Europe. I visited a Pictish hill fort very much like it in Scotland.

“See that far mountain peak?” Josu says as he points to a distant summit, “That’s Anboto, a mountain sacred to Mari. She’s an old goddess who’s very popular with the Basques.”

The Basques may still honor an ancient goddess, but they’re good Catholics too, as we discover when we explore the hilltop. Little porcelain figures of the baby Jesus and Mary are preserved under glass bowls, left as offerings by devout hikers.

Another mile or so over rolling hills and we come to Josu’s home, where his wife Begonia has prepared a huge lunch of local cheeses, chorizo, freshly baked bread, and vegetables. There’s also a generous amount of txakoli, a sparkling white wine for which the Basque region is famous. Light and refreshing, it’s a good wine to drink while taking a break from a hike.

“People talk about the slow food movement, with all the ingredients coming from local sources,” Josu says with a shrug. “We just call that Basque food.”

This is hardly unique to the Basque region. One of the joys of traveling in Spain is trying out all the local specialties. Village butchers often have game shot the day before, restaurants in small towns serve vegetables taken from the back garden, and every region seems to have its own wine.

Stuffed and a bit buzzed, we put on our packs and head out to our goal–the medieval convent and fortress of Quejana. It was built by Pedro López de Ayala in the 14th century. He ruled the local area with an iron hand, and became famous as one of the pioneers of the Spanish language when he wrote some of the first poetry in the language. He also wrote a veterinary manual for birds and was an adviser to both Castilian and French kings. The alabaster tombs of he and his relations grace the interior of the chapel, and a soaring church with a grandiose gilt altar stands close by.

A climb up the tower that defended these lands gives a good view of the surrounding countryside. The green hills and thick forests are so unlike the common picture of Spain. The tower gives some insight into more recent Spanish politics too. During the 1970s the tower was crumbling. The government was still ruled by General Franco, the Fascist dictator who was the victor of the Spanish Civil War. Franco showed a rather medieval attitude to the Basques and is the cause of many of the political tensions today. He gave money for the tower to be restored, but the top part was rebuilt not as it would have looked when Pedro lived there. Instead, it was rebuilt to look like a Castilian tower.

In this part of Europe, you can’t get away from politics even at a historic site.

This is the first in a new series: Beyond Bilbao: Hiking through the Basque region.

This trip was sponsored by Country Walkers. The views expressed in this series, however, are entirely my own.

Discover the pleasures of slow food – Dining out tip

Food is the soul of every city. So when traveling, try to dine at least one restaurant that celebrates slow food – a grassroots movement that marries the pleasure of eating with a commitment to the community and the environment.

Slow food restaurants use fresh, local, seasonal ingredients to craft their dishes. So as you dine, you’re not only pleasing your palate, but you’re supporting local farmers and fisherman as well.

For the lowdown on slow food, visit slowfoodusa.org. The site allows visitors to search for restaurants by state. It also includes information on local farmers markets, farm tours, cooking classes and events.