Browsing Date

July 2017

Italy, Sicily July 31, 2017

A Taste of Sicily: The Best Things I Ate in Siracusa

Summer in Ortigia, Sicily

Summer in Ortigia, Sicily

One of the reasons I was really excited about visiting Sicily was the food. Sicilian food is known for their seafood, wine, granitas, and cheese – totally my kind of food pyramid! Between altitude sickness and lackluster Tibetan food, I lost weight on my previous trip (which never happened before!) so I had extra appetite to spare.

Ortigia market

Our Airbnb in in Siracusa is around the corner from the Ortigia’s famous morning market. I spent every morning during our one week stay prowling the market, marveling at bright orange giant prawns, palming giant onions, and tasting local Sicilian cheese – from creamy ricotta salata to the pear-shaped, provola dei Nebrodi.

Colorful veggies in Ortigia Market - this makes me want to learn how to cook more than anything.

Colorful veggies in Ortigia Market – this makes me want to learn how to cook more than anything.

Also, giant onions

Also, giant onions

PSA: Mediterranean swordfish stock is not yet recovered - so try to avoid

PSA: Mediterranean swordfish stock is not yet recovered – so try to avoid “spada” or swordfish while in Sicily

Have some shrimps instead. These gamberoni is so sweet it just needs a touch of butter and garlic.

Have some shrimps instead. These gamberoni is so sweet it just needs a touch of butter and garlic.

The cheese platter from La Salumeria in Ortigia market

The cheese platter from La Salumeria in Ortigia market

Ortigia Market, Sicily

Ortigia Market, Sicily

Cheese and meat display at Ortigia market

Cheese and meat at Ortigia market

More cheese and meat at La Salumeria in Ortigia

More cheese and meat at La Salumeria in Ortigia

Mussels sold by bags in Ortigia market

Mussels sold by bags in Ortigia market

The Sandwich from Caseificio Borderi

While in Ortigia market it’s hard to miss Caseificio Borderi, a cheese and sandwich shop at the end of the market. Just look for the long line of people around lunch time crowding around Andrea Borderi, the sandwich king himself.

In general, I scoff at the idea of waiting in line for food. Especially for a mere sandwich. No way!

Andrea, Sicily's famous sandwich maker, at work.

Andrea, Sicily’s famous sandwich maker, at work.

That thrice-baked ricotta was Borderi's specialty, and it was heavenly!

That thrice-baked ricotta was Borderi’s specialty, and it was heavenly!

He'd keep on piling more and more stuff!

He’d keep on piling more and more stuff!

But the more I watched Andrea work, the more I got intrigued. It was obviously apparent that it was more than just about sandwiches. It’s a one-man show as Andrea chops, slices, and stuffs, gives out cheese samples, and in general takes his own sweet time crafting sandwiches like a piece of art – a sprinkle of fresh herbs here, a slice of thrice-baked ricotta there – each sandwich slightly different than the last (you don’t get to order here, you get what he makes).

Every now and then he’d stop to joke with co-workers, greet a customer, or tell a story, “I grew up in a household full of women, and I used to play with Barbies…” with a smile that never leaves his youthful face. Who is this guy that obviously gets so much enjoyment from making sandwiches?

One can’t helped but be charmed.

Yay, after 45 minutes it's finally my turn.

Yay, after 45 minutes it’s finally my turn.

So one morning, I decided today is the day I break my no waiting in line rule and join the line. After 45 minute of waiting I walked away with a hefty sandwich filled with god-knows how many different types of cheeses, olives, and vegetables. Was it good? Of course. Was it 45-minute-in-line good? You know what.. I think you should find out for yourself 🙂

Ricotta Granita from Cafe Apollo

 

Cafe Apollo
Piazza Pancali Emanuele 1

 

The granita sampler from Cafe Apollo - the ricotta one is my fave!

The granita sampler from Cafe Apollo – the ricotta one is my fave!

It was hot, hot, HOT in Sicily when I was there (well, what do you expect of Europe in July, Jill?). Granitas saved the day! I ate a lot of granitas because I turn into a hot mess whenever the temperature reaches above 80 and only frozen desserts can get me through the day.

What is granita? Granita’s is a semi-frozen dessert made of water, sugar, flavorings. I think of it as Italy’s answer to slushies. Even though granitas can be found throughout Italy, its birthplace is Sicily and they’re very proud of it. So as you can imagine, I came across a lot of places that sell granitas. Which is good. I needed a lot of them.

My favorite though is Cafe Apollo near the ruins of Apollo Temple in Ortigia. They offer a sampler of 4 granitas for 5 EUROS! What a deal! I liked both the ricotta and the pistachio granitas, but if I had to choose only one, I’d go for the ricotta – the combination of salty, sweet, and creaminess was really quite delicious.

Rumor has it that Sicilians eat granitas for breakfast with a side of brioche. Now, I’d never actually spotted anyone doing this… but people who eat desserts for breakfast are my kind of people.

Food and wine tour with Sicily Activities

Something I try to do within the first day or two of arriving at a new country is to go on a food tour. Why a food tour? Because I want to know right away what local specialties to seek out. Food has definitely become a bigger focus on my travel lately – I love learning about what people eat, its surrounding rituals, and history.

Often times the guide is also a good resource for hole-in-the-wall bars, local politics and stories, and offbeat attractions. I’ve done food tour in Miami, Berkeley, and even my own hometown, San Francisco. On each tour, I always learn something new.

On my second day in Sicily I joined a Siracusa food and wine tour with Sicily Activities. I’m so glad I did. It turned out to be one of the highlights of my time in Sicily. With just me, 2 other people, and the guide the experience felt less like a tour and more like hanging out with friends that lasted over 3 restaurants and glasses of wine.

Everything we had was freshly prepared and delicious, but I did have some favorites.

Looking like it's going to be a beautiful evening

Looking like it’s going to be a beautiful evening

Fried sardine dish from Locanda del Collegio

Locanda del Collegio
Via del Collegio, 13/15

See the fried sardines on top of poached beets and orange – the one in the middle of the platter? I was hesitant at the combo at first. Fried fish and fruit? Who would’ve thought that they’d go well together? But they do. And IT WAS DELICIOUS!

Delicious seafood platter from Locanda del Collegio, Siracusa

Delicious seafood platter from Locanda del Collegio, Siracusa

I just love how pretty this platter is. I even tried the octopus even though as a general rule, I don't eat smart, cute things.

I just love how pretty this platter is. I even tried the octopus even though as a general rule, I don’t eat smart, cute things.

With Sicily Activity guide, Elisa, and honeymooners from New Zealand

With Sicily Activity guide, Elisa, and honeymooners from New Zealand

Caponata from Taverna Giudecca

Taverna Giudecca
Via della Giudecca 7

Our second stop of the food tour of Siracusa was Taverna Giudecca in Siracusa’s Old Jewish Quarter. I loved everything on this platter but the caponata was the star – so much so that I bought a tub of each home.

The caponata – eggplant and tomato stew – was an explosion of flavors. Sweet, salty, and with a touch of acidity (from vinegar?). It was so good I ate it out of the tub the next day. It went very well with the crusty, fresh bread I got from the market.

Cheese, meat, and antipasto platter from Taverna Giudecca

Cheese, meat, and antipasto platter from Taverna Giudecca

Etna Rosso – A beautiful, bold red from Mount Etna

I was surprised to learn that Sicily produces a number of varieties of bold red wine. On this food tour we got to try a few different varieties: Nero d’Avola, Syrah, and Etna Rosso. The last two quickly became our favorite. For 10-15 euros a bottle, these wines are such good value!

Tasting local red wines. Who knew that Sicily produces bold and tasty reds?

Tasting local red wines. Who knew that Sicily produces bold and tasty reds?

This local Sicilian Syrah came home with me.

This local Sicilian Syrah came home with me.

Desserts and almond liqueurs from Trattoria Christina

Trattoria Christina
Piazza Emanuele Pancali 22
We ended with sugary rush of 3 different types of Italian cookies and three dessert liqueurs

We ended with sugary rush of 3 different types of Italian cookies and three dessert liqueurs

The last stop of the food tour was all about desserts. We slowly nibbled at the variety of house-made italian cookies and sipped on tasty limoncello and almond wine as the sky slowly turned inky black. I’m not usually a fan of sweet wines, but they went so well with the ricotta-filled canollo and the chewy almond cookie. It was a lovely way to end the evening.

Everything From Ristorante Macallè

Ristorante Macallè
Via dei Santi Coronati, 42
The hazelnut crusted sea bass from Macalle

The hazelnut crusted sea bass from Macallè

For the best meal in Siracusa? Head to Macalle. On our first night in Sicily, we had dinner at Macalle and Jack would’ve been happy going back there again and again. It was that good. I insisted that we tried other restaurants because I have a case of the grass might be greener. But in the end I had to admit, no other meals compared.

I love the location, tucked on one side of a tiny plaza away from the main crowds. I love everything that we ordered: pasta with Trapani pesto and scampi, the sea bass with chopped hazelnut, and mildly sweet and tangy panacotta at the end.

Big appetite, short on time?

If you only have one day in Siracusa, I highly recommend checking out Ortigia market in the morning, get a sandwich from Caseifico Borderi or lunch at Macallè, followed by the Siracusa food and wine tour (starts at 6:30pm).


Siracusa, Sicily is only one of the many beautiful places in Italy worth visiting. See this post for more incredible places in Italy to visit.

I’ve been to Italy a few times, each to a different region. Each visit confirms my belief that when it comes to food, you can’t go wrong with Italy. What do you think?

Siracusa Basics


Ortigia vs Siracusa: Ortigia is a compact island connected to Siracusa mainland by a bridge. Most places of interest for visitors are located in Ortigia so I’d recommend staying on the island or close to it. Hotels and B&B’s on Ortigia.

Recommended tours:
Food tour of Siracusa from Sicily Activities. Our guide was Elisa and she was the best – from warm personality to vast knowledge of local history and culture. And oh, the food was delicious too.

Tour of Mt. Etna from Catania: Unfortunately there’s no easy way to get to Mt. Etna from Siracusa unless you have your own transport (after seeing how Sicilians drive I was like, “Nope!” So we had to take an early morning bus to Catania bus station where we were picked up. We thought the Mt. Etna part of the tour was excellent, but the afternoon part was rushed.

Beijing, China July 7, 2017

A childhood bucket list: Hiking the Great Wall of China

The Great Wall and I have a long history

I wrote my first bucket list when I was in 2nd grade. It hung on my bedroom door for many years. It was written in cursive on 8.5×11 printer paper and decorated with stickers along the edge. It wasn’t a very long list. This was pre-Google and pre-Instagram after all and much of what I knew of the world came from children magazines and books.

I attempted to create THE ultimate bucket list multiple times ever since, but it never took. I guess I’m not much of a list person. But throughout the various versions, there were 2 things that constantly made it to the top of the lists: to see the Great Pyramids in Egypt and to stand on the Great Wall of China.

I still haven’t been to Egypt.

But I finally can say that I’ve crossed off one of the oldest bucket list items in my life. Woot!

I stood on the Great Wall of China!!

But now that I’m finally here in China, standing on the Great Wall just won’t cut it. Oh no.

I need to HIKE the Great Wall!

The not-so-fun way of hiking the Great Wall

The most common, and some say the best, section of the Great Wall to hike is between Jinshanling and Simatai. The drive from Beijing to Jinshanling trailhead took a little over 2 hours.

When we arrived the guide gave us a map and unceremoniously escorted us out of the bus with some parting wisdom, “Remember to turn left at the junction, not right. Ok, bye! Try not to get heatstroke!

And off we go.

Did I mention it was 100 degrees out with 90% humidity? And there was no lick of shade?

The Great Wall was much more impressive than I expected

The Great Wall was much more impressive than I expected

And going...

It just keeps on going and going…

It just keeps on going and going...

And going…

I just arrived in Beijing 8 hours earlier. Between the heat and the jetlag, I didn’t quite realise how excited I should’ve been (thus the lack of pics of moi on the Wall – I was too busy surviving). I’d been dreaming of being on the Great Wall for so long but at the time all I felt was the sun beating on me and the sweat dripping down my back, my legs, and from my face to my camera.

Midway I strike a conversation with a German girl (whom I later met again in Xi’an), and that helped distract me. Misery loves company and all that.

And eventually I got used to the heat. I hit my stride, picked up the pace, and I practically ran the last mile of the wall. I can now say that not only did I hike the Great Wall of China, I ran it!

(Ok, it was more like a jog. Or a very quick walk. And it was towards the cold beer I knew was waiting at the end).

Between the huffing and puffing, I kept saying to myself, “I’m in China, I’m in China and I’m on the freaking Great Wall!”

It might’ve taken me some 25+ years to make a childhood dream happen, but I did. I gotta say, that was a pretty sweet feeling.

I read that it can get crowded on the Great Wall. I think it's true on the sections closer to Beijing (Badaling and even Mutianyu), but out here there was often just me and the endless wall.

I read that it can get crowded on the Great Wall. I think it’s true on the sections closer to Beijing (Badaling and even Mutianyu), but out here there was often just me and the endless wall.

All alone on the Wall :)

All alone on the Wall 🙂

Even though the Jinshanling to Simatai section is mostly flat, there are some uphill stretches.

Even though the Jinshanling to Simatai section is mostly flat, there are some uphill stretches.

And some steps are quite high

And some steps are quite high

Looking back towards we just came from

Looking back towards we just came from

How to Hike the Great Wall of China



The Tour:
I booked a Jinshanling to Simatai tour from Beijing Downtown Backpackers Hostel.
If I were to do it again, I’d have gone with a tour where the guide actually comes on the hike (like this one).

Hiking length: 6km (3.7miles), passing 22 towers with some parts in original condition.
Longer hike possible from Jiankou to Mutianyu

Getting supplies: There are stores selling hats and sunscreens, snacks (non-perishables like chips, crackers, etc) at the trailhead. There are people who sell cold drinks and instant noodle on the wall.

Things I wish I had brought: fresh fruit and wet wipes.