Happy Thanksgiving (or belated?) everyone! Last year around this time I was in Abu Dhabi and went full out for a Thanksgiving dinner, complete with stuffing, mashed potatoes, butternut squash and dessert (or course). Unfortunately this year I had no time but I was lucky enough to have dropped some t-day knowledge on my students where they shared what they were thankful for and we looked (not nommed) on typical holiday eats. So for that I am thankful!
For this week’s post buckle your seat belts because we are crossing the boarder to Romania for a weekend nom trip to the stunning city of Timișoara.
Just two hours from Belgrade, Timișoara is a great place to escape to if you’re looking for good shopping and some truly great food. Before I went I scoured the internet and Instagram for ideal places to see, drink and nom and the results were mind boggling, I had a list of 20 or so places I wanted to visit in a mere two days. Could it be done? My stomach certainly thought so!
We left on a Friday, a Serbian national holiday so the roads were actually quite sparse and as we made our way through Vršac the roads were clear and we were making good time all up until we reached the boarder. It took us roughly around 40 minutes between Serbia and Romania, to pay a tax and get our passes checked by both country officials, so by the time we actually got into the city the sun was setting and the 5 o’clock working day traffic in Timișoara was in full swing. The craziest part was that we had actually trekked into the future because Romania continues on Eastern Standard time while Serbia had changed the clocks back one hour a week or so before. So we were all sorts of confused and in desperate need of a beer and sustenance.
*For the remainder of this post I will blame the turn of events on the fact that we traveled into the future*
After we checked into our hotel (Hotel Check Inn on the other side of the river outside of the city center) we drove and parked in the thick of it and went straight away to a large ale house appropriately named Bier Haus because we knew they would have our favorite beers on tap. Oddly enough the entire place was reserved and it was only around seven at night but still we managed to find a table and enjoy an refreshingly cold and much needed drink. *side note they didn’t have the beer we were looking for but we enjoyed it regardless.*
Our next plan of action was to return to the hotel, change and then find a delicious looking pizza joint that I had discovered on the gram that wasn’t far off from out hotel. (Milan and I always have pizza the first night we go anywhere) However, when we typed it into the GPS it brought us to a residential street and a cafe of another name. At this point we were frustrated and hungry and decided yet again to cross the bridge, park in the same parking lot we had just left and enter the first place we saw.
And oh how the gods of nom are forever watching over me.
Milan spotted a restaurant with a large outdoor terrace and at first I’ll admit I was skeptical but upon entering the building, I felt like I was back home in Boston in the many beautiful brick walled restaurants I would frequent with my parents. I was impressed and relieved when I sat down at Beraria 700.
The menu was full of Romanian specialties which I was thrilled about (at that point if anyone uttered pizza I would have blown a fuse…). We continued with a few more beers and went straight to the main courses. Milan was feeling fancy and ordered the duck while me on the other hand, immensely in need of some comfort chose a warm strew with polenta and mixed meat.
Milan’s succulent duck was served on a bed of picked red cabbage surrounded by a moat of richly tangy orange sauce with whole slices of orange. The combination of tender meat and citrus was outrageously delicious. It’s not often that we treat ourselves to such a fine dish and the price in euros was ideal when compared to an upscale restaurant in Boston for example.
As for mine….oh my nomness it was off the charts delicious and the epitome of comfort food. I’m a huge fan of polenta as I mentioned in my post about Saran in Zemun. It’s not typically seen as a major side dish to meals in the states but it’s dense almost creamy texture speaks to my stomach. With a mix of tender chicken and pork pieces, my “stew” (or deconstructed stew) was joined by stewed peppers and onions in a gravy like sauce that warms you from head to toe. Add a mountain of freshly grated cheese and I was in complete and utter bliss.
If all of that wasn’t enough, we decided to cleanse out pallets with something sweet. Bararia had some more or less typical choices of pies and cakes but when I came across something called ‘bird’s milk’ I was automatically intrigued. When we asked our waitress what it consisted of she couldn’t properly explain it in English but ensured us it was a good choice, so of course we blindly agreed.
When our bird’s milk arrived at the table I was overcome with nostalgia of the first time I had had this dessert in Serbia made by Milan’s’ Baba. In Serbia it is called Šnenokle, a popular sweet made in Germany, Hungary and France and had somehow made its way to the Balkans. It’s composed of cloudy like meringue floating in a sweet milky vanilla custard. The variations differ and at Bararia they drizzle their bird’s milk with chocolate sauce. If you’ve never had this exquisite dessert before, it’s almost like eating a melting ice cream with giant marshmallows, it’s to die for. It’s light and satisfying which was ideal for the amount of food we had already eaten.
At the end of our meal I was extremely happy we had stumbled upon Bararia 700 and would definitely return there with friends or family the next time we visit Timișoara because the atmosphere is upscale comfort, perfect for business dinners, dates, or hanging out with a large group. As I mentioned before the price is very reasonable for the amount of fabulous food you get!
The next morning we woke up feeling refreshed despite the overcast weather outside our window. I had specifically booked at Hotel Check Inn because breakfast was included…and who doesn’t love breakfast?? We feasted on eggs, toasts, meats, veggies, pastries and coffee then went on our way into the city in hopes to see somethings in the day time. Even though it was raining the city center of Timișoara is incredibly beautiful with a Western European charm complete with large public squares lined with old cobblestone and hidden side streets
Our original plan was to visit the Banat Museum which showcases Romanian culture and archaeological finds among other things, however upon arrival we discovered was closed for renovations (again blaming this on time travel). Thus we poked around in a few shops, buying a couple souvenirs then made our way back towards a cafe I had bookmarked for something to thaw us from the cold outside.
We managed to find the unmarked Garage Cafe near Union Square somehow by trial and error and found a cozy spot to sit in the corner. Don’t let the name fool you, Garage Cafe is far from a dusty garage (named because of it’s proximity to a parking garage) with a very modern interior and a display case of home made pastries that were called to your stomach. I took my usual cappuccino (even though they had an enticing list of flavored lattes including pumpkin!) and Milan decided on tea and a chocolate brownie.
Ugh Garage’s brownie are incredible. The right amount of chewy chocolate and a surprisingly ingenious addition of dried figs, something I added to my list of sweets to replicate at home. We had already planned to stay for lunch but there was no telling where this time warp would take us so why not have dessert first, right?
After regaining our proper body temperatures we looked over the menu again and I have to say I was stuck between, well everything. Garage’s list of sandwiches was everything you could ask for on all levels and ingredient combinations. The last sandwich on the list was a peanut butter and bacon sandwich….I repeat a peanut butter and bacon sandwich. I was almost pulling my hair out when we were asked for our order because I felt that if I didn’t choose that specific sandwich that I would be going against everything I believed in. However I went with the Croque Madam because I had been sweetly satiated by the brownie and was craving something all around savory.
As you can see above, my croque madam was stacked beautifully on top of itself, oozing with cheese and savory slices of ham stuck between toasted bread and made complete with the signature fried egg. Cold weather and rain meet your cure. Each bite made me wish I was wrapped up in a blanket and sitting in front of a fire. Oh so toasty and delicious.
Milan’s healthier looking salmon sandwich was open faced with mixed greens and rukola, avocado slices, pomegranate seeds and a gooey poached egg smack dab in the middle. The balsamic glaze around the crispy bread only enhanced each individual flavor and was mindblowingly nom. Milan’s choice may have beat out my croque madam by ways of look but they were both equally enjoyable and I would happily return to Garage for brownies, cakes, pies and sandwiches…just as long as we eat our sweets first!
Before leaving the city center for Iulius Mall to do a bit of shopping at one of the largest malls this side of the Balkans, we couldn’t resist the aromatic smells wafting from a grab and go bakery and if you know Milan and I at all we love pretzels so we had to buy a few as a snack for later and for 1 Romanian lei (0.26 USD) how could we resist?
The pretzels were incredibly tasty by the way, we should have bought 80 of them….Don’t get my wrong I love bakeries in Serbia (at least compared to the fast food excuse for bakeries in the states) but I will always have a special place in my heart for German inspired baked goods such as pretzels and laugenbrötchen
We enjoyed our hotel breakfast the following morning and discussed the events of the night before when we had attempted to go out but yet again our plans were foiled because of the damn time change. I had hoped to go to a bar on our hotel’s side of the city called The 80’s Pub for a drink or two and enjoy some throwback tunes…but once again just like Bier Haus the entire place was reserved (in advance because the place was only 1/4 full at the time) and there was no actual bar so standing room was not an option. It was only 9 so Milan and I were confused but decided to sneak in a drink anyways.
My beer of choice for that weekend was Edelweiss because it was on tap, but Milan was interested in a ginger beer by the name of ‘Ginger Beard’. However upon taking the first sip he realized that it wasn’t his cup of tea and offered to trade for mine. I happily agreed because I thought the ginger beard was delightful and enjoyed it until our table was commandeered. Would I order ginger beard again? Yes. Would I make reservations for 80’s Pub next time. Yes. We ended up going back to the hotel at half past ten and decided it wasn’t worth trying to go out again seeing as reservations appeared to be a theme in Timișoara.
After a filling breakfast, we checked out and were ready to start our journey back to Belgrade but first we would stop once again at Iulius to buy a few scrumptious treats at a place I had seen the following day.
The food court of this Abu Dhabi sized shopping mall offers a million and one options of food stuffs, from Italian to Japanese, German to Mexican, you will certainly find something to fill your belly with at this mall. We however were only interested in Crazy Donut which had caught my eye with their colorful and delectable looking tire shaped treats.
With donuts by the name of Bloody Mary, Kinky Stuff, The Beast, Black Widow and Snow White (just to name a few) it was hard to choose just one…so we got four!
It was a true Homer Simpson moment….
In the end I chose two: White Chick (plain dough with three toppings, Oreo dusting, peanuts and sparkling pink sprinkles) and No Racism (also a plain donut half coated in milk, half coated in white chocolate with white chocolate shavings and M&Ms). Milan decided upon the other two: Mr. O (plain donut, melted milk chocolate and whole chunks of Oreo) and Chocolate Chocolate (which we found out in the car ride had a surprise chocolate filling underneath it’s milk chocolate coating sprinkled with peanuts).
Crazy Donut’s tied the bow on our speedy yet lovely time spent in the futuristic Timișoara. If you go to Iulius Mall, these donuts should go hand in hand. The best part was walking through the maze of the mall after paying for the donuts and seeing the longing stares at the large donut box in my hands. I felt like a proud parent with my donut babies.
And so we returned to the past with a pocketful of Romanian lei coins, a backseat full of goodies and quite a few lessons learned:
- Avoid 5 o’clock traffic at all costs
- Don’t trust your GPS, sometimes it’s best to go with your gut
- It might be more convenient to book a hotel in the center (Hotel CheckInn was nice but the closer to the center the more ideal)
- Make reservations for bars in advance even if you’re only two people
- Eat everything! (more of a life lesson)
Because of the close proximity of Belgrade and Timișoara I would highly recommend visiting this quaint charming city for a day or weekend trip. There is so much to see throughout Europe by why not look for something in your own backyard?
Returning back to the topic of Thanksgiving and holidays in November, this past week was also a saint day of a family member and just like last year we attended a five hour long feast with Serbian specialties you dream about all year…
Mezza complete with savory rolled cake and proja, stuffed cabbage rolls (sarma) and pecenje with kupus salata and of course the star of Slava: 20 different kinds of bite size cakes and cookies. The ones pictured above were just the tip of the iceberg. My favorites include Russian caps (the coconut dusted chocolate bull’s eye ones on the left), the cream filled Bee Hives (center right above pink wafers) and the Step Mothers Eye, a walnut tucked inside of a dried fig coated in a soft nutty casing. There is truly nothing like home made sweets during Slava. I told Milan that because this Slava falls very close to Thanksgiving that it is sort of my American holiday away from home. Both centered around food, family and friends.
Coming up in the future…I have been comprising a guide to all things falafel in and around Belgrade but have one more place on my list so it will happen when it happens but stay tuned. This upcoming weekend, I’ll be leaving Serbia once again to meet my mother and aunt in London for the week so it is safe to assume that I will be emotionally stuffing myself, thus expect a big return post!