The gastronomic odyssey
THE CHICONOMIST - Celine Novenario () - January 11, 2009 - 12:00am

It all began with a conversation with my beloved late uncle Alex when I was a little kid. “You have to eat the chick, Celine,” he said as I squinted curiously at the mysterious balut. “People who really know how to eat always eat the chick.”

I was determined to be one of those connoisseurs so without hesitation, I devoured my first balut and from then it was on to other exotic Filipino fare: ginataang kuhol, frog legs adobo, isaw, and sisig.

My childhood plunge into eating the unusual grew into an obsession with tasting the extraordinary.

These days, my food tripping has reached foreign shores. My heart leapt upon seeing the words “farm-raised ostrich carpaccio ($15)” on the menu at Madiba, a funky South African restaurant at Fort Greene in Brooklyn.

The bright red color of the meat was disconcerting at first, but one bite of the paper-thin carpaccio topped with farm cheese, maché, and a light drizzle of olive oil brought me straight to foodie heaven. The meat was lean but very tender and flavorful. The entire plate was wiped out in no time.

While driving through the winding roads of Chianti, our hosts Alessandro and Jhoana told us that one must be careful on these drives due to the occasional wild boar passing through.

“Oooh, do they serve wild boar at the Osteria?” I quickly piped up.

They did, and at Osteria di Fonterutoli, I promptly ordered pappardelle col cinghiale (€10). The experience, unfortunately, was not as life-changing as the wild boar tasted pretty much like well-done beef brisket. But it was fun nevertheless to tally up another new dish on my growing list.

As our plane touched down in Helsinki, I wasn’t concerned with sightseeing or shopping for Scandinavian designer pieces.

“I want to try reindeer,” I told my boyfriend Mika. He took me to local musician hangout Manala where I was torn between Manalan poronkäristys (sautéed reindeer à la Manala, 14.90 euros) or renna pizza (10.40 euros) topped with smoked reindeer, mushrooms and blue cheese.

I settled on the former and dug into the spread of reindeer, mashed potatoes and lingonberries. The mashed potatoes had a velvety base to each bite, while the tart taste of berries cut through the bold, game-like taste of reindeer. It was the perfect hearty meal for a freezing evening in Finland.

Our last night in Helsinki was capped with an unforgettable meal at an opulent Russian restaurant. I was startled by a bear’s head on a table that greeted us upon entering, but it set the tone for the adventure to come.

Russian troubadours played traditional music while we gaped at the menu, which included elk, pheasant, reindeer, bear, and blinis with assorted fish roe and black caviar.

After the requisite vodka shot and blini to start, I dug into the Crimean elk filet (32.90 euros). The perfectly medium rare elk filet was served on a large sizzling platter loaded with potato pancake, vegetables, berries, sauerkraut, and red cabbage.

With a perfectly charred crust and tender dark rose center, the smoky flavor of the meat was so delicious that I skipped the sour cream and bacon morel sauce on the side altogether.

However, I do regret not ordering bear, which was prepared in several intriguing ways: most notably, coated with porcini mushrooms, tender-fried and pressed, for The delicacy if the czar (82.10 euros) and as flambéed bear fillet noisettes skewered à la Peter the Great (119.90 euros).

My eyes bulged at the prices, but in hindsight, I wish I had indulged. How many chances does one get to try bear, after all?

* * *

Madiba is located at 195 Dekalb Avenue, Brooklyn, New York. Tel. +1 718 855 9190 or e-mail

Osteria di Fonterutoli is located at Via Puccini 4, Loc. Fonterutoli I-53011 Castellina in Chianti. Tel. +39 0577 741 125 or e-mail

Manala is located at Dagmarinkatu 2, 00100 Helsinki, Finland. Tel. +358 9 5807 7707 or e-mail

The Russian is located at Neitsytpolku 12, 00140 Helsinki. Tel. +358 9 7425 5500 or e-mail

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