Best Chocolate Cake in the World
We spent today in Europe, visiting Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg, Ireland, Estonia, Bulgaria, Austria and last but not least, Slovakia. It was the 5th annual Shortcut to Europe Open House for the EU embassies in Washington, DC, and one of the best days ever spent in the nation’s capital. You never know what you will find at the end of the long lines to get into the embassies, and as you stand there for mind-numbing hours, you wonder if the wait is worth it. Here’s what we experienced today, and hopefully it will encourage you to visit next year.
Spain was the only smart embassy we came across that handed out tickets with times on them, like the Fast Pass lines at Disney World. We were able to get a ticket and march right in at 11am, whereupon we were immediately ushered upstairs to the buffet by what seemed to be about 100 Spanish teenagers all barking orders and waving their arms wildly to herd us from room to room. When I started to take pictures of the food, the woman serving crankily ordered me to stop, saying, “No photographs. This is an Embassy, you know.” Whatever. Spain was the only one who cared about this rule, and I am paying her back by posting this picture of her. The food was terrific, though. Excellent red wine with a plateful of goodies, including Manchego cheese served with a plum quince, Spanish olives and Jamon Serrano – the Spanish version of prosciutto, served with olive oil and sea salt.
Hands down the most welcoming and friendly embassy of the day, and the line wasn’t that bad. We were led around by a handsome, witty escort from room to room and shown a travel video that made us want to book a flight to Portugal’s 870 kilometers of oceanfront today. They served a fine port wine, salty little nuggets of codfish, chunks of sweet brioche-like bread called Massa Sovado, and a decadent, flourless cake called “The Best Chocolate Cake in the World.” Lisbon chef Carlos Braz Lopes invented this cake in 1987, and when asked what he called it, he shrugged his shoulders, and the customers replied invariably, “well, it’s the best chocolate cake in the world.” So that’s what he called it, and he’s now busy opening up stores to sell it all over the world. It comes to DC this summer.
Pretty, dainty embassy, serving no food. Not much else to say, and next to no line, unsurprisingly.
Longest line of the day, and after waiting FOREVER in the line to get in, two people had the nerve to bud in front of us, just feet from the entrance. Buggers. Rumor had it Ireland was serving Guinness, but that apparently was last year, before the country went bankrupt. Similar story was heard from others who endured the 45 minute line at the Greek embassy across the street, where two years ago they put on a huge spread. Today: yogurt with a sprinkle of crushed pistachios. The Greeks were probably worried Germany would come check them out and see what they were spending their money on. Ireland’s food was tasty though – Dubliner cheese and my most favorite food of the day- Irish breakfast sausage, a pale sausage made from pork, sage and breadcrumbs. I could have eaten the whole plate. You can order them on line here.
Estonia’s line was super short and fast, and we were treated to tiny cups of eentsy weentsy fish called Räim, dwarf herring about the size of a bobby pin, eaten by fishermen as snacks, like potato chips. They were very salty, crunchy and a bit chewy. A very sweet woman sat in a room embroidering, showing off her outfit that matched a doll’s. She explained that each village has its own pattern and colours, and that it takes two years of training per village outfit before you can be called an expert at it, and are allowed to sell your works.
A few doors down was the Embassy of Bulgaria, where the line snaked a little longer, and they helpfully served food the moment you walked in the door: a drinkable yogurt and an unsweetened cheese pastry. In my opinion, they need to bake with more sugar.
At this point, we walked back to the car and drove up to the Austrian and Slovakia embassies, the two places we started at last year. We missed the food – it ran out about 2pm, but it was the same as last year – two kinds of sausage, pastries and coffee. Austria had the most activities going on – many informative booths, music and pieces of Swarovski crystal jewelry for sale. Being that it was only 1 day away from Mother’s Day, I was quite easily able to convince someone to buy me a necklace.
Slovakia is perhaps the most underrated embassy on the tour. It’s a hidden gem, with generous portions of hearty food like halusky, an egg decorating exhibit, haunting fujara music and an intricate bobbin lace making demonstration. Again, you need to arrive there before 1pm to get the food before it runs out. If you are really lucky, my incredible baking friend Danka will have Slovak cookies there too. The details on the painted eggs were minute – impossibly tiny horses, kings and birds. I can tell you my egg would have been long cracked if I was to try to paint such a delicate picture on the thin shell.
Two years ago we visited Germany and France, both large embassies on sprawling grounds with many rooms open. In Germany, the males were separated from the females with no explanation (kids, even, separated from their parents!), and then the people in each line were patted down. I kid you not. Beer and barbequed sausage served outside in Germany, and quiche, pastries and wine in France – probably the best embassies to visit on the tour, both for the food selections and variety of cultural activities.
And there you have it. I am sure I will have recovered enough by next weekend,when we plan to visit the Around the World Embassy Tour, including visits to Serbia and Croatia.