I've found my best food of 2018 in a Spanish taverna and in a Michelin star near Bologna.
It was served with a brioche in a tiny Sicilian bar and with a wasabi root in a old Slovenian buffet.
But to find the best I had to dig a hole in a volcano.
#5 Regalito de Torito @El Anciano Rey de los Vinos, Madrid
Madrid is a beautiful girl, too shy to wear make-up.
An underrated capital where tourists are still an exotic rarity to discover and not a conqueror to fight.
Far from the sea but with fresh and delicious fish tapas, it was the meat that surprised me.
El Anciano Rey de los Vinos is a 100 years old taverna just in front of Madrid's Cathedral, a location where usually you could find a MacDonald's or a 10€-for-a-coffee place.
But Madrid is different.
So you sit at the counter next to Spanish workers during lunch break. You order a vermuth. At least a couple.
Then you read the tapas list amongst tortilla and spicy patatas bravas you choose the gift: regalitos de torito. Bull's little gifts.
It's a small tapas made with soft bull's tail meat filled inside brik dought with a red pepper as a topping. Served with a toothpick, regalitos is the typical dish to compartir.
I would pay $$$ to have them instead of fries for an aperitivo in Bologna.
Address: Calle de Bailén, 19, 28013 Madrid (Spain)
Tel. +34 915595332
#4 Boiled meat @Buffet da Pepi, Trieste
Trieste, North-Est of Italy, almost Slovenia.
A popular harbour, with aristocratic cafè and beautiful bookshops. A windy, beautiful city.
Just next to Piazza della Borsa you find a small trattoria with a few tables outside. Opened in 1897 by Pepi S'Ciavo (Pepi the Slovenian) now is just called Buffet da Pepi.
Always attended by people from the neighborhood, downtown workers, locals and tourists, Pepi is a must visit but not only for the authentic vibe.
You go there to eat a mix of boiled meat: luganighe sausage , porzina and cotechino, served with sauerkraut, mustard and grated cren (horseradish used for the more famous wasabi). An dish that explain the roots and influences of Trieste more than a history book.
Via della Cassa di Risparmio, 3, 34121 Trieste
Tel. +39 040 366858
#3 Grilled squids @Ristorante Marconi, Bologna
Michelin starred restaurants are a special category of restaurants.
You ring the bell to enter, like in a jewelry.
You expect at least 6-10 ingredients for every dish.
And you know that a dinner is not just a dinner.
The more Michelin restaurant you visit, the less surprising is the formula. Ristorante Marconi, one of the few Michelin star restaurant near Bologna, makes no exception.
But actually there are some exceptions.
Even if the location is elegant, with open space and Nordic furniture, the atmosphere is different. Relaxed.
It's a place to have dinner with friends and not to worry if you just have jeans in your trolley.
Sure the concert is a list of classics: amuse bouche to open, complex dishes with rare ingredients (like percebes: I had to google them, honestly) and the glass always half full.
But their grilled squid to share from the hot barbeque on the table were just simple and delicious.
High cuisine has never been that close to welcoming and warm.
Address: Via Porrettana 291, 40037 Sasso Marconi (BO)
Tel. +39 051 846216
#2 Melon Granita @Gran Cafè Solaire Acitrezza
I'm not afraid to say that gelato in Bologna has no around Italy. I know the people behind it, I know how they work and I know I can't live without it.
But when it comes to granita everything changes.
Etna volcano isn't only a spectacular landscape to visit, but also the birthplace of the first Italian granita. The snow taken from Etna was mixed with the most delicious fruit grown on its land. And there you get a food without rivals, hard to replace elsewhere.
Besides the most famous Catania and the luxury of Taormina, it was this small bar in the small village of Acitrezza who stole my heart.
It's hard to describe their melon granita, served with the typical round brioche.
Just buy the first flight to Catania and let me know.
Address: Via Provinciale, 81, 95021 Acitrezza, Catania (Sicily)
Tel. +39 345 165 6822
#1 Cozido @Tonys Sao Miguel Island, Azores
Complete the sentence:
Atlantic Ocean. Sao Miguel Island, Azores.
Surrounded by deep blue sea I had the most delicious:
Cozido is a unique dish prepared in Furnas, a small village in the volcanic island of Sao Miguel, dotted with boiling water and mud springs. In these steaming holes called caldeiras, locals come to lower underground their pots full of layers of pork, beef, cabbage, kale, potatoes, carrots, chorizo and blood sausage.
Volcanic steam cooks the pot for about 8 hours, slowly squeezing out the juices and flavours from all the ingredients.
The result is an apparently simple dish, but with a wide and complex and mix of flavours impossible to forget.
You can get cozido at the old fashioned bar Tonys, just after a warm thermal bath at Poça da Dona Beija.
Cozido is so far the best dish I had this year. But for a full knowledge, you can compare it with our bollito misto bolognese during our Bologna Christmas Food Tour :)
Address: Largo do Teatro 5, 9675-036, Furnas, Sao Miguel Island (Portugal)
Tel. +351 296 584 290
Fried toma @Osteria da Gemma
"From a weekend on Langhe hills. With an unforgettable Nebbiolo"
Osteria da Gemma
Via Guglielmo Marconi, 7, 12050 Roddino CN
Stuffed pucce @Bottega Mamma Puglia
"Nothing to do with the Emilian cuisine, but the pugliese stuffed pucce you get in front of the Albinelli market are just fabulous"
Bottega Mamma Puglia
Via Luigi Albinelli, 32, 41121 Modena MO
Latte portoghese @Osteria Ca' delle Querce
"It's really hard to ask, but I would say that my discovery this year was Portuguese milk. I found it divine."
Osteria Ca' delle Querce
Via Ponticelli Pieve, 30, 40026 Ponticelli BO
Stuffed zucchine @Amerigo
"I cried. They were exactly the same taste as those of my grandmother, I don't know how he made it, even if the zucchini were fried."
Via Guglielmo Marconi, 14/16, 40053 Savigno BO
Gnocco fritto @Barchessa
"It's hard to think of a symbol dish, but I could say the tiny fried gnocchi of the Barchessa."
Via Vignolese, 1044, 41126 Modena MO
And what about you?
Which are the dishes that you won't forget?