In this day and age, with world conflict looming over our public agendas, society as a whole needs to ask its people to put down their weapons and hostilities and spearhead a campaign in which different peoples and their diverse cultures are experienced to the fullest degree and every member is given a better understanding of what makes us alike and united as residents of the place we call Earth. The best way to undertake such a mission is through food, especially those decadent creations that aim to soothe the sweet tooth and appease the heart and soul. Not only will this process make our stomachs full, but it will also do wonders in helping all of us learn about the influences that make each culture unique and worthy of co-existing with everybody else in this world we call home.
Of course, savory items can do justice in such a fact-finding mission as well, but sticking to sweet concoctions will highlight more on the similarities and less on the differences between someone living in urban city Chicago versus someone in countryside Florence.
In no particular order, except for regional distinctions, here are the most popular bakery items from around the world, and where available, important information about where to lay one’s hands on such delectable delights.
- Chicago, Illinois, USA: Eli’s Cheesecake Company, a Chicago tradition, it is famous for its buttery crust and smooth, velvety filling. Besides the original plain and turtle flavors and the ever-so-popular dippers, be adventurous and opt for the cheesecake honoring champagne.
- New York, New York, USA: H & H Bagels, located on 80th Street and Broadway, this staple of New York breakfast lovers testifies to the best bagels in town. A great bagel should have a crisp crust, not mushy middle, a flavorful bottom layer, and the freshest toppings if opting for anything beyond the simple and plain perfection. The lines become long quickly, so get there early and watch the bakers pulling the finished bagels from the hot oven!
- Georgetown, Washington, DC, USA: Georgetown Cupcake, 3300 M Street NW; be prepared to wait for a very long time!! This small but popular bakery started operations in December 2009, and with its appearance on Oprah’s finale season, it has blossomed to a powerhouse in the District and branched out into a nationwide mailing operation. There are well over twenty flavors to choose from, in addition to seasonal varieties. Its signature cupcake is the red velvet, with creamy frosting and a heart made from fondant. AUTHOR RECOMMENDATION: key lime cupcake, garnished by a candied lime wedge
- London, England, UK: The Court Restaurant at the British Museum, besides viewing the Rosetta Stone, Egyptian pyramids and mummies, Roman and Greek architecture, make a special visit to the restaurant right outside of the Reading Room where Karl Marx penned his famous work, Das Kapital. Besides offering a full selection of fine teas, it also allows the guest to order a sampler tier of sandwiches, pastries, and scones for a mere 18 pounds (price quoted in August 2010). The freshly baked scones, accompanied by Devonshire cream and preserves, are mouth-watering and soft and buttery to the touch! It will be the best and only way to complete your visit to London!
- Paris, France: Café de Flore, located in the bustling Saint-Germain-des-Pres area of the sixth arrondisement, is full of French character, culture, and history. Its iconic setting dating back to the late nineteenth century makes this local eating establishment a hub of fun and nonstop activity. You would probably opt for a hearty omelet with mushrooms, washed down with a sparkling glass of champagne, but for us baked goods enthusiasts, choose the buttery croissant and a cup of café au lait (coffee with a good dose of milk)!
- Vienna, Austria: Hotel Sacher, this five-star hotel in the heart of Vienna city center may be known for its luxury and services, but it is probably best known for its Sacher torte, a layered chocolate cake with apricots infused throughout the entire chocolate concoction. This is best enjoyed in Café Sacher, which is located to the left of the main hotel entrance. A piece of cake and a cup of espresso will only run you around six euros, a small price to pay for a masterpiece. Note: Do not get confused with imitation cakes, since there is only one Sacher torte in the world; all others are merely Imperial tortes!
- Istanbul, Turkey: the best quality and most affordable “Turkish delights” come from the Grand Bazaar, a warehouse with around 5000 shops selling souvenirs and fine Turkish rugs and spices from the region. Turkish delights consist of starch and sugar, which is then combined with different flavor profiles, such as nuts and the popular rosewater flavor. They are usually formed into small cubes and these little morsels are enjoyed alongside a serving of the equally popular apple-flavored tea drink.
- Amman, Jordan: Zalatimo Sweets, this family-owned business creates some of the best baklava anywhere in the Mediterranean region. Buttery phyllo dough sheets are bombarded by a variety of pulverized nuts and baked to golden perfection. Each sheet pan of baklava is usually portioned out into tiny cubes and sold by individual pieces. The Greeks may lay claim to having the best baklava in town, but after making a stop at Zalatimo, your stomach may have a mind of its own!
- Macau, People’s Republic of China: Margaret’s Café and Nata, located right before reaching the famous Ruins of St. Paul and the adjacent Museum of Macau. For years, this local favorite churns out thousands upon thousands of Portuguese egg tarts or custards, stemming from its time as a Dutch colony and all the Asian influences incorporated into the final product. The flaky crust and the smooth, slightly burnt egg cream center are paired perfectly together. Make sure to purchase several of these egg tarts, since dining on one is never the option!
As a result of this tasty fact-finding mission, it is without a doubt a true test of time that cultures from around the world have persisted for as long as they have. In more instances than not, uncovering the truth about different lifestyles and attitudes requires digging layers upon layers of fresh ingredients, sweet applications, and skills learned at an early age in small private kitchens. So, next time you are ready to create sparks, put on an apron, cover your hands with some flour, and give these baked concoctions a try, before resorting to throwing everything and the kitchen sink to wage a battle without an end in sight!! Bon appetit!