The Pizza Index

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There are many simple pleasures in life: sleeping on fresh sheets, receiving post, finding money in your pocket, waking up in the night and realising you have more time to sleep, and of course, my personal favourite… pizza.

It is the ultimate comfort food. The go-to when there is nothing in the fridge. The cure for any illness *cough* hangover *cough*.

I am a girl who is lucky enough to say that she has once had the good fortune to enjoy an authentic margarita with good company, a crisp glass of white wine, and the Roman colosseum in the background, and all for the grand total of €10 (roughly £9). So imagine my horror when one lazy evening I decide to indulge in a few slices of Italy’s gift to the world, and find myself faced with a charge of £18 – without the wine!

Born in an Italian village, pizza is the superstar that took the world by storm. No matter who you are, the chances are pizza is a staple in your diet; ok, maybe not a staple, but it will certainly like to rear its head and remind you it’s there every once in a while. Gluten free? No matter. Cue the hipster cauliflower crust. Dairy free? We’ve got you covered too. Nutritional yeast: tastes like cheese. Why, oh why, then am I paying double to devour a greasier version of something that I once tucked into under a clear blue sky, in one of the world’s most popular tourist spots, with a cute Italian man in a waistcoat asking me how I like it, in bed with no makeup on and my hair scraped up out of the way?

In today’s wonderfully ever-expansive world, pizza can be found in all corners. I hear that as many as 350 slices of pizza are consumed every second. Many countries have adopted it and given it all the love and affection that it deserves, slowly raising it to reflect the traditions of its new home, without changing who it is at its core.

Australia has the bbq shrimp pizza. India has the curry pizza. Turkey has the pizza kebab. America did such a marvellous job that many truly believe that they are the grandfathers, not the Italians. I had to conclude that if the price could be so drastically different between Rome and North-East England, then so must it be between cities everywhere.

But why? Is it possible that the price of pizza is a reflection of the wealth of a country? Had I just invented the Pizza Index? I did some digging. Sadly not. A Pizza Hut pizza is more expensive in Brazil than it is in Japan; more expensive in France than it is in Canada; cheaper than all four in America. Perhaps I was way off-base and it was the fact that I ordered a renowned delivered Pizza brand over a local homemade pizza that inflated the cost. But that couldn’t be right either. The most expensive pizza in the world is $12,000 (£9,785…) and takes 72 hours to make. It is topped with buffalo mozzarella, three types of caviar, lobster from Norway and Cilento, and is lightly dusted with handpicked crystals of pink Australian sea-salt from the Murray River. It is also as homemade as it comes, with three Italian chefs taking over your kitchen for the full 72 hours to produce such a delicacy for you.

Ok, so that is a bit extreme. Maybe I’m paranoid. Or maybe it just all boils down to that fact that those clever people over at that popular takeaway pizza brand knows that in my desperate state at 10pm on a Sunday night I will pay just about anything for a taste of that cheesy goodness.

Moscow’s Anti-Cafés: Where Time is Money

image russianSince their conception by Russian writer Ivan Mitin, anti-cafés have been spreading from Moscow to all over Russia, and now Europe. Mitin’s chain ‘Ziferblat’, established in 2011, reached London in 2013 and Manchester just last year. The main concept of the anti-café is that the customer pays for time spent in the space rather than for food or drink. More to the point, however, the anti-café aims to encourage socialising and communication, thus providing a cosy, comfortable atmosphere for people to make new friends and spend time with old ones.

An anti-café will usually offer hot and cold beverages, cakes, free Wi-Fi and board games, with some even hosting Xbox or PlayStation consoles at no extra cost. The customer is also at liberty to bring their own provisions and use the kitchen to cook – though they should expect to share!

The process is simple: you go in and register, take a clock and your time starts. The going rate is typically only around 2-3 roubles per minute (the equivalent of 2-3 pence at the moment). Therefore, two hours amounts to what you’d typically pay for a coffee in Starbucks.

Unsurprisingly, these cafés have really taken off with students who are looking for a space to hang out and have a drink or snack within a sustainable budget. Stepping into ‘Zelyonaya Dver‘ (Green Door) in Moscow, paints a typical picture of anti-café life: ping pong tables in the garden, students singing with guitars on the sofas, and others sipping tea and playing Jenga.  It is a common occurence for people to strike up conversations with strangers and make new acquaintances – a sight rarely seen in a standard Western café.

Indeed, a key part of their popularity is that anti-cafes provide a removed space with an informal atmosphere where social norms and rules are relaxed.  In a city like London where interaction between strangers is rare, this might be just what is needed to escape the nonstop rush. As Mitin himself outlined, the concept of a ‘free space’ is key; the customer is autonomous and able to create his own world within the café setting.

The past five years have not only allowed the concept of anti-cafés to spread, but also to develop into some quirky approaches to the idea. Perhaps one of the most weird and wonderful is ‘Kotiki i Lyudi’ (Cats and People) near Tsvetnoi Bulvar metro station. Claiming to make Moscow ‘warmer and fluffier’, this is the perfect place for cat lovers to enjoy pastries and tea whilst playing with the 14 house cats, and of course only paying for time (kotocafe.ru).

So if you’re travelling to Moscow any time soon, and looking for a place to study, eat or just take some time out on a budget, why not pop into an anti-café, where time really is money.

Image: The Calvert Journal

Arkansas: Locally Sourced Servings for the Soul

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On a blistering cold Saturday morning, many people are tucked in bed with a nice, hot cup of cocoa or sleeping under their flannel sheets.  However, in Northwest Arkansas, young people and young families are standing outside at restaurants like the Farmer’s Table, waiting for upwards of thirty minutes for a table inside of a three room, older home.  There is no fancy menu, or a world-renowned chef. These people are here for simply delicious and nutritious, locally-sourced, comfort foods.

Food trends in the USA have historically focused greatly on food on the go – quick and easy meals for millennials to grab while rushing from work, to sporting event, to home. Recently, however, a new culinary trend has emerged among the younger crowd, who are less concerned with speed of preparation and convenience, and increasingly focused on the quality of the meal, the taste, and enjoying locally sourced produce.

Eating food grown by local farmers may seem an old notion for consumers in Europe and elsewhere in the world, but with the enduring dominance of super chains like Walmart in the US this has meant many of these once thriving local farming communities in the US are suffering, or have completely disappeared.

As Northwest Arkansas is developing and younger families are moving in, a revitalized community spirit is growing, this shift is predicated on promoting health, community and local food for the family. A growing number of young families are therefore attempting to develop a community spirit based on happiness, activity and healthy eating. A new wave of new restaurateurs have subsequently emerged, extending the focus on  local community by supporting local farmers and promoting sustainable living.

On any given Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday at 7 a.m. central time, local farmers come to sell their produce, meats, and breads at Farmer’s Markets that are growing in popularity. One such market is located in the town square in Fayetteville, Arkansas, this hosts approximately 30 vendors. These farmers, who once had problems selling once or twice a week, can now sell out in a few hours.

Out on the early morning hunt are local chefs and restaurateurs searching for their next featured dish. Because of the different seasons here, the produce available is constantly changing, creating an amazing array of possible new delicacies for local, and some not so local, patrons to enjoy, while giving local farmers income year round.

After the farmers market, many common items like bacon from local farmers in Gentry and eggs from a chicken farm in Farmington are the basis Sunday brunch.  The only herbs used are the ones grown next door in the restaurant’s garden. Nothing is frozen or genetically modified. Anything that is served on these menus is organic and free of chemicals, leaving only the natural goodness that our bodies crave.

Local restaurants in Arkansas are also keeping waste at a minimum. Composting is a large part of this equation, diminishing the amount of trash being thrown away. The egg shells and left over plant waste are redistributed in the garden to help the soil in the garden. Chicken bones are used to create a broth. Very little packaging or plastic is thrown away simply because there was none in the first place.

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These ‘locally sourced’ restaurants are growing in number, and include; the Farmers Table, Herb and Elks, Four Corners Kitchen, and Greenhouse Grill. The philosophy that these eateries are promoting is easy to buy into because of the quality of their menus, the delicious and colorful nature of each meal, and the knowledge that this is helping our local community and promoting sustainability. These culinary developments have revitalized what it means to eat local and have created a more wholesome and healthy community for families in Northwest Arkansas.

 

Picture: The Farmer’s Table, a ‘locally sourced’ restaurant in Fayetteville, AR.

 

Geneva’s unlikely social hotspot

IMG_1103Nestled on the shores of picturesque Lac Leman, overlooking the Alps and the majestic Mont Blanc, lies Les Bains de Paquis, Geneva’s new après-work and weekend social hotspot.

First opened 150 years ago with the sole aim of providing Genevois people with a place to enjoy the sun and indulge in a bit of swimming in the summer, the pier has now become Geneva’s most happening and talked about social destination.

Blessed with glorious sunshine and long summer’s days, culturally Geneva’s after work traditions rarely revolve around an evening spent in the pub, as the opportunity to soak up the evening sun with an alcoholic beverage in hand seems to be all too appealing. There’s no better place in the city to drink the evening away with your friends, family or work colleagues than Les Bains de Paquis. There’s never a dull moment & it all comes at a reasonable price as well, something hard to come by in a city with expensive tastes.

One thing that sets Les Bains de Paquis apart from the run-of-the-mill Geneva social hotspot is its unbelievable variety in experiences and activities all within such a small area. Anything that you can think of you are more than likely to be able to find it on the pier, with food, drink, music, swimming, Turkish baths, lectures, poetry and even Tai Chi classes all at your disposal throughout the summer. The pier even hosts dawn concerts every Thursday morning at 6am in the height of the summer months. Therefore, if you fancy listening to music whilst watching the sunrise over the mountains and lake before pitching up at work for the daily grind, then Les Bains de Paquis is the place for you!

Not only is Les Bains de Paquis swimming in social activity, the pier is teeming with revelers of many different nationalities, all mixing and soaking up the electric atmosphere. Les Bains de Paquis epitomises the international feel of the city. There aren’t many places in the world where one can enjoy a drink with a view, whilst simultaneously experiencing the best of multiple cultures and enjoying conversation with people from all over the globe.

No visit to Geneva is therefore complete without experiencing the wonders of the city’s irrefutable social hub. Whether you’re an art lover or you’re just looking to have a few drinks in a lovely setting, there is no better place in Geneva than the scenic and one of a kind, Bains de Paquis.

 

 

 

 

Sao Paulo Food Parks

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In a concrete jungle with over 10 million inhabitants, the paulistas (inhabitants of the city of São Paulo, in Brazil) have found a new way to disconnect from their busy routines and unwind… at least during lunchtime.

The so called food parks, unutilized public spaces that have been converted into open air food courts, are the new trend in São Paulo’s gastronomic scene. In these spaces, up to 30 different trailers, or food trucks, serve up to 3000 thousand customers a day with dishes ranging from traditional Brazilian food all the way to Chinese noodles, Vietnamese subs and British Fish n’ Chips. The trucks themselves are already an attraction, bearing creative names and customized paintings that represent the origins of the meals they prepare.

The food park craze started off recently in Brazil in the city of São Paulo and has already spread to other major Brazilian capitals such as Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte, where they help revitalize areas of the city that have been left aside and, at the same time, democratize access to quality food since the gourmet meals on food parks cost, on average, half as much as those found in shopping malls’ food courts or restaurants.

The food trucks also represent a fantastic alternative for office workers since many are located close to office complexes and offer affordable and diverse kinds of meals for those in a hurry. Moreover, and much aligned with trends such as the sharing economy and sustainability, newer food parks are venturing into areas other than food, offering open green spaces for people to watch movies, practice yoga and expose arts and crafts.

Ocupa Food Park in São Paulo’s Vila Mariana neighborhood, for instance, hosts plays, movie screenings and workshops aside from being home to a weekly organic food fair, in a clear example of how food parks are going from a gastronomic revolution into a full-blown reinvention of public space utilization.

However, as with many novelty trends in Brazil, fuzzy laws and regulations have been preventing food parks from flourishing even further, since local city councils have started taxing the food trailers’ owners as much as they tax their shopping mall counterparts, squeezing their profit margins and making it harder for paulistas to make the most out of their city.