Do you remember when you had your last exceptional and unforgettable meal during foreign travels? I surely do.
Local food and beverages are among the things we all look forward to enjoying when we travel to a foreign country. In Turkey one year I was quite taken by the pomegranate salad oil, which for me became a life changing experience I had to write about. Then there was the unexpectedly delightful risotto and mushroom sauce I experienced in Milan. When I classify a meal as life changing, that means I loved it so much, I had to go home and cook it! And now, thanks to an olive oil farm I visited in Israel, I know how to shop for higher quality olive oil to enhance my cooking. After my visit ot Vietnam one year, my food walking tour was such an eye opener in terms of both food and locale that I would normally never have experienced, I now always take a food walking tour in foreign cities. Food in all its unique varieties is truly the heart and soul of every culture. Other foods (in particular, spices) of which I have fond memories, are spicy fresh paprika from Croatia, fresh pepper from Southern India, which is along the Spice Route, and of course spices in Istanbul at the Grand Bazaar.
Food can be so much more than a meal. When traveling and experiencing new cultures, if can feed the human spirit, lift the world-weary traveler’s soul just enough to make it to the next destination, enhance new friendships forged through travel, and heighten a traveler’s awareness of new possibilities that go beyond the travel experience. In under- developed countries, the food purchased and served even in a restaurant, can elevate those whose livelihoods depend on the income.
Actor Stanley Tucci has enhanced our understanding of food based on his Italian heritage and love for its culture of food with his popular series where he explores Italy, it’s food, and how it’s made. It’s spot-on for travelers to ponder this when we are longing to be on the road again and enjoy our favorite restaurants. In his next season, he will do the same for Spain and its additionally wide variety of foods.
But now the very notion of post-pandemic travel is starting to emerge like a flower in early February or March seeking light and the sunshine of Spring. I have spent so much time in the kitchen over the past year, I have now shifted my attention from food in general, and ensuring I had enough for the shutdown, to remembering meals I’ve enjoyed during my travels and long to enjoy again. I have mentally conceived an entire meal based on foods I’ve experienced, appreciated and enjoyed on various trips. When I cook, I enjoy using wooden cooking utensils that I purchased during my travels. Besides supporting local the communities where I purchased them, using them at home is a pleasant reminder of the trip.
I hope you enjoy my illusory five course meal. Recipes are included.
First Course: Pupusas from Central America
The first stop is Central America where for a starter, we are going to enjoy pupas as from El Salvador. They are small pancakes stuffed with cheese, meat, vegetables or beans, and served with cabbage on the side and various sauces. They are a meal by themselves, or they are great as an appetizer. They are served in restaurants there, but there are many street vendors who sell them openly and safely. Some South and Central American countries serve empanadas which are equally wonderful crescent shaped stuffed appetizers. But as much as I enjoy both of them, pupusas were completely new to me when I enjoyed being introduced to them on the Overseas Adventure Travel trip Route of the Maya. They are fantastic with dark craft beer. Where I live there is a Salvadoran restaurant where I can buy them, but here is a link to the recipe for anyone interested in learning how to make these charmers.
Second Course: Mushroom Risotto from Italy
The second stop is Europe. I adore Italian food, and on my second independent trip to Italy, I spent six nights in Milan to enjoy Northern Italy. The first night there, I followed my nose and walked into a restaurant close to my hotel. I’d never had risotto before, but that mushroom dish, from a local unassuming restaurant gave me glimpse into the goodness of Italian food that I had never known before. I felt compelled to return to the same small restaurant at least one more time before I left Milan, and of course I had to order the mushroom risotto again. What a surprise to discover that some of what was growing in my plate was blue! I didn’t return after that for obvious reasons, but I did spend time once home learning how to make mushroom risotto that will not turn blue. Blue, for me, is the color of a traveler who cannot travel. And its also the color of a disappointed person who cannot have a pasta dish in the middle of a four or five course Italian meal! But to my delight, I discovered that part of what made the mushroom risotto so special was that mushrooms in many varieties are a specialty of Northern Italy.
Third Course: Chicken or Cornish Hems with Moroccan Spices Served with Onions and Raisins from Morocco
The third stop is North Africa. In Morocco, on the OAT trip Morocco Sahara Odyssey, I fell in love with Moroccan spices, easy to purchase at the many souks we visited. Two that I purchased had a combination of Moroccan spices: one had 15, one had 35. Both of them are great to cook with while home, even if the meat or vegetable dish is cooked using traditional methods, we are familiar with and not on a Moroccan tagine. I noticed while there, that a substitute for chicken was Cornish game hens. In spite of their popularity in Morocco, the game hens originated in England, as a cross breeding between the Cornish and White Plymouth Rock chicken breeds.
When I ate the flavorful birds, they were served with an even more delectable, sweet white onion dish that included raisins and brown sugar. I added Moroccan spices to it when I made it at home. This combination of dishes is one I happily cook over and over; it reminds me of Morocco, I get to use many of the spices I brought back on not one, but two trips there, and I am always reminded of the warm people I met in souks because of the wooden utensils and spices I purchased.
Fourth Course: Deserts from Guatemala and Slovenia
The fourth stop bounces between Central America and Europe. I need to start off by stating that I am not a desert person. But I was blown away in Antigua, Guatemala by the pumpkin pie with raisins I consumed at a pastry shop. The raisons added the right amount of delightful surprise to each grateful bite. I retuned about five years later to the same pastry shop, but the pie wasn’t available that day. Fantastic apple pie, another seasonal favorite, had to suffice. Cafe Condessa in the central square in Antigua is the place to go the for this and other terrific pastries.
In Slovenia, and all throughout the Adriatic and former Yugoslavia countries, deserts reign supreme. These rich and creamy high caloric delicacies are on the menu at most restaurants in the region. When there is a group, whole platefuls are served. The food is heavily rich in general, since that region sits at the crossroads of Austria, Hungary, Italy and Germany, so the deserts are equally as substantial and heavenly. I learned to love these on the OAT trip Crossroads of the Adriatic.
Fifth Course: After Dinner Drink of Pisco sours from Peru and Chile
Our fifth and final stop brings us to South America. There are many international dinner drinks of course, but the one that comes to mind the most as a non-drinker who is easily impressed, the Pisco Sour, I recently experienced this brandy-like drink made with an egg at 11 AM in Lima at a travel briefing, but I first discovered it on a river boat going down the Peruvian Amazon where we learned to make it one lazy afternoon after meeting a shaman in the rainforest. After sitting through a talk by the shaman about how drinking some Amazon water directly from the river will cleanse your system – of which I had absolutely no doubt – going back and drinking a pisco sour instead was a blessed experience.
There is quite a rivalry for state sponsored ownership of this drink, since both Chile and Peru not only lay claim to it but having created the best. Peru has a town called Pisco which they claim is where the drink originated, while Chile has a town called Pisco Elqui (called La Reunion until 1936). And both Bolivia and Argentina have its own take on the flavorful aperitif. Bur Peru (who includes an egg white in the recipe, while Chile does not) has a celebration of the drink the first Sunday in February. Whether it’s made as a whisky or a brandy is a factor depending on how it’s made, but in any event, its an unusual and enjoyable drink, with a multitude of recipes.
Now that you have traversed multiple continents with me on this food journey, think aback again on your favorite meals from travel. You just might discover they are worthy of making in your own home.