What is it about travel that appeals to you? Do you travel to see monuments or castles or wonders of the world? Or are you wanting to deepen your understanding of a country through their culture and language and cuisine? Or maybe a combination of all of the above. For me, it is really important to get to know the nuances and to delve into the culture of The places I am so fortunate to visit. And I believe the most direct way to culturally immerse myself is through a region’s cuisine and eating styles.
The world has stood still for a year now, and with the introspection that comes from experiencing this alone but together, I have been thinking a great deal of past travels. Michael and I have been so fortunate to see much of this great planet and I have been reliving and fondly recalling many wonderful memories through food.
In Brazil, the beaches are lined with vendors selling every single thing you could possibly imagine as they meander from bahaka to bahaka. Paulo, the oyster vendor, will pull up a chair at your table, shuck oysters, and top each with your choice of acompaniants. For me: lime, salt and maybe a drop of olive oil. I cherish the memory of sitting on the beach, being served fresh oysters one at a time, looking out at the ocean, feeling completely satiated. You then buy Paolo a beer to thank him while he calculates the bill counting spent shells. We practiced Portuguese while he practiced English, and we learned we were more alike than different.
In China, I walked down the very crowded streets of Shanghai with our delightful guide, Olive Lee. I spotted someone eating a handheld delight that looked so delicious that I could not help myself but to point very indescretely and and ask Olive, “What is THAT?” Olive instructed us to skip breakfast the next morning and offered to bring said delicacy to our hotel in the morning. It was a JainBing. And it was amazing. I have searched high and low to somehow enjoy my second somewhere closer to home and got so very close in March of 2019 with Mr. Bing in NYC. I checked the website for their hours and arrived the moment they opened. I was supremely disappointed to learn they are in fact NOT open on Sunday.
In Norway, we were taken by a sledge onto a frozen fjord by a smiling and strong Scandanavian Laura, who proceeded to pull from the ice a basket of king crabs bigger than I have ever seen in my life. After butchering them on the ice she took us to her house where we warmed by the fire as she steamed the crabs for our lunch. As we are accustomed to butter, she accommodated us, but shared that in Norway the crabs are eaten with a special type of mayonnaise. I am so thankful for her suggestion to try the Scandavian way of eating crabs. The combination was beyond amazing.
While in Greece last year, Michael and I urban hiked around our hotel acclimating ourselves to our surroundings while window shopping and reading menus in search of our next dining experience. Eggplant saganaki was my revelation during this day’s adventure and I have relished reliving the memories of the trip with the many recreations I have experimented with in my home kitchen.
In Italy, we stumbled across a hole in the wall taverna with a maximum of 20 small tables. The only thing more petite then the dining space was the menu, and upon our server’s recommendation we started with the Buffalo Burrata. It might sound overly dramatic to say it was life changing, but if you have ever had the opportunity to experience cheese that is so fresh it is still warm from being made hours earlier at a farm down the road, you would have to agree.
I also love how other cultures put such importance on the concept of dining. Not that a great deal of emphasis is placed on formality, but rather on time. Food in almost all cultures is a time to come together and share. In Brazil the word for dessert is Sobremesa and literally it translates to “about the table.” Stay a little longer, finish or start conversations and enjoy the company of the ones you are with. I hope during these times of social distancing you are able to share a meal and perhaps a memory with someone you love.
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