Saturday, February 25, 2012

Traveling Foodies

RHYS BOWEN: I confess. I'm a coward when it comes to food during my travels. Not having the strongest stomach in the world I have never eaten the more adventurous things like fried grasshoppers in Thailand. My husband, on the other hand, has a cast-iron stomach and will happily graze from stalls in markets wherever we are.

But it's memories of food that take me back to a place more vividly than any snapshot, so I've been trying to recall some memorable meals from my travels. I've eaten spectacular Indian curries and Chinese banquets, but what immediately came into my head was my time in Greece.

When I was a student I spent three months going around Greece with a backpack. My friend and i had no money so we ate in cheap cafes or from street vendors. In the cafes in small towns we were always the only women and the men would look up from their domino games to eye us with suspicion.
But my memories of that food are wonderful. Gyros made with lamb sliced from a carcass still turning on a spit, stuffed peppers snd tomatoes, moussaka. The convention was to go through the cafe into the kitchen, check out what was cooking and order what we liked the look of.
But my favorite meals were on the island of Aegina where we rented a tiny cabin. The cafe was just a shack on the waterfront and every day they cooked whatever fish they had caught that day. We'd eat the octopus we saw them catch earlier, banging it on the rocks like laundry to tenderize it. We'd eat whole grilled fish, or even a frito misto of stir fried whatever. All wonderful and washed down with retsina for which we developed a taste. Then strolling home through twilight olive groves, a trifle tipsy, while Greek music floated to us across the water. I'm smiling now as I think of it.

So who would like to share a travel food memory?

LUCY BURDETTE: I will never forget a roasted chicken with the most crispy skin garnished by a lentil salad in a cafe in Paris. We had a splendid cassoulet on the same trip--I think there had been an article about Parisian food in the LA Times. Did not write them down and have never been able to find them since...

HALLIE EPHRON: As you might imagine, I travel on my stomach. Oh, Rhys, your description of eating in Greece brought back memories. We ate ate a restaurant with fishing boats right outside; they beat the octupi and hung them to dry, so when you order it the chef ran across and grabbed a few.

But for favorite? SOOOO hard. I'd have to say dinner at Ristorante Miky in Monterosso al Mare -- across the street from the beach in this spectacular town in the Cinque Terra in Italy. The meal began with anchovies. Not the kind you get in the can, these are fresh caught right there. About 5 inches long by 3 inches wide, cured in a lemony brine and oil. Exquisite! Then fresh, tender homemade tagliatelle with langoustine.

RHYS: Hallie, I've eaten there! I stayed in Monterosso with my hiking friends when we hiked the Cinque Terre trail and we had a seafood risotto for all of us, cooked under a giant pizza crust that ballooned up like a huge mushroom. Then the owner pierced it and all that lovely vapor came out. Ahhh.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Oh, fabulous food in Mexico, Italy, France, especially traveling with my parents on Frommer's $25 a Day (remember those?) and eating in working class cafes in France and Italy. Lunch at Gordon Ramsay Claridge's. BUT--can you guess? Last fall I ate at a restaurant called Joanna's in Crystal Palace, south London. They are famous for their mussels, so we that for starters with fresh artisan bread from the next door bakery. I have seldom been so tempted to lick the bowl. Then, roast belly of Suffolk pork, with winter greens and creamy mash (potatoes) in an apple and ginger sauce. And (can you guess again?) Sticky Toffee pudding for dessert. Everything was absolute perfection.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: I think I've already relayed my Paul Bocuse and Fish A/Fish B story. I'm not particularly adventurous when it comes to food - I passed on all the the exotic offerings in the Beijing food market (I think glazed sheep testicles on a stick were there, next to the chocolate covered grasshoppers!) I remember a wonderful meal in Avignon at a restaurant around the corner from La Mirande - but don't ask me what it was! I had asked for a vegetarian meal and they whipped up someting that was fantastic.

The one I do remember? It was the day after my first book came out and I had just flown to Phoenix for a gig at Poisoned Pen. I was starving and pulled into the lot across the street from the bookstore. The door was locked but I saw a few people inside and tapped on the window. The owner was closing up but took pity on me. His employee set one table, and lit candles while the owner - who said I'd have to take pot luck made me a plate with cold chicken pesto and a small salad. It was fabulous and every time I go back to PP I try to go to Cafe Monarch in Scottsdale!

HANK PHILLIPI RYAN: (RO, that's lovely--I hope to be there smeday!) For me--Pizza--in France! We were at the Michel Giraud restaurant/hotel in the town of Pau. The chef made pizza with fresh tomatoes right out of a lush garden-and it was the most intense! (In French, I think it's pissaladiere.) But you know--I had a memorable meal right here in the the Four Seasons in Boston. PERFECT salad, perfect steak with blue cheese, perfect broccolini and some caulflower/potato thing with truffles. I also love when Jonathan grills out in our back yard..

JAN BROGAN _ The freshness of the tomatoes and cucumbers and the honey and yoghurt in Crete. Closer to home, but just as memorable, eating lobster bought on the docks of Cuttyhunk, cooked and eaten while on a the cockpit of a sailboat with the added pleasure of tossing the shells right back into the sea.It's really the only way you should eat lobster.

RHYS: Are you drooling yet? Do these memories evoke any of your own? Who has actually tried the fried grasshoppers? Actually I have eaten prairie oysters so I guess I'm a tad adventurous


  1. Rhys, i love the description of your eating adventures in Greece. Wonderful!

    Trying not to be so late in commenting... most memorable meals for me have been at Woodman's in Essex, Massachusetts for batter fried lobster and clams and fried clam rolls at Devereux Beach in Marblehead.

    One other that I can't leave out is the breakfast at the Chateau de Villeray in Condeau where they served fresh - very local cream, home made yoghurt, croissant, jam, and perfect coffee. That is a beautiful place we stayed one summer. I was visiting relatives and on my usual hunt for church history in and around the cathedrals and village churches.

  2. Oh, I LOVE hearing about your favorite food adventures. Great post.

    My exotics are: snails 2 ways - French, in butter and Belgian, boiled with pepper. Tripe from an African student cafe down a narrow alley in Paris. A sample nibble of chocolate ants.

    Bliss however belongs with these 3: Best yogurt ever in Swiss cafe in the Peninsula Hotel, Hong Kong. I still swoon to remember it.

    Thai food I had on the way home from Thailand at Keo's in Honolulu. Fresh gorgeous fish, yum.

    And baby veal outrageously tender, skewered pieces rolled in fresh ground black pepper and roasted over the cafe's open flame firepit by my own hand. Served with a tangy tomato relish and washed down with sljivovitz (plum brandy with a kick). Zagreb, Croatia (Yugoslavia).

    Ah, drool, the memories.

  3. Avi, I'm traveling with you! I'll bet you even tried (and liked??) haggis in Scotland.

  4. Other than the US, I had never traveled until March of 2001, when I joined a group of entertaining and adventurous women for a week in Paris and a week in Tuscany. Which changed my opinions and attitudes towards food, forever.

    When you eat fresh, local produce, in season, simply prepared, it makes our homegrown fast food pale in comparison, doesn't it? I so vividly recall a lovely salad at Thiemiuex in Paris: mache, shredded beets, and a light coating of olive oil. Divine. A lunch at Chartiers: shredded celery root tossed with remoulade as accompaniment to lightly broiled fish (plaice? I can't remember now, darn it), and chestnut creme for dessert.

    In Siena, the big surprise was a course of three perfectly prepared truffled pumpkin ravioli with a mere tablespoon of sauce. And it was just enough, rather than the giant portions we have here. The perfect focaccia in Fiesole--no sugar, just a sprinkle of sea salt, and lusciously olive oil glazed. Bread was also an eye-opener. Why do we need more than flour, yeast, salt and water in our bread? The variety of potato dishes in Peru was another amazing discovery. Did you know that of the 4200 varieties of potatoes in the world, 3500 of them are native to that country? And I lost weight while there, eating potato at nearly every meal.

    On the wild side: kangaroo roast in Sydney; roast antelope in Cusco, Peru; grilled guinea pig in Urubumba, Peru; fabulous fish dishes in the Galapagos; and tripe in Florence, Italy.

    Thanks for sharing your food experiences; I think everyone should have the chance to break out of our little shells and expand our food horizons!

  5. Batter-fried lobster?? Really, Reine? I'm with you on the croissant.

  6. Karen, you can come with us... Tuscan and France were epiphanies for me, too.

  7. Hallie, I'm not much of a foodie. I'm a foodand. Batter fried lobster is something that I originally tried in Boston at an old and long gone place called Bob Lee's Islander. A nephew of the Wong family, that had owned the restaurant, told me it was a Chinese-Hawaiian recipe. Their version came with coconut and whole cherries.

    Just to kill my food reputation forever and prove that no sensible person should ever take me on a foodie trip I will add my experience of the freshest tasting and best fish and chips anywhere in the world is the meal I crave most, and that I have travelled many times to Bakersfield, California just to have at the Westchester Bowl. Still the best in the world, and I've had it everywhere. But don't listen to me. I like Kraft Dinner with little hotdog roundies and a hunk of lettuce with a few pop of mayonnaise that I call salad.

  8. Down spellcheck! That's a "glop" of mayonnaise.

  9. I think that just about any time I've been out of the US I've had wonderful food because elsewhere they eat fresh, real food.

    Mexico is a country with a wonderful diversity of menus, but don't try to tell that to most Americans who think the Tex-Mex of their local restaurant is the sum total of Mexican cuisine.

    Everyone badmouthed English food, but when I was there, I found it delicious, fresh and prepared well. Our B&B provided us the most swoon-worthy scones, and for lunch, I'd run to the covered market for fresh bread and meat and vegetables and fruit.

    But there is no barbecue anywhere to rival Kansas City's. And our steaks are fabulous, too.

  10. Linda, I agree with you on both counts. But too many tourists choose to eat in pubs when they're in England, and they miss the amazing offerings at other types of places. It's pricey to eat in London, especially, though.

    My daughter and her boyfriend, who has Mexican heritage, spent a month in Mexico last winter, and they raved about the food. The diversity of different kinds of regional dishes astonished me, and made us want to go and experience the cuisine ourselves.

    The saddest thing I've ever heard was about the same daughter's trip to Italy, with a school group. It was run by a tour, and at every meal the kids were offered American "French fries", and pizza. I had just been to Italy and had gone on and on about the food, and she was so disappointed that the tour made such a point of catering to American tastes. The same thing happened with my youngest daughter, when she went to London for the first time, with her church youth group. The majority of the kids only wanted American-style food, and refused to eat anything else. How disappointing, that they missed a golden opportunity to broaden their horizons.

  11. English food used to have a bad reputation--overcooked veg, gray meat etc, but today there is superb food to be had, at country pubs as well as fancy restaurants, all focusing on fresh local produce, meats and fish.
    (and there always was good food--roast beef at Simpson's, tea at the Ritz, steak and kidney pies even fish and chips, and those who badmouthed it often hadn't strayed beyond their friend neighborhood Hilton!)

  12. Linda, real and true Mexican food is a staple in our house-- that and Indian tacos. My mother used to make the frybed, and I did the beans. You have the way of bringing out good memories. [... working on that writing exercise. Thank you.]

  13. Rhys, I loved the food in England. Some of the best I ever had was even in the great hall at Christ Church College. The climb up those stairs was a killer, though, so I missed a lot of meals. Pub food was my favorite, and I went to each on a hunt for the best steak and ale pie. I think the one at the Crown was my favorite, but there was another upstairs on a place on St. Michael's St, just off Cornmarket - can't remember the name. It was was like a mini-mini stand in line and get it yourselfer but with an eating room that was like an old fashioned dining room in anyone's house.

  14. All I know is that I'm hungry. Traveled in the Alps once, and they had the best rolls and butter-fresh from the cows. The other foods were fresh too. It's nice to get that. And oh yes, Baked Stuffed Lobster at Anthony's Pier 4 in Boston. Maybe it was just the city :)

  15. Oh, you're; reminding me..we stayed at a 14th century farmhouse in Castellina in Chianti..looking out over the cypress trees and huge hedges of rosemary..and had wine and fresh peaches and pecorino chesse. I can't BEGIN to tell you.. It was SO fresh..

  16. Hank, I'd never heard of pecorino until I went to Italy. Now it's a favorite ingredient in our family. I love it served alone with red pepper jelly, or fig paste, or apricot jam. Mmmm.

    Rhys, I didn't mean that ALL pubs served so-so foods, but I have been to a couple that did, very possibly trying to appeal to tourists. But the steak pie I had at one in the financial district was incredible. Also, the restaurant in the Victoria & Albert Museum has some of the best food I've had anywhere. The mushroom soup we had for lunch one day is the standard by which I judge all others, and so far they've all been sadly lacking in comparison.

  17. Hallie, oh yes I'll try it all. And usually with a big grin.

    Some food memories are more than the food, don't you think? Bundled to the max against the freezing chill of an October night in London, wind from the North Sea biting my bones. Fish and chips from a street stall. Scrumdidiliumptuous.

    Here's a strange one. Tofu ice cream to die for (!) from a coop-run Atlanta GA cafe. I don't expect to ever taste anything to rival it.

    I've a childhood memory of Indiana's Brown County apple butter with fried biscuits. Nothing has ever come close.

    Hank, a mention of peaches and I am reminded of another gourmet delight of childhood. Daily peaches, milk and orange blossom honey when we stayed at the home of my grandfather - citrus grower, beekeeper. Fresh as fresh can be.

    Tickle the memories, more start to trickle out...

  18. The most adventurous thing I ate overseas was a frog leg. It did have a slightly chickeny texture, but I couldn't get over the strong butter garlic sauce. I didn't have another. Oh, and I ate and loved fried alligator in New Orleans. It tastes like chicken and squid combined.

    I've eaten tons of slightly strange things in Japan: different kinds of roe, bi-valves I've never seen anywhere else, fish sperm sacs (they're creamy and delicious, kind of like a lighter, seafoody foie gras). The best thing I've ever eaten there -- oysters as big as my hand.