I am very fortunate to have been able to see some of the most amazing sights and indulged in some of the most delectable bites, in well and lesser known places. During these rambles, I have met some wonderfully hospitable people, who kindly invited me to their tables to dine and share whatever they had. They made every effort to ensure I felt comfortable and welcome, and left with a belly tight as a tick.
In the beautiful and breathtaking Algarve region of Portugal, where I spent several months while traveling, I was invited to share Sunday dinner with the Neves family. There were beloved members from at least 3 generations and they all greeted me with open arms. Even the language barrier was powerless, definitely no match for their openhearted generosity. Those who did not speak English affirmatively nodded with smiles, warm handshakes an hugs to convey their acceptance. The hosts prepared a spread with so many courses that I was overwhelmed by the sights and smells. I have to admit that it was not some extraordinary event conjured up in my honor. It’s just what they do when the weather’s great and the opportunity to share love avails itself. And apparently, that happens rather frequently.
But back to the list…
Usually the foods I had were typical to the region, sometimes they were more of a walk on the adventurous side of life for me. Whichever the case, I enjoyed every morsel that immersed me in the varied cultures and drew me closer to the unique communities I was getting to know.
Let’s start off with some talk about burgers: I absolutely love them and have woofed them down all over Europe, North and South America. I prefer them thick, juicy and topped with cheese and thick bacon, if I can get it. I have found that the price isn’t always a good indicator of the quality and taste, so I am open to trying just about any kind.
3 of the best bites I had on the road were good old burgers. The absolute best one was a chopped up version that came from Tropical Burguer in Porto, Portugal. I didn’t order it myself, it came as a recommendation from this cool guy working at the hostel, but it had everything on it. I’m talking, the works, but to get the trend started right, and prepare you for what is to come, let me just say… I don’t have a picture of it. (You can find one online.)
Generally when we say burger in the USA we mean a patty, whether fresh or frozen, factory processed or hand patted, by default our hamburger is beef. We tend to specify if it is a turkey burger or a veggie burger. But I never expected or could have imagined that I would sample and enjoy some of the other burgers I tried.
In Finland, I had my very first Moose burger. I had never even laid eyes on one of these majestic animals until that very day. We set out on a quest to spot one, cruising slowly around the countryside, just as the evening sky became dusky. It actually never got totally dark, because it was just after the longest day of the year (Finland is known for its mid summer’s night parties which commemorate this event). When we finally did come upon a moose, I was in awe as I watched it gracefully maneuver around a big field.
Shortly thereafter we returned to the house for dinner. As much as I loved seeing the Moose, I also enjoyed eating it. Not that animal specifically, but a moose nonetheless. Yeah, I ate it, and I dare say that it was one of the best burgers I have ever had. I will of course give credit to the chef, Mats did a great job with his special sauce! But more than that, he had shared his culture, sights and lifestyle with me at his table. His family and I talked about life and we ate and drank until we were satisfied in every way. Even though his Dad didn’t speak English, he cheerfully shared in the conversation with his son and my friend Tommy as the translators.
In Morocco I ate several memorable meals. One of which was a camel burger, the third on my burger list. Unfortunately I did not get any pictures of that delight either, but suffice to say that as strange as it might sound to the average western ear, it was absolutely delish! I loved it! It wasn’t too wild tasting or off putting in any way. Now of course that may have had something to do with the spice blend used and the skills of the person hooking it up in the kitchen, but it was definitely something I would eat again and again.
I did however, take pictures of two other dishes that I ate during my time in Fez and Marrakesh. These were common to the region, but very new to me. Tagines can have meat or be just veg and are usually served with the fluffiest couscous imaginable. By the end of my time in Morocco, I had overdone it with tagines, so I will not likely have another until I visit again. But I enjoyed them immensely and appreciate the skills needed to obtain mastery of this style of traditional cooking.
Now Pastillas are these pastry filled pockets of meat and ground almonds combined with a host of spices and herbs, then topped off with cinnamon and confectioners sugar. That last part took me by surprise, but the savory and sweet notes worked so well together. Initially I didn’t know if it was dessert or a main dish, but it definitely looked as good as it tasted. If it weren’t as labor intensive, as I’m pretty sure it is, I would make these at home. This is definitely the Moroccan version of soul food!
I enjoyed the best steak dinner I’ve ever had my first time in Paris. I wish I had taken a picture, but my friend and I were far too busy chomping on the most amazing french bread that accompanied the meal. To be perfetly honest, we were in awe of our presence in France. It was such a long way from Brooklyn and were just so grateful to be having this experience just off the Champs- Élysées. After a long day of shopping and sightseeing, capturing the food porn moment was the last thing on our minds, but that meal remains embedded in our hearts and minds. It was an accomplishment made that much better by the phenomenal food.
This is going to sound a bit cliche, but the best pizza I have ever tasted was made at a little known restaurant in Rome. Yeah, one might expect, a find such as this in Italy, but not really. In Sorrento there was pasta that had my sister over the moon. In Naples the traditional pizza was really good, better than most. But as a New Yorker, I love our pizza best, especially the crust. So for me to say that my favorite pizza didn’t come from Ray’s in the village is almost blasphemous.
So this culinary creation found on a side street a few blocks away from my hostel, had to be the TRUTH! It had a really unique mix of ingredients. I’m talking, hard boiled eggs, artichokes, mushrooms, prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, olives and things I can’t recollect. I don’t even know why I ordered it, but I am so glad that I did. It changed my thinking with regards to what constitutes an appropriate topping . And let’s not get started on the crust… OMG! It was light and slightly chewy. The sauce was robust and fresh. This thing was freaking amazing and I can believe I ate the whole thing!
I was already a die hard fan of sushi before I started traveling, so it made sense that I gravitated toward everything seafood. While in Pimentel, Peru I became a ceviche lover. Daily, the local fisherman go out in these ancient styled boats called Caballitos de Totoras and come back with fresh catch which is then sold right there on the beach. Peruvians in this region are proud of their dishes, especially ceviche, and now I know why.
Usually I would go to the local mercado cevicheria and sit down at the counter for a plate of freshly marinated ceviche made with chunks of pescado de tollo (shark), lime juices, aji peppers and thinly sliced red onions. served with a papa relleno (a potato ball filled with seasoned meat) or fried tortita de choclo (like a corn fritter). For a mere 5 Soles (less than $2) I would feast like the queen of seafood I am. Sometimes, I even ordered two portions, if it was one of those days where I needed a bit of extra yum (translation- American “oversized” portion).
In Guayaquil Ecuador, I relied on my amigos to guide me toward the best of the best. They steered me straight toward the greats. One day it was Fritada Criolla, which can be described as meat, meat and more meat. This place on Esmereldas and Alcedo called La Preferida has been around for more than 40 years and for good reason, Doña Elena is a master. Pork marinated, fried, roasted… straight deliciousness on a plate, served up with sweet plantains, crunchy chifles and other starchy sides.
This type of indulgence is not for the weight conscious or faint of heart folks, nope, only for the real deal carnivores. In this very well known neighborhood eatery, we got it in, ate it up and washed it down with local cerveza. I was told that this wasn’t a place for tourists, because it was a bit dangerous, but I felt right at home and among friends as I feasted. I felt like I had been let in on a secret, and I’m oh so glad.
The next day, I ate encebollado for the very first time one late night in Guayaquil. It is a hearty fish soup topped with chifles (plantain chips) that is a favorite of area club goers. The only thing I know is that it was off the hook satisfying and delicious and I was at the street vendor on several occasions during my one week stay. It only cost about $2 but it was a full fledged dinner. Sorry I have no pics of that either.
Another tasty and memorable meal came from a local restaurant and was a simple garlicky shrimp dish served with rice, salad and avocado. My hosts basically read my mind and each whim that was telepathically conveyed, seemed to miraculously appear before me. Pretty much everything I had from sun up to sun down was pure deliciousness. It was like my amigos had my good time and best interests covered and I thank them.
Even though I ate many delicious dishes during a few years of travel. The dish that still reigns supreme in my heart is a dish I ordered by accident. It was the first days of my visit to Lisbon and I spoke no Portuguese so I would randomly pick stuff off the menu, just because I liked the combination of letters. I was always pleasantly surprised by the delectable offerings. Who knew I would come to love Bacalhau (salted cod), but I did.
It is a staple in many traditional kitchens and I was fortunate enough to feast at family tables and in restaurants on my absolute favorite food find to date. I’m not sure if my ultimate love is reserved for Portugal because of the beauty of its beaches, the kindness of its people or the gastronomic treasures created in their kitchens. Maybe it’s a combination of everything but this dish of Bacalhau a Gomes de Sa definitely put them over the top.
On a final note, I would have to say that the strangest things I ate, which no one could have told me that I would try were Cuy (like a guinea pig) and Horse sausage. For different reasons, I had to dig down deep to sample these very popular dishes. In Peru it is quite common to have Cuy for Sunday dinner, honestly it isn’t much meat, and it looks like a giant rat that has been slow roasted. As they say, “tastes like chicken”. I love horses so it was hard for me to imagine eating horse meat products, but in Finland where I was, it is very typical, so I tried it. And it was outstanding!
Overall, the things I ate did more than sustain my body, they sustained my spirit. They carried me across miles and continents. They allowed me to get in touch with undiscovered parts of me and to become intertwined with people I might never have known. I got to learn and eat and that is the ultimate combo!
What kinds of foods have fed your soul and filled your belly along your ramble journey? Please do tell me what you think about these treats, I am interested in hearing from you!