Eat. Drink. Be Merry. Part I
file under RED, for tomatoes and pizza sauce
Aspiring travels writers are encouraged to not just write about what they see, but to use all their senses to convey to readers the places they visit. I hope to write soon about a few smells—(the tannery in Fes?)—or a few sounds—(the Ramadan drummer in Istanbul, perhaps –the fellow from a pre-electric, pre-cell phone alarm era who kept the tradition of rat-a-tat-tatting the neighborhood awake in the middle of the night so they could eat before the sun rose?)
I admit, though, generally my writings so far have been about what I saw.
It’s time for taste. In other words, what did I eat this summer?
I confess upfront that I am not a “foodie” in the contemporary meaning of the term. I like good food; I think I can tell the difference between gourmet and mediocre. But in general I’m just not fussy about what I eat. My basic ingredients for a good meal are ambiance and somebody to talk with while I’m eating. Toss in a personal need to cut back on spices, high fat and sugary things, mix with the healthy advice to generally limit overall quantities, then throw in admonitions from guidebooks, my university’s own travel guidelines – “Eat food that is piping hot and well cooked…Raw fruits and vegetables should be ones with a thick rind that you peel yourself …Avoid ice in beverages” — along with fellow travelers’ warnings about not buying from street vendors, and it becomes awfully easy to stew about what’s left to enjoy about eating overseas.
But not all the rules have to be followed. I did buy from street vendors. Cautiously. I ate spicy food. Unintentionally. And I couldn’t keep from ordering salads. It’s what I eat when it’s hot. Oh, and like my fellow voyagers I took in a lot of gelato this summer. Plus ice cream and the occasional Magnum bar. (Magnums were recently introduced stateside; the online store locater tells me I can find three-packs of these decadent European ice creams-on-a-stick at my local Harris Teeter stores.)
The culinary adventures began with conch salad in the Bahamas, along Potters Cay just east of downtown Nassau, an exceptionally fresh treat (Rebecca and I watched George make it) and only improved by a lunchtime Kalik beer and a view of the Explorer; dessert was the stories told by conch sellers all along the stretch of small shops under the bridge leading to Paradise Island.
In Spain, the tapas at Bilbao Berria surpassed expectations, both in taste and attractiveness. Maybe also in price, but Barcelona was our first port, plus we split the tab among four of us, and I didn’t notice. Paella reigned as the dinner of choice the next night, but my food memories from Spain hang most longingly on the thick hot chocolate and churros I ordered more than once at mid-morning. Spanish hot chocolate defies the physics that suggest a drink has to be a liquid.
Italy this summer was mostly about pizza. Pizza Margarita. (See “Painting the Town…”) Pizza in Rome. Pizza in Civitevecchia. Pizza made for delicious window shopping. But for that matter, so did baked goods. Italy was about Limoncello, cappuchino and wine, too—(but my best Italian wine story will have to wait for another day, even though I did purchase it in Italy, atop Mt. Vesuvius, no less.) Grazia’s lunch time treat of taking me to the Obikà mozzarella bar in Piazza Navona wins the blue ribbon of all my lunches: the fresh mozzarella da buffalo atop platefuls of fresh summer greens and tomatoes made for one light and lovely bite after another.
Summertime in July delivered peak temperatures in Croatia and during my day trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina (try converting 44 degrees Celsius), so gelato again tops my food memories, especially the pistachio scoops I ordered from Poklisar’s outdoor stand near the Dubrovnik harbor. My “Tomato Salad” ordered in Medegorje just made me laugh out loud: it was simply a healthy bowl of fresh tomatoes, lightly dressed. Together with a mineral water (with “gas,” as in carbonation) it made for a fine lunch under a patio awning.
Next up was Greece, land of feta and olives. You know I ordered a Greek salad at least once. Beer and popcorn was an unexpected combo at the movie theater in Athens. Mythos and an eggplant entrée called imam topped off a nearly perfect afternoon. (See “One Day on Fantasy Island”). Mastica gelato rounded out my overnight visit to the island of Hydra. The owner explained the unusual flavor is distinctly Greek. My vanilla-looking scoop tasted subtly like allspice; the mastica flavor supposedly derives from a tree resin found on the island of Kronos.
And have I mentioned I drank a LOT of bottled water? Or that the Mediterranean in general is HOT in the summer?
I hesitate to write about the food and drink of Bulgaria for fear of getting that nauseous wave and knot of pain in my gut all over again. I think the culprit was the salad from the seaside restaurant in Varna. I had been warned not to order salad—(lettuce and fresh veggies likely having been washed in tap water) —but the long walk from the ship with friends, tree-lined streets to the left and ocean waves splashing and crashing to our right, together with the look of the fresh greens on the menu, probably combined to cause me to throw caution aside. I doubt the wrapped Nestle mango ice cream bar that I purchased the next afternoon anything to do with my discomfort, or even the ship’s box lunches on our day trip to the healing mud baths outside Nessebar—(though we all wondered about the Explorer’s habit of packing chicken legs and hard-boiled eggs, which often were stored in the bus luggage compartments for hours in the heat of the summer.)
In any event, my GI tract treated me less than kindly for the next few days. Since I had to take time off from eating during the aftermath, let me pause here, too, letting other offerings speak for themselves.
Part II will continue with more wonders of eating, but in Turkey and Morocco.