Possibly my biggest joy discovered through travel (yes, even better than the people and the sights) is the wonderful food that can be found.
Living in Melbourne leaves us in a fortunate position, as it truly is a city of global cuisines (inside a few kilometres of home I have great Vietnamese, Hungarian, Indian, Thai, Italian, Nepalese, Japanese, Taiwanese, Burmese, Mexican, Lebanese, Ethiopian, French, Chinese… I guess I’ve made my point) and almost anything you could want, can be had.
The fact that when we travel, we walk so much is surely a saving grace, as did we not, I’m sure my waistline would be growing even faster than at its current rate!
My first great food (travel) memories/experiences unsurprisingly come from my first ever trip abroad (and the first country of said trip, Thailand).
Here was a country that looked, smelled, and most importantly tasted, both fresh, vibrant and exotic.
One of our favourite things to do remains a visit to the local market and here is where it was first met head on. The splashes of colour, unfamiliar fruits and vegetables (any many forms of meat & seafood, most of it still moving) all conspire to make these places such a magical experience.
And on the sides of the road (and also often in the middle of said road) were sold the most delectable sweet treat I’m yet to find bettered. The Banana Pancake or Banana Roti.
Not your traditional western pancake, this fine thin dough would be rolled out flat and gently fried, a mound of sliced banana placed on top, before the sides would be folded closed creating a parcel (some opt for other sweet fillings such as Nutella, but I’m a traditionalist here).
Once the frying is complete, condensed milk would be drizzled atop, and sugar granules liberally sprinkled.
This decadent treat remains my most missed Thai food, and a small Muslim vendor who sold them downtown for a steal at 10 Baht (about 30 cents) made the best ones we would find on our whole trip.
Croatia served up an unexpected gem in Zagreb. Let me explain the situation a little.
Our recent travel jaunt was in the midst of one of the hottest European summers in many a year, so it was not the most conducive situation to tucking into hearty fare (why eat, when with the heat a beer and/or gelato is much more preferable).
Still, one has got to eat, and at the end of our first day in Zagreb, we found ourselves alone in a local restaurant.
I don’t just mean we had a nice little corner to ourselves. We were seriously the only customers, and this was the middle of the summer tourism season (apparently most people head to the beach).
Rather than order ourselves, we put our fates in our waiters hands, and he eventually returned with a surprising little gem, roasted pork with an apple and prune sauce (with a cabbage salad and plenty of beer on the side).
This is the sort of local discovery we love!
This heat followed us all over Europe, and we’d often find ourselves indulging in only one large meal for the day (either a lunch or dinner) and getting by on beer and water as a substitute for the other.
The town of Český Krumlov found us again sipping an amber ale, this time on the banks of the Vltava River indulging in a Bohemian Rabbit Feast.
As you can see from its size, it was certainly filling, but I tell you what, it was also incredibly tasty.
To be able to sit in the shade of an umbrella, eat beautiful food, sip on a beer, and watch people boat down the river, really was a joy!
With Hungarian blood in my veins, it is not surprising that some of their food enters this discussion, and this dish is another that we’ve added to our own cooking repertoire at home (and we didn’t even participate in a cooking school this time), Paprikás Csirke.
As you would expect, being Hungarian it would be unnatural for it not to include loads of Paprika (and plenty of sour cream).
This has become such a favourite, we’ve even taken to making our own Nokedli (dumpling like pasta) to complement the dish. Again, it was washed down with some delicious Hungarian beer, Dreher.
There are some foods that seem a cliché (like having Bolognaise in Bologna… not that I’ve been to Italy) and in the Austrian capital we came face to face with a couple of those.
Easily the most famous of the two, Wiener Schnitzel is ultimately a simple dish, but sitting there with a half litre of beer to wash it down, with its fried crumb coating, it was incredibly filling and damn tasty!
I will confess, I’d heard of the Sasher Torte, but in reality had little real concept of what this sweet treat bearing the hotel Sasher’s name truly was: A chocolate cake with a thin layer of jam sandwiched in the middle.
We sat (it was a glorious Summers evening), we ordered, we ate… I was underwhelmed.
I’ve eaten many cakes in my time, and this was fairly anti-climactic. It wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t great.
In trying to embrace new experiences, there are times when you can really find yourself challenged.
Perched on a squat, four legged plastic chair in Hanoi’s Old Quarter we found ourselves surrounded by local Vietnamese enjoying some Bia Hoi.
Chatting with new found friends (one of them worked for Vietnam Airlines and spoke decent English) we were offered some of the food they were all busy sharing.
In this case, barbecued dog.
Being polite, we both took some (Sarah’s was not long in her mouth before she was forced to spit it out or risk vomiting) and tucked in.
It’s taste was not unpleasant, but the overriding memory of it is both tough and chewy (the skin seemed really thick).
I got it down without too much difficulty, but wasn’t rushing back for seconds!
It’s not all been bargain basement fare from street stalls and homely eateries.
As a real indulgence, we tucked into lunch at Heston Blumenthal’s ‘The Fat Duck’, to date, the only time I have eaten in a Michelin Star establishment (in this case, 3 Michelin Stars).
If you’re unfamiliar with Heston, he’s world renowned for his crazy interpretations of food, and there is a certain theatre to his meals.
With dishes such as Snail Porridge, the Sounds of the Sea (a seafood dish, complete with edible sand, eaten whilst you listen to an iPod with sounds of the ocean), Hot & Cold Tea (as you drink it, half your mouth is hot, the other cold) and many others… anyway, you get the idea.
It really was an experience, and although not cheap, we certainly were not left hungry as something close to thirteen or fourteen courses were sent our way.
But anyway, after indulging in many dishes, I’m sure you’re wondering what have been our favourites?
Surprisingly, they are both soups, separated by close to 11,000km’s.
When visiting family in the southern Hungarian city of Szeged, we were treated to the wonderful Szeged Halászlé (Szeged Fish Soup).
Big chunks of fleshy fish, in a spicy paprika coloured broth (which could be made even spicier to personal taste with liberal servings of fresh, hot paprika), I managed to squeeze in 2 and a half serves, and it was just there as an entree!
And the other at the top of the list? Vietnamese Phở Ba, so versatile a dish that it can be eaten as breakfast, lunch or dinner (and hit the streets, and you should have little difficulty finding it).
The fact that this same dish can also be so different, yet remain so tasty at opposite ends of the country (the south love to garnish it with bean sprouts and a wider array of herbs, whilst in the north it is a little more spartan). It was closely fought by another tasty soup from the middle of the country, Bún bò Huế (a soup that is sweet, salty, spicy and sour, all at the same time)
The more we travel, the more interesting this collection of food memories will become, and for that reason I can not wait to regale you in the future, with experiences that are still to come…