Flashback Friday: Travel Meals Worth Photographing

I have many travel memories tied up with fabulous food. I love finding fabulous unknown flavours and tastes but I am not a "Foodie". I have savoured take-out. I have wallowed in epicurean delights. I take pleasure in visiting local grocery stores to discover new treats. I don't devote a significant chunk of my budget for meals because I know that I can enjoy street food with as much enthusiasm as fine dining. While many of these meals were worthy of my time, a few were appreciated enough that I decided to memorialize them in photos. This week's Flashback is all about those meals.


The first featured meal is this amazing breakfast spread prepared in a Saharan Berber village, after watching the sunrise over the Atlas Mountains while floating in a hot air balloon. Yes, the entire experience was amazing, probably even more amazing than you can imagine. Less amazing, however, was the swarm of wasps that really wanted honey, fruit, and crepes. The primitive splash bucket squat-style toilet facilities available in the village were a trifle disconcerting to some of the other travellers... but we shan't discuss that part.


Casual Dining for Budget Travels

Most of my meals whether I'm home or away tend to be fairly casual style foods with a focus on fresh, flavourful, and inexpensive foods. When I'm meandering around, I really appreciate take-out or picnic style foods.


My all time favourite take-away is the Pret A Manger chain. This international sandwich shop will soon be coming to Canada, and I can't wait for it to appear in my neighbourhood. In the meantime, anytime I am anywhere near a Pret, I will go in. My personal favourite is the Posh Cheese Sandwich and I'm very fond of their Italian Chicken salad, too.


Yummmm, Pret Picnics are the best.


I love Irish pubs. A traveller is guaranteed a warm welcome and some hearty food accompanied by a good beer. When I've been travelling for a while, that's exactly what I'm looking forward. My British roots demand I find a good cup of tea, familiar food and a comfortable place to rest my feet. These havens are not only in Ireland, thankfully they can be found the whole world over.

Paddy's Irish Pub is located in the Plaza de Armas in Cusco and bills itself as the highest Irish pub in the world. I'm not sure that anyone has ever checked, but it's a fine place to stop and enjoy some traditional Irish guacamole and chips. ;)


National/Regional Foods


I think it's important to try out the foods that an area is known for when visiting, but I'm also a bit squeamish. There are foods that are outside my experience and I'm happy to keep them there but there are other dishes that are very appealing. The problem, however, is knowing whether the quality is good enough for the locals or if it is tourist fare. If I am going to eat something that I'm already kinda iffy about, I want to be sure it's a good example to judge. I try to find restaurants that cater to the locals and don't provide tourist menus.

There aree many restaurants and bars located in the central Varvakeios Market of Athens, a busy market in the shadow of the ancient Acropolis. Just a few blocks away, however, is a more residential and business area where locals tend to eat. The quality of the fare tends to be better and more authentic. Greek meals tend to be generous and served family-style with shared salads, breads and dips. Patrons are expected to linger over each course. We learned to inquire about the daily specials.

The national dish of Morocco is tajine, a rich slow-cooked stew served over couscous. During our time in Morocco, our ryad offered a daily tajine dinner featuring a different combination of flavours. We enjoyed the tastes so much that we visited a spice seller and created a blend of spices to make tajine at home. I'm almost out, so I think it's time to return for more spice. On my next visit, I need to buy a tajine pot in the medina, too.

As a good Canadian, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the famous Seafood Chowders found all around the Atlantic provinces. Some are cream-based, others have a vegetable broth but all include a generous amount of seasonal fish and shellfish with potato and vegetable, usually served with a generous "bap" (bread roll) or slice of oat or potato bread.


Chowder is great but in the Atlantic provinces, you really have to have lobster.

A traditional lobster dinner includes a whole steamed lobster, a small bowl of potato salad, lemons, and melted butter. Every diner is given a bib, utensils for cracking and pulling the meat, and a pile of serviettes. There are few thing as satisfying and totally messy as a lobster dinner. Pro-tip: bring along some wet wipes and wear stretchy trousers!

Paella is a rice dish, originally from Valencia, Spain that traditionally includes rice, saffron, meat, seafood, and vegetables all cooked together in a shallow pan. Highly prized is the crispy socarrat bottom of caramelized rice. Paella is often made in huge pans in marketplace kiosks. Patrons can sit right beside the pan with their own fork or spoon and tuck right in. Those with short lunch breaks may buy by the scoopful to take with them back to the office.


Many restaurants will offer paella for two or single servings. The most authentic paella won't begin preparation until after ordering, and generally takes 45 - 60 minutes to prepare. Order some sangria to enjoy while you wait.


Road Trip Food


I really like road trip food. I'm not talking about American-style drive-through fast food where everything is made in a large facility and shipped frozen to storefronts to prepare. I'm talking about freshly-prepared food that I can buy from roadside kiosks, carts, and food trucks. My two favourite Canadian road trip food is poutine and anything from a chip truck. Literally anything, except hot dogs. I don't eat hot dogs. (blech)

Basic poutine is french fries covered with cheese curds melted by hot gravy. Authentic poutine can not be bought in restaurants or even kiosks. It is found in community hockey rinks all over Quebec. That poutine is cooked in conditions with suspicious hygiene using old grease and covered in perpetual gravy. It's so good.


Poutine is peasant food but some fancy chefs have tried to gentrify it by adding all sorts of unnecessary extras. This is a mistake. When you can't find hockey rink poutine, and you seem surrounded by chef-created poutines, walk away. Find one of the many Poutine Festivals that are ubiquitous throughout Quebec and tuck in.

Chip (french fries) trucks have been a part of many Canadian road trips for decades -- long before the food trucks became trendy. Older chip trucks specialized. They only cooked chips. More modern operations may have added hot dogs or burgers. Whatever the menu offers, it will be simple, well-prepared, and inexpensive. Condiments offered will be vinegar, salt & pepper, and ketchup. Go to a food truck for fancier, more expensive fare. Chip trucks generally park next to highways, often in rest stops. There may or may not be any seating, so be prepared to eat in the car, at a scratchy picnic table, or whilst leaning up against a tree.


Seafood


I live in a fishing village. I can buy fresh seafood right from the fisher steps from my door, so I am pretty fussy about the quality of my seafood. When I travel in coastal communities, especially those with an active fishing industry, I make a point of enjoying local preparations.

Every bar and restaurant menu in the small town of Paracas featured much seafood with an abundance of dishes featuring local scallops. This "appetizer(!!!)" plate of Scallops 3 Ways was well-enjoyed while sitting beachside and watching the sun set over the Pacific.

On the final night of the G-Adventures Classic Costa Rica tour, we ate at La Bodega del Medio, a local Cuban restaurant. A visual highlight was this amazing Pineapple-Shrimp Flambé. The restaurant encourages patrons to leave their signatures on the wall and are provided with markers at the end of the meal.

The favourite meal in Peru is ceviche. It typically consists of raw fish cured in citrus (usually lime) juice. Other additions include chilli, coriander/cilantro, onion and other flavourings. This was another rather large "appetizer" that I ate at overlooking the oasis lagoon in Huacachina. It was fresh and beautifully prepared and presented. Not a favourite.


Shared/Snacks


The Mediterranean countries really work well for my preferred style of eating with their tradition of shared snacks and small plates. Each region has their own particular style or flavours and it's best to try all the different ones offered.

In Italy, small side snacks are known as cicchetti. In Spain small plates are known as tapas and in Portugal, the word is petiscos. Tapas can be hot or cold, fresh or fried, Most tapas is finger food with many varieties served on bread. All tapas are expected to be consumed with a drink (or three). In Malaga, the tapas tended to be fried foods. In Vallencia, many were more cream cheese-based. Small plates are a great way to sample different flavours without overeating.

The culture of providing a small snack with drinks is pervasive and always much appreciated. Because evening meals tend to be served much later in the evening and the tradition of afternoon closings, it can be difficult to find restaurants open in the late afternoon. After a full day of exploring and sightseeing, a late afternoon aperitif is always a much appreciated part of the day. From pickled beans in Lisbon, to corn nuts in Faro or olives and bread in Naxos, these little snacks always help tide over the hunger until dinner time.


For those of us with small appetites these snacks can often be generous enough to form a small meal... always a bonus for the budget.

Cooking Classes

An absolute favourite thing to do on my travels is to join a cooking class. I like to expand my cooking repertoire to share part of my travels with friends and family.


In a winery in the hills above Florence, Mady and I enjoyed a pizza and gelato class. The dough-making method was so simple and tasty that I have not bought a pizza since yet I have increased my pizza consumption a dozen times over!


My favourite cooking class was in Athens. The class consisted of just Mady and I, so we had an incredible private lesson with young chef, Stam. We were coached into making a full Greek meal, including papousakia, spanakopita (complete with the phyllo pastry), tzatziki, and two different desserts. After creating all this marvellous food, we ate it on a private balcony with a stunning view of the Acropolis. Added fun was the crowded restaurant balcony across the way filled with young folks trying to figure out who we were and why we deserved such luxury.


I made this...

... and ate it here!







Fancy Foods

I don't often spend my budget on gastronomical experiences but I am willing to shell out a few extra bucks for a special treat. Since I tend to travel for longer periods of time, I have been lucky to visit many excellent restaurants around the world and have enjoyed some spectacular meals. I have, however, failed to photograph most of them. I become so focused on getting that delicious looking and smelling food into my mouth that all thoughts of photography disappear until I am looking at the empty plate.


One of these spectacular (and pricey) meals I enjoyed was while on the Napa Valley Wine Train. It was a full 3 course meal with incredibly fresh vegetables and tender juicy beef. I was secretly pleased to be alone so I could just savour every bite while watching the pretty scenery out the window as the train slowly made its way down the valley.

I've twice enjoyed meals at Babazuf in Siena, Italy. On our first visit to Siena, the hostess recommended it as a top quality farm-to-table meal. We enjoyed it so much that we made a point of returning on our next visit several years later. It was just as good the second time as the first. For those on Camino walks, Babazuf offers a hearty and delicious 10 Euro pilgrim's meal.


Amongst all these amazing memories, one meal really stands out


...this humble cake baked .....

...by this team of Amazon Wildlife Peru cooks ...




... in this kitchen at the Rainforest Lodge in Manu National Park.

The Lodge provides the space, the counters, and a draining sink. All food, stoves, supplies, utensils, fuel, pots and pans are brought in by each tour group. These men were absolutely awesome, in the true sense of the word. That cake is a work of art.



 

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