I recently read an online travel article wherein two correspondents rated the indigenous cuisines of “the 48 countries” of Europe (they obviously were not using the TCC Approved List or they’d have had more to consider!).
The “usual suspects” were at the top and bottom of the list with Italy edging out France for the number one spot while the Vatican City (too few choices) was at the bottom followed by places people don’t visit to dine.
Most of us have probably been in such a situation where there were too few choices while traveling. Either a late-night arrival, too little time between trains, or the un-translated signage in some distant land forced us to point to a cold slice of pizza. Pizza? Maybe that’s another reason Italian fare ranks at the top … you can always find it nearly anywhere!
Still, the criterion for this admittedly subjective survey was cuisine indigenous to that country – not simply the availability of ravioli in Ireland or fish and chips in Israel or paella in India.
This got me to pondering on the proverbial question (whether at home or on the road): do we eat to live or live to eat? I know of folks who have traveled to exotic and gastronomicallyfascinating places only to feast on fast food, microwaved pizza (there we go again!) and prewrapped sandwiches. Meanwhile the entire culinary bounty of that land was available just a short walk away!
To some of our more adventure-travel members, anything to keep one alive in the wild is probably good enough. Many of the bottom-ranked countries were low-lighted by their blood sausages, jellied meats and salty, starchy fare, but facing the choice between those meals and grub worms, beggars can’t be choosers.
Nonetheless, if given the opportunity, I would think ignoring a nation’s famed food would be akin to traveling to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower or Cairo and missing the Pyramids or Siem Reap and not quite having enough time for Angkor Wat.
The food and drink of a nation is, like its architecture and music, a reflection of its culture. I must admit to have been forced (usually by time constraints) to pass beneath the ubiquitous Golden Arches in Augsburg, Avignon and Milan, among other culinary capitals, but can at least take solace in the satisfaction that Augsburg served great local beer, Avignon offered superb espresso andMilan had an extensive gourmet pastry counter and an incredible second-story window view of the majestic gothic Duomo.
On the other hand (or fork), I much prefer recalling a mouth-watering, spicy Thai buffet (accompanied by a classical dance show) on the humid banks of Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River, an after-dinner Calvados on a chilly night in the apple-rich Normandy town of Caen, an outdoor dinner of spaghetti with chopped goat meat in Mogadishu (combining the Somali and Italian cooking heritages of that land), a glass of smooth, silky Carmenère from Chile’s excellent vineyards, an assortment of tapas along the serpentine streets of Barcelona’s Barri Gòtic, a refreshing glass of jugo de sandia (watermelon juice) in the eternal spring of Guatemala City, a steaming bowl of pho for breakfast in Old Saigon, an introduction to an icy caipirinha on Rio’s Copacabana Beach, a surprisingly tasty grilled antelope in Nairobi, a pint of draught Guinness methodically tapped from a keg in a rural Irish pub (relieving a hitchhiker’s eternal wait), and a warm Navajo fry bread taco amidst a summer thunderstorm in New Mexico.
Each of these memories evokes both the delight of that food and drink, its historic or geographic setting, the weather, the company of friends and locals, the sights, sounds and smells, the tales a traveler tells of even reaching those places and the reminder, for many of us, of the intrinsic pleasure these savory experiences provide.
Hopefully this has rekindled a culinary memory or two for you as well. But all this has made me very hungry … so, what’s for dinner tonight? Pizza?