A food stand at the famous Marakesh Djemma el-fina marketplace. (iStock)
There are so many sites, cities, villages, countries that awaits your pleasure on your very first trip abroad. This is the easy part; the difficult ingredient hasn’t been considered. You’ve arrived and you’re hungry. Are you ready for a taco, some dolmas or (Asian dish) But, your inner cravings and familiarity say “hamburger, Prime rib with baked potato” “or multi-top pizza,” writes our travel editor Al Auger.
Ah, but here you are in the exotic city of Fez, Morocco and such back-home delights simply do not exist here. But there is always a story accompanying the local taste treats. So, join us as our new friend, Danielle, invites us to a restaurant in the exotic Medina (old town) and a savory bowl of couscous. Thought to be a creation of the nomadic Berbers and dates far back as 238 BC, it is the national dish of North Africa. Once made of millet, the modern dish is made from wheat. couscous is served topped by a rich, steamy stew.
Up front the owner sat at the dais with his abacus and ledger smoking a long, thin clay pipe that emanated a heavy blue, sweet-smelling smoke. The large dish couscous and tangy stew were delicious and quite filling. All of a sudden Danielle broke off her description of the Medina and said, pointing to the front, “Watch this.”
A very large policeman had just walked in and was talking to the owner. It seemed a mostly casual conversation when the policeman reached out for the pipe and broke it in half and threw it on cement floor. With that, he strode out to the cluttered street. The owner stood up and disappeared for a moment before returning with a new pipe. Sitting back at his dais, he refilled the new pipe that once again filled the room with the sweet, blue smoke. “What was that,” my bemused companion asked. “That,” a smiling Danielle explained, “was a drug bust.”
How to drive your mother-in-law bonkers and enjoy your favorite ethnic foods. In this instance, it was my complete and inescapable addiction to English fish and chips. Actually, it all began some years ago with the discovery of the “Edinburgh Castle,” a then unique pub in San Francisco. Fish and chips from their nearby shop delivered in the traditional newspaper cone and a draught of Guinness.
My wife, her mother and I began our excursion from London, spending the next six weeks rambling through York, Edinburgh, dancing on Hadrian’s Wall (see Siliconeer June 2010), Glasgow, the Lake Country, Stonehenge and back to London. This wonderful trip of exploration was a heaven-sent glory of stops at just about every roadside purveyor of fish and chips that seemed pop-up every few miles. All that said of her aversion to the legendary British fast food, my mother-in-law was a model of patience and fortitude.
There’s an argument whether such obsessive desire is addiction or simply an inner appreciation of a more unique nosh. This idea was dramatically expressed while skiing in the fabled mountains of Switzerland where I discovered the pleasures of Raclette.
Medieval writings about raclette have been found dating back to 1291 and is a staple in the Germanic region Switzerland and parts of France. A special cheese, it is heated then scraped onto a small plate accompanied by small potatoes, gherkin pickles and pickled onions. You’re right if you have uncovered the similarity to dipping into Fondue.
Needless to say, I became a slavish lover of this entrancing dish. Especially when we discovered a pub that featured an “All You Can Eat” raclette for a nominal fee. A wonderful way to relax after a long day on the slopes joined by a tall Swiss ale. And everywhere in this winter wonderland there will always be the street vendor plying his warm, aromatic newspaper cone of chestnuts.
Throughout Europe, the street vendor is ubiquitous. German peddlers can be heard announcing their delectable hot, fat duo Wurst mit brot (bratwurst and bread). Every morning, waking up in Amsterdam and relishing our pension-keeper’s voluminous breakfast, I find my vendor’s after-treat of herring and pickle washed down with a Heinekins smooth brew.
There is so much to love about the foods of Spain, it’s best to give a quick tour to articulate the best of the many treats. But, there’s always a tasty twist to most. For instance, stop in a local pub for a cerveza an afternoon “siesta” and you will garner a small dish of Manzanilla olives. The best-known dish of Spain is the Tapa. With a full-bodied Spanish sherry, you have your choice of small dishes of appetizers such as shell fish, jamon (ham), baby squid and much more.
The mention of sherry brings back the joy of bringing an empty bottle to a neighborhood bodega and filling it with one of Spain’s famed sherries at very affordable prices. Another joy is the dinner, normally around 10 o’clock in the evening. Escape the city and visit a suburban restaurant. Not only will you find a wonderful dining experience, but be entertained by the extended families. The children off playing while the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc., gossip.
Wherever you may find yourself, in some exotic and intriguing land, there will always be the seductive street life and ambrosial local victuals and mesmerizing stories awaiting you.