Waffles in Belgium have a distinct connection to the city or town in which they were developed, and many families and regions guard their recipes as precious secrets. When my Belgian grandma made waffles, drafts of warm air would billow out of the kitchen, filling the house with a delicious smell. While leading Backroads’ Holland and Belgium biking trips this past summer, I encountered this familiar sweet scent in the Belgian city of Bruges. It instantly kicked my senses into a frenzy, renewing my love of waffles.
Nutella is the mass-produced version of something much more sophisticated: gianduia chocolate hazelnut spread from Piedmont, Italy. Yes, the land of Langhe and Roero vines is also pretty famous for its hazelnuts.
The Spanish love their ham. I just never realized the profoundness of their devotion until I first stepped into a local cervecería (bar). To say I was astounded by what I found would be an understatement. The sheer volume of pig legs hanging from the walls and ceiling… the bar sported more pork parts than pints!
Much like the US, Thailand has dramatically changed the way it grows food with the introduction of modern agricultural practices. And in northern Thailand, there’s a huge movement to go back to small, organic and sustainable farming. There’s a local farmer leading the Thai food revolution–Jon Jandai.
Before heading out to lead Backroads trips in Italy, I had already gathered that Italians have an ongoing love affair with olive oil. However, I was almost completely ignorant of the pepper to this salt: balsamic vinegar. “Italian dressing” in my household was a mix of spices shaken with olive oil and white vinegar–no balsamic included–and I wouldn’t consider putting the bitter stuff on ice cream. Not even in my dreams would I suppose that some balsamic vinegars cost hundreds of dollars for just a few ounces. I had a lot to learn.
Imagine a fruit so creamy it might be considered a part of the custard family. And so key to survival that it might be grouped with the apple. And there you have my favorite fruit, the cherimoya. I’ve loved cherimoya since I first laid taste buds on it in Costa Rica in November of 2005 (yes, I remember the date-this fruit is that impactful). I drank it in batidos (delicious Costa Rican fruit smoothies), I ate it fresh from the market and I made sure that it took part in every picnic I prepared. You might say I was obsessed.
The punctually repetitious ezan (Islamic call to prayer) will forever ring distinctly in my ears–that shrill wailing cry echoing from loudspeakers perched on minarets towering above nearly every town throughout Turkey. And never will I forget the hospitality that I experienced during my six weeks of cycling from the rocky eastern Black Sea coast, through the historic hills and caves of central Anatolia, and along the rugged sun-drenched Mediterranean coast before eventually turning north to Istanbul–the geopolitical gateway between Europe and Asia.
For me, the last few years have been nomadic to say the least, as I have lingered in no particular place longer than a month or two at a time. And the few phrases that I know in various Asian languages scarcely afford the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation. So, while traveling I choose to experience a culture in a different manner. I choose to experience a place through its cuisine. And that’s exactly what I did in Vietnam.
If you’re lucky enough to visit Italy, then you undoubtedly need to experience one of Italy’s great initiatives, agriturismos. If you’re lucky enough to travel to Italy with Backroads, we’ll take you there. For lunch! Agriturismos are farms with lodging for travelers.
I could see the distant glimmer of the hot coals pulsing red under the Dutch oven, stained black from ash. Apple cobbler was bubbling through the seams of the cast iron pot and its sweet smell lingered in the air, taunting hungry bystanders. I admired the flavor of the familiar atmosphere…