Showing posts with label Culinary Journey. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Culinary Journey. Show all posts

Thursday, May 30, 2024

The Tastes of Travel

'Do they like Greek food?' I asked her, as she was pondering a trip -- with two teenagers in tow -to visit us.  Admitting that she wasn't sure, she added, 'well, your village has a Burger King, doesn't it?' 

No Burger Kings here - thankfully!

Absolutely, not! I replied, perhaps a bit too emphatically.  No Burger King! No McDonalds! No KFC! No, there is nothing with the ring of U.S. chain fast food or drink within 150 miles of us!  

Pork gyro - Greek 'fast food'

And we hope that it stays that way!  

Hamburger and chips - Greek style

You can get a burger and fries here in Agios Nikolaos, or our neighboring villages and Kalamata, but the U.S. teens wouldn't recognize them as the same food they consume from a ubiquitous fast-food drive in. Here the burger is a thick patty of ground beef, and the potatoes are not frozen but fresh cut slices; not called 'fries' but 'chips' (which we Yanks attribute to the British influence). I might add that here 'chips', as in our U.S. vernacular, 'potato chips' are 'crisps.'

We have pizza and Italian cafes in the villages, but again, it isn't what the teens would recognize as a 'U.S. pizza'.

A Greek-style 'Greek salad' aka horiatiki salad here

In the late spring, summer and early fall we have so many Greek taverna and restaurant options that we often don't get to them all in a given season.  And when we have visitors from the States, we take them to as many eateries as we can fit in during their stay so that they can have a taste of Greece.

Pork chop - Greek style

Several tavernas, cafes and eateries close for the winter, but there are always enough remaining open to keep us supplied with souvlakis, pitas, or multi-course Greek meals.  We do love Greek food!  But sometimes we are hit with a difficult to explain, 'culinary wanderlust', which leaves us dreaming about foods such as sushi, paella, grilled salmon, nachos with guacamole. . .all the things we don't have nearby. 

This year, after a nine-month stretch of no travel outside the village, we began fantasizing about our favorite non-Greek flavors and I can honestly say that as result of that, 'eating' played a big role in selecting the cruise we recently took.

The Tastes of Travel

Admittedly, in large cities throughout Europe, including Athens, one can find a vast array of cuisines from around the world. In fact, we've even found a small Hawaiian poke joint not far from Athens Syntagma Square. 

So, it was with a self-confessed foodaholic enthusiasm that we awaited what I now think of as our floating food fest, the cruise that in April took us to Italy, France, Spain and Malta. We were ready for the tastes of travel.

The Wine Experience was a great experience

Our eat-a-thon began in Rome's port town, Civitavecchia. We adore this history-laden town and prefer staying here instead of Rome prior to a cruise. The location of our hotel put us an easy walk from several wine bars. We chose the 'Wine Experience'. And what an experience it was! The small plates - bread, tomatoes, meats, cheeses, potatoes - selected by the owner to pair with the red wine we were quaffing just kept coming until we finally had to declare, Basta! (enough!). 

A berry good breakfast

You might be surprised at how common place are many of the foods for which we were lusting.  This photo represents my favorite breakfast on the ship. Fresh berries. Bowls of fresh berries!  A bit of Muesli, with a serving of strawberries and one of blueberries or blackberries was enough to brighten the start of each day.  Strawberries can be had in our area of Greece, but the season is short. Blueberries, when you can find them, are like buying gold nuggets. Blackberries are simply in scant supply. 

Steak and lobster a standard menu item -eating it on the fantail

We don't eat much Greek beef unless it is served in a slow-cooked stifado (stew) type dish. Greek beef is lean, very lean, and steaks are definitely not the Argentine or USDA type.  So, to see steak on the menu each night of the cruise was sheer delight. 

Asian specialties in the ship's Red Ginger restaurant

However, with so many cuisines to try we found ourselves eating a world of flavors that included. . .Thai satay with peanut sauce, spring rolls, sushi and sashimi. . .

Spanish tapas were temptations on shore and ship

. . .and the Spanish tapas. . .both on shore and on the ship, as we couldn't resist.

Spain's Iberico ham was sliced and sold in cones along with Manchego cheese

We felt like kids in a candy store visiting the public/municipal markets in the port cities we visited. Each offered so many temptations that it was impossible to try them all.

Civitavecchia 'market day' is every day

 And then there were the stops for cappuccinos when we simply couldn't eat anymore. There is no better way to spend a bit of time in a new city than to sip a coffee and people-watch.  One of our favorite memories stems from when we hopped a train to Nice, France and arrived too early to indulge in a Salad Nicoise as planned, so we sipped a coffee and enjoyed a Sunday morning stop at a French brasserie. 

A brasserie for a taste of France

It also seemed that temptations were tucked into window displays everywhere these two foodies looked.  While in Arles, France I found this delightful looking chocolate cat. . .it could have been mine for a mere 42 euros! But it was so cute I'd have never eaten it nor at the price would I have bought it.

French chocolate cat sat in a window display

Our cruise ended in Malta, where we spent a night before flying back to Athens. Our final food fest fling was in an Italian restaurant. The island country of Malta is less than an hour by ferry from Sicily and the Italian influence on its gastronomy is evident. Mama Mia! What a pizza we had. . .but the waiter was disappointed as he couldn't understand how we could eat only half a pizza. Here people ordered whole pizzas for themselves. 

Mama Mia what a pizza!

Our taste buds were satiated. Our travel itch had been calmed by all the new sights we'd seen. Our cravings for food favorites had been curbed. New culinary discoveries had been consumed. It was a great trip!

We've been back a few weeks and found ourselves eager to introduce our recent houseguests to the flavors of Greece again. 

Greek meze plates - an array of tastes

How about you? Do you travel seeking to try new cuisine or do you search for your old favorites? Tell us about it in an email or the comments!   Bon Appetit and Kali Orexi, until the next time. . .

Friday, February 3, 2023

Thoughts of Food ~ Food for Thought

 'Do they like Greek food?' I asked the grandmother of two teenagers who had been pondering a trip for the trio to visit us.   

Greek Kagianas (eggs) and Spitsofai (sausage)

'I don't know. Do you have a Wendy's or Jack in the Box in your village?' she replied, referring to two U.S. purveyors of fast-food, much like McDonald's.

I assured her we did not and that even the nearest McDonalds -- thankfully -- was a four-hour drive away in the heart of big city Athens.

Now, a year later, the trio has yet to come visit. I wonder if my answer had something to do with it.

Greek mezes (starter plates) offer a variety of flavors

And I still ponder that conversation. Every so often, as we sit down to some mouth-watering multi-course Greek meal at one of our local eateries, I wonder how the young guests would react to the spread before us. Then I wonder why one would come to Greece and not try the local cuisine.

While the ancient Greeks and Romans are said to have dined on locust and beetle larvae, that hasn't been a practice carried into the present day in Greece, a country that is the poster child of the Mediterranean diet with its olive oil, seafood, fresh veggies and fruits.

A meal out with friends - many dishes, many hours

In fact, that conversation made me ponder eating habits in general on both sides 'of the pond'. I went in search of eating habits on Google and one of the first things I learned is that about two billion people eat insects daily and more than 1,000 species of insects are known to be eaten in 80% of the countries worldwide. I can assure you I've never seen an insect in food served here - not even by accident! 

Other quirky eating behaviors that my Google search revealed were:

* Several sources claim that most Americans eat fast food -- defined as mass produced food for commercial resale -- of the McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken type between 1 - 3 times a week.

KFC Extra crispy chicken breast 510 calories

* Europeans eat on average less than one tablespoon of peanut butter per year as the product quality can vary, it can be difficult to find, and as I can attest, it is expensive when compared to U.S. peanut butter. On the other hand, shelves are stocked with Nutella, a reasonably priced sweetened hazelnut cocoa spread used on everything from toast to crepes. 

Nutella - a popular spread

* Americans eat larger portions and consume what they eat more rapidly than do those in Europe. We've found the opposite on portion sizes in Greece and usually have plenty of take-home at the end of a meal. As for speed of dining, I have to admit that it did take some getting used to the two- and three-hour meals here, but once used to it, we find it rather pleasant.

Greek 'chips' plentiful and fresh and not served with ketchup.

*The farm-to-table concept is alive and well in Europe. Even a hamburger and fries ('chips', as we call them here) will look and taste different than those in the States as the potatoes used are fresh, not frozen.  And the potatoes really are farm fresh as evidenced by the produce section of our local supermarket where they are displayed with moist mud still caked on their skins.

Fresh picked - the mud hasn't dried yet.

Thoughts on Food

Most of our visitors have been delighted to try local foods. I purposely wrote that 'local foods' because we aren't limited to just Greek dishes here anymore.  Our area's culinary vibes have definitely been changing in the last couple years. You might be surprised at the variety of food offered either in, or near, our small Greek fishing village in the southwestern Peloponnese these days:

Pizza Manina's pizza rivals that we've had in Italy

Take pizza for instance. We have at least one place in each of the villages (Kardamyli, Stoupa and Agios Nikolaos) that make and serve pizza. Now it may not look or taste like that pizza you get 'back home' but it certainly reminds us of pizzas we have had in Italy. The photo above was taken at a place in Kardamyli.  The pizza on the right is made with fresh Burano cheese, basil and fresh tomato sauce. 

The 1866 Burger is hard to beat

We can also get hamburgers at several places now - but they were a bit scarce back in 2014 when we bought the house. Again, they won't be like your favorite 'back home', as nothing is ever exactly the same. However, we've found our favorites and they are mighty tasty despite being served without mayo, mustard and ketchup. The 'chips' shown above are served with a sweet chili sauce that makes my mouth-water just writing about it!

Eggs Benedict with a side salad - just the right size

Breakfasts options have also changed in our part of the Greek world.  As new tavernas and restaurants open or old favorite's change their menu's, the options for 'breakfast out' have multiplied.  We have two new places in our village -- one a year-round restaurant and the other a seasonal cafe -- that each offer breakfast plates with a side of salad instead of carb-heavy potatoes, beans, and toast. Again, the meals aren't prepared like 'back home' because ingredients differ. In the egg dish above, small slices of whole grain bread replaced the traditional English Muffin.

'Toast' at breakfast means a sandwich

For a more traditional Greek breakfast, eggs kagianis, scrambled with fresh tomato, sometimes cheese, and spitsofai, thick chunks of country sausage cooked in tomato sauce with peppers, (shown in the first photo in this post) are a mouth-watering change from traditional 'eggs over easy and toast'.  However, one of our favorite breakfasts, or anytime snacks is 'toast'.  And when one orders 'toast' be prepared to receive a plate with a toasted cheese and ham or turkey sandwich with a side of potato chips. It is one of our go-to meals and it still costs less than five euros at the fanciest of places.

Fresh berries and parmesan cheese made this salad pop

I remember telling a friend who'd been thinking of a visit a few years ago that it would be difficult to find a lettuce-based salad. We had the traditional Horiatiki, better known as Greek salad, and another traditional salad made with cabbage and carrots on most menus.  Not so, anymore! Today the salad choices at most restaurants are many and include some amazing lettuce salads like the one pictured above.

A 'small' meze plate for two at a long-time favorite taverna

While the variety of our food selections have increased in recent years, there is still nothing like a good Greek meal served at one of our local, long-time favorite tavernas. The mixed grill plate pictured above is a good example of traditional Greek food.  From left, clockwise, there is hot pita bread, tzatziki (yogurt, cucumber, garlic), a Mani sausage, eggplant 'balls', meat balls, cheese, horiatiki salad, with cucumber, olives and tomato, Graviera cheese (like Gruyere), and in the center, cheese balls.

Mani sausage foreground, wild horta in the back

Horta is the name for cooked greens here. There is nothing like wild horta (harvested from hillsides and olive groves) served with some fresh olive oil and lemon juice. The horta pictured above had been plucked from the taverna owner's olive grove earlier that day.  Someday I plan to have a tutorial in harvesting 'horta' so that we can enjoy these greens at home.

Roasted pepper stuffed with spicy cheese

Vegetable dishes are hard to beat. The produce is fresh, and the dishes made flavorful with spices and other ingredients.  One of our favorites is the stuffed pepper with spicey cheese sometimes served hot out of the oven and other times served cold. 

Vegetables as a side to meat dishes

Of course, you can't write about eating locally and not mention fish and seafood when you live in a Greek fishing village. We still chuckle about the night that three of us dined at Vezuvios, one of two local fish tavernas. We all wanted to try the seafood spaghetti and asked the owner -- a friend of ours -- if a 'portion' as they call servings here would be large enough for three.  He said not to worry, he would make it big enough for three.  When it appeared in a giant paella pan, we knew we'd all have plenty for that dinner as well as leftovers for the following night!

Seafood spaghetti a favorite in our village

And just as any good meal is ended with dessert, I think a tale about food should end with desserts. Here is one of the best to be had right here in our village, Agios Nikolaos:   

This culinary art from Medikon tasted as good as it looks. 

And even closer to home, we had this wonderous selection at the Kafenion in Agios Dimitrios, about a 10-minute walk away:

Cheese pie, walnut cake, lemon cake and ice cream!

I may not ever convince the grandmother and her teen traveling companions to visit, but hopefully this post has given others among you some food for thought and thoughts of food, as you start planning your travels to Greece.

That's it for this week. As always, our thanks for the time you spend with us and hope to see you back here soon.  Safe travels to you and yours ~

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Dining at Carnival’s “Chef’s Table”

The cooks moved in synchronized precision preparing and handing off  plates to the parade of wait staff who would deliver them to the hundreds of fellow cruisers eating that night in Carnival Spirit’s formal dining room.

We watched the  choreographed movements from the pastry table at one side of the ship’s shining stainless steel galley; a culinary arts gallery, not galley, we thought.  We also sipped a glass of Prosecco, (that white Italian wine with just a bit fewer bubbles than champagne), with our Head Chef Jerry Furtado.

chelan2012 024Actually our Chef Jerry only sipped only enough to make a welcome toast to the 13 of us who were embarking on a near three-hour, eight-course gastronomic odyssey known as “The Chef’s Table,” ~ a fine dining experience that surpassed anything we’ve ever experienced on any of our previous cruises.

Our extravaganza began with a tour of the galley, and a private reception there which included a sampling of appetizers with such goodies as: Chorizo and dates, Piquilo Sofrito and Langoustine and Sundried Tomato Jam Fritters. (sorry, photos weren’t allowed in the galley).

Then it was on to our private dining room and a parade of food so delicious that even writing about it now, several weeks later, can make my mouth water.   There is not enough room to show you it all, but here’s a taster:

Carnival Cruise 2012 108Our wait staff  hovered throughout the meal to make sure everything was as it should be, asking repeatedly, “Is it to your liking?”

Carnival Cruise 2012 102

This garlic brioche was too much for my will-power. It was baked in a miniature flower pot. Way too cute and way too tasty. . .I ate it all and they brought another!

The Chef’s Table was launched as a pilot on a few Carnival ships in 2010 and as result of its popularity it is now offered on all 23 ships in the fleet. 

Carnival Cruise 2012 112We had been on the ship for only two hours when we learned of the dinner and that there were only a couple of spaces were left. Make note, word is out: this experience is popular!

The cost was $75 per person which included unlimited wine (as if you had room to drink to excess) and included the galley tour and souvenir photo.

The photo above was of the salmon course (which arrived fifth in a series of scrumptious offerings).  What I found most delightful on this plate was the paper thin red rolls standing to the left of the salmon. They were dehydrated beets and the dark speckles on the carrots were a dusting of truffles.

Carnival Cruise 2012 114The salmon was followed by a course called Wagyu, slow stewed short ribs and the dinner finished with the plate pictured to the side, simply titled, “Chef in a Candy Shop”.

Each morsel was mouth-watering, including all those little morsels tucked between the wafers. By the time we got to this course I was in a near coma- state from overeating. . .I sampled half these ‘tasties’ wishing I had just a bit more room.

Should you find yourself on a Carnival cruise in the future we would wholeheartedly recommend signing up – early! -- for The Chef’s Table. You won’t be disappointed.  I can tell you that meal alone is reason enough for me to take another Carnival cruise.

Note:  Google has changed its format and I am on the road, bear with me if the spacing and flow of this post is jumbled.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Diet to Go: Our 2011 Culinary Journey

"You are making  us look too fat and old," Joel replied to the cruise ship photographer, when the perky 20-something asked, "How about a photo of you two this morning?"

Those cruise ship photos -- displayed for all your fellow cruisers to see and in hopes you'll purchase -- are brutally frank ~ relentless reminders of the passage of years and how travel has expanded more than our horizons.

We can't do much about the passage of time other than to enjoy it, but 2011 is the year we are taking a new culinary journey (that's a euphemism for diet).

Oh yes. . .there was Paris. . .sigh
For years we've been yo-yo travel dieters: employing a three-day starvation-type diet to drop five pounds before a trip; then eating with wild abandon while traveling; and returning to the dreaded three-day diet.

Shortly after our cruise we dined with a traveling friend who showed up at the table some 20+ pounds less than he was last year. (During which time he's spent several weeks in Spain and made numerous trips in the U.S. and to Canada.) He credited the weight loss to a book his doctor had recommended. He'd followed the plan it outlined, saying it didn't seem like a diet. 

And that was music to our pudgy little ears.
We ordered the book*. 
We read it.
Hmmm. . .chocolate and wine in moderation is okay.
Just need to curb (well, I think it sort of recommends, eliminate or reduce significantly or something that means eat less of) those sugars and starches - potatoes, bread and pasta. Dang! The same thing my doctor told me to do two years ago.
We decided to give it a try.
We began our  culinary journey in mid November.

Even with Christmas, New Year's and a trips to Savannah and Las Vegas, we've each lost five pounds. And we haven't suffered - we snack, we eat and we drink, just a bit differently than before. Our friend was right, it doesn't seem like a diet.

Paris chocolate shop. . . maybe
But what happens when we really hit the road? 
Or set sail on a cruise?
That remains to be seen.
I'll be telling you about it as the year progresses.

* The book is, "The Glycemic Load Diet" (MacGraw Hill publishers, 2006) by Dr. Rob Thompson, a Seattle cardiologist in private practice who is on staff at Swedish Hospital Medical Center.  Watch for his guest post later this week.  You can sneak a peek at the book by clicking the link or on the book displayed on the Amazon carousel on the blog's home page.

And a reminder: Just as our mode of travel isn't for everyone so goes the diet.  We are telling our story, not promoting any one diet over another. As with all health matters, do what your health care professional and you decide is best for you.


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