‘Food for thought’ about eating abroad

As I sit alone in my living room, I stare into what feels like my millionth bowl of the same cereal, in the same place. In this moment, I long for newness, and an escape from the locked-down world we are living in. As I scroll through my camera roll, I yearn for the meals of past holidays – more so than sitting on a new beach or swimming in a different pool.

As a self-proclaimed “foodie”, eating new and exciting dishes is a valid form of self-care. It offers an escape from a monotonous world. Dining abroad is a cultural experience and a way to see a country as a lived place, rather than just a holiday destination. To quote Maya Angelou: “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

For me, that is the crux of it, eating is an emotional experience. When we return from visiting somewhere new, we won’t remember every word of our guided tours, or how we spent every day. We’ll remember the beautiful sunsets we saw, the laughter we shared with our loved ones, and the feeling of our stomachs stuffed full of delicious goodness.

Often, the meals we enjoy have a lasting impact on our taste preferences and habits, changing the way we eat at home. My earliest example of this was discovering brioche and Nutella as a breakfast food when staying in Disneyland Paris with my family, only seven years old. This had such an effect on me that it became my breakfast of choice for the following two years- until I was unfortunately diagnosed lactose intolerant. 

I can honestly say that the thirty minutes I spent eating this dish were some of the best in my life and it goes to show how much trying unorthodox taste combinations can pay off

Another dish I loved so much, which I managed to successfully recreate, was Cretan Gyros and Tzatziki. I cooked it for my Year 9 Catering Mock Exam, earning me the coveted “Chef of the Week” Award. As a generally lazy person, Gyros was the perfect dish for me, as almost all components are stuffed within a giant, (but delicious), pitta. Meat, chips, and salad all reside in the same breaded container, ready to be dipped into the delicate Tzatziki – the perfect, yet simple mix of Greek yoghurt, cucumber, garlic, and mint. 

However, there are some dishes that are best left to the experts. Sometimes, the Aldi own-brand doesn’t quite cut it! The first example that comes to mind is almost any meal that I ate while in Rome in September.

Before arriving at the home of Carbonara and Arancini, I was afraid being a vegetarian would limit my choices and experiences- but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Thanks to my partner trawling TripAdvisor for the most highly-rated “vegetarian friendly” restaurants, I discovered the most ambrosial meals I’ve ever eaten: meat-eater or not.

As a Tortellini fan, this tends to be what I gravitate towards when browsing an Italian menu. But what I experienced in Rome was not your standard spinach and ricotta. Instead, it was stuffed with blue cheese and topped with parmesan, almonds, and pear jelly! I can honestly say that the thirty minutes I spent eating this dish were some of the best in my life and it goes to show how much trying unorthodox taste combinations can pay off. 

Another fantastic discovery we made when trawling the web was the advent of Aperitivo, which can be a blessing sent from above after long days of sight-seeing in tourist areas, (where the food is over-priced). With a whisper of the magic word, a plate of unknown food will be brought to you for the price of a cocktail, which can range from a bowl of crisps to a small meal. Luckily for us, the odds were in our favour, as we were each brought a small plate of blue cheese on fresh, crusty bread, a small salad of leaves and olives, home-made potato wedges, smoked cheese, prosciutto ham, and a mystery bread that I sourly discovered contained small lumps of pork, after I had taken a large bite into it.

But after all, eating abroad is about having new experiences and taking a step out of your comfort zone, whether it’s trying street-food or local delicacies. I certainly combined the two when inter-railing in Vienna, after asking a local for directions at the train station. She gave us recommendations of things to try and places to go, one of which included the renowned Kasekreiner.

The thickness of the pancakes, in comparison to the Northern European alternative, made them all the more addictive and memorable

The Kasekreiner is a cheap yet delicious way to fill your stomach while out and about, and a totally unique take on the typical Germanic sausage. Filled with small chunks of cheese, the flavour of the sausage is enriched by the dairy, but not in the stuffy or fatty way that cheese typically adds to a meal.

While the Kasekreiner was a brilliant take on an existing classic, my experience of breakfast in Marrakech smashed this out of the park. I was lucky enough during my time in Morocco to stay in a Riad with breakfast included, which was served on the flat roof of the building. With the seemingly infinite desert to the East and the breathtaking Atlas Mountains to the West, the view alone would have been enough to make my experience unforgettable. 

For breakfast, we were served two kinds of freshly made pancakes: the square and crispy Msemmen, (best eaten with savoury foods such as cream cheese), and the light and fluffy Baghrir, (for which topping with honey is a must). The thickness of the pancakes, in comparison to the Northern European alternative, made them all the more addictive and memorable.

Not only this but our experience was topped off by receiving a daily Mint Tea ceremony- fresh leaves and sugar poured from an ornate metal teapot into our glasses, which kept us hydrated until we had our orange juice. It was traditional freshly squeezed juice, drank on the market square later in the morning.

Here, the beauty is not limited to the taste of the drink but the act of giving it, as every drop was an invitation to appreciate Moroccan culture.

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