Categories: Travel Tips
Culinary Considerationsby Nadine Dirksen - Monday, October 31, 2016
Adventures In Breaking Bread And Routine
One of the many things I love about traveling is the way it allows me to insert myself into a new culture completely different from my life and daily routines at home. Some suggest that food and mealtimes can help you get over jetlag, I also find that embracing local food “routines” help me get used to the idea and mindset that I’m now traveling and exploring new places.
For example, when I travel to Italy, I start off my immersion into Italian routine by ordering an espresso immediately at one of the countless bars (coffee bars) in the airport. I drink it as Italians do: quickly, while standing at the counter, and then move along on my way. Nothing says benvenuto like a caffe in Italy, brewed to perfection, as soon as you get off the plane. It is the perfect kick start to initiate my metamorphosis into Nadine – the traveler.
While drinking an espresso at the airport is easy, some local habits – including eating habits – can be more of an adjustment. Take mealtimes in southern Europe, for example. Dinner time in Spain, which is known to be notoriously late for many of us, is a tradition I had to learn to navigate. I found the key to fully adjusting to Spain’s customs was to look deeper into locals’ ‘routines’. What do Spaniards do before they head to their late dinner? They hit their local bars to partake in their version of happy hour with Pintxos and Tapas. Grabbing a drink and a few of these pre-dinner snacks while catching up with friends is a great way to explore the local cuisine and culture.
At ExperiencePlus! our goal – beyond providing amazing cycling in fascinating places – is to immerse you in the culture of the regions we visit. While we try to make the transition a gentle one, meaning we know that late dinners can be difficult (especially after a day of cycling) and that sometimes the local specialty may not be your favorite dish, we also try not to dilute the local culture. After all, your cultural experience should be authentic and local rules can only be bent so much!
Food in many regions can be an adventure on its own and that is part of the beauty of traveling to new places. Here are my favorite culinary adventures from recent trips:
- Spain: My favorite region, Catalonia (e.g. where we run our Bicycling Catalonia’s Costa Brava Plus! Barcelona tour) is renowned for its diversity of cuisine and its acclaimed restaurants and chefs. The region is a cluster of Michelin Stars! One of the more popular and well-known creations of the region is undoubtedly the Crema Catalana, a delightful caramel custard dessert. Another more adventurous creation is Cargols a la llauna – snails, traditionally oven-roasted with salt, pepper and some olive oil and served as a side. I must say, this sounds outrageously adventurous to everyday-me, but my travel-me might (might!) give it a try. The secret is to do so with closed eyes focusing on the taste and not on the image in my mind. On our trip we go to a few “adventurous” restaurants, so be prepared to try some very interesting dishes!
Adventures aside, no fear – we won’t make you eat anything you’re uncomfortable with or even allergic to! But you will certainly encounter local specialties that might not be part of your regular diet. We encourage you to read up on what to expect in terms of food and chat with us prior to your trip if you have questions. We also have country-specific food information on our Trip Planners. Give them a look and don’t hesitate to contact us with questions, especially since cuisine varies widely by region.
- France: Another gourmet’s paradise with dishes involving regional treasures going far beyond just baguette and fromage (cheese in all of its glorious varieties). Various dishes involving duck and goose are popular in the Dordogne region, which is also well-known for its Cassoulet, a hearty and rich white bean stew with its generous share of goose and duck ingredients. This region’s typical ingredients and flavored dishes – duck, goat cheese, walnuts… – make my imagination want to time travel and I cannot help but imagine pompous colorful medieval feasts within fortress walls.
- Croatia: Coastal regions of Europe often leverage their backyard’s bounty to offer fresh and innovative dishes such as the Dalmatian Islands’ signature dish “black risotto” made with cuttlefish. Croatian cuisine is incredibly diverse from lamb dishes, to pasta with tomato sauce (a local staple). A dish that brings land and sea together is the famous Dalmatian peka: Vegetables, and meat and/or seafood cooked in a covered pan – it means under the “bell” – and roasted in the embers of an open fire. Croatia’s culinary breadth offers something for everyone. Personally, I found it to be an exciting culinary and cultural mix of Austria and Italy – not an unfounded notion, since Croatia was long part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire as well as the Republic of Venice before that. Another veritable culinary trip back in time.
- Northern Italy: Speaking of the confluence of cultures and cuisines – let’s not forget the hearty peasant-style meals one gets to sample in South Tyrol, the northernmost region of Italy. You will often encounter Speck – a lightly smoked, cured ham – alongside crispy Schüttelbrot bread or sourdough Vinschgerl buns. Parallel to tried and true peasant cuisine, you will find amazingly refined dishes born from the eclectic mix of Italian and Austrian cultures at home in this region. Taste it for yourself on our Cycling the Dolomites ride.
Many European regions are also plentiful paradises of fruit and honey. Take home a delicious souvenir in the form of canned preserves, jams, or honey. Opening such sweet or savory memories of exciting travels at home will surely evoke your travel-self. Your very own little time-machines!
My cultural and gastronomic adventures always leave me feeling fully immersed and ready to discover more surprises and adventures that transport me entirely out of my ordinary routine, to another place – or even time.
We realize that sometimes preferences and food allergies may not allow everyone to be as adventurous as they would like to be. No worries, this is why we always provide alternatives on tour. Travelers can always let us know about any issues or preferences in advance so that we can arrange alternative meals that will still share the culture and cuisine of a country and region. We love to talk about food as much as we love to talk about cycling, so please, give us a call if you have specific questions about your next tour.