Countries I Have Been to With The Best Food So Far

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Countries I Have Been To With The Best Food So Far

“I was at this restaurant. The sign said “Breakfast Anytime.”So I ordered French toast n the Renaissance.” Steven Wright

My food experience when I am traveling totally impacts the experience I have  in the country. Sometimes I make trip destinations  based on food. Other times, it is a complete surprise how much I love the food. Here are my favorite countries for food so far.

Japan applies the same precision to their food as they do to their engineering. You can get a lavish multicourse kaiseki meal that presents the seasons in a spread of visual and culinary poetry..

I dream of the sushi bars in Tsukiji market and the tofu restaurants where everything is made from tofu.  You can eat something random in a train station or risk your life and try Fugu (poisonous blowfish – delicious). I love yuzu and green tea desserts. Cold soba noodles is my go to Japanese lunch. 

It is impossible to eat badly in Japan.  This country is officially one of the best culinary destinations in the world. 

Spain has long been characterized by eat, drink, sleep, work a little bit, eat, drink, sleep. They munch on snacks throughout the day (tapas, pinxtos) with intervals of big meals. The food is different from the Mediterranean sea to the Pyrenees. 

Paella, churros and chocolate, gazpacho and anything from the Basque region (pinxto bars to Michelin starred restaurants)  show how much the Spanish love good food.It ranges from the Medieval Jamon Iberica  to the insane molecular gastronomy of Feran Adria and his followers.

The food is timeless and modern.

It’s impossible to write a short list of Turkish food. It is a combination of Central Asian, Middle Eastern and Balkan cuisine and any other conquering nations. It was a big surprise to me that Turkey turned out to be one of my favorite countries to eat in. Turkish food is about the freshest ingredients and technique. There are meze – small dishes that start the meal based on seasons and locale.

Some of my favorite foods are pide (boat shaped flatbread with fillings), pastirma (ancestor of pastrami), borek (small filled pastries),kabob, hummus, eggplant cooked many different ways, any dessert made from semolina, fresh halvah, pomegranate juice, fish cooked with olive oil and lemon, simit (Turkish bagels), ayram (drink made with yogurt ice and salt), fresh cheese ( beyaz peynir) and honey, kofta (meatballs), (mincemeat pizza) and just about anything  I have eaten in Turkey

I’m not even a huge fan of lamb but in Turkey it is delicious.

 The food in Israel is reason enough to visit the country. Israel is a young country, but its food goes back thousands of years. The cuisine is a melting pot of North Africa, Mediterranean, Eastern Europe and its Middle Eastern neighbors.

It is healthy and delicious. There is freshly made hummus with hot pita bread, falafel (made from fava beans or chick peas), tahini, schwarma, kebob, shakshouka, salads, and labneh,(yogurt cheese.)

The food tastes so much fresher than anything that I’ve eaten at home.  Israeli breakfast is one of the best things about Israel. It is usually served buffet style with an array of European, Israeli and Mediterranean dishes.- They are the biggest breakfast buffets I have ever seen.

This is the country that gave us pizza and cappuccino. Italy’s simple comfort food  has become the food of every country. Each region has specialties that they are very proud of. The best pizza is found in Naples and Spaghetti Bolognese does come from Bologna.  Parma ham and Parmesan cheese come from Parma. Olive oil is the only real Italian condiment.Wine and coffee vie for being the national drink. Freshness of Ingredients is very important to the Italians.. Dining in Italy is always a delight for your taste buds. 

 Olive Oil is the most Greek of all the Greek food.  A Greek salad is very simple with feta, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and olives. It will never taste the same  way here. I have it every day in Greece and it is always amazing. Greeks do it better. There are many high quality ingredients to choose from in Greece that we don’t seem to be able to recreate here. I have spent a few summers here and figs, honey, olives, lamb, seafood, fava beans, tiropita (cheese pastry), tzatziki  (yogurt dip) Avgolemono soup  (lemon chicken soup) and baklava are always delicious. 

I love seafood and except for Iceland, no one in Europe eats more of it, than the people of Portugal. If you love tuna and sea bass, this is the place. The national dish is bacalhau – dried, salted cod. The Portuguese have been obsessed with it since the early 16th century.  Sardines, mackerel, lobsters, shrimp, oysters and crabs are plentiful. The ‘arroz de marisco” is a delicious seafood rice.

Other national dishes are “cozido à portuguesa,” a thick stew of vegetables with various kinds of meat, “leitão assado” Roast suckling pig and tripe with beans. young Portuguese chefs are making a name for themselves with their more modern approach to the classics.  Pasteis de nata is my favorite dessert – Small custard tarts with cinnamon are found all over Portugal The most original recipe comes from Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon a pastelaria that dates back to 1837. I was lucky enough to go there.

Portuguese cheeses are delicious and should be more well-known and for a small country, they  produce a number of varieties of very good wine. 

Mexico is a go to country for delicious cuisine. There are  moles, tacos, tamales, enchiladas, guacamole, tostadas, flan and Mexican chocolate.

Lime and salt go with everything. 

You will not get bored with the food in this country. It is a fiesta in your mouth. 

Cambodian food is delicious and often overlooked but should not be. Insects are always on the menu in Cambodia. Beef with red tree ants should not be missed.

Tarantula and deep-fried scorpion are not my thing but you see a lot of people eating them. 

Fish amok is a fish mousse with fresh coconut milk, Khmer  spices, turmeric, garlic and ginger,

It is served in a banana leaf and is my favorite lunch with fresh coconut juice served in the coconut.

Khmer beef salad, Khmer noodles,  Khmer curry, fried crab and grilled squid are a must try in Cambodia. There is always rice. Try the pork and rice which is only served for breakfast. 

Street food is the attraction in Thailand. The complex  combination of spices and flavors  can  make your favorite dish be spicy, sour, salty, sweet, chewy, crunchy and slippery. With influences from China, Malaysia, Indonesia, ,Myanmar and a royal culinary tradition, Thai cuisine is the best of many worlds.. Thai coffee with condensed milk and mango with sticky  rice is my favorite dessert. The various curries, soups,  noodle dishes, rice and salads encompass the unique flavors of Thailand.

The food in Viet Nam is insanely good.Traditional Vietnamese food is all about the balance of fresh ingredients, intense flavors, and ease of cooking and preparation.

.Many of the dishes have  a rich history and represent a regional specialty.

The most famous street food is pho which is a bit different in the North and South.  It is rice noodles and slices of beef cooked in   a beef bone broth with complex flavors. It is the most popular food for breakfast and lunch.

Banh Mi is my favorite street food. This sandwich can also be traced back to the French colonial period, even through the roots of the name; Banh is pronounced similarly to the French word for bread, pain.Today the typical Vietnamese banh mi consists of mayonnaise, pate, sliced ham and pork, pickled vegetables, coriander, and hot sauce.

Fly safe,

JAZ

The Arabic Influence In Granada, Spain

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The Arabic Influence In Granada, Spain

“Weep like a woman over what you could not defend as a man.” Mother of Boabdil- the last Sultan in Spain

The Moors invaded Spain in 711 AD and they ruled  for over seven hundred years.  At one time, they ruled as far north as France.   The principal cities of Moorish culture were Toledo, Granada, and Seville.  Eventually the Christian rulers in Northern Spain recaptured Spain. In 1085 Alfonso VI of Leon and Castile recaptured Toledo. Cordoba fell in 1236, and one by one the Moorish strongholds surrendered. The last Moorish city, Granada, was captured by Ferdinand V and Isabella I in 1492..

The word ‘Alhambra’ is a short form of the word ‘Calat Alhambra’ which is the name given to a palace and fortress complex located in Granada, Andalusia, Spain. The palace started off as a small fortress that was built in 899.

After years of neglect, the Moorish king of Grenada renovated it in the eleventh century. The fortress was to later be converted into a royal palace in 1333  by Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada.

I spent a day there before so I did not tour again. It is big enough to spend at least a day but you can do the highlights in a few hours.

The area of Granada around the Plaza Nueva and fountain Pilar del Toro is the oldest part of the city of Granada. The Mosque was located here.

The Santa Ana church was built on that same site.  At that time the river would have been visible, not covered over like today. 

In the city center, the Alcaiceria stands out, like a typically Arabic souk (bazaar) that attracts many tourists and locals alike.

Glittery Moroccan lamps, colorful silk and leather products are fun to look at and buy.

Other signs of Arabic influence can be seen in the Albaci­n, one of the oldest areas in Granada. Perched on the hilltop across a canal from the Alhambra, it consists of steep cobblestone paths and quaint authentic white-washed houses known as El Carmen.

Arabic tea houses and Moroccan shops line the narrow street that leads up to the hilltop.

The perfect way to relax after a day, is to smoke some Arabic water-pipe (Spanish name is cachimas) in the dimly lit aromatic tea houses (teterias).  I wish that I had the photos to show you but here was the day I spent there. Not a person was out.

There were several bath houses or hammams  in this area during the Moorish rule. In 1567 due to the difficult situation faced by the Moors in Granada, at the hands of the new Catholic Kings, all hammams in Granada  were prohibited. They also banned speaking  in Arabic and wearing Arab style garments.

The current Hammam Al Andalas  https://www.hammamalandalus.com/en/ is in one of the old bathhouse buildings. It actually dates back to 8th and 14th century. This hammam building was converted into baker ovens in the sixteenth century. The bakers made the most of the heating systems which previously created steam and heated water, for baking their bread.

 As I enter the hammam I have the awkward ‘I forgot my bathing suit moment and it is coed and you have to wear one.” They lend me a bathing suit.  During my stay, I drink  green tea with mint, while  relaxing in the different thermal baths and steam room. As I walked through from the changing area to the baths the humidity and warmth hit me. This steamy comfortable environment is great for unwinding and relaxing tense muscles For a while, there was a quiet relaxed atmosphere and then a bus load of tourists showed up.

Luckily it was time for a wonderful scrub and a soapy cleanse with white frothy bubbles. I go into a different dry space  for a  massage and left completely soft, clean and relaxed.

The Hammam Al Andalus in Granada recreates the feeling of  history and the bathhouses that were  here so long ago. Book it in advance, it fills up quickly and is a wonderful way to capture the feeling old Granada.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Things That I Have Learned In Granada, Spain

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Things That I Have Learned In Granada, Spain

“Like Spain, I am bound to the past.” William S. Burroughs

Granada was originally called Gárnata which could mean  “hill of strangers” in Arabic.

Granada was a Muslim Kingdom for almost 781 years, which is the longest culture to rule in Spain. The city was the last stronghold of Muslim Spain which fell to the Catholic Monarchs in 1492.

City symbol is the pomegranate which is logical considering that “granada” in Spanish means ‘pomegranate.’

Granada has 250 days of sunlight. Two of them were not while I was there.

Granada is home to 3 UNESCO World Heritage sites – Alhambra, Generalife and Albacin.

Almost 3 million tourists from all around the world visit Granada and the Alhambra every year.

The Alhambra Palace Hotel has incredible views of the city and “Selections from Don Quixote” in the room.

Reading the highlights of Don Quixote in Spanish in Spain was very cool.

In the Royal Chapel of Granada are the  sarcophagi of Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand, their daughter Juana and her husband Phillipe.

   At the time of the reconquest of Granada Christopher Columbus was looking for sponsors to fund exploration to discover the “New World”. The Spanish monarchs agreed and he went on to discover America.  There is a statue of Christopher Columbus kneeling before Queen Isabella at the end of the Gran Via de Colón in Granada. (His name in Spanish is Cristobal Colón).

Playwright and poet Federico Garcia Lorca was arrested and killed on the orders of right wing military authorities in Granada in 1936 according to newly released documents that shed light on the death of one of the highest-profile victims of the Spanish Civil War.

Granadinos are less friendly and lighthearted than the average Spaniard but that still means that they are more friendly than the French.

The gypsies arrived in Granada about 600 years ago and one of the places where they congregated was in the caves of the Sacromonte. The mixture of Arabic influence combined with the particular lifestyle and temperament of the gypsies created Flamenco. 

Mario Maya was one of the Spain’s most innovative and influential flamenco dancers. He was born in Córdoba in 1937, but grew up in the Sacromonte of Granada.

Munira is a great store to buy interesting souvenirs and gifts.https://www.munira.net

Granada has hot dry summer and cool winters. In July and August the temperature is often over fourty Celsius. . In 2017 several all time temperature records were broken.

The wettest months are November and December and the day in October that I had a walking tour of Sacromonte and the Albacin neighborhoods up in the hills. I had to make a deal with the taxi driver not to leave us in the pouring rain.

Watching the sunset and sunrise over the city against the Sierra Nevada foothills is really special.

 

Fly safe,

JAZ

Traveling Through The Basque Country

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 Traveling Through The Basque Country

“The goal of my life is to tie adventure to my feet, stock memories in my pocket, hold imagination in my palms like fairy dust and sprinkle it on my tales.” Mitali Meelan

The best way to explore the beautiful Basque coastline is by car,  ferry, train and bus. We ride the bus to Hondarribia which is on the Spanish border with France.

It is the first settlement pilgrims will come upon as they follow the Northern Way of the Camino de Santiago from France  on their way to the final destination of Santiago de Compostela.

We walk through the cobblestone streets of the Parte Vieja past medieval stone palaces and traditional Basque wood-beamed houses.

 Later, we take the seven minute ferry ride to Hendaye which is on the French border with Spain.

It is a seaside town.

You know you are on the Basque Coastline when you see huge rocks gushing from the Ocean, a rugged terrain with steep and sharp cliffs and very cold water.

We return for a late lunch in Hondarriba. Throughout Basque Country, pintxo bar chefs strive to outdo one another, and formal pintxo competitions up the ante.

In recent years, Hondarribia bars have competed against San Sebastián’s with favorable results, earning regional and national recognition for their tiny masterpieces.

In fact, demand for quality cuisine at reasonable prices means that some of the best places for are surprisingly low-key. 

 The next day, in a seventeenth century farmhouse,  we see the famous Basque breed floppy eared pigs (Euskal Txerria).  The Basque pigs unlike many of their pink cousins have a good life.

Afterward we had a not light lunch at the farmhouse and got to try some of their delicious cured ham.

I am usually disconnected from the process of where my food comes from.  Being brought up in a supermarket, It is hard to understand that death is part of a process of food production.

  I try now, as best I can to make ethical food choices. It helps to know where the animal comes from and how it was raised.  

 The Wednesday market in the town of Ordizia has been happening for over five hundred years.

The market takes over the town plaza centre which is a Roman or Greek looking Parthenon type structure.

We are lucky to be here on a Wednesday for this  authentic market with a great selection of local produce and products.

The most popular food item that you will find in Ordizia is the Idiazabal cheese, a hard white cheese, strong in flavor and high in acidity, made according to centuries-old family recipes (available in both smoked and un-smoked varieties.)

You can still buy the cheese directly from the shepherds who make it from the milk.

We have a lunch on our last day in Basque country at Komentu Maitea a converted monastery in Gordexola. It is Spanish Independence Day and  the restaurant is filled with local families having a large midday meal.

The food is fresh and delicious.

Nearby is the city of Guernica (Gernika in Basque). We stop at the  Assembly House and the Tree of Gernika. For centuries the Lords of Biscay met under an oak tree in this very spot to discuss the issues of the day, eventually building a more solid shelter (for those wetter days) in the form of The Assembly House.

The tree is one of the best known symbols of freedom for the Basque people.  Gernika was devastated by the Nazi Germany bombings in1937 with unprecedented consequences (made famous by the Picasso painting). Both the Assembly House and the traditional oak survived. This strengthened the tree’s already symbolic value to the Basque people.

The scenery in the Basque country is breathtaking.

The cities are picturesque and the food is  amazing and there will always be some rain – even in the summer. 

I appreciate the efforts of  the  Basque people to protect their culture, identity and language.

It is a wonderful place to visit  especially if you like food. I have to thank to Jim Kane  and Cultural Xplorers for another excellent trip.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Eating At Mugaritz In Errenteria, Spain

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Eating At Mugaritz In Errenteria, Spain

“People who love to eat are always the best people. Julia Child”

The Michelin Red Guide that contains these famed stars is published by the Michelin Tire Company. One hundred years ago, when cars were still very new, the Michelin brothers who founded the company wanted a way to encourage more driving. If drivers used their cars more, they would need to change the tires more often. Thus, the guides contained great restaurants all over France, as well as guides for hotels and other attractions.

These guides have become a respected voice in fine dining. Anonymous food critics determine the fate of these top restaurants.

With millions of restaurants in the world, being a three star Michelin restaurant is incredibly rare. To earn three stars and maintain them requires  the best work.

Mugaritz  is a pioneer in creative, molecular gastronomic cuisine. This year it is the ninth best restaurant in the world and a two star Michelin restaurant.

Under the supervision of Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz, Mugaritz provides guests with a little taste of twenty-six courses. Chef Aduriz trained under Feran Adria of El Bulli.

The menu was magnificently curated and displayed fastidious attention to detail and imaginative and innovative cooking on all levels. The service was excellent and the story of our meal is explained beautifully. Guests are invited into the kitchen to see the preparation.

There is a list of all the dishes they can prepare that night and all tables do not have the same menu.

We are shown two cards and we have to pick one and that will be the story of our meal.

 I wasn’t looking for the best tasting meal of my life. Great tasting food is abundant in the Basque country. There were a few courses I didn’t like but I could appreciate the invention.  I was looking for the best innovative experience with food. I was not disappointed.   It was a pretty great birthday dinner.

Fly safe,

JAZ

 

Basque Country

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Basque Country

“Everyone who has visited the Basque County longs to return; it is a blessed land.” Victor Hugo

Timeless is perhaps the best way to describe the experience of visiting the Basque Country. It’s the chance to come face to face with the Basques themselves, a people who have lived in Europe longer than any other, and whose language Euskara, predates any of the Indo-European languages that you hear spoken around the rest of the continent. 

 The region’s history with the ETA, the Basque Independence group, is complicated and has been at times, bloody. We saw a protest in Ordizia to send the prisoners in Spain for terrorism back to the Basque country. The ETA has disbanded and most Basque people are willing to share their views.

Our base was in Donostia (Basque for San Sebastian) and we did day trips to both the Spanish and French side.

We arrived on a dark windy and rainy day. Our goal was to see El Peine del Viento, three sculptures in steel  by the artist Eduard Chillida, that are anchored into the rocks at the foot of Monte Igueldo. it is a half hour walk from the  center of San Sebastian along the coast.

Actually it was really cool to see it in the wind and rain. 

We  took the funicular up to the top to see the views (?) and the old amusement park.

There is something very creepy about being in an empty amusement park in the rain. It felt like the beginning of  Law and Order and we were about to find the body.

Many of the places we visited were on the Northern route of the Camino Del Santiago. Religious devotion was once the prime motivator for taking this 800 km long hike to see the relics of St. James the Apostle in Santiago de Compostela. 

These days the route is taken by travelers who want to experience Spain in a different way, challenge themselves or are on their own spiritual journey. 

I would recommend joining the trail at some point and enjoying the rolling green hills of the Basque Country. dotted with  monasteries.

We  take the train to Zarautz. Zarautz is a coastal town with a beautiful beach famous for surfing.

We pick up the Camino  in the hills.

The yellow arrow or shell in the ground (in towns)  means you are on the Camino route.

We hike for a few hours passed txakoli  and tomato vineyards, animals and green fields with crazy beautiful views over the Bay of Biscay.

When Imanol our guide almost fell in the creek because of the mud, we went with the fence.  Nobody said there would be climbing.

Getaria is a small seaside town with a picturesque harbor and beautiful beach.

We have lunch at Asador Astillero. It is another best meal on a trip of best meals.

I have never tasted fish this moist and delicious and I cannot believe there is no butter.

They showed us the kitchen. Basque people love to show you how they cook.

We stop at a txakoli vineyard on our way home. Txakoli is the wine of the Basque country. (TX is pronounced CH). The wines are light, bubbly and low in alcohol content.

  The most widely planted grape variety, by far is Zuri meaning white, with a very small amount of the red variety called Beltza.

The word txakoli means farm wine or homemade. It is hard to grow because the climate is cold and wet.

It goes well with the exquisitely fresh fish of Basque cuisine, except that the locals also drink Txakoli with red meat. Why? Because historically it was all that they had.

We had a great time with Imanol who’s knowledge of the the Basque culture, kindness, easy going nature, intelligence and great taste in food made San Sebastian and the Basque Country an unforgettable trip.

Fly safe,

JAZ