Eatn

Published on March 23rd, 2013

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Foodography: A Geography of My Tastiest Travel Memories

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My most recent tasty travel memory

Though I don’t presume to be no la-dee-dah “foodie” (I mean, we’re talkin’ about a lass who isn’t above eating SILKWORMS when culturally pressed), nonetheless I’ve ever had a propensity to link my travels with some stray local food or foodie experience that I’ve had in each country.

Take Greece for example. In my mind the isles of Corfu, Santorini and Crete that I visited with my young daughters back in the 70’s shall always be synonymous with “yogurt”. Not just any ol’ yogurt mind you, but THE most delectable authentic Greek version – so thick it’s served as a veritable SLAB of creamy goodness, smothered with honey from the descendants of bees that no doubt pollinated the flowers that bloomed around the Acropolis when Plato was a lad, for heaven’s sake. In short, although those many isles that dot the blue Aegean are surely spectacular, as far as I’m concerned Greece = Heavenly Yogurt, period.

Then there’s Amsterdam – a city so charming it almost hurts, Amsterdam will ever be my “herring” place. The corner street carts selling plump, freshly caught herring served up with finely diced onions and sweet gherkin pickles – a combo that makes me swoon just thinking about it.

Of course France is a foodie land unto itself. But as my young daughters and I were on a shoestring budget while I was studying there, it is but humble Camembert cheese on freshly baked baguettes that first springs deliciously to my mind whenever I remember our days in Paris.

PeruginaBaci530x290Italy: The gelati, divine.  But even more so – strangely enough, it is the deep fried zucchini flowers that I so fondly remember from my days attending the University of Foreigners in Perugia (the Perugina “Baci” – Italian for “kiss” – the legendary chocolate confection that Perugia is famous for, wasn’t all that bad either!)

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Turning 40-something on Caye Caulker with Glenda’s pie

 

Belize:  As an international tour operator specializing in travel to Belize (back when few had even HEARD of it) I of course have made dozens of trips to most every corner of that little gem.  Conch fritters and scrambled eggs with chunks of fresh lobster stand out as culinary winners of course.  But it is the legendary “Glenda’s Lemon Meringue Pie” on Caye Caulker that still makes my mouth water even today.  Indeed, I used to deliberately schedule a guided group trip there for my birthday in March each year – just so I could have Glenda’s pie for my birthday “cake”.

South Africa? No, not the mopane worms that I finally found at one of THE best restaurants in all of southern Africa, but rather, my mouth ever yearns for the fresh, raw oysters – make that WILD oysters on the half shell slurped with white wine along the shores of the Indian Ocean at Knysna.

Egypt: Icy cold hibiscus tea (I toted home an entire kilo of the dried blossoms to make my own.)

Morocco: Mint tea of course, but also the snails from a street cart in Chefchaouen.  Daintily coaxed out of their shells with the spike of a safety pin (with a side of the broth they were simmered in) – I went back 4 nights in a row to get my “snail fix”.

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Fresh Mongolian goat stomach? Uh… not so much.

Mongolia:  Uh… let’s just say – if I NEVER sip another bowl of “milk tea” (warmed yak milk with a smidge of dried tea leaves and a generous dash of salt), it will be too soon.  Indeed, though I’m not the least bit fussy in my culinary travel tastes, given the dearth of vegetables and fruits in the Mongolian diet one surely has to wonder that the locals don’t suffer from perpetual scurvy.

And here in Vietnam?  Well the coffee of course – that unique concoction of hair-on-your-chest caffeine mixed with a layer of condensed milk creating a caramely coffee goodness that Starbucks can only dream of.  And the multitude of other amazing Vietnamese street-eats?  Uh, the jury remains out – I’m still happily sampling…

And now I have a whole new yummers treat to add to my growing travel food memories “collection”.  A most memorable culinary experience from my recent visit to northern Laos.  Not just a single dish, but an entire multi-course dinner to mark “Laos” on my foodie memory map. Sure, the Elephant Festival was spectacular (more pics coming soon), but Laos foodie-wise…

Yes, the orgasmic peanut butter and mango crepes in the night market for a buck stand out (uh, let’s just say it’s a good thing I don’t live in Luang Prabang else I’d be a blimp from the nightly crepe addiction).  And another favorite was – surprisingly, the Laos “dried seaweed” sprinkled with sesame seeds.

But even those incredible crepes bursting with peanut butter pale in comparison to a single dinner that I enjoyed at one of the most outstanding restaurants in Luang Prabang – perhaps in all of Laos.  Maybe even all of Southeast Asia!

I’m talking here about the Blue Lagoon. Just steps off the Night Market, this softly lit hideaway beckons those who can appreciate the art of fine dining.  And as a guest there seated in the “garden”, I can tell you I appreciated, and  appreciated, and appreciated.  Trust me, as I nibbled and gobbled, all thoughts of street-eats utterly vanished.  Indeed, for awhile there I completely forgot that I was in Laos, and actually imagined I’d been transported to Europe.

Peter, the owner of the Blue Lagoon is Swiss (as evidenced by the many Swiss specialties on the menu) but Somsack, the chef is Laotian – trained in Switzerland.  Thus the restaurant offers a most eclectic mix of European and Laotian dishes.  Everything from Zürich-Geschnetzeltes (a mouthwatering Swiss specialty of thinly sliced veal originating in the town of Zurich) served with Rosti (Swiss hashbrowns) to Schnitzel and Duck a l’Orange.  These, right alongside Lao specialties like Mok (fish streamed in a banana leaf) and Larb (a warm meat salad), as well as an array of homemade pasta and traditional Asian curries.

Selecting a starter was easy: I simply HAD to go with the “Blue Lagoon Salmon Plate” – a delectable trio of smoked salmon rolls garnished with caviar and capers.  I mean it’s SALMON people – just thinking of those silvery swimmers darting up the Ballard Locks back in Seattle makes me tear up.

But choosing an entree proved a bit more of a dilemma.  Passing on the “Roasted Pork Neck” (no doubt delicious, but still…) I deliberated between the Salmon Filet (hah! there I go again – can you tell I’m a transplant in Asia from Seattle?), the Duck a l’Orange, the Homemade Ravioli (a delicacy I used to make fresh, from scratch with my sorely missed pasta maker in Seattle), and the enticing “Gordon Bleu” (not sure if that was a deliberate reference to some guy named “Gordon”, or just another zany menu translation here in Asia).  In any case, I finally settled on the latter  (the Cordon Bleu) mainly for the chance to sink my teeth into REAL CHEESE again (the one reliably elusive Western edible here in Asia).

And for dessert?   The “Coupe Colonel” – an irresistibly refreshing scoop of lime sorbet, swimming in a puddle of vodka.  Indeed, in retrospect it seems most fitting to have finished off this most memorable Laos dinner with “lime“, because…

From the complimentary amuse-bouche (creamy mixed vegetable soup served in a shot glass topped with a single crunchy garlic toast cube – apparently the selection changes daily), to the goblet of house wine from South Africa, the smoked salmon and caviar (garnished with grapefruit bits and fennel), the sinfully succulent Cordon Bleu utterly oozing with ham and melted heaven errr… Gruyère cheese, and the vodka spiked citrus dessert…

The entire dinner was simply SUB-LIME!

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Disclosure: While I was a dinner guest at the Blue Lagoon Restaurant in Luang Prabang – as always, the opinionated blather expressed here at TravelnLass is ever my very own (seriously, I’m still dreaming of the smoked S.A.L.M.O.N. and Gruyère C.H.E.E.S.E.!)

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About the Author

Off-the-beaten-path travel is my passion,and I’ve always lived life “like-a-kid-in-a-candy-store” – eager to sample as many flavors as I can. Indeed, my life motto has long been: This ain’t a dress rehearsal, folks!



8 Responses to Foodography: A Geography of My Tastiest Travel Memories

  1. Hogga says:

    that goat stomach looks like another appendage…

    • TravelnLass says:

      Indeed, Hogga – and the entire butcher of the goat while staying with the Eagle Hunter’s family in the wilds of western Mongolia remain among my most vivid (albeit shocking) travel memories. I did (by rote) take quite a lot of photos of the slaying and diligent cleaning of the entrails, but hesitate to write a post about the experience for fear of coming off as (yet another) annoyingly indignant “Western” dolt.

      I mean, no doubt the stockyards of Chicago, or any quaint rural farm in France for that matter, would offer up similarly grim sights and pungent smells of freshly butchered flesh. But I must say, to those of us not raised on farms, the experience of at once petting Mr. Billy Goat and then watching the slitting of its neck and its swift dismemberment – was… both revolting and at the same time fascinatingly riveting.

  2. I read this right after a large lunch. Your word pictures made me hungry again. Thank you.

    Have to agree with Vietnamese coffee, though for the first few days of my trip it was a tie between the coffee and fresh, hot baguettes who’s steam was an unmistakable call for butter.

    • TravelnLass says:

      Glad you enjoyed it FLN – hope I didn’t add too many inches to your waistline! 😉

      And yes, imho, the baguettes in Vietnam (obviously a culinary remnant of the French) are… even more light and flaky than what I’ve had in FRANCE!

  3. James says:

    Love this post. So many of our memories are connected to food and I love that your list has both shabby and chic! Will definitely have to try out the Blue Lagoon the next time I’m in Luang Prabang! The menu sounds divine. (I wonder if the complimentary soup starter is a Laotian or a French thing? I had the same surprise at a French restaurant in Vientiane!)

    • TravelnLass says:

      Glad you enjoyed it James – coming from a foodie like you, that’s quite a compliment. And yes, much like my travels, my food memories range widely from shabby (indeed, yukky!) to chic. 😉

      And the “amuse bouche”? Definitely French (literally means “amuse/entertain the mouth”) has been around awhile (according to Wiki, since the 80’s). It isn’t always soup of course, just some small (1-2 bite) starter – often a tiny representative sample of that particular chef’s culinary leanings. And always complimentary.

  4. Gail Snyder says:

    Wow, drooling over the description from around the world! Salmon and cheese, YES.

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