One of the greatest parts of traveling is eating. I never ever plan a trip without making an itinerary of all of the restaurants, bakeries, and street food vendors that I want to try. For me, spending the time and money to travel to someplace new and neglecting to eat well would be just as tragic as not seeing key sites and points of interest. I strongly believe that one of the best (and most enjoyable) ways to develop a more intimate understanding of a place is to eat your way through it!
Over time, I’ll add to this blog entry as I continue to travel and stuff my face with my destinations’ culinary offerings. For now, please enjoy part one…
Destination: San Juan, Puerto Rico
The Restaurant: Punto de Vista
The Scene: This restaurant is on a quiet street in Old San Juan near the ferry terminal and right around the corner from all of the action. The restaurant has indoor or sidewalk dining with views of the water.
The Meal: Pork mofongo, tostones, arroz y habichuelas
Impressions: I was a mofongo virgin and a bit skeptical about eating mashed fried green plantains. Don’t get me wrong – I love plantains and grew up eating them, but I was afraid that I would be eating a heap of mush with bits of meat. I was so wrong! Do you see that lovely, creaminess the mofongo is sitting in? That’s the garlic sauce that gives the pork and the plantains their rich, layered flavors. The mofongo was savory and moist – the perfect offset to the somewhat dry tostones, both of which were highlighted by some of the best beans and rice I’ve ever had. Mofongo is a must try Puerto Rican dish, and although I have no other place to compare it to, my tastebuds don’t lie – Punto de Vista hit the nail on the head!
Destination: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The Restaurant: Espirito Santa
The Scene: On a cool, breezy night in Santa Teresa, we dined with a group of friends at Espirito Santa to celebrate our first night in Rio before heading down to Lapa for a night of partying. Espirito Santa was just up the hill from our B&B alongside the Bonde tracks. Santa Teresa, a former upper-class neighborhood in Rio, boasts huge mansions from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Dining on the back porch, we enjoyed a backdrop of these bohemian mansions which slowly faded from view with the onset of the setting sun. Our group was lively, the cachaça was flowing, and faint conversations in Brazilian Portuguese enveloped us as we soaked in the romance of it all.
The Meal: Espirtio Santa specializes in Amazonian cuisine, using fresh ingredients from the Amazon. I opted for the piranha soup and tacacá, a stew made with mandioca root, shrimp, and jambu, a dark green leaf that causes a slight numbing sensation in the mouth. The jambu didn’t make my mouth numb, but the cachaça definitely did as alcohol tends to have that effect on me.
Impressions: The food was delicious – especially the piranha soup. But what made this meal memorable was the setting, the good company, and the anticipation of all of the great things that Rio had in store for us.
Destination: Ephesus, Turkey
The Restaurant: I have no idea!
The Scene: We were on a day tour of Ephesus and we’d just finished seeing many of the ancient ruins and the Virgin Mary’s house. It was a day spent walking through history. When our guide told us that we were stopping for lunch, I was just hoping that the food would be good because I was starving! When we got off of our bus, we walked to the back of the restaurant and were seated at a table on a covered patio. It was a bright, beautfiul day, and the surrounding countryside was verdant and lush. As we ate, we intermingled with our fellow travelers and our guide, reflecting on all we’d seen so far that day.
The Meal: This luscious-looking mezze plate was only the appetizer course of our three course lunch.
Impressions: This mezze plate tasted as fresh as it is colorful. The eggplant, the cheese blintzes, the goat cheese, and the olives (and I don’t even like olives!) were the sheer definition of organic freshness. What flavors! I felt like I was in the land of milk and honey.
Destination: Portland, Oregon
The Restaurant: Little Bird Bistro
The Scene: A few blocks from Pioneer Square, this restaurant embodies the feeling of European bistros – tables packed closely to each other, chalkboard specials, an inviting bar. We visited on a Wednesday night and the place was packed, so I can only imagine what the scene is like on a weekend evening.
The Meal: These perfect, unforgettable mussels and the lackluster entrée that followed
Impressions: If we were at home, there’s no denying that Jave and I would’ve licked our bowls clean. But because we were in public, we instead used our pieces of herb-infused toast to wipe our plates clean of the succulent sauce that the mussels cooked in. The freshness of the mussels permeated through the sauce’s many flavors. My only regret is that I shared this appetizer portion with Jave. When I return to this restaurant, I won’t make that mistake again!
Destination: Vancouver, British Columbia
The Restaurant: Tavola
The Scene: As usual, Vancouver was in the midst of a downpour when we ducked into this restaurant after a local got off of the bus with us and essentially walked us to the restaurant to ensure that we’d find our way. We were met by more warmth and friendliness as the hostess graciously welcomed us and seated us at the bar while our table was prepped. Our waiter provided great recommendations and stopped by somewhat frequently to check in on us and to chat about the time he’d spent living in L.A. Although it’s Italian, the restaurant isn’t particulary romantic, but it’s warm, inviting, and an ideal place to catch up with friends.
The Meal: Say it in your best Italian accent…homemade Bucatini all’Amatriciana
Impressions: I could live on homemade pasta. My dish was perfection. Just look at it – the sufficiently spicy tomato sauce, fresh homemade bucatini, and little clouds of parmesan. This meal was comforting – ideal eating for rainy Vancouver nights.
What memorable meals have you enjoyed during your travels? Please share…