You guys! Can it really be that we have not Chewed the Fat with someone for months now? That hardly seems possible, but scanning our archives, I see that it is (sadly) true. I have no excuse because the response to this series has really been excellent (I mean, really, who doesn’t love reading about food and drooling over delicious pictures?) and I’ve had a couple of wonderfully witty & engaging interviews sitting on the backburner all this time. I dropped the ball and I know our Foodie Fridays have all been a little bit less inspiring as a result.
But now that we’re back home and getting back into the blogging swing of things, I am stoked to revive this series so that we can all continue gabbing about grub on a semi-regular basis. I’m sure none of you are surprised to hear that during our temporary hiatus from traveling, it’s primarily memories of great meals had during our Big Trip that cause us the greatest sense of loss and longing… but thinking back on so many of the great meals we had during our travels is really one of our favorite ways to relive our trip, and now that we have a kitchen at our disposal, we’re hoping we can help bring them to life with our own hands and see if we can’t recapture a little bit of that magic. We’re also looking forwarding to diving back into this series in reveling in other traveler’s best food memories (including yours, I hope! If you’re interested in taking part in the series, drop me an email and we’ll go from there!); there’s a whole lot of the world that we have yet to wrap our mouths around, and if we can’t be out there doing just that, then this is the next best thing!
I can’t think of a better person to dust off this series with than the lovely woman behind one of our favorite travel blogs, Colleen Brynn Travels. A fellow Canuck, Colleen has managed to see (and eat her way through) an awful lot of the world, despite juggling her travels with a student budget and all the work and studying that optometry school entails. If you haven’t checked out her site but love thoughtful travel writing that is deeply personal and always burrows beneath the surface of the destinations it features, you really must fix that immediately. Colleen’s site exudes an infectious joie de vivre that has made me wish on more than one occasion that we could sit down with a couple of girly drinks and some tasty tapas and just chat the night away. Maybe now that we’re in the same country, we can actually make it happen!
In the interim, join me as I chat with Colleen about the succulent decadence of Indian weddings, the hardest thing about ingesting chicken butts, drinks that’ll put hair on yer chest, and so much more!
We’re a big fan of “foodcations”—on more than one occasion we’ve taken trips motivated solely by the desire to eat our way through our destination. Of all the places you have visited in your travels, if you were limited to only eating the food from one country, which place would you choose and why?
I feel like a lot of your past contributors have chosen this country’s cuisine, but I’ve been saying this for years so I have to stay true to my palate: Mexico!
I lived in Guadalajara for 4 months, and the food was life changing; it is cheap, and it is the freshest food I’ve come across in my travels to date. Well, that and Brazilian juices, but who can live off of just juice? My very favourite Mexican dish was the torta, which is basically the sandwich of the gods. Guadalajara is famous for its tortas ahogadas, which translates to drowned sandwiches, a chicken sandwich doused and drenched in chilli/tomato sauce. Apparently, by baking the bread at Guadalajara’s altitude, the bread is able to stay soft on the inside with a firm crust without getting grotesquely soggy once the sauce is added. I tried this dish once and enjoyed it, but the torta magic doesn’t end there. There was an open air torta shop across the street from my apartment, and oh boy, was it ever tempting to run across to get a daily torta. All of the ingredients were cooked up in front of us, and again, let me reiterate just how fresh everything was. Listen, it’s been 6 years since I lived there, and I am still talking about these sandwiches.
And the flipside: of all the places you’ve visited, which country had your least favorite food? Why was that and were you surprised?
Ughhh… sorry Mongolia. One of the traits that has served me well in my travels is that I’m not a picky eater. I can pretty much eat anything (apart from the really gross bugs and weird body parts) and convince myself that it was good. This skill worked well during my trip through Mongolia, but it wasn’t until the end of my stay in the country when we went out for Indian food that my taste buds were like “Oh! That’s what good food tastes like!”
I can’t say I was surprised that Mongolian food was disappointing, only because I try to keep my expectations low, especially if it’s a cuisine I’m not familiar with, but it was really, truly bad. I still haven’t figured out if it was just bad luck that we didn’t eat well in Mongolia, but I’ve never heard anyone rave about the food there. The meals we had were heavy on the starches – plain pasta with a squirt of ketchup, a side of potatoes, and if you’re lucky you’ll get some beets and cabbage. The worst part of it was the mutton. This is not a meat I learned to enjoy in Mongolia, and they eat it all the time. Of course they eat every part of the animal (which I appreciate for not being wasteful and all), but I just don’t like eating straight blobs of fat. My travel partner got violently ill as a result of eating (chewing *wink wink*) the fat, so after that, we began telling everyone we were vegetarian.
Many travelers mention succumbing to McDonald’s or other fast food cravings while on the road… what is the guilty pleasure food that you indulge in when traveling?
To be completely honest, McDonald’s is not something I ever crave… except for the occasional french fry fix, but I have to be pretty boozy for this craving to set in. While I was traveling through Russia and Mongolia, the one thing that brought me great pleasure at the end of a long day was a big salad and a trusty beer. Sometimes greens can be hard to come by, and since I eat a lot of veg at home, getting enough on the road can be challenging. Thankfully, the beer was reliable during this trip, and I was able to sample countless different kinds. Interestingly, all went well with a salad. *ahem*
Sometimes you don’t know a good thing until it’s gone! While you were traveling, what was the one food from home that you craved the most?
Again, I’m really not a picky eater, and I have an adaptable palate, so I don’t find my cravings from home to be that strong. What I do sometimes miss is food I trust. In my hometown, I know where certain dishes are good and where to go just for drinks and pretty people but never to eat. I know where I go if I want good sushi or the best mojitos. While I’m traveling, unless I have an inside scoop or I am lucky, restaurants can easily be a letdown. This seemed to happen a lot in Russia (hence the massive daily salads), and at times like that, I find I miss the old haunts at home. I also miss my mum’s cooking while I’m traveling.
If you knew we were coming to visit you in your hometown, what would be the one food you would make sure we tried?
I would take you to our family cabin to go fishing. I’m not much of a fisherperson, but my dad would gladly take you. You’d catch some pickerel and we’d cook it up for dinner. The fresher, the better. Also, happy hour at the lake is 4:00 pm… or whenever feels right.
What’s the most exotic/adventurous edible you’ve sampled and what did you think about it?
Well! Let me tell you about that time I ate chicken anus in Korea.
I was with a friend and her 2 sisters staying with their family there. While we were in Seoul, we stayed with their adorable grandmother who showed her love by feeding us. She would get up at 4:00 am to start cooking our breakfasts. She bought enormous watermelons for us to feast on after dinner. And one time, while we were all sitting around watching TV one night, she fell asleep in the bowl of beans she was picking through on the floor. That woman stole my heart away, and I will never forget her. She also made a dish I will never forget. Everything looked and smelled delicious, and after we’d all settled in at the table and said our polite pre-meal thanks in Korean, we dug in. I plopped into my mouth a piece of the meat she’d slaved over to cook for us and began to chew. Except… I couldn’t chew. This meat was un-chewable. It was like hard rubber. I shot a worried look at my friend, and her quick response, knowing my faces so well was, “Oh, this is chicken asshole.” I’ve since looked it up, and apparently this dish is called dahk-ddong-jib. Only for its un-chewable nature, I can’t say I liked it, but everything else about it was tasty.
Honorable mention has to go to my boyfriend who took on fermented shark in Iceland. I had fully planned on trying it but once I caught a whiff of that thing, I just couldn’t. It smelled more like a rotten (female) human body part than what I would expect shark to smell like… although, said shark was fermented. The boyfriend took it like a champ, and followed it with Brennivin, just like the pros/locals.
On your blog, your food section is simply labeled “I Ate It”. If you were going to amend that label so that it included “… But I Wish I Hadn’t” what would you file under there?
I lived in Madrid in 2011 for a Spanish language program, and while I was there, my cousin who was working in France at the time came to visit. After we’d visited La Reina Sofia and ingested plenty of Picasso and Dali, we decided we were hungry for food rather than art, so we stopped at one of the nearby cafes. We thought we’d act like locals and politely declined the tourist menu our server offered us and scanned the regular menu for potential talent. I thought I’d give what sounded like a typical dish a chance: sopa castellana. The description of egg, ham and bread did not do anything to sell the dish, but sometimes these undersold dishes end up being the most delightfully surprising ones (like the sandwich I had in Denmark that was described on the menu simply as “sandwich with ham and cheese” and I was given a fully jacked ham and cheese sandwich on a ciabatta bun, with gorgeous fresh lettuce spilling out, crispy red peppers, succulent tomatoes and crunchy cucumber piled on top of the ham and cheese base, and a slathering of mayo to go with. Another sandwich I will never forget). Anyway, back to the Madrid mishap. The soup ended up being as bad, or worse, than its description. My cousin held her breath and force fed herself as much as she could as quickly as she could. I hyperventilate-laughed at her, and then followed her lead. After the fact, I was just grossed out that I had put that inside my body.
We’re totally envious of you because you’ve gotten to attend the holy grail of all food festivities: an Indian wedding. If we’re ever so lucky as to get to attend one, give us a preview of what we can expect.
This is the only question that really stumped me and forced me to think (and actually do research). I wish I could say I was a good little blogger and took notes each night of what I was eating at the wedding, but I really just showed up and stuffed my face. Actually, on the last night at the final reception, I ate so much that I couldn’t really dance or move properly. One of the groomsmen coached me through a gentle step-touch-step-touch kind of dance to help settle my excessive gluttony.
I did contact my friend (who was the bride), and she sent me the entire menu from the wedding. So here’s a sample of what I ate/drank (over the span of 4 nights): burgers and samosas and sweet potato fries and rum punch. Oh, the rum punch!Tropical fruit and customized omelettes and lamb bruschetta. Grilled shrimp with almond dipping sauce and chicken satay with spicy peanut dipping sauce and paneer makhani pizza. There was North Indian food and East African food. There was a chef from New York. There was biryani and butter chicken and naan bread and channa masala and kebabs. There were desserts like jalebi, kulfi, gajjar halwa tartlets, butter pudding and pound cakes. There was wine and tequila and freshly squeezed juices. We enjoyed jerk chicken thighs, grilled paneer and red snapper. We devoured fried plantains with cinnamon and honey and indulged in island sugar cakes and Caribbean black rum cake. There were lentil dumplings with chutneys, pistachio biscotti and chai tea. And if we weren’t already overwhelmed, there were grilled lobster morsels and ginger ghee, lamb and potato tikki, tandoori mushrooms and roasted poppadoms. Oh, and the dinner that left me (basically) disabled: raita boondi, kachumber salad, saffron pulao, rogan josh, kadhai chicken, maa di daal, saag paneer, malai kofta with apricot, Goan shrimp and aloo gobi.
Yeah… lots of words most of us probably don’t know, so I suggest using Google images for any unfamiliar dish I’ve mentioned. All those pictures that pop up remind me of how sad I am that my stomach is a finite container.
You’ve visited some destinations (like San Francisco & Boston) that are famous for their seafood. From mollusks to crustaceans, what are some of the best seafood dishes you’ve dined upon?
In San Francisco, the clam chowder is not to be missed. I also went to town on a crab sandwich and a whole lot of oysters. In Boston, it’s all about the lobster rolls. I devoured some fried clam strips (with beer of course!) and clam chowder when I went to Martha’s Vineyard. I’ve also had some unforgettable seafood in Victoria, BC in Canada. This was where I first tried oysters, and this experience opened me up to tasting the ocean. The scallops were unbeatable too. Oh, and how could I possibly forget all the fresh grilled sardines I ate in Portugal? What I like best about seafood is that it can be prepared so simply and still be outstanding. Crab meat just is delicious. A little butter, and voila. You practically have a masterpiece meal. Ring the dinner bell!
Have you ever been traveling during a major holiday or festival? If so, did this allow you the chance to try out special celebratory foods?
A few events come to mind. When I lived in Denmark during the winter of 2008, the magic and hubbub of Christmas was everywhere. It is at this time that the enchanting Christmas markets are set up, and the delicious and addictive roasted nuts are available. The release of the annual Christmas beer in Denmark also comes with a lot of anticipation. Everyone gets together either at a student house or a friend’s kollegium, and I can remember buying 3 beers for about $4. In a Scandinavian country where most things are bitterly expensive, these cheap (and strong) beers did wonders for morale.
While in Europe at Christmastime, I also had the chance to go to Scotland, and those were some of the best Christmas markets I’ve ever seen. If they can’t get you in the Christmas spirit, nothing will. It was there that I first tried spiced mulled wine. YUM.
I also travelled to Easter Island just before the annual Tapati festival, and one of the things you can enjoy (that is not necessarily associated exclusively with the festival) is an evening of traditional song and dance and cooking in the ground. This form of cooking is known as umu pae. Meat, potatoes and bread are thrown into a pit in the ground and cooked for hours. This was a fun way to experience Easter Island!
One of the things that budget travelers constantly struggle with is figuring out when to splurge and just going for broke. We’re always willing to stretch our budget for the sake of a good meal, but what’s your stance on this? Have you had any particularly memorable meals where you blew your budget?
The first time I ever splurged on a meal while traveling was in Cordoba, Spain during a school trip. My friend and I went wandering around during our free time and saw an adorable restaurant with a warm entranceway and vines snaking up the front of the building. I don’t even think we were that hungry, but we couldn’t resist, so we went in and sat down, probably with the intention of just ordering sangria and tiptoeing back to our classmates. We saw the menu, saw that it was a bit expensive, but that this was an excellent opportunity to indulge in what looked like first class fare. We gorged on rabbit and duck and wine and never looked back. It was a strangely liberating experience to decide to eat like that as an 18 year old.
The other notable time I splurged on a meal was when I was nearing the end of my solo trip through South America. I had met and become close friends with an English woman named Kathy, who was also spending some time on Easter Island. We had plans on my last day on the island to watch the Tapati festival rehearsals together. After that, she decided she had a desire for steak. “I fancy a steak dinner,” she told me. I’ve never been much of a steak eater, but I was happy for her company, and admittedly, I wasn’t eating that great since I was on a tight budget and stuck mostly to eating sandwiches I made at the hostel. She told me that if I topped up her money with what converted to about $20, she would buy us steak dinner. While I would never think to drop $20 on a single meal in South America, this entire meal came out to under or around $100; it may have been a splurge for me, but I had unparalleled company and an outstanding meal. Kathy ordered blue rare steak, as she always gets it because “you can really taste the meat”. My steak looked a lot smaller than hers because it was more cooked, and she somehow thought I was going to starve so insisted that I have some of her steak. Willing to try almost anything once, I gave this blue rare steak a go. And yes, you can definitely “really taste the meat.”
If you were going to plan your next destination based solely on eating all the things and you had to visit a place you’ve never visited before, where would you choose? What would you want to dig into first?
I have a pretty perverse love of spicy food, so I’d have to pick somewhere the food is nice and piquante. I’m thinking a spicy Thai curry. Or maybe West Indian food. My boyfriend is half Trinidadian, and I’ve had some of his grandma’s epic goat curry and roti, so maybe Trinidad. Either way, he’s called me a freak when it comes to ingesting the spicy stuff, so this is no joke; I take spicy food very seriously. That’s why I usually order my caesars (a drink that is already “spicy”) extra spicy. I like my rums short and my ceasars super spicy. A great tie-in to the next question.
Back in our apartment in Nashville we had quite the eclectic bar and liked to try our hand at concocting new and interesting cocktails. Give us some inspiration and share some of the best boozy bevvies you’ve encountered on your travels.
A lot of the booze I’ve had while traveling has been local liquors rather than cocktails. Danish snaps (served ice cold), Icelandic Brennivin (which could peel paint off any wall or strip the soul from an angel), Korean Soju, Dutch Jenever, Mexican tequila and Czech Becherovka all come to mind. Berechovka and ginger ale is one of the best drinks I’ve ever tried. I’m also recalling Brazilian caipirinhas and Chilean pisco sour. Saba spice was a treat I discovered on the Caribbean island of Saba – rum fortified with all kinds of spices that can be enjoyed straight or on the rocks. I also always love a good Spanish sangria or Vermouth on tap, served with piping hot patatas bravas, albondigas or spicy octopus. Another drink I came to love in Spain was “clara con limon” which is beer mixed with lemon soda, a lighter take on beer and goes excellent with the finger food served at Spanish bars.
I’ve had so many positive experiences with all the different kinds of alcohol available while traveling, and they so often created the base of some of my favourite travel memories, like drinking Guinnes in Dublin, Mongolian beer at a ger camp, or being proposed to on the train in Siberia in exchange for three beers. And yes, they were king can beers.
Another one of my favourite memories is when I stayed with my aunt’s uncle in a small village in Slovenia for a few days, and the way this village says thank you for helping out with a household/farm/mechanical problem is by dropping off a big block of cheese and some homebrew. Let’s just say Uncle Tony is a very helpful guy, and so he always had a major stash of all kinds of homebrew. He introduced me to his village by sampling all the homebrew. And yes, my knuckles and chest are hairier as a result.
Website: Colleen Brynn Travels
Massive thanks to Colleen for taking the time to craft such thorough and thoughtful responses to our many questions, as well as getting us even more excited about our upcoming travels south of the border (here we thought we only had tacos to look forward to, but now we have tortas too!). Now that we’re both back in Canada, I hope we’ll finally have that epic meet-up! Spicy food, boozy drinks, & great company… let’s make it happen!
ATTENTION FELLOW FOODIES! Want to be featured in a future installment of Chewing the Fat? Great! We’re looking for new people to dish about dining with! As I said above, you don’t have to be a long-term traveler, or even have your own blog to participate; all you need is a healthy appetite and an appreciation for food. Contact Us letting us know that you’re interested in taking part in this series, and we’ll get back to you with all the information you need to get started.