I'm still feeling nostalgic and apparently also hungry because I was just sitting here and started thinking about all the amazing food we ate this year. Food is a huge deal when you travel full time - finding the right balance between maintaining "healthy" eating habits and gaining a sense of place and culture through food. I feel like we struck a great balance this year, though things did tend to tilt heavily toward one gelato a day while we were in Italy. This isn't intended to be an exhaustive list of the best of what we ate and you likely won't find some of these foods or places on a recommended list somewhere, but for me, things didn't get any better than these bites.
Simit with Water Buffalo clotted cream- Istanbul, Turkey
While Simit might sound like something you would feed birds, it is actually a bagel like bread that Istanbulians (is that what people who live in Istabul are called? I guess they are for me) eat on the run each morning. Sometimes, they're fortunate enough to be near Ozsut cafe and dip their simit into some clotted water buffalo cream and honey. Everyone at our table swooned for this combo and I think this was the only item on our food tour that was devoured in its entirety. Zac and I have been dreaming about this ever since.
Khachapuri - Republic of Georgia
There's so much incredible food in Georgia and your hosts are not shy about piling it on. Khachapuri is a stuffed bread of sorts and each region seems to have its own specialty. We had so many varieties of this bread on our tour of Georgia that it sort of became a joke for us. We had it at lunch and dinner most days and never really tired of it. Though our stomachs were feeling the weight of the sheer quantities of food we were consuming our hearts kept saying yes to the Khachapuri. I hope I get back to Georgia soon because I have been missing their food ever since we left.
Eggplant with walnut sauce - mostly in Georgia but also some in Armenia
There are a lot of walnuts in Georgia and they seem to use them in many many different ways in their cuisine. One of my favorites was roasted eggplant with a serious dressing of walnut sauce. Nutty, garlicky, sweet, and a bit tangy this dish had it all. I definitely ate way too much of this stuff and was happy to see some version of it while we were in Armenia as well.
I'm sure you all know by now that Italy has amazing gelato. I'm not sure that I have a whole lot to add to that story other than some of the places we found in Rome and in Milan had some of the most interesting and sometimes savory versions that just blew my mind. Take for example the time I ordered lemon, olive and ricotta gelato. I honestly could have just eaten the entire container full at that time. I even considered going back for another scoop but decided I needed to spread the love and try some others. And while I'm happy I did that, no other flavor combo stole my heart quite like this one.
Breton Cake (with apple) and Pain aux Raisin
There were many, many amazing baked goods on offer in Brittany but the Breton cake was one of my top choices. The farmer's market that was near our house had a killer version that was topped with caramelized apples. Thankfully it was only offered a few times while we were in town, which was a good thing as I think there is likely a pound of butter in one slice of the cake. This was seriously delicious and seriously decadent. We tried the Breton cake in many forms and found all of them to be lovely. I also fully fell in love with Pain aux Raisin (it's sort of a snail shaped croissant with raisins and cinnamon) while in Brittany. Every chance I got I tried the local bakery's version and found the one in Morlaix to be the absolute best. I'm not sure but I think they had a bit of custard swirled throughout and that just put me head over heels in love with it. I never found another that was as good.
Galettes w/ cider
When in Brittany, one must have Galettes and cider. While cider was traditionally a popular drink in nearby Normandy, Brittany took up the beverage in earnest post WW2 due to much of the apple crop being damaged in Normandy. The styles of cider between Normandy and Brittany are also different with those of Normandy being a bit sweeter. We were also told that the "tradition" of eating one's galettes with a cup of cider was actually a bit of marketing on the Breton's part. It's not really traditional at all. It was popularized as a way to draw tourists into feeling they were taking part into a very traditional meal of the area. Well, marketing or not, the combination of a buckwheat galette (it's a crepe made with buckwheat flour and is generally savory instead of sweet) and a cider cannot be beat. On a cold winter's day there was really nothing better than popping in to our local creperie and tucking in to a galette with a cider in front of a fire.
I became a paleta freak while we were in Merida, Mexico. I couldn't get enough. Think of them as a better version of the popsicle you know and love. They come in all sorts of flavors; fruits and spices, fruit combos, or more like ice cream pops. It seems like every town has at least one Paleteria and they each have their specialty. I started out being a pineapple with chili fanatic but turned into an ice cream with oreo fan before we left.
Natural Wines of Georgia
I feel like I could probably have filled this list with all foods of Georgia and Georgian experiences, this place is that good. But I needed to spread the love. However, I would be absolutely remiss if I did not mention the amazing natural wines we tasted at virtually every meal we had in the country. Georgia is proud to boast being the oldest wine producing country in the world and they are bringing back those traditions with a fury. There's a palpable excitement around the wines being produced throughout the country using centuries old techniques. The wine is aged in a qvevri with no added sugar and is often times fermented with the skins and stems included. This creates a unique amber wine that is totally unlike anything you have ever tasted. If you see Georgian wines in a shop, be sure to pick them up.
Freshly picked Mulberries
I love mulberries and they are not something I readily have in my life. That all changed as we wandered around Armenia. We had seen and purchased many of the dark mulberries at markets BUT we totally lucked out on one of our hikes and came across a white mulberry tree that was filthy with super ripe fruit. White mulberries don't last very long so we gorged ourselves while we picked from the tree. Those we didn't eat we took with us in a plastic bag. They weren't so pretty the next day, but I ate them anyway. I didn't want these beauties to go to waste.
Dining and Music at Poliphonia, Tbilisi, Georgia
Poliphonia is a restaurant in Tbilisi, Georgia. Polyphony is the style of simultaneously combining a number of parts, each forming an individual melody and harmonizing with each other. The dinner event we attended at Poliphonia was an amazing combination of many parts - food, wine and song from 8 different regions of Georgia. We were a bit of a late add to the event (thanks to Living Roots tours for getting us in) and were seated in the far back of the restaurant at our own table (All other tables were of 8 -10 people, strangers having arrived and digging into conversation between courses). The organizer of the event, John Wurdeman, gave a little speech about the food, the customs, the song and the wine of each region before each course. Each course was then accompanied by polyphonic singers belting out a traditional tune from that specific region. I'm really not doing the event justice. I'm just going to leave it at this being one of my favorite dinners we have ever attended.
Lunch in the Douro Valley, Portugal at Tasca da Quinta
It was an absolutely perfect day when we set out from our farm stay and headed further into the Douro Valley to the Douro Museum. The setting for the museum is perfect and while our day could have ended there and been really great, we had to out do ourselves and had an incredible lunch at Tasca da Quinta just down the way from the museum. I wrote about this meal extensively here, so in this post I will just say this. Memories of this place and how I felt here are firmly set in my brain. This was a contentment that I felt in my soul.
Have a listen to one of the songs that was sung at the dinner event at Poliphonia. It was so much fun to watch these guys belt out the tunes. Some of them were super into it and others hardly looked like they were moving their mouths. But regardless, they were singing and everyone was enjoying it.