Travel Romance: To All the Foods I’ve Loved Before

One of my favorite parts of travel is trying the local foods. Whether I’m traveling across the country or the world I love finding something new to taste. But leaving these new loves behind is hard too. When you taste something really good and find that you can’t get it back home, it can be a heartbreaking. I’m traveling to New York in a few weeks, and thinking about the tasty foods I’ll get to eat while I’m there. I’m also swooning about all my past loves from travels that I will likely never eat again.

When I visit New York, there are two food items that are tops on my list: babka and knish. Both are Jewish bread-based items. Babka is a loaf of bread with swirls of cinnamon or chocolate. A knish is savory individual pastry with sauerkraut or potatoes, although I’ve seen them with sweet cherry filling as well.

As with all the items on my list of dream foods, I could probably make both of these, but there is something about the original in New York that is far better than I could ever make. A local woman did start making babka recently in Madison and it was a pretty good imitation, but still not the same. As for the knish, I tried to make them once and they were okay, but just not the same.

At least the foods I’ve eaten in New York are somewhat accessible. I’ve visited more than once, but the other locations aren’t. Here’s the rest of my list of foods I’ve loved but are probably just a memory now.

Morocco

Morocco had wonderful food including tagines of every type, but here fo my other favorites that I still crave:

Moroccan bread with jam and yogurt
Berber pizza

Flat bread – This was served with jam and yogurt for breakfast and had an incredible texture. I believe it was semolina flour. They also served a puffy bread that was made in an outdoor oven with nearly every meal.

Berber pizza – A type of stuffed pizza with ingredients like lamb or cheese between two pieces of bread and cooked over a campfire, an oven, or the sands of the Sahara. It is specific to the Berber people and we had it when we visited the Todra gorge as our driver assured us we did not see it in Marrakesh as we first thought.

Schweppe’s Limon – This bottled drink was served everywhere and was so refreshing. It’s obviously not a handmade item, but something we’ve only come across in Morocco so far. We have looked for it on every other overseas trip and foreign grocery store, but have never found it. I don’t really remember what it tastes like at this point, but know I liked it.

Sicily

Sicily has so much good food and we did a food tour in Palermo and tried many yummy local foods including arancini (rice balls), snail, chickpea fritters, spleen sandwiches, and Sicilian pizza.

Granita on Bam Bar table

Everything was wonderful (even the spleen) but the thing that stands out about Sicily and that I have not found anywhere else is the granita. We had it a few places, but the best was at Bam Bar in Taormina.  I have not had it anywhere in the U.S. and we have tried to make it, but it is not the same. I loved the Nutella, coffee, almond, pistachio, or a combination, with a dollop of whipped cream.

I have been craving it so much that I looked to see if I could get granita in New York’s Little Italy when I go. Surprisingly, I’m not the only one who misses granita. I found a number of online discussions from people like me looking for it in America. Most said the best place to get it was Sicily. But there was one place in New York that was supposed to have a good granita. It’s an Italian gelato company with stores in New York, called GROM. I’ll have to give it a try.

Portugal

Pasteis de Nata from Pasteis de Belem

Before we went to Portugal we heard about the pastries. The famous pastry of Portugal, the pastel de nata, is a small tart filled with custard. The original is sold at one shop near the Belém Tower in Lisbon where the recipe is kept under lock and key, but you can get versions of the pastry everywhere in the country. The original shop makes 22,000 of the tarts each day, so the crust on theirs is phenomenal, a flaky combination of butter, heat, time, and effort. The ones sold elsewhere, even in gas stations, were still pretty good.

The crowded official shop selling Pasteis de Nata
The official shop selling Pasteis de Nata gets quite busy.

The other stand-out in Portugal was the coffee. European coffee tends to be pretty bitter for American tastes and even with milk, it tends to be strong, but we fell in love with Portugal’s caffe galão. It is a combination of one-quarter espresso and three-quarters foamed milk, but somehow it was so much more. I’ve had those two ingredients before, and they have never tasted quite the same.

Somehow that’s how it is with food from other locations. The ingredients may be the same that you can get at home, but with different air, water, and a different location, everything combines in a new and different way. You can’t recreate a food romance at home.

What about you? What foods have you loved on the road that you’ve missed when you came home?

12 comments

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    • Catherine Lanser

      Yes, Greece has so much good food. I ran out of space, but had the best tomatoes in Greece! I hope to go to Turkey on day. I’ve one been to Ephesus.

  1. Kim Carberry

    I feel so hungry reading this. I love the sound of Babka! The flat bread sounds amazing. What a great breakfast to have.
    I just Googled Schweppe’s Limon thinking it was bitter lemon. It’s not but I did see it for sale on eBay. #MMBC

    • Catherine Lanser

      I looked on the Schweppes site and translated from Spanish, it says it’s the “first man-made lemon soda with gas.” I didn’t think of Amazon, of course!

    • Catherine Lanser

      eBay does have everything! I also love the Coke they serve in Mexico. They sell it here now, but I haven’t tried it. I’m not sure it tastes the same, but I don’t think I want to know!

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