Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Food and Travel

Two of my favourite things are food and travel, so whenever I get to combine the two, you can guarantee a happy Sophie!

Europe is the best place I've been for food (so far!), and I still can't decide if I prefer France (wine, cheese, bread and pastries) or Italy (wine, cheese, pizza, pasta, ice cream!)

Food, for me, captures the essence of the place you're in, and is one of the best ways to experience the different countries, cultures and ways of life. I love how many different things are eaten around the world, and I think it's a key part of travel! My housemate loves to travel (she's been to far more places than I have) and yet the food doesn't really interest her. Our other friend, however, has just been to China and posted so many pictures of food - I loved it! From scorpion to Sicheuan Hot Pot, I wanted to be in China experiencing it with her, and to me it's one of the best bits about travel. I think you're either a foodie or you're not, and I definitely am!

Africa has not been the most exciting place for food (although parts do have some pretty good recipes!), with the exception of Zanzibar, which had some pretty amazing seafood! I was quite a picky eater as a child, and I still don't eat much meat, but I've tried to broaden my tastes as an adult, and I'm glad I have. 

I'd never eaten seafood before I went to Zanzibar, apart from trying it a couple of times as a kid and declaring my disgust. My parents once tricked my brother and I into eating calamari at a tapas restaurant by claiming they were onion rings, and that was enough to put anyone off!

I played it quite safe in the rest of Tanzania, but in Zanzibar I went on a boat tour around the archipelago. I was sat on a mound of sand, literally in the middle of nowhere, and the guides were BBQing fresh fish right in front of us, so I decided not to be such a wuss and try whatever was put in front of me. I went from no seafood to eating octopus, prawns, crab, lobster and a meaty fish which I think was barracuda, although I could be wrong. 

I wasn't (and still am not) a big fan of shellfish, and I found the octopus quite tough with very little taste, but I was surprised to find that I LOVED the lobster and the barracuda! They had a whole lobster for each of us (they're so fresh and abundant out there, it's not an extravagance) and they'd cooked the barracuda with some amazing spices, and it was quite honestly the best meal I've ever tasted.

Since then, I've been determined to try everything once, including goat and pigeon in Mali (although if I ever go to SE Asia, I might have to draw a line at scorpion...), although nothing else has become a firm favourite. I haven't really travelled anywhere particularly foody yet, however, so there's still time!
Mali definitely wasn't great for food. It's one of the poorest countries in the world, and apart from an ex-pat community of missionaries and volunteers, it has little to no tourism. Most of the food out there was rice, meat and sauce, as well as a touch of the French influence with fresh bread every morning, and an attempt at patisseries. 

I was there for three months, and I survived mainly on eggs and bread. The only food really safe to eat was bananas, and they went off incredibly quickly in the heat. Watermelons were safe too (anything with a skin on basically) but they were harder to come by. I gave myself food poisoning on my first day there (I still have no idea what with, I didn't eat anything exciting!) and a couple of other volunteers had a literal bug in their stomachs, so we all had to be very careful what we ate. The first meal I had when I came home was vegetable chilli as I was craving vitamins!

(Actually, one of the best foods out there was aloco (fried plantain). I did have a go at replicating it when I was back in the UK, but with little success unfortunately!)

I love food like chickpeas, pulses and spices, so I'd love to go to north Africa (Morocco etc) to try the food there. Here in the UK, there's a show called the Great British Bake Off that I'm a bit obsessed with (very clever people having bakes judged weekly to find the star baker! #quicksynopsis) and I've always wanted to try my hand at some of the recipes.

I love cooking - I'm not amazing at it, but I can usually follow a recipe, so when bread week appeared on GBBO, I really wanted to try them all! It was a toss up between Martha's bread (a sunflower with a whole cheese baked inside the bread, and chutney in each of the petals) and Iain's (moroccan plaited loaf with a bessara dip) but as Iain's was more something I'd eat normally, I decided to give it a go! (Recipe available here).

Apart from being so worried about the plaiting that I forgot to include the goat's cheese, I think it turned out alright! Will definitely be trying my hand at other bakes in the future!

I love trying recipes from all around the world - it's another way of being an armchair explorer until I actually get to go there - so if you have any recipes to share, please share them in the comments!

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