Saturday, November 14, 2009

Taste Memories

Many of my most vivid travel memories involve food.

I remember my very first meal in Italy.  I'd landed in Milan in a sleepy haze, crammed myself and my too-big luggage onto the cheap car of the first train headed to Venice, and dropped my bags in a tiny room with stone walls and a view over a canal.  We turned left out of our inn and sat down at the first taverna with red checkered tablecloths that was serving early to jet-lagged tourists.  I don't remember ordering or waiting, but I remember the steaming plate of linguini with salmon and a tomato cream sauce and a brown pottery jug of the house red wine that was cool to the touch.

In Vietnam we'd been exploring the brown waters of the Mekong Delta by boat all afternoon.  It was hot, humid, hazy, sticky.  We got out of the boat and followed our guide down a narrow dirt path through thick green foliage.  We ducked under huge bumpy jackfruits hanging from the branches above, and passed bunches of green bananas waiting to be picked.  We were led through the open-air kitchen of a two-room concrete house and out onto the porch, where we collapsed in white plastic chairs pulled up to a table.  With a wide smile, the sweet woman who lived in this modest house brought out a feast of the fruits that her husband had harvested, slices of pineapple and papaya, piles of brown longans and red spiky rambutans.  She showed us how to squeeze lime juice into a dish of salt and red pepper, and then dip the sweet fruits into this sour-salty-spicy mixture. 

In Cappadocia in central Turkey, we rented a car and headed out of town to explore the long dusty roads leading to quiet villages that looked like they hadn't changed for hundreds of years.  We followed a small whitewashed, hand-lettered sign pointing to Mustafapasa and then parked in front of a big stone building called "Old Greek House".  We were seated in an interior courtyard open to the sky but shaded with grape trellises overhead.  The waiter brought out plates of grilled eggplant smothered in yogurt, miniature raviolis filled with lamb in a pungent garlic sauce, and golden balls of friend mashed chickpeas. 

In Rhodes, Greece, we followed the recommendation of the proprietor of our bed & breakfast away from the crowded streets of the central tourist district to a cobblestone courtyard lit by white christmas lights.  As we waited for our food to come, we watched the cooks generously brush olive oil onto fresh whole fishes and then slide them into a wood-burning oven open to the courtyard.  We tried a plate of grilled octopus, and we were surprised to cut through thick tendrils with lots of suction cups.  The octopus was incredibly salty and too rubbery- we had better luck with our entrees that came out later.  But I enjoyed sharing bits of the octopus with a skinny grey cat who'd been hovering in the bushes nearby waiting for crumbs to fall.

We plan to take lots of pictures of our meals on our upcoming trip since I know that it's those images, and not the ones of beautiful scenery, that will evoke the most vivid memories years from now.

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