This is an introduction to one of our regular series on Grantourismo called The Dish.
One of the goals of our continuous contemporary Grand Tour of the world is to gather knowledge and experiences – an essential ingredient of the traditional grand tour. For me, a top priority will be learning about the local cuisine, because food is one of the best ways of getting beneath the skin of a place.
Over the last several years of our globetrotting I’ve become increasingly obsessed with seeking out and tasting the quintessentially local dishes of the destinations we visit and getting to the source of the best recipe for making them.
Finding out how the recipe came about and learning how to cook the dishes as authentically as possible is one of the constant joys of travelling for me. One of the frustrations, however, has been not always having a kitchen to cook in. Problem solved for the next 12 months of our grand tour, which is being sponsored by holiday rental company HomeAwayUK!
It was on our first trip to Italy that I got a basic understanding about the nuances of regional cuisine. Growing up in Australia, Italian food was Italian food. Spaghetti, pizza, lasagne, and risotto had no regional connections for me. It was just tasty.
These days I make sure that whatever part of Italy we’re in I seek out the local and regional specialties with gusto. Some have suggested (ok, Lara and others in our family) that I became just a little too obsessed with ragù alla Bolognese last year. Though they didn’t complain when it was placed before them (regularly) in the form of a rustic sauce for fresh tagliatelle or as a chunky portion of lasagne alla Bolognese. You can read about my journeys making those dishes here.
Other obsessions have included Thai dishes such as larb gai and the curries of Northern Thailand (somewhat sated through a one-on-one cooking course at the Four Seasons Chiang Mai that blew my mind) and anything combining eggs and Mexican cuisine. Or eggs and French cuisine. As the year pans out my obsession with omelettes will become embarrassingly clear in another series we’ll be running called Weekend Eggs. The list does go on, but I’m sure you get the picture.
Something that will be a focus of our grand tours will be eating, and eating as locally as possible. That means celebrating the truly local ingredients, wines and (often-dangerous!) spirits, rather than goods that are imported.
The trend of the globalisation of cuisine of increasingly using imported goods is one that has been concerning us. While it’s great that you can courier some scallops halfway around the world, should you do so just to keep them on the menu? Once again, it was in Italy where this was really brought home to me.
We were in Venice staying in an apartment a few years ago and I asked the landlady, a sprightly 70-something aristocratic local, what we should get from the markets. “Seafood,” she replied, “it’s the only thing that’s truly local here”. I spent the next two weeks following women of advanced years around the Rialto markets and only buying whatever seafood they got excited about each day. We ate one meal at home each day, just so we could try the different seafood. I still remember the taste of the scampi…
And speaking of Venice, it’s one city that’s very underrated when it comes to food (check out my photos above). For tourists, Venice is not just about generic ‘Italian food’. Yet there is a great food scene beneath the surface, tucked away in the backstreets. That’s what staying longer in a place and living more locally offers up to you – the opportunity to get deeper into a destination and further away from the ‘safe’ guidebook recommendations.
Whenever we’re eating out, one question we always get asked when we tell a chef to just do his thing, is whether there is anything we can’t eat. The answer to that question is a resounding “no”. So when we post a list of the destinations we’ll be travelling to, we’d love to hear your opinion on what you consider to be the best local dish in each place and where we should try it.
We’ll happily explore and taste the dish, seek out the best recipe for it, learn to cook it from local cooks and chefs, and then, wherever possible, cook it up for some locals to see if I can get somewhere close to matching the local flavour! I’ll also provide the recipes which I’ll file under The Dish. I hope you’ll join us on the culinary journey that’s going to be an integral part of this, and future, grand tours.