One of the goals of our yearlong grand tour of the world, in which we’ll focus on slow, local and experiential travel, will be to gather knowledge and experiences — an essential ingredient of the traditional grand tour. My focus will be culinary and learning about local cuisines in The Dish.
Deconstructing The Dish: Cooking the Quintessential Plates of Places
Connecting with locals and getting beneath the skin of a place
For me, a top priority of our yearlong grand tour will be learning about the local cuisine and cooking the quintessential plates of places in a recipe series I’ll be writing called The Dish, because food is one of the best ways of connecting with local people and 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 places we’ve settled into 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, in which we’ll be staying in apartments, villas, and holiday houses around the world, thanks to our sponsor, holiday rental company HomeAwayUK.
Appreciating the nuances of regional and local cuisines
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. (How things have changed there.) 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.
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. So this year we’ll be focusing on exploring regional and local cuisines as much as possible and highlighting those wonderful culinary specialties in The Dish.
Celebrating local produce and ingredients
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 produce and ingredients, wines and (often-dangerous) spirits, rather than goods that are imported.
The globalisation of cuisine and tendencies to increasingly use imported goods are trends that have 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…
Discovering the quintessential dishes of places
And speaking of Venice, it’s one city that’s very underrated when it comes to food. For tourists, eating in Venice is just about generic ‘Italian food’. Yet there is a great food scene beneath the surface, at local restaurants tucked away in the backstreets, and at the fresh markets where Venice’s residents and chefs shop. Don’t believe me? Check out my photos above.
That’s what staying longer in a place and living more like locals 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 for you here, 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.