Monday, February 25, 2013

Food: I love you! Travel: I like you too!

I love food and I really like to travel

Not just any food though, I love fresh food, mostly the unprocessed kind (organic, locally sourced is my preference!), and I love the experience of learning about it, picking it up at a market, smelling it, cooking it/ordering it and savoring every bite 


Unless it was a life or death situation, you'd never catch me at the McDonald's, KFC's, Applebee's or the like


Part 1. I eat therefore I travel. I travel therefore I eat. This is how my story begins.

I have always loved food and was not a picky eater when I was a little kid. Many of my baby pictures show me eating cubed cheese and fresh fruit. When I was about 5, I received a cook book as a gift and started making scrambled eggs for breakfast and tried to help in the kitchen as much as I could. I actually liked making salad dressing from scratch for lunch - even salad tasted amazing to me as a little kid. Growing up, my mom never let me eat alone. She would always eat with me or sit down next to me and watch me eat. She later told me this was one of her favorite things to do because she just loved how much I enjoyed food and how much I loved the experience of eating my meal. Throughout elementary school, I usually made my friends jealous because my mom would always make me home-made lunches from scratch: one of my favorites was bistek con arroz, braised beef with sliced red onion and sliced tomatoes on top of a bed of rice. There were no microwaves back then so she'd back it in one of those Thermos and it would still be nice and warm around lunch time. Oh and I would have a side of sliced green apples with salt and lime (trust me, it's a great combo) or sliced green tomatoes with salt and lime and home made banana bread for dessert PLUS a bonus tropical fruit juice made from fresh fruit as my drink - this was basically fruit, water and pure cane sugar all mixed in a blender. 

There are many poor souls out there who've never enjoyed a delicious Tomate de Arbol juice, it's so good!

Mora aka Blackberry - throw in a blender and drink!

Weekends were awesome - they  basically centered around food, food and mas comida that I enjoyed to no end with every single member of my family. We'd usually go to a finca and eat small round potatoes known as papa criolla, yuca (aka cassava), empanadas vallunas, savory plantains and small arepas with all sorts of fried meats including chicharron and chorizos

Empanadas Vallunas stuffed with Beef and Potatoes

Plantain tostadas topped of with hogado (simmered down tomato, onion, thyme, garlic) and avocado

That was the appetizer. Then we'd dive in to a very typical soup called sancocho which you could have with either gallina (hen) or beef. You usually add avocado, rice and spicy aji as an option and the soup has more plantains, yuca and potatoes inside and both the meat and the soup (in a giant pot) are usually cooked over leña that gives it a nice subtle smoky taste.

Those were the good days.
Then we moved to the United States... to New England out of all places and food just... sucked! It was so BLAND and boring and everything seemed to be processed and wrapped in plastic. Luckily mom and dad still cooked a LOT at home so I still ate pretty well but I missed food from home so much. Even the eggs were weird and tasted like nothing AND looked different. Did you know that egg yolks are supposed to be orange and not yellow? When a hen roams around freely eating dirt, grass, worms and whatever is in a normal chicken diet, they absorb more nutrients including beta carotene thus giving yolks an orange color. When those poor hens are confined to tiny spaces and are fed industrial GMO corn that not even humans can eat, their life is pretty horrible and they produce lame looking eggs with yellow yolks. The taste is insanely different; orange yolks give eggs an incredibly delicious flavor (ask anyone who grew up in a more 'developing' country and I think they'll agree!). Anyway, I wasn't about to drown in a glass of water so I started getting more and more into cooking at home as I survived eating at the college cafeteria and realized that the meal plan was a scam with a horrible value (e.g. I was paying to eat pretty nasty food). Then the summer before Junior year came and it was when my taste buds woke up from their long, ardous nightmare: I spent my entire summer in one of the culinary meccas of the universe: ITALIA.

I mean, what can I say. You haven't had Italian food until you've been to Italy. It is so fresh, so full of flavor and so elegantly simple.
Making Beet Risotto with an Italian chef we hosted at our home in California
I loved going to the market (what they call a farmer's market in the US) almost every other day and getting fresh fish, the greenest most fragrant bunches of basil, melanzane, blood oranges and mozzarela or walking down the street to eat a 6 euro dish prepared by a really cute Italian grandmother consisting of fresh mussels on a bed of pasta with capers that they practically brought up from the beach and then topping it all off with a refreshingly cool lemon gelatto. Italy reminded me SO much of home and at first I couldn't quite put my finger on it but then I started realizing that, just as we did when I was little, the Italian life also centered around food, food, and mas comida that is enjoyed with every single member of the family!

From that summer on, I started becoming extremely passionate about food and cooked more and more at home when I wasn't traveling the world. My trip to Italia also woke up my apetite for travel and I spent many years living in East Asia where I finally learned to eat spicy food (I couldn't even handle fresh ground pepper until I was 20!) and ate some crazy but often delicious dishes (Freshly slaughtered and roasted Mongolian goat, congealed pig's blood, live miniature shrimp that jump all over your table if you down douse then in lime juice and Thai chilis, a pig's head that sat out in the sun for 6 hours, barbequed korean dog, raw minced beef served in a shack off the side of an unpaved road and grilled Chinese snake to name a few).  

This blog, then, is my attempt to document my food adventures going forward as my fiance and I travel to Nepal, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. But before that, everything starts in California... onward to Part 2!