When do you cross the line from culinary traveler to Culinary Crazy?
In Italy, there are as many types of lemons as there are tomatoes. On Ponza, they are a commodity item. Like salt, sugar, coffee, you have to have some lemons on hand, and you may as well buy different sizes because you will need different amounts of lemon juice or skin. (Which makes total sense, and you have to ask why the convenience of packaging uniform sized lemons ever trumped the need for big and little lemons.)
The gamberi rossi (red shrimp) on Ponza are the sweetest shrimp I’ve ever eaten. (Then again, I was eavesdropping at lunch today, and a fisherman was bragging that the best shrimp come from the nearby island of Palmarola, so more research is needed!) We gilded the lily the other night when I served the shrimp in a brandy broth. I started by steaming the shrimp in a tiny bit of wine and oil; then removed the shrimp to my only serving bowl. Reduced the cooking liquid, added some Roman brandy, garlic and chili pepper, reduced again, and finished with a knob of butter and a squeeze of lemon. If I never ate shrimp again, I’d have this memory to keep me going. We had a serious discussion about whether we’d ever be able to eat frozen shrimp again. I think that means we’ve crossed the border into Culinary Crazy Land.
Which got me to thinking, what’s the point of “Culinary Travel”? It’s an Official Trend, a Buzzword, right? Jeff and I could probably be the poster children for Culinary Tourism, but I’m still wondering if this hasn’t all gotten a bit precious.
Unless you are living next door to us, you don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of replicating our shrimp dish. Can’t be done. Sorry. Mi dispiace.
Yes, the ingredients and the prep are important. And maybe you can find some good shrimp, maybe even fresh ones. But you didn’t spend all day at a rocky beach, and come home salty, thirsty, and hungry. Your husband didn’t make you a lemony tart Last Word cocktail that you sipped while watching the boats come into our cove for the evening. This is all part of the prep, it’s the mind prep.
I’m not trying to make you jealous. I’m just saying I brought a whole different set of experiences and expectations into the kitchen when I made dinner. And trust me, this is no state of the art kitchen! Its a four burner Ikea stovetop that has two settings: OFF or SCORCH. The only way to bring the temperature down is to take the pot off the burner. And I’d kill for a pot lid that actually fit the pot.
So when we set dinner down to eat, we were already giving ourselves bonus points for wringing a decent dinner out of that damned stove top. That’s part and parcel of culinary travel as far as I’m concerned. It’s about conquering a quirky kitchen, and remembering to forage for bit of wild fennel on the way home; it’s not just a recipe you can replicate at home.
If blue tinted lights can bring down crime, why wouldn’t a view of the sea enhance flavor and your appetite?
Sure you can take home some new ideas, like the marinated eggplant, that’s popular around here. The eggplant is cut into fine strips, soaked in vinegar for a few hours, pressed to remove the vinegar, then stored in sunflower oil along with a few specks of chili pepper. Serve on a boat, on a sunny afternoon, after a good snorkel swim when you are wrapped in a wet towel. We practically licked the jar clean.
Maybe the whole point of culinary travel isn’t travel at all. Maybe it’s about slowing down and recognizing that what you have in front of you, right now, at this moment is unique. You can tell me about it, and I can imagine what the flavor is like, but I can’t have any of it unless I’m sitting right next to you, sharing that coffee or bowl of cherries...or whatever it is you are munching on.
And that’s just fine. Go out. By all means never stop traveling. To have a good time, you don’t need to be Anthony Burdain, paddling a canoe down the Amazon, in search of a fish that might eat your cameraman. You just need to ‘be’ in the moment. Savor, enjoy, remember to tell stories. As far as we’re concerned, this is what makes getting up in the morning an adventure no matter where you are.