Italian Cuisine World Summit in Dubai this November

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Culinary Road Trip in the North of Spain

Asturias - North Spain



"The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are."                                             - Samuel Johnson


Once a year, I dedicate a trip to what I call a "Culinary Destination". I travel in search of good food, food inspirations and unique food experiences. These trips revolve only around food. I look for honest local cuisines, as they are prepared at home. I also look for fresh local produce and specialties, not limited to fruits and vegetables but extending to cheeses, cured meats, beverages...etc.
I find that to have a full understanding of food, you have got to start from the ground up. The ground is a different perspective in every country and at times in different cities within a country. The soil is different, the climate and therefore the produce differs even in its most common properties. You will find that - however mildly - goat's cheese made in France tastes and is differently textured than that made in Greece. They tell you "the milk itself is different... the grass is different... the terrain is different...." and therefore the produce and its properties vary.
Moving on to the preparations of produce. Different cuisines have different approaches for dealing with produce. Even within a cuisine each village will use different aromatics, additions and even different techniques in finishing a dish. You will find that in Asia it is very customary to fry aromatics at the beginning of cooking, while in Europe for instance, it is more common to add the aromatics in a bouquet garnis, towards the middle and end of the cooking process. The aromatics can be the same, but how and when they are added makes a huge difference to the flavours. In some cuisines, the use of many ingredients in one dish, all of which immensely pungent, is very common and in fact amicable. While in other countries this is disliked and considered to take away from the dish rather than enrich it, as the ingredients overwhelm each other rather than compliment and bring out each other's goodness. To understand cuisine, you have to understand the differences, to understand the produce and the methods, and most importantly to understand the food culture. What better way to do that, than by cooking with people, eating and talking food with them? And that is why I go to my Culinary Destinations; in search of  inspiration.

Pintxos - Barcelona

We live in a world so rich and varied. Anywhere you go, you will have a culinary destination, even when you least expect it. I have found an unexpected culinary destination in both Seychelles and Mauritius. I completely devoured the scene in New York and while I loved it all madly, grew completely fond of "Little Italy". I have accidentally tripped over a condensed Mexican experience in Orlando of all places!! I fell in love the first time with South Africa, so much so that I keep going back for more down the Wine Route and also the Garden Route. The produce there is Divine and so is each and every bite. Beirut is always rich with food, and so are Syria, JordanPalestine... Morocco is a whole different ball game! Everyone knows of my love of French cuisine and especially my love affair with Provence. I dream to live there someday, gastronomically! The list is endless and what I would love for you to take from this is the fact that it doesn't have to be globally claimed a culinary spot to be a culinary destination. You will find food and cuisine everywhere you go. The trick is to open your mind to it and see it!

Olive Trees in Spain - Painting by Sarah Brynat

This year is a special destination because I am heading to a country rich all over with food. I am heading to North of Spain. Spain is known for being rich in produce. From fruits and vegetables and especially the olive and olive oil, to meats, fish and seafood, to cheeses and wines... the country has it all! The Spanish Cuisine is rich and diverse and I cannot close this sentence without a reference to its very well known Tapas or as known in the Basque country as Pintxos (which are small appetisers, kind of like the Arabic Mezze). The tapas over there even has a culture known as Tapas Crawl, where the people hop from bar to another all evening, where they have one tapa at each bar! Not to forget, of course, that San Sebastian in the Northern Region of Spain is known to be the Mecca for Foodies. The city has the largest number of Michelin Starred Restaurant in Europe!
I have been looking forward to going to Spain on a Culinary quest for a while now, but somehow always ended up going to another city. But the time is right now and am ready for Spain, for La Cocina Vasca and specifically looking forward to the Nueva Cocina Vasca. I would have loved nothing more than spending a few months there, but had to cut down to a couple of weeks. Therefore, I have chosen north of Spain this time, and will definitely be dedicating one for the southern region.

I will be blogging all about this trip when I get back, and telling you all about the adventures -especially looking forward to seeing the cheese country!! Yes they have a cheese country there!! Specifically the cheese caves, where bats and cheese live harmoniously! On the lookout for cured meat producers although it is not the specialty of the North Region, but heard there are a few farms to check out. Eagerly anticipating the mythical Rioja Region with all the wine farms and secret gastropubs and restaurants tucked within the farms! And most definitely not going to miss out on the restaurants with all the stars to devour a sea urchin cappuccino amongst other things.

I am really looking forward to this trip. North of Spain had always been on my Top List Culinary Destinations :)
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