Perhaps because of the indulgences over the festive period it’s natural that my attentions should turn be turning to food, although I confess it is something I think about throughout the year and sometimes throughout the day!
Delicious, authentic local food is always a feature of a Vistas sketching holiday. On sketchbook ‘journeys’ we can experience an enormous variety of local specialities as we pass through villages and towns, often with opportunities to sample tantalising, piping hot street food or a freshly squeezed fruit juice. On hotel-based itineraries we choose our ‘home’ with reliably good food in mind, along with all the other creature comforts you’d need and expect, of course.
Even in countries where the cuisine might be more familiar, or in places where you are choosing your own accommodation, at least a couple of regional delicacies are included in the itinerary, whether it’s an Aperol spritz and slice of apple strudel in the Dolomites, a ‘gofio’ cookie with your espresso in La Gomera, a treat from the much-accoladed Pie Shop in Lochinver or an incredibly rich and creamy hand-made hot chocolate in Balnakeil, where a vegan version is also available.
In most places, nervous eaters will be able to source less challenging options, although full participation is, of course, encouraged. The hotel restaurant in La Gomera offers a buffet each evening with an array of dishes from all over the world including Canarian specialities along with the usual favourites. The menu changes nightly, so your biggest concern is usually how to squeeze it all in and still be able to roll up the stairs back to your room. The selection is equally mind-blowing at breakfast, so it’s a good job we manage a few walks!
If. as I am, you are a lover of spicy flavours, you won’t want to miss Morocco and Sri Lanka. I AM missing Morocco and Sri Lanka, and I can’t wait to get back there! Last night I cooked myself a vegetable tagine and now my kitchen retains the subtle, distinctive aroma of cumin and fresh coriander with a hint of lemon. Morocco is a major producer of top quality olive oil, and the best cooks will use this in their tagines along with onions, tomatoes, fresh green chillies and spices. Meat or vegetables may arrive with the addition of chick peas or prunes, with some of the world’s most wonderful olives either in the dish or on the side. Never fear, though, they tend to minimise the use of chillies for the tourist palate, unless you insist!
In Sri Lanka, also, the general assumption seems to be that ‘Western’ visitors prefer their food on the blander side. This is a shame, because in some cases this can lead to a less flavoursome outcome. Choosing smaller restaurants which are popular with locals, washing one’s hands and preparing to eat without cutlery while braving the shy stares which soon turn to smiles is definitely the way to go if you’re brave enough. Although anyone (perhaps if you are from the UK) who is well used to scooping up curries with naan or chapatti will find that eating a plate of rice with your hands is a rather different art form. The astonished admiration you will receive on emptying your plate in this way will encourage you to repeat and perfect. I swear the food tastes better, too.
Food is fabulous, and enjoying it amongst others breaks down all barriers. If all you can manage is a coconut, just watching a man with a machete shin effortlessly up a palm tree to cut one, then deftly open it for you while you wait on the warm sand is almost worth travelling half way across the world for.