By Harriet Bloom-Wilson
“But it’s still wiggling!” I said, trying not to sound too hysterical. I was in Sapporo, Japan, on the northern island of Hokkaido, having dinner with one of our Japanese alums. She was very eager to take me to a sushi restaurant with the “freshest” fish. I am usually game to try anything when I travel, especially when my host is excited to introduce me to the local specialties, but this time I had met my match--squid so fresh it was struggling to stay alive!
More often than not, though, I have had many wonderful experiences related to food all over the world, thanks to my personal passion for travel and the experiences that came with my career of more than 30 years at Northwest College. By far the most vivid memories are of dishes shared with friends and acquaintances wanting to introduce this foreigner to the cuisines of their countries.
|A typical market in Hoi An, Vietnam.|
Let’s begin in France, the country I know best. Comfort food for me whenever I return to Burgundy where I lived for a year consists of escargots ... yes, snails swimming in a sauce of butter, garlic, and parsley carefully replaced in their shells just waiting to be plucked out with the aid of specially designed tools.
Of course, this has to be followed by wiping up all the remaining liquid with chunks of the ubiquitous crusty bread in baskets on the tables. In fact, dishes in Burgundy such as boeuf bourgignon (beef burgundy) and oeufs en meurette (eggs poached in a rich red wine with mushrooms and bacon) are usually meant to be sopped up at the end with every piece of bread remaining on the table so as not to waste a crumb or a drop of the wine for which the region is famous. My mouth waters just thinking about it!
If the weather is cold, it’s my excuse to order a steaming bowl of Soupe a l’oignon, French onion soup covered with a thick layer of cheese that I have to break through to get to the rich broth and saturated bread below. And there’s no such thing as an ordinary salad in France. The greens are varied and the “key ingredients” can range from hot goat cheese to pieces of duck cooked in their own fat to tuna and sardines with hard-boiled eggs, potatoes and string beans. Always copious, always served beautifully. And don’t forget the square, savory, buckwheat crepes in Normandy and Brittany!
I love the cuisine in Israel, Greece and Turkey — and who wouldn’t, if you like lamb, fish, olives, feta cheese, chickpeas, anything cooked in olive oil? The best salad dressing I ever had is simply freshly squeezed lemon with just the right amount of a good extra-virgin olive oil. Shish kabob, falafel, hummus, tajines, and pita are, or are becoming, familiar and safe choices thanks to the prevalence of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean restaurants and cooking stores in most big cities.
My tour wouldn’t be complete without some more reflections on Asia. For many people, that simply means “Chinese” food, but we’ve all seen the growth of sushi bars and restaurants, even in our own small towns. I don’t want to dismiss the incredible cuisines of China, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, and Indonesia; I’ve eaten well in all these countries, but I’m going to focus on three of my favorites.
Becoming more and more popular throughout the world and in urban America is Korean barbecue, where each table is equipped with a grill in the middle for you to cook a variety of meats, galbi or bulgogi. The wait staff cover the table with a mind-boggling assortment of banchan, small plates of food, including kimchee, to be enjoyed with the meat as it’s rolled up in large lettuce leaves, so delicious and almost too easy to eat in large quantities.
Vietnam is a country I’ve been fortunate to visit several times, and when I’m there I try to shed my American notions of breakfast and opt for a bowl of pho, a wonderful, hot soup filled with beef or chicken, bean sprouts, greens, a squeeze of lime, and so many flavors unique to this country. The locals like to add chili peppers and spices, the hotter the better, even when the temperatures are, for me, almost unbearable. I think the theory is it helps you sweat off the discomfort of the heat.
|A Thai woman prepares pancakes at floating market.|
Courtesy photos/Harriet Bloom-Wilson
Finally, I cannot think of food and the senses without talking about Indian food, something I try to experience in every city I visit, both in the U.S. and abroad. The colors and smells of the spices, the tastes of the curries and tandooris, garlic naan, meat and vegetable-filled samosas, basmati rice with dried fruits and nuts, yogurt sauces and lassi drinks. In spite of all the warnings, I never got sick in India, so I have no negative associations with this heavenly cuisine, although I do have to watch the heat level. I have actually burned my throat once or twice!
So, what do I look forward to when the plane touches down in the U.S.? Believe it or not, after all the fresh, homemade specialties I feasted on abroad, I find myself craving a McDonald’s burger and fries. Once I’ve devoured it, though, I remember why I don’t eat fast food more often. Then I return home to download photos of the wonderful dishes I ate throughout my trip.
Happy travels, everyone, and Bon Appetit!
(Harriet Bloom-Wilson is a retired director of International Programs and assistant professor of French at Northwest College. She has traveled extensively around the globe.)