Foodie or not, the appeal of a destination often includes cuisine. We once traveled to the Yucatan in Mexico, partly because our then two-year-old lived on rice and beans. Whether it’s beer in Germany, wine in California, chocolate in Switzerland or paella in Spain, we all let our taste buds be our tour guide. From the bizarre to the gourmet, one only has to look at television and the plethora of travel food shows to see evidence of the combination’s mainstream appeal.
Travel memories can be as simple as an unforgettable meal or taste sensation. I loved the tropical paradise of Fiji. The waterfalls, the glorious beaches and the dazzling underwater world made me smitten, but the distinct cuisine, the mixture of Indian spices and Polynesian flavors cemented Fiji as one of my favorite vacation spots. I can still taste the mouth-watering rhubarb crumble I enjoyed at a cozy pub, post hike, on a rainy day in Wales. Once, many years ago, on a French catalog photo shoot in Greece, I played the role of photo assistant and translator. Every day for two weeks we ate fabulous Greek salads and yogurt, spanakopita, succulent lamb and fresh seafood. Everything was delectable. I have loved Greek and Mediterranean cuisine ever since. I was taken back to that trip to Greece the other day while reading a front-page article in the New York Times entitled: Fast Food Hits Mediterranean: a Diet Succumbs. Sadly, the much sought after Greek Diet is going the way of our American super-sized culture. Young Greek locals are growing obese at alarming rates. Included in this dietary shift are steep increases in cases of diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol. This is happening all over the world, but as we search for health and longevity through our food, many have looked to Mediterranean cuisine as a sort of panacea for heart-healthy living. With the fast food fiasco sweeping the globe, these days, ironically, you are more apt to find traditional Mediterranean cuisine at a fancy restaurant near you.
The synergies of life…I am also reading a new book by Dr. Daphne Miller called The Jungle Effect, which explores the health benefits of indigenous diets, and how far we have strayed from the wisdom of our ancestors. The chapter about Crete and the heart-healthy wild greens called horta which grow on the island speaks to this subject. The book is part cook-book, part travelogue, written with the wisdom of a doctor who sees diet as integral to health and well-being. Miller travels the continents looking for “cold spots”; places where certain diseases are rare. Diabetes, depression and heart disease are a few of the modern day plagues she seeks to learn about. Miller then investigates the local (indigenous) diet and analyzes the connection with the low disease incidence. The information may not be earth shattering for those immersed in healthy food research, but it all makes so much sense. It’s an interesting read for the health conscious, travel buffs, and foodies alike. Of course you can still seek out the traditional fare wherever you travel, but you may have to search a bit harder, these days, for that special bistro, taverna or pub. In these tough economic times perhaps bringing a little exotic cuisine into your life at home will make you feel like you are traveling in spirit. I recommend the Three Sisters Stew recipe, a yummy concoction from the Tarahumara Indians of Copper Canyon, Mexico.