A culinary circle tour: From East India to Caribbean Island to Iberian peninsula
My love for travel is mildly surpassed by my love for eating, so I normally tend to fuse the two together, simply by trying out local cuisine in every city and country I visit. Not one to shy away from food with strange sounding names, I love to sample local dishes made with local ingredients to get a better understanding of their culture, history and lifestyle. After all, what good is travel if you do not try to appreciate local customs and flavors and what better way to do it than sample some unique cuisine which you will never find back home? Here are some of my recommendations of some of my favorite gastronomic adventures in cities I have memories of or have visited.
First, comes Kolkata. This is the capital city of West Bengal, an eastern state in India and apart from being the second largest city in the country, is also my birth city. Bengali (the local language) cuisine is distinctly different from other parts of India and you will be hard pressed to find it anywhere in USA and Europe, despite a plethora of Indian restaurants everywhere which usually serve North or South Indian food.
For those visiting Kolkata, a sampling of some form of fish curry (all our fish is fresh water and so very different in taste from sea fish) at a restaurant is a must and I highly recommend reputed ones like “Bhojohori Manna” or “Oh Calcutta” for outsiders, who are not lucky enough to snag themselves a Bengali host. Fish aside, the other thing that you absolutely must taste are Bengali sweets, which are milk based and world famous. The spongy white balls of Roshogolla are the most popular of them all but there are sweetshops at every corner and you must sample either those or the famous thick pink sweetened yogurt aptly called “Mishti Doi”.
From Kolkata to Puerto Rico, a Caribbean island that I visited last year, the capital San Juan, specially the old town, is one place where taste buds sing a jolly song, thanks to its distinct island cuisine formed as a result of intermingling of Taino, African and Spanish races. When in Puerto Rico, plantains, rice&beans and seafood aside, what you must taste is the Mofongo, an Afro-Puerto Rican dish that is basically
a concoction of mashed plantains with salt, oil and garlic in its most basic form mixed with vigor in a mortar and pestle. You can have them as a side in restaurants or enjoy them as is from street vendors. For a sweet treat, try Mallorca, a Spanish pastry lightly kissed with powdered sugar at cafe La Bombonora, San Juan’s famous cafe and bakery.
Finally, ending this article with a recommendation in Spain, Europe, after covering Asia and the Americas (PR is a US territory). If there is one thing that you should when in Spain, apart from stuffing your face with Iberian Ham (or not, if you are not into it like me) is indulge in some sea food, which is one of the freshest and best that you can ever find. The saying that beauty lies in simplicity is true for a reason and the garlic shrimp, possibly the best I’ve ever had, in a small cafe in Madrid, was testimony to the beauty of simple cooking. I highly recommend a food tour when in Madrid (they accommodate vegetarians, a rare option there) and you can read the details on food tour post here
I hope this post has provided you plenty of “food” for thought (all pun intended) and has given that necessary push to get those salivary glands flowing! Partaking of local cuisine is one of the best ways to experience a new travel destination and for opening up your taste buds along with your hearts and mind. So, here’s to lots more of Bon Appétit for wherever your next travel may take you!
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