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We Eat to Live, but Live to Eat

At some point this spring while practicing French on Duolingo it gave me this phrase to translate “Nous mangeons pour vivre, mais vivre pour manger.” I had to laugh, it applies to me so well.

I’ve thought before that I was born in the wrong place or at least the wrong food culture. Chowder, baked beans, haddock…except for the occasional lobster roll most of the food of my home state leaves me lukewarm. It’s the food of other places that I find most exciting. I’ve wondered if other people feel this way? If I had grown up on mole or bibimbap would I be so eager for a new food frontier? It seems impossible somehow.

Some of my favorite travel memories are those associated with the eye popping revelations of new flavors- a bowl of buttered farfalle with shaved white truffles in Florence, south Indian thali served on a banana leaf, a plate of succulent babi guling in Bali. And then, too, some of our most enduring travel souvenirs have come in the form of foods and recipes transported back to our own kitchen- poke from Hawaii, hagelslag from the Netherlands, rösti from Switzerland. That is why I am so excited to explore new foods with my family this year. On my list are “short eats” in Sri Lanka, laksa in Malaysia, hawker center fare in Singapore, durian as soon as we smell it, rambutan and mangosteen wherever and whenever we can get them and absolutely everything in Vietnam. It’s exciting to think about the dishes I don’t know about, to wonder what will make the transition back to my home kitchen.

So far we are off to a good start, I think, having enjoyed tapas that ranged from the basic (olives) to the exotic (baby squid with white beans) in Barcelona, an array of pastas, wood oven pizzas and lots of gelato in Rome, papa al pomodoro, bisteca alla Fiorentina and fagioli in Tuscany, sarde in saor in Venice, pasticcio and papoutsakia in Athens. I do my best to research a little and try local specialties, but not get sucked down the hole of Tripadvisor reviews or drag us all four of us over creation for the best ______(insert crazy food here.)

Having our own apartments, we’ve cooked many meals in, of course, which is kinder on the budget even with splurges on ingredients like bellota ham in Barcelona and big, fresh porcinis in Florence. I like that this lets us participate in the markets everywhere, where we blunder through ordering and guessing quantities (how many grams of beans?) If you go back to those markets or stores or bakeries though, it’s amazing how quickly you can be remembered, and welcomed. Because rental kitchen setups are always sparse, we try to keep preparations simple, like a piece of fish with some vegetables, or some eggs with those sautéed porcini. I did finally get smart after fighting with the dull knives in rental kitchens, at least, and brought two lightweight Komachi ones with me. When we use them to dice an onion or tomato without fuss, I feel pretty smug.

Vance, the budget spread sheet master, has kindly allowed for some restaurant splurges along the way, too, and those have been de-lightful.

And the kids? They have tried everything! Squid tentacles, pasta made with cuttlefish ink, anchovies, burrata, clams, figs, mushrooms galore, feta. Dare I say they liked some of these things and would eat them again? I have to think they will have the toughest stomachs around by the time we get back- there are many months, many cuisines, many flavors and many, many meals to go!

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