Founded in 1521 by Spanish colonists, San Juan is the capital of Puerto Rico and has the largest population. Since it is an island, you will find numerous beaches. These playas are popular all year long, with the average daily temperature being 81 degrees. So, don’t forget to pack your swimsuit and sunscreen when heading to the island on holiday. Surely, you must be wondering what the best places to eat in San Juan are in such a tropical paradise.
The food in San Juan is special, with dishes that will make you want to stay forever. The national dish of Puerto Rico is arroz con gandules made with a mix of pork, pigeon peas, and rice. And don’t forget to try mofongo, which is a dish made from mashed plantains. Drop off your shopping bags and backpacks at a San Juan luggage storage spot and go eat.
As the most important meal of the day, the Puerto Rico capital is on hand to serve a smorgasbord of delights. Some of the best places to eat in San Juan offer freshly baked bread, fresh fruit, and hot-off-the-griddle eggs.
Order the egg sandwich with Italian ham and provolone on sourdough, a ham sandwich with cheddar and tomatoes, or turkey and pepper jack on sourdough. For pastry lovers, try Café Regina’s chocolate chip cookies, pumpkin & pepita bread, or a delicious vegan brownie. They also have toast, granola, and fruit bowls.
Want a great breakfast by the beach? Head to Pinky’s. They are known for their large variety of breakfast dishes like the Drunken Pilot with four eggs, spinach, goat cheese, and tomatoes and the Morning After Surfer with grilled turkey, mozzarella, and three fried eggs.Don’t miss the banana pancakes!
Waffle-era Tea Room
For waffle lovers, no place is better than Waffle-era Tea Room aka La Waflera. They have two dozen waffle flavors like s’mores, honey almonds, crème brûlée, and Nutella’s Delight. The savory waffle selection includes green eggs and ham, salmon, prosciutto and manchego, roast beef, and gorgonzola basil. You also can create your own combo from 21 toppings.
Ready to take a break from lounging in the sun? Check out some of the best places to eat in San Juan for a quick lunch between exploring the city’s history and getting a tan.
Café Manolin serves Creole food and you can count on a fantastic meal no matter what you order. Get the 10 oz sirloin, red snapper, skirt steak, pork chops, kingfish, chicken breast, salmon, or mahi mahi. Then choose one or more of their great sides like rice, tostones, mofongo, beans, or salad.
Café Marquesa has a variety of lunch and brunch foods from eggs benedict to steak and eggs. Try the Hangover Burger, which has a juicy beef patty with cheddar, bacon, spinach, and tomato with fries. Or try one of the pizza options like pepperoni and cheese or the Nicoletta with goat cheese, mozzarella, and dates.
Although it specializes in Puerto Rican cuisine, Café Berlin also serves vegetarian and international food. Eat in the cozy dining area or on the terrace where you can enjoy the sun. Popular dishes include seafood and mofongo or the fish taco platter. Tropical salmon and Caribbean paella are also excellent.
Dining in Style
San Juan doesn’t disappoint when it comes to dinner. With a small but perfectly formed selection of fine dining establishments, you can turn eating out at night in San Juan into an occasion. Try unforgettable seafood, mouthwatering sides, and stellar traditional dishes.
Be sure you have your phone to take food pics and share on social media because Vendimia designs each dish as a work of art. The restaurant itself is stunning and the food… unforgettable. The ribeye is mouthwatering with wine sauce and raisins, and the beef risotto is adorned with prawns and mushrooms.
Located in the luxurious Condado Vanderbilt Hotel, 1919 is a sensational restaurant with exquisite food and a gorgeous view. They even have a Michelin star for their exceptional menu items like swordfish with squid, clams, mussels, and the roasted duck breast with eggplant and mushrooms. But don’t miss the walnut streusel for dessert.
With an earthy and chic atmosphere, Santaella is a lovely little bistro with warm and friendly staff. And the food is stellar. Traditional dishes like morcilla with hot sauce, goat cheese quesadillas, and pork belly mofongo are popular. The entrees include salmon with Asian noodles, braised pork, and several more.
What would a trip to the city be without trying some of the local spots for a quick bite? Some of the best places to eat in San Juan are small mom-and-pop restaurants ready to showcase their specialty cuisines.
If you want a Tex Mex meal on a budget, Vagón has what you need. Try the Baja fish tacos, surf & turf, or salmon tacos with sides for under $10. They also feature a Puerto Rican favorite, the tripleta, which is a sandwich with beef, chicken, and pork on a sweet roll. Or you can order fajitas, quesadillas, or burritos.
If you can’t decide what you want, head to Lote 23. This park has 10 different kiosks that offer a variety of choices. Doroteas has pizza, El Jangiri features poke bowls, Berger has burgers, the Hen House serves chicken, and if you want mofongo, go to El Cuchifrito. If you are looking for something light — Tio Dora has snack foods, Budare serves arepas, and Caneca has drinks.
For a mouthwatering burger for an amazingly low price, El Hamburguer is the place to go. They take freshly ground beef and cook it over an open flame before dousing it with whatever toppings you desire. From Swiss cheese to jalapeños, these thick burgers are unreal. They also serve crispy fries, onion rings, and hot dogs.
Finally, for all those sweet tooths out there, you can miss San Juan’s desserts. Some of the best places to eat in San Juan can be found at the local ice cream parlor just down the street. With chocolates, cookies, and ice cream, you’re sure to find exactly what you’re craving.
Chocolate lovers must visit the Chocobar Cortés. Chef Ricky is a chocolatier, so he knows how to tempt your tastebuds. Try the vanilla chocolate pancakes with strawberry jam, eight flavors of bonbons, a chocoburger, or chocolate grilled cheese. The chef even dresses the salad in a chocolate vinaigrette.
We all love cookies and David’s Cookies has cookies and much more. From classic chocolate chip to double fudge chocolate, you will find your favorite here. The lava cookie is something special with gooey chocolate sauce in the middle of a chocolate chip cookie. They also have brownies, muffins, and Nutella cookie cups.
Have your ice cream roll your way at Below Zero. They have parlors in Condado and La Marqueta. Drool over a selection of flavors including brownie, green tea, and peanut butter. Choose one and then top with three ingredients such as almond slice, cinnamon crunch, and granola.
Whether you are in San Juan for one day on business or a week on vacation, take the time to try some of these outstanding eateries. Don’t miss the local cuisine like asopao (gumbo) and pasteles (meat-filled pastries). And be sure to have Puerto Rico’s national drink — the piña colada.
My favorite summer recipes happen to include my favorite vegetable to grow in my garden — tomatoes. In fact, there have been years when my Southern Californian garden consisted of nothing but tomatoes. We grew about 15 varieties of tomatoes, and four of those fell into the cherry tomato category. When summer arrived, so did hundreds of tomatoes, and I found myself creating summer cherry tomato recipes for every occasion.
The Best Cherry Tomatoes
Cherry Tomato Varieties
We tend to think of cherry tomatoes as the small round red tomatoes found in restaurant house salads everywhere. However, over 100 different cherry tomato varieties exist. Besides the most common red variety, these conveniently sized tomatoes can also be any color that larger tomatoes can be, like yellow, purple, brown, and orange. They can vary in size from a pea all the way up to a golf ball.
What Are the Best Cherry Tomato Varieties?
Cherry tomatoes taste sweet and flavorful. Many times my choice of tomato will depend on the color and size that best match the dish.
If the recipe calls for raw tomatoes, I will select a variety of tomatoes in different colors for an eye-popping presentation. For a brown tomato, I like chocolate cherry tomatoes. Orange sun gold cherry tomatoes and yellow sun sugar cherry tomatoes are both excellent choices, My favorite red cherry tomatoes are the tiny sweet pea currant tomatoes. The sweet pea currants are definitely the cutest tomato you’ll ever see. Yes, tomatoes can be cute!
Cherry Tomatoes Versus Grape Tomatoes
The biggest difference between cherry tomatoes and grape tomatoes is the shape. Cherry tomatoes are more round and grape tomatoes are more oblong. Cherry tomatoes tend to be juicier and sweeter with a thinner skin. Because the thicker skinned grape tomatoes have a longer shelf life, you will find them more readily available in the grocery stores. Don’t fret if you cannot find cherry tomatoes. You can substitute grape tomatoes in almost any recipe without complication or great loss of flavor.
Favorite Summer Cherry Tomato Recipes
Growing up with Italian grandparents, I most closely associate tomatoes with Italian food. No matter the season, at least one dish typically contained tomatoes at our Sunday dinners. So, most of my favorite summer cherry tomato recipes have Italian roots.
Inspired by the Tuscan bread and tomato salad, Panzanella, this recipe continues to steal the show at my summer dinners. If you’re a cheese lover like me, this is the salad for you!
Adding an incredibly creamy center to mozzarella results in the amazing cheese, burrata. The creaminess of the burrata combined with the crunchiness of the bread makes this summer salad extra delicious. The variety of cherry tomato colors along with red onions make it especially beautiful.
With just a handful of ingredients and a simple balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing, this cherry tomato salad can be prepared in less than half an hour. As my go-to salad recipe for entertaining, Burrata Panzanella can act as an appetizer or side dish. Serve it with a charcuterie board al fresco for the perfect summer meal.
Living in San Diego where the year-round temperatures hover between 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit, I’ve become a bit of a “Goldilocks.” I don’t like to be too hot or too cold. So, in order to keep the house cool in summer, my number one cooking rule is not to use the oven. The stove will not heat up the house nearly as much, and, of course, a quick and easy recipe also helps keep things cool.
It seems fitting that this simple summer pasta dish comes from one of the hottest regions in Italy, Puglia. In Italy, each area has a specific pasta shape that you will find throughout the region. In Puglia, it is orecchiette, which means “little ears.” The ear shape perfectly holds the three main ingredients of Orecchiette Pugliese: crumbled sausages, spinach, and cherry tomatoes.
Loaded with veggies, this Pugliese pasta makes an unexpectedly light summer dinner. Adding to the lightness of this dish is the sauce that naturally forms from the juice of the cherry tomatoes and olive oil. The sauce basically makes itself, so there’s no saucepot to clean — another reason I love this dish! Best of all, my family loves it too. It’s the summer dish they request the most!
Think of Checca as Italian salsa. The classic Italian Checca can be made in minutes by chopping tomatoes, garlic, and basil, and adding a little extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper. With such a simple recipe, it is imperative to use the freshest most flavorful tomatoes, and cherry tomatoes will fit the bill.
Just as versatile as salsa, Checca can be enjoyed in many ways. Give your grilled chicken or fish a flavor boost with Checca. Toss it with pasta, rice, or any grain for a refreshing side dish. Spread it on bread for a delightful appetizer. This Italian cherry tomato salsa will make almost any dish look and taste better!
Contrary to popular belief, Marinara from scratch is a quick sauce for an easy summer dinner. If you have a garden full of cherry tomatoes, homemade Marinara should be on your list!
Because of their naturally high sugar content, cherry tomatoes are one of the best tomatoes to use for Marinara. You probably have the rest of the necessary ingredients (garlic, olive oil, basil, oregano, and onion) in your refrigerator or pantry.
Additionally, this sauce freezes really well. Make a big batch and freeze the leftovers. You will not be sorry!
Blistered cherry tomatoes go with almost any meal! Just heat a frying pan on high with a little olive oil, add the cherry tomatoes either whole or halved, and char lightly. In just a few minutes, you’ll have an accompaniment to perk up most any meal.
If you’re grilling, put some cherry tomatoes on a skewer and rub them with olive oil. Watch them closely because they’ll cook quickly.
Top grilled chicken, steak, or fish with blistered tomatoes, add them to a charcuterie board or cheese platter, jazz up broccoli, green beans, or rice. Get creative! You cannot go wrong here.
In a pinch for a no-cook summer appetizer? Try this simple solution! Stick cherry tomatoes and mozzarella on a toothpick or small skewer, drizzle with balsamic reduction or glaze, and garnish with chopped basil.
Summertime is tomato time! No matter where you live, tomatoes taste best in summer when ripened on the vine. It’s when the best tomatoes of the year are available.
At the peak of the season, you’ll find hundreds of tomato varieties offered. Try the many different varieties of cherry tomatoes. High in sweetness, they make a great choice for both raw and cooked tomato recipes.
I hope some of my favorite summer cherry tomato recipes will brighten your table and become some of your staple recipes, too.
If you are like me, whether you are traveling to a new city or relocating to a new country, one of your top priorities will be finding the best food in town. That does not necessarily mean high-end gourmet cuisine; those places are usually easy enough to find. To me, it means discovering great food at an affordable price. For example, traditional cuisine at neighborhood haunts, local street foods, hidden-gem restaurants, and authentic sources for regional ingredients.
I realize that, as a chef, food may be more important to me than to others. However, no matter where you are, you have to eat, right? Depending on your destination, finding affordable local food can be surprisingly overwhelming. You can certainly Google “best food in town near me” and take your chances. Or, you can try some of these tips that will help you find good, affordable food no matter where you are.
How to Find the Best Food in Town
Talk to Strangers
Talking to strangers can sometimes lead to the best memories. While traveling in Croatia, my husband and I began chatting with a man on the funicular in Zagreb, the shortest funicular in the world. He wound up inviting us to a wedding that night, and it was one of the highlights of our trip.
While going to a Croatian wedding was not our primary goal, getting information was. We were asking if he could suggest something for us to do that wasn’t very touristy. Ask the locals for recommendations and you will find almost anything.
If you’re not apt to flag someone down on the street for a recommendation, you will be in many situations where striking up a conversation is easy. For example, if you are waiting in line someplace, you can ask someone for a good place for lunch. Or ask if they have tried the café on the corner, or maybe where the best place is for the local dish. Maybe if you take a cab or rideshare, ask the driver. Do not pass up opportunities to learn from the locals.
Visit Local Food Markets
Local food markets can be your best source of regional ingredients from herbs and spices, to meats and cheeses. Usually frequented by locals, these markets offer staples for home meals, restaurateurs and chefs, and, of course, tourists. Ask the vendors about restaurants: they know what the chefs are buying.
Sometimes called farmer’s markets, depending on where you are, the market may be something that gets set up and torn down once a week or more. They may have food trucks or food vendors selling prepared foods and snacks. It will quickly become obvious which ones are the most popular.
Many cities have markets in permanent structures that bustle daily with locals eating a quick meal or grabbing what they need for dinner. If your city has one of these markets, go there as soon as you can! You may even find it has everything you need. For example, Mercato di Mezzo in Bologna, Italy has a great selection of regional products, prepared meals, and plenty of snacks. I could have easily spent all day there.
Some of these food markets are even famous for their street snacks, like the Taipei night markets which light up evenings in Taiwan’s capital. These have stalls that run into triple figures. With hundreds of food stalls to choose from, you can satiate yourself on local specialties pretty cheaply.
Buy from Street Food Vendors
It can be nice to have hundreds of street food options under one market roof. However, that’s not always the case. Sometimes you’ll find street food sold from mobile trucks or carts, like the ones in Mexico, Turkey, and Thailand. Or from the open, street-facing windows from more permanent stalls often seen in China and Japan. Wherever you are, there is probably some sort of street food that will make for a good meal, provide good value, and offer a good representation of regional fare.
They don’t have to be a food festival per se. While listening to music, dancing, or exploring arts and crafts, attending festivals gives a glimpse into the culture of its people. Yet it also usually offers insight into the food culture as well.
I spent a month in the South of Spain. It seemed every week one of the small towns was jubilantly celebrating the grape harvest with a Fiesta de la Vendimia. It felt like I attended them all. In between the traditional flamenco dances, I discovered a few foods I otherwise wouldn’t have, like Málaga grapes. They were plump, juicy, sweet green grapes like I never had before. Food stalls selling everything from home-baked goodies to restaurant meals can provide a wealth of information on what to eat in the area. And it’s a good place to talk to locals and possibly make a new friend.
Search for Group Meals
All over the world there are opportunities to pay to eat a home-cooked meal in a group setting. These are a little controversial depending on the city, but they are enjoyable and afford interaction with others who may be like-minded about good food. Another way to have a group meal is to take a food tour or cooking class if you can. Sometimes you can find tours at the local food markets. These will help you more quickly identify ingredients and the famous foods of the area.
Do Your Research
My website, Chef Denise, offers information about global foods: regional specialties, street foods, restaurant recommendations, and even some recipes for some of the dishes. And even I use other online sources when I write about food. For me, the most reliable is the Michelin Guide. Not for the three-star fancy fine dining, but for their Bib Gourmand recommendations. Some of the street food stalls at the Taipei night markets are even listed. These are places Michelin considers good value, pretty much the essence of the best food in town.
Whether you’re moving to a foreign country or traveling to a new city, finding the best food in town can be a fun adventure. Keep in mind that you may be exposed to things you are not used to consuming. If this is the case, and you’re not willing to eat something, you do not need to give a reason (no insulting words like gross or disgusting needed), just politely decline. But if you are feeling adventurous, try as many new foods as you can.
Spain, home of bullfighting and jamón, is more plant-based than you would think. Vegans, for the most part, can find reasonably-priced hotels, restaurants, and shops all over, including the Canaries. Also, many local recipes are naturally plant-based or can be adapted to be so, making a vegan Canary Islands an easy place to discover.
There are more vegan-friendly hotels on Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, and Tenerife. These are popular tourist havens, after all. But the smaller El Hierro, La Graciosa, La Gomera, and La Palma also welcome vegans.
At El Hierro’s Hotel Puntagrande, I made like Peter Rabbit on Mr. McGregor’s vegetable patch via their Delights of the Garden. Staying at La Palma’s lighthouse hotel, Faro Punta Cumplida, I shopped for breakfast items with the owner at a local farmers’ market. Furthermore, I have earmarked the plant-based-friendly Hotel Añaterve in La Gomera’s Vallehermoso for a future stay.
Hotel chefs cater for vegans. Whatever your diet, I particularly rate Fuerteventura’s Hotel Rural Mahoh where I sampled plant protein Heura for the first time. Gran Canaria celebrity magnet Seaside Grand Hotel Residencia’s head chef Wolfgang Grobaeur grows ingredients at a nearby finca. Elsewhere, Tenerife’s uber-stylish The Ritz-Carlton, Abama has in-house Michelin-starred restaurants.
Vegan Canary Islands Restaurants
There are many plant-based restaurants and takeaways. Hotel eateries also open to non-guests. The three best for me, though not purely vegan, on Gran Canaria where I live are the suitably flashy Gold by Marina’s La Palmera Sur, the top-floor 360° at Bohemia Suites & Spa with panoramic views, and Santa Catalina, a Royal Hideaway’s Poemas Restaurant by Hermanos Padrón run by Michelin-starred brothers.
La Gomera’s Hotel Jardín Tecina also deserves acclaim. Normally, all their restaurants are open to non-guests. Currently, it’s just theClub Laurelones with plant-based taster menus, including a romantic cave for two. Still, there is a KM0 approach to sourcing food. Take a weekly visit to their Eco Finca Tecina, birthplace of organic produce.
There are a number of specialist eateries on the Canary Islands. Puerto del Carmen, Lanzarote’s main resort, is home to Bistro Árbol where sharing platters accompany classic vinyl albums played on a trusty Technics record player. In capital Arrecife, you’ll find The V Factorand their playful vegan take on take-out.
Another capital green retreat is for dessert fans. In Arrecife in fact, there is the Canary Islands’ first vegan cake shop. Indulge your sweet tooth at Pastelería Dulce Natural.
Green La Gomera
On La Gomera, Casa Efigenia has plenty of colourful creations for vegans. In the Valle de Gran Rey resort, sup/snack on smoothies and vegetarian/vegan tapas at Noah’s Ark. La Salamandra Gastrobar in capital San Sebastián de la Gomera pairs organic vegan wines with plant-based options. Another nearby place for veggies and vegans is Asociación Ibaya.
You won’t go hungry as a vegan on El Hierro. There is, for example, long-time friend to visiting veggies, Restaurante Casa Goyo in San Andrés. Yet the outlook for followers of a plant-based diet off to La Palma is brighter at Los Llanos de Aridane’s La Vitamina. They deliver vegans their RDA of goodness. Half an hour north, Tijarafe’s Veganoteca offers plant-based brunches.
Fuerteventura’s El Cotillo is home to Happy Cactus El Cotillowhich is a health food shop and restaurant. There is more yummy fare at Corralejo’s H20 Juice Bar & Vegan Café. Nearby, try the signature nutty cheese at Baobab.
Come the Revolution
In capital Puerto de Rosario, there is a healthy food revolution going on at Delicias y Namàstè. Also in PDR is the raw-focusedEl Invernadero Restaurante. Knockdown tasting menus are available for under 20€. Bar y Cafetería Terra is another PDR fave if you crave poke bowls and sushi. Betancuria was Fuerteventura’s original capital and you can munch on vegan burgers at funky La Sombra.
Gran Canaria and Tenerife offer the (dande)lion’s share of vegan restaurants. Two of the best are in Tenerife’s south. In BuenaVida 100% Vegan of the Centro Comercial Fañabe Plaza in Costa Adeje, gourmet burgers are as succulent as they are meat-free. K-Vegan in Los Cristiano’s Passarela Oasis Shopping Center is celebrated for its seaweed meatball wrap. Up north, navigate San Cristóbal de La Laguna’s cobbled streets for the likes of Veggie Penguin (time your visit for weekend sweet potato fries), and the hearty dishes of Somos Lo Que Comemos.
Sustainable and Home Grown
Order takeout at Puerto Colón’s Tierra, Earth with ingredients from the family-run Finca La Caldera. Playa de las América’s Govinda’s specializes in holistic Vedic cuisine which is light on the wallet. You will need to reserve a table in advance at Abades’ Samelo Veg who are pioneers on the vegan cheese front, including mozzaVella, their riff on the Italian classic.
Meatless Twists on Fun Favorites
Arona’s Eco Eco Brunch & Café take pride in their Buddha Bowls. Via Orgánicain capital Santa Cruz de Tenerife features fixed faves such as gluten-free pasta with a basil, nutritional yeast, and tomato sauce. Burger Mel’s three Santa Cruz outlets are big Meatless Monday champs.
SOPA Tenerife, a Los Cristianos juice bar, serves soups hot and cold all year round (thanks to our subtropical climate). Back in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, La Ecológica crafts artisan pasta and pizza. They give back to the local community because they employ disadvantaged youths.
In San Cristóbal de La Laguna, the globally-focused Bite the Worldplays with both ingredients and words. With the likes of Rolling Stone (aubergine spring roll with caramelized onion and guacamole) and Fake Tartare (tomatoes, avocado, red plums, onion, and almonds), this is a menu you will love reading and tasting. Also in La Laguna is Plantae Gastrobarwhere veganism is very much a culinary art. La Orotava houses Eco Casa Verde, a health food/coffee shop whose detox juices purify your body.
Gran Canaria’s Vegan Hotspots
On Gran Canaria, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria’s Smoothie Galaxy hold monthly Vegan Nights. Also in the Las Canteras area is Amelie Green whose windows tell of their commitment to Healthy, Real Food.Another near-beach option is Vegetopía Veg-Away where they shred jackfruit to fill their arepas.
Seafood is one of the staples at Las Canteras restaurants. Yet vegan-friendly options continue to swell in numbers in places such as Avocadisimo Tapas Bar, above surfer spot La Cicer. There, avocado is the most common ingredient. Heading east, El Tiburón Hamburguesería veganizes Italian classics such as lasagne. Continuing orientally, make a slight detour off Paseo las Canteras for Biolocowhich welcomes both pets and kids (the latter with a smaller-portion-sized menu).
Join the locals on a seaside stroll. Drop by Pliza 21 for Italian ice-cream with a dairy-free twist. They come prepared with either rice or soya milk and don’t contain any extra additives such as sugar.
Guanarteme is one of the blue-collar barrios above Las Canteras beach. It has been gentrified somewhat. Take a tour of world flavors at Calle de Juan Manuel Gonzalez’s A Raices by traveling to Austria (Hallo, wiener schnitzel), Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Peru without leaving your table.
The two main shopping areas of the Gran Canaria capital are Zona Mesa y López and Zona Triana. One of LP’s major foodie streets is the car-free Ruiz de Alda. Here, Llévame al Huertoplaces an emphasis on healthy fare. It is a similar story at the just-around-the-corner Mr. Kale 2.0.
The original Mr. Kale is in Calle Cano, one of the avenues and alleyways above Calle Mayor de Triana, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria’s version of London’s Oxford Street. Triana also finds space for vegan/vegetarian Zoe Food. Then there’s Dara Feeling Food informed by owner Dara Bello O’Shanahan’s Ireland and (Gran Canaria) island roots.
Siete Palmas is a purpose-built barrio. WatchHerbalife Gran Canaria and football’s UD Las Palmas here. Given the number of world-class athletes switching to a plant-based diet, it comes as little surprise to find La Cuchara Sana here. They opened as the island’s first 100% vegan food-to-go establishment, although there are more central LP plant-based options at the likes of Cucharas del Mundo, La Cocotte, whose misleadingly-named papas a lo pobre (Poor Man’s Potatoes) are, in fact, a rich, flavoursome combination of garlic, onion, red pepper, and potato, and La Yeyita.
Close to the airport, Telde was founded by papal bull in the mid-14th century. Then the canarii, the pre-Spanish inhabitants, used to drown missionaries. These days, the locals are more welcoming. This is especially so at Café LaLola, where there is a vegan menu.
Down south, the bonsai Maspalomas amusement park Holiday World’s 20s makeover coincided with the opening of Healthy Be Good. Their raw food includes carrot and zucchini spaghetti with pesto and peanut sauce. Playa del Inglés’ Fusion Restaurant & Loungebar sees head chef/owner David Gibson recreate what he eats on his Asian travels. If in the south-east’s Vecindario, drop by Cucinovagando for their pizzaña (a pizza in form but a lasagne in taste).
Head back in time to the heart of the island. In Artenara, people still live in cave houses just like the canarii. At BioCrepería RiscoCaido, they show that you don’t need to break eggs to make delicious crepes.
Vegan Canary Islands Ingredients
Canarian dishes include papas arrugadas con mojo, fluffy baby spuds cooked in salty boiling water with a piquant sauce. These are easily made in your holiday home (especially if the kitchen has a pestle and mortar). The best spuds to use are Tenerife’s papas negras (black potatoes). Snag these in the island’s markets, including the iconic La Recova.
Gran Canaria’s Firgas, above all, is famed for potaje de berros (watercress stew). For this reason it has a berros festival. While meat sometimes floats on restaurant versions, you can prepare this stew without. We grow everything from avocados to zucchini sold in greengrocers, markets (like the capital’s Mercado de Vegueta), and supermarkets such as Hipercor Siete Palmas and HiperDino.
Finally, there are many organic stores. Indeed, I have Spar Natural and La Zanahoria on my doorstep. All of the islands host farmers’ markets, such as my fave one in La Palma: the Mercadillo del Agricultor de Puntagorda.
This vegan Canary Islands guide is the latest in our Green Life series of articles. Subsequently we will offer future guides to destinations worldwide. So, if there are any places you have in mind, suggest away.
Every year Teasy would suggest going through the back of The Ramblers, one of the Irish bars you will find smack in the middle of northwest Ireland, to see how the living quarters had changed since she was a young woman 70 years before. And every year she would pull back. “I’m best remembering it the way it was.” This year, though, was different.
Con had laid out a tray for us in front of the open peat-filled fire… pota tae agus plata Bairin Breac agus im (that’s tea and barmbrack, buttered bread with raisins and sultanas). We were in mid-blether about the oul’ days when Teasy (a pet name for Teresa) upped suddenly from her seat, cleared her throat, and said she would take up Con’s invitation.
A twist of the door handle and two seconds later we were back in the early 1940s. “That’s where Mammy’s wooden dresser was, there, and up the stairs we had pictures on the wall.” “Mammy and Daddy’s bedroom was that one there, the boys had that room, me and Maura were in there, Breid and Ronnie there, a travelling salesman was in the last room at the end of the corridor, and the other one was spare.’’
Meanwhile, Back in the Modern Day
10 minutes later, we were back in 2018. I’d moved on to Guinness (more about the perfect pint anon), and she was naming the people in the pictures on the walls from when Mammy and Daddy ran McNulty’s Hotel, now The Ramblers Inn. Brockagh in Donegal is something of a time capsule, much like many a hamlet, or townland, in the northwest of Ireland. Little has changed in 100 years.
The Old Schoolhouse when you enter Brockagh is now a heritage centre named after an Irish patriot, Isaac Butt. It outlines his part in the Irish fight for independence from Britain. The centre also preserves various agricultural items and domestic heirlooms. Pictures adorn the boards to show visitors, including returning Irish from America and beyond, what life was like back in the day. You’ll also see the school’s first intake, Teasy and five of her siblings, beaming cheekily for the teacher and future generations.
Three brothers would emigrate to New York in the late 1950s and open their own bars. The last of them, The Irish Cottage, instituted in Forest Hills in Queens, only closed its doors last year, a casualty of COVID-19. Three sisters would leave for Dublin. One would marry into another proud pub family, the Tipperary Kennedys. They set up their business off O’Connell Street by the River Liffey.
In Dublin’s Beer City
The next generation is manning the pumps, in the now rebranded gastro pub The Workshop. And while the fare has changed and modernised, the secrets of the creamiest Guinness remains with John, Ciaran, and Tomas. They did, however, share that Guinness doesn’t travel well.
We all can’t be lucky enough to live in Ireland or visit. Nonetheless, the door is wide open to study and work here. And, in truth, there are Irish bars on every corner of every American town anyway. A typically red-headed Irish descendant trained in the skills of pouring the perfect pint lies ready to put their skills to the test.
Inside The Shoppes at Mandalay Place, Las Vegas, the Perfect Pint Experience is the crowned jewel of the newly-redesigned Guinness Store next to Ri Ri Ra. They will even send you away with a special certificate when you master the art.
The key is to pour two-thirds of the drink slowly at a 45-degree angle. Then, leave for a couple of minutes before filling the remainder. Finally, let it rest for its cloudiness to clear. And then drink deep. For the most authentic Irish bars, then Ireland’s your only man, as they say about the beloved ‘black stuff’ or ‘plain’.
Irish Bars: Music in the Air
Dublin is a modern, vibrant European capital with cutting-edge restaurants and bustling nightclubs. Nonetheless, it rightly holds dearly the quirky Irish bars frequented by everybody. All the way from James Joyce and Brendan Behan to Bono and Phil Lynott.
O’Donoghue’s Bar‘s proud claim to fame is that it spawned the trad group The Dubliners, named after a Joyce collection of short stories. They performed regularly back in the day in its snug, a cosy corner of the pub where musicians traditionally play Irish music. Fiddles and a goatskin-frame drum, the bodhrán, which is rattled continuously with a stick, were the only tools they needed.
The music, the conversation, the laughter, and the drink all add up to what the Irish refer to as the craic. And while the official currency of Ireland is the Euro, the real currency is the craic by which all people will be judged.
It is the greeting you will hear daily: ‘What’s the craic?’ and it is how you or a night out will be measured. ‘It was great craic,’ ‘mighty craic’ or the best of all ‘the craic was 90,’ though why it should be that figure is lost in the mists of time.
Gravity Shifting at the Guinness Storehouse
Any of these too when applied to you is a ringing endorsement. Although, the worst thing that can be levelled against you is that ‘you’re no craic at all.’ Where the best craic in Dublin actually is is subjective.
Where it is not is easy to identify. Everybody who is an actual Dub, or an adopted one, will tell you to steer clear of Temple Bar. This tourist hub next to the Liffey should be avoided like the plague. And a plague it is too, of Bachelor and Bachelorette parties. At the same time, you can also double the price of a drink from what you will find elsewhere.
The Gravity Bar in the Guinness Storehouse in the Liberties area will afford you some of the best views in Dublin. You can walk through the long history of the stout and this historic company. It is exhaustive and you will truly deserve your drink at the end. Nobody is exempt, with former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama amongst those supping on Guinness there. Both popped up from their glasses with foamy white moustaches.
Elsewhere, but still in the heart of Dublin, is one of my favourites: Mary’s Bar and Hardware Shop on Wicklow Street. Just off Grafton Street, Dubliners’ upmarket shopping street of choice, Mary’s recreates that staple of the Irish rural pubs. The traditionally split bar/grocery store look remains very much alive, although the old-fashioned tins are just for decoration. Think The Waltons if they hadn’t lived in a dry, non-alcohol town. What it does have, which is particularly distinctive, is interior access to a fast-food store upstairs. You can bring your drinks in and out of each and enjoy both with some trad music ringing out too.
Fantastic Mr. Fox
If your image of a quintessential Irish bar is of multiple rooms with barn-doors, fireplaces and an old cottage feel, then Johnnie Fox’s in the Dublin Mountains (OK they’re not the Rockies but we won’t quibble as this is officially Ireland’s highest pub) is where you want to go next. Johnnie Fox’s is a popular trip for tourists, and Dubliners alike, with minibuses regularly snaking up the winding roads to the bar for its Hooley (or party) nights. The kitchen is renowned for its fish dishes.
There is a stage too, where you can jig away to traditional Irish music and dance all night. I would highly recommend a bowl of its chowder. It is the perfect accompaniment for one of the best pints of Guinness I have had in Ireland. Don’t get lost, though, through its many bars. On second thoughts, that’s all part of the fun.
Ireland’s two countries, North and South, remains something of a puzzle to man. It can simplistically be explained through religion, the Republic being predominantly Catholic and Northern Ireland mostly Protestant. Younger generations have become more secular and tensions have eased somewhat since the end of what they euphemistically called The Troubles.
What does unite the whole island, though, is the craic. The mantra ‘what’s the craic?’ will earn you a smile. It will also ensure a greeting no matter your religion in the North.
Belfast’s Crowning Glory
The accent is as thick as the Guinness you’ll drink in the institute that is the beautifully-adorned Italianate Crown in Belfast, or the Crown Liquor Saloon, to give it its posh name. It is a mere stroll from the Grand Opera House.
And should you be asked ‘Bout ye?’, then just smile. They’re really just asking about your general welfare. Relax, settle into your seat at one of the local Irish bars, order a Guinness, and you’ll soon be speaking just like them.
You may feel like you’re in a bit of a time warp as you walk through the capital of Northern Ireland. That is because you will be faced with murals of a finely-adorned and bewigged man on a white horse. He is the 17th-century King William of Orange, protector of Protestantism. A divisive figure, King William is a hero to some and a villain to others.
And Something from Game of Thrones
It’s actually best to leave old William to the locals. There are, after all, royal dynasties here less controversial and a lot more fun. Northern Ireland is a well-recognised location from Game of Thrones. Visit Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter and have your picture taken by the wooden door in The Dark Horse across from The Duke of York. It and a number of other doors were hewn from the Ballymoney beech trees we all know as the Dark Hedges, some of which came down in a storm.
So, you will find plenty to drink to on both sides of the border. Enjoy the craic when you’re in Ireland. And sláinte, as they say in the truest of Irish bars.
Moshe, also known as The Top Ten Traveler, traveled for the first time to Paris at the age of ten. His passion has always been about travel but at that age, he wasn’t aware that he would later find another passion in life — veganism. Born in Israel, Moshe explains why his home country has become a firm favorite as a vegan travel destination. Moshe has been living a happy vegan lifestyle with his partner, another follower of a plant-based diet, in Brooklyn.
Moshe’s fondness for vegan travel involves planning trips abroad that include choosing which plant-based restaurants are on the itinerary. He enjoys mapping out his trip according to the exciting places to eat out. Madrid’s varied vegan eateries are one of the examples he shared. In between meals, he fitted in seeing the sights of the Spanish capital. It’s a pleasure to introduce Moshe Huberman.
How old were you when you became a vegan?
I became a vegan about three-and-a-half years ago at the age of 34.
Why did you make the switch?
All my life I was a carnist, and enjoyed eating everything and anything. Even when my partner turned vegan, I continued eating whatever I wanted. We had both vegan products and non-vegan products at home until one day I saw a short movie. This talked about how milk is so bad for our body and that was my trigger. We already had all the vegan stuff (cheese, milk, and meat alternatives) so I decided to go for it. Just like that, on one summer day, I cut out all animal products and switched to veganism.
When did you become aware of veganism?
In 2014 a vegan activist was on the Israeli Big Brother show. Tal Gilboa talked about animal cruelty and the meat/dairy industry for the first time on prime time in Israel. Eventually, she won, and that made this topic become even more popular. I was touched by that, but at that point in time, it didn’t make me change my lifestyle.
A few years later, while living in New York, we met up with old friends who had also moved to the city. When they invited us over for dinner, we realized they were new vegans and that was a major part of what we talked about that night. They raised many legitimate arguments in favor of veganism. Unfortunately, I pushed them all away, as most people do when they first engage in such conversation. A few months after I made the switch for health reasons. Nonetheless, I believe that the only reason I am still vegan today is feeling compassion for animals.
When did you first hear about Veganuary? What role does it play in increasing the popularity of veganism?
When I turned vegan, I didn’t know that there are so many trends that promote veganism, such as Meatless Monday, Veganuary, Challenge 22, and many more. For people who struggle to make the switch, I think it is an amazing community to join. This is especially the case for community support, which is so important. During these challenges, people learn about all the vegan products that exist out in the world, how to cook vegan at home, the best vegan travel destinations, and which restaurants in their area offer vegan food. However, in order to make it last for a long time, it must come from within you, from the heart.
Which steps would you recommend that those who switched to a plant-based diet in January follow to continue being vegan?
Find vegan communities to be part of — it can be either friends, group chats on Twitter, vegan inspiration on Instagram, vegan Facebook groups, etc. It’s really important to be surrounded by people in the same mindset, as they can support you when it feels hard, share tips, and inspire you to continue.
Then I would say, keep on trying. There are millions of recipes out there for cooking vegan. Plus, supermarkets add more and more vegan products (and prices go down) while restaurants keep updating their menus with vegan options. It does require a little bit of research at first, but after a while, it becomes your norm.
What effect has veganism had on your body and mind?
Not long after I made the switch I started feeling so much better. I felt fresh, I slept better at night, and woke up more easily in the morning. My body was lighter during the day and I was more energetic. I wasn’t expecting that, and it was amazing to feel it.
Is vegan travel different in Israel? For example, are products easier to find?
Israel is one of the best countries for vegans in the world. I wasn’t vegan when I left Israel, but I am a member of several Facebook groups of Israeli vegans. Every time I return to visit, I am thrilled to see vegan food everywhere. There’s something about the culture there that makes it easier to absorb veganism. First, for Kashrut (kosher) reasons, dairy is not mixed with meat, so many products that might contain dairy by default elsewhere, do not contain dairy in Israel (for example, cooking in oil and not in butter). Second, like in many other Mediterranean cuisines, Israeli food is prepared with lots of vegetables and legumes.
While the vegan food scene in New York is amazing with many 100% vegan restaurants and growing options in non-vegan restaurants, in Israel it’s easier to find vegan options almost in every non-vegan restaurant and nationwide cafe. It already goes beyond the big cities and can be found everywhere.
To what extent have family and friends followed your lead?
Amongst my family and friends (except for the close vegan circle that I mentioned before) I was the first one to go vegan, so I was “catching all the fire” about that. When my brother-in-law, who is an athlete, moved to veganism to improve his performances, nobody asked him why or criticized the move. Then, my sister became a vegetarian, and my friends started sending me pics when they cooked something with tofu instead of meat. My mom constantly searches for vegan recipes and proudly shares pictures with me when she makes them. Even if they are not fully vegans, the awareness of what they eat is constantly on their minds.
Where do you stand on lab-created meat?
I think it is the future of meat production and something that can significantly change our world. The suffering of farm animals will be over and there will be no need to artificially create animals, just for killing them later. So much land will be freed so we can grow more crops for human consumption, rather than animal consumption. It will help to feed more people on the planet. People will not be afraid to be labeled “vegan” as they continue to eat “meat”. It will be easier for the masses to adopt, unlike using meat alternatives. If the price is right, and it is easily distributed, especially in larger nations like China and India, it will help to save the lives of billions of animals.
And what about fast-food chains: do they have flexitarians more in mind than vegans?
Some fast-food chains add 100% vegan items to their menus while others are on the flexitarian scale. I don’t necessarily understand why they choose to sell plant-based patties with dairy cheese on them, but it doesn’t really matter to me. If someone goes to Dunkin’ or Burger King and orders their plant-based patty, it’s one less meat patty that is sold and it’s already a good thing.
Down the road, the vegan audience is strong, and if big chains want to reach that audience and not just flexitarians, selling a plant-based patty with dairy cheese or a non-vegan bun is not enough. Businesses exist to make money, and catering to vegans will attract more people and make them more money.
Moshe is looking forward to traveling again. He is especially excited about returning to Israel to see family when travel is not restricted. For more vegan travel top tips, be sure to catch up with the Top Ten Traveler in our upcoming resources section.
With what we have collectively gone through this past year, we all can use a little happiness in any shape or form these days, especially in the form of international food. I always knew I loved experiences more than material things. Jennifer Dukes Lee’s The Happiness Dare confirmed it. Duke welcomed me to the “club of the beauty seekers, adventurers, and pay-attentioners,” sealing my “enthusiasm of a child and a deep sense of wonder finding supreme happiness by engaging in meaningful moments.” It reaffirmed what I have been saying for as long as I can remember, “You don’t look for happiness in a store — you look for it in moments.”
C’mon Get Happy
This mindset explains why both my websites, Cook With Zee and Around the Bay and Away, revolve around my two passions of international food and travel. Although one can argue that food is material, the consumption and enjoyment of it is experiential. Once consumed, it is no longer tangible.
One positive consequence for those of us who draw happiness from experiences is that it tends to last longer. We experience anticipatory happiness when planning. Then, experiential happiness happens when the moment has arrived. Finally, residual happiness when we reflect and remember those wonderful moments upon our return for both our travels and food adventures locally. Food plays a big part in all three especially with the pandemic limiting our physical travel capabilities.
In a previous post I wrote almost five years ago, How to Deal with Culture Shock, I encouraged my readers to seek out a restaurant close to home that serves the cuisine of their next destination. It helps to get a taste for the food before embarking on their adventure. However, not everyone is lucky enough to live as close to diverse international food offerings as the Bay Area. Making a dish yourself is a great alternative that can be done from your own kitchen. In fact, after purchasing a Norwegian cookbook and a gift card to the Nordic House to buy imported ingredients, the bride touted this bridal shower gift as one of the most thoughtful she received, as they were going to Norway for their honeymoon.
I have been thinking about my epidemiologist friend a lot this past year. The current environment reminds me of her years in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest researching her dissertation. She introduced us to our first taste of Peruvian food once she returned stateside. Always wanting to see Peru for myself, it was fitting that the first Peruvian dish I tried, Aji de Gallina, was one she recommended, followed shortly by a second, Papa a la Huancaina, to give me a taste of what is to come.
Embrace International Food’s Simplicity
Food does not have to be over-complicated. In some instances, recipes are merely a regional twist on a classic such as an egg sandwich. The Korean Egg Stuffed Garlic Toast Breakfast Sandwich, popular at Seoul’s Egg Drop is right up my alley. I may have salivated just watching the video of how to make it. After getting the Kewpie mayo for it, I decided to also make the Tamago Sando. This dish is so popular in Japan that, according to my cousin who went the year before, is available at the local 7-11. I was able to bring the taste of Seoul and Japan straight to my home.
Escargots, barramundi, and emu, oh my! Nothing against McDonald’s but unless they have a local specific product (Hello, limited-time Haupia Pie), I recommend experiencing what each region specializes in and look for restaurants that locals frequent. Even within the US, it’s always exciting to look out for regional specialties. Give Colorado’s buffalo ribeye and huckleberry glazed ribs or Arizona’s fried Indian tacos and prickly pear fries a try when you can. If you have always wanted to try escargots or paella, what better place than in Paris or Valencia? Sample dim sum in Hong Kong and if you are adventurous, Australia’s endemic kangaroo and emu. For the less adventurous, try their barramundi fish. Order the Italian Riviera’s anchovies and pesto-based dishes while taking advantage of Naples’ authentic pizza.
Even back in 2004, lunch was the most important meal of the day for Italians. It is not uncommon to polish off an entire pizza. This 110-pound girl was only one slice shy of doing just that in Lombardy’s Bellagio. Authentic Italian pizza has thin crust and is topped with a mere two to three ingredients. There is no such thing as this combo stuff. Their popular margherita is simply topped with fresh basil, tomatoes, cheese, and a drizzle of olive oil. The pizza I just could not stop eating was layered with just funghi and prosciutto.
Long Dinners on the Italian Coast
Dinner in Italy often lasts a few hours, unwinding with family and friends after a long day. Although unheard of in America where restauranteurs encourage fast turnover of tables, Italians commonly have a table for the entire evening. After we discovered this during our stay along the Italian Riviera, we felt thrilled to capitalize on this Italian cultural norm. During one of those languid evenings, I enjoyed a pesto minestrone for the first time. I fell head over heels in love with the recipe and have since recreated it myself many times.
In the Liguria region’s quiet Deiva Marina, I noticed locals all around us leisurely socializing over wine and food. Those who may have opted for heavier lunches went for lighter dinners of antipasti while other tables had a full course with a primi (often a pasta), secondi (fish or meat), and finishing off with dessert, dolci. Whatever you choose, what was most memorable was that unrushed feeling. It was such a refreshing luxury for us, but the norm for them.
Buy Local and Support the Local Economy
When visiting any locale, do not run for the nearest chain store. Avoid purchasing an item you can probably find at home. Instead, seek international food items that are specific to that area and preferably made at your destination, like pesto from Liguria. What better way to bring back memories of your Tahitian honeymoon than smoothing on a tiare-scented Monoi oil after a shower or breathing in the scent of their world-famous Tahitian Gold Vanilla while cooking?
The chances are you will also get a chance to interact with the locals. They may even give you some of their favorite recommendations. You’ll walk away with a “souvenir” that is priceless, such as an ingredient to help you gain residual happiness.
Food also allows me to relive those memories by recreating a dish we had during our travels. Our 20th anniversary was this past October. Unfortunately, our plans to return to the area of France we went to for part of our honeymoon did not materialize, nor did our annual trip to my happiest place on Earth, Maui. We have spent our anniversaries for the past 16 years soaking up the Hawaiian sun. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to be in the cards this year.
Although we were on a budget for our honeymoon in our 20s, recreating simple international food recipes like socca, a chickpea flatbread, and pan bagnat, a particularly tempting sandwich filled with salade niçoise, hard-boiled eggs, and tuna, brought me back to sunny Nice. The feeling of strolling along the Promenade des Anglais overlooking the Mediterranean Sea is not easily forgotten. It always makes me reminisce about the funny incident where I asked in broken French if the tuna was raw or cooked, only to discover it was canned.
Having to actually cancel each component of our Maui anniversary trip, which we had planned since February, was like a punch in the gut. Nonetheless, I brought Maui to me through the dishes I recreated myself, such as Loco Moco, Spam Musubis Three Ways, and Lau Laus. Plus, I did my part to support the Maui economy from afar by ordering papayas, chocolates, and pineapple-infused spirits. It will help lift our spirits until we can return again, hopefully, this year.
Although travel has been limited, we can still find happiness in the present. We must enjoy the whole journey in anticipation of what is to come. What better way to do that by trying your hand at making some international food? Tucked away in the subtle moments of reflection, we can find happiness in the quiet reminiscence of our past experiences.
I would like to thank Dreams Abroad for giving me the opportunity to introduce Italian culinary arts and some typical products of my homeland to a wider audience. Continuing with the theme, I thought it would be interesting for our readers if I answered questions about my native Calabria, Italy. If there’s something else you want to know more about, feel free to comment and I’ll try to expand as best I can.
Many famously liken Italy to a boot thanks to its distinctive shape. So what part of the stivale does Calabria, Italy lie near?”
You’re right, the whole of Italy does look like a thigh-high boot. However, my creative imagination has always viewed my home country as a leg, foot, and shoe. The leg represents almost all of Italy up to the Basilicata region, which borders the north of Calabria, Italy. Southernmost Sicily represents the shoe. Finally, that beautiful foot, together with the heel and ankle, is nothing else than my sublime Calabria.
What sets Calabria, Italy apart from the other regions in Italy?”
With 780km of coastline, Calabria finds itself as the only peninsular region in Italy with more territory bathed by the sea. Among the very few peninsular Italian regions, two different stretches of water nestle Calabria, the Ionian Sea to the east and the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west.
Calabria, Italy has 630,000 hectares of mountains, making it the fifth-highest Italian region. Furthermore, scarce industrial and housing developments mean Calabria’s one of the best-preserved parts of Italy, making it one of the best examples of Italy’s natural beauty. It is no coincidence that Calabria, Italy is rich in large national parks, such as Aspromonte National Park, which has incredible sea views from its plentiful mountain views. Another national park is the Sila National Park, within which is the second-largest plateau in Europe. Yet another gorgeous example is the Pollino National Park with 192,000 hectares, Italy’s largest national park.
Among the Greeks and Romans’ most prosperous regions, Calabria, Italy is also rich in important archaeological sites. For example, the Bronzi di Riace, two life-size nude bronze warriors, are considered among the most beautiful classical Greek sculptures. Following their discovery in 1972, they’re now housed in the nearby Museo Archeologico Nazionale Reggio Calabria.
From the coasts to the hinterland, ancient villages perched up high alongside medieval castles of Byzantine and Norman origin sprinkle the whole region. This gives you an idea of the various rulers my native Calabria has had throughout its long and glorious history. To conclude (as you would with the icing on the cake), did you know that the name Italia derives from Italoi? This is a term the Greeks used for the Vituli (or Viteli). The Viteli lived at the extreme tip of our peninsula near today’s Catanzaro, the regional capital.
Is there a specific character trait of the people who live there?”
Yes, but let’s start with appearance. Many describe Southern Italians as traditional Mediterraneans. Typically olive of complexion with black hair and dark eyes, we’re of stocky build.
The Calabrian or Calabrese manages to be primitive and refined, patriarchal and adventurous, taciturn and thoughtful, selfish and generous, even capable of leaps towards the unknowable and the sky; prey to ferocious passions while simultaneously able to discuss philosophical questions or to argue with subtle and refined quibbles. Sometimes we’re humble and submissive, at other times proud, haughty, daring and arrogant. It’s said that to understand the Calabrians, you have to look at the landscape, the vegetation, the climate, the smells, and the flavors of the territory. Our true essence, the most authentic one, is intense and passionate.
Nostalgic and traditionalist, individualistic and anarchic, the Calabrese has a strong sense of family, honor, and righteousness. Parents pass these values on to their children and descendants.
How do these traits impact food?”
Religious traditions plus the cultural and culinary influences from Greeks and Romans have left an indelible mark on Calabria. The wide variety of food products and recipes reflects this mark.
Calabrian cuisine is an impoverished cuisine of peasant origin. We have strongly linked numerous dishes to religious celebrations. During Christmas and Epiphany, it is customary to put thirteen courses on the table; at Carnival, we eat macaroni, meatballs, and pork; Easter is celebrated with roasted lamb and cudduraci (a special cake prepared with Pasqua in mind); and so on for other holidays. We always celebrate every event in family life (weddings, baptisms, etc.) with a commemorative dinner or lunch. The ‘Nduja I mentioned in my previous article acts as an excellent spicy spread for bread and features prominently in many holidays.
Calabrian cuisine is not uniform in its provinces. You can find few dishes throughout all five provinces. The likes of pasta ca muddica made with anchovies and breadcrumbs, eggplant parmigiana, and stockfish are prepared differently across the various territories.
Calabria, Italy Staples
In Calabria, preserved foods are very important. For example, salted anchovies are a staple. Or, we put desalted anchovies in oil with chili for a quick snack. Processed pork such as ‘Nduja and Calabrian soppressata, cheeses, and vegetables cooked in oil and sprinkled with dried tomatoes helped locals survive in periods of famine and during long periods of siege by Saracen pirates.
Today, farmers harvest excellent agricultural products throughout Calabria’s farmlands. In the mountains, producers make many kinds of cheeses while viticulture grows in the valleys. Although the industry is in decline, we still maintain olive production. Calabrian recipes use a lot of vegetables, and fortunately, the territory is especially fertile. Eggplants reign supreme, but also tomatoes, peppers, red onions, lettuce, broccoli, and legumes such as beans, chickpeas, lentils and broad beans are all Calabrian agricultural specialties.
A central role in Calabrian cuisine is occupied by bread, with attention to the preparation and ingredients. Equally important is traditional homemade pasta while chilies, which can vary in spiciness, frequent sauces and main courses.
What are the most important products of the region?”
Since there are so many, I will try to list only those that I think are the most important:
In the period before the October Revolution, the court of the Russian tsars were fond of Belladonna oranges, or Ovals of St. Joseph. For this reason, they called them “oranges of the tsar.” These beautiful blondes grow in Reggio Calabria, Italy between the Gallico and Catona rivers’ valleys. In particular, they’re especially plentiful in the hamlet of Villa San Giuseppe. Italians appreciate them for their very sweet taste and lack of seeds.
The asparagus family has over 300 varieties: one of these is the wild asparagus of Calabria, or Asparagus acutifolius, which flourishes throughout the region. It’s particularly noticeable in Filadelfia, in the Cosenza province. It is here that the brackish sea meets the cold air. The hard earth of the mountains gives the local asparagus a bitter taste and a herbaceous scent incomparable with other varieties.
Bergamot from Reggio Calabria
The first bergamot was planted near Reggio Calabria around 1750: from that moment on, Citrus bergamia almost became a symbol of the province. This rare fruit produces an essential oil used in the kitchen and in the cosmetics sector to make perfumes.
Many famous perfumes in the world use this bergamot. Eighty percent of the world’s bergamot comes from Calabria!
Licorice of Calabria
Licorice grows spontaneously throughout the region and has allowed the development of a thriving local economy over the past centuries. The history of its cultivation is linked to that of the Calabrian estates and feudal families.
Calabrian licorice is a perennial herbaceous plant. Italians use it in its original form or transformed into a juice. The juice acts as a digestive and detoxifying aid. The confectionery industry primarily uses its essence to prepare cakes, candies, and ice cream. In Rossano Calabro, Calabria is the only Italian museum dedicated to licorice, where tools are exhibited and history is reconstructed. This detailed recounting of the history of licorice is thanks above all to the Amarelli family’s manuscripts, who have produced liquirizia for almost four centuries.
Potatoes from Sila
There are different varieties of the Sila potato: Agria, Désirée, Ditta, Majestic, Marabel, and Nicola. The common feature of all the potatoes is that they have a higher percentage of starch than average (meaning they require longer cooking times). The extra starch makes them particularly tasty and nutritious. The added flavor is due to the production area on the Silan plateau, located over 1,000 meters above sea level.
The Calabrese chili is considered by all of Italy the king of chilies: we’re talking spagnolicchio, diavolicchio, pipu, and pipi bruscenti. Thanks to its spicy and simultaneously aromatic flavor, it has become a fundamental ingredient for local cuisine, used both fresh and dry. Its organoleptic characteristics are due to the sandy soils it grows in as well as the climatic conditions.
Calabrese chilies grow on sunny soils, where temperatures never drop below five degrees Centigrade. Water the chilies abundantly to have an ideal product at the time of harvest, which occurs between August and September. Used to both preserve food and add an extra kick, Calabrese chilies are one of the area’s characteristic products. The first written traces of chili production in Calabria dates back to 1635. Nowadays, there are various varieties such as the Soverato or Vulcan; Poinsettia; Hot Super Shepherd or Spicy Dog’s Nose; and Cherry Bomb or Cherry.
Belmonte Calabro Tomato
Coming from Belmonte Calabro, a town in the Cosenza province, an Italian emigrant who had returned from America imported the Belmonte Calabro tomato at the end of the 19th century. It is a large tomato that cannot grow anywhere else in Southern Italy.
There are actually two varieties: the first is Cuore di bue, which is quite widespread throughout the region. It weighs between 400 and 800 grams and has an elongated shape that resembles a heart. The second type is called Giant and weighs between 700 grams and a kilo. Giant tomatoes can even reach two kilos while the vine can extend to three meters in height. It has an intense pink color but never turns red. The pulp, which has no acidity and has few seeds, is practically indistinguishable from the skin. Only use this tomato in salads to avoid losing its delicate flavor during the cooking process.
Soppressata di Calabria
Whether or not black pig makes up the salami, it serves as a fundamental ingredient in Calabrian gastronomy, protected by the designation of origin. Although there is no definite recorded date, it is believed that this soppressata was first made in ancient Lucania and exported to neighboring regions by the Greeks more than three centuries ago.
The finest pork cuts are chosen to prepare the soppressata: shoulder and ham for the meat, the front part of the loin for the fat. The cuts are coarsely chopped and black pepper, fennel, salt, and chilli, are added. Everything is stuffed into the pig’s large intestine. Cover the mixture with linen sheets and press for about a week to assume a cylindrical shape flattened at the sides.
At this point, the drying phase takes place, which lasts about two weeks. It is customary to light a nearby brazier with lemon peel and oranges to lightly smoke the salami during those two weeks. The pressing is repeated and the soppressate are left for five to six months. Once matured, the soppressata has a spicy and intense flavor, with a bright red color. The Dop always covers other varieties on the market: the white soppressata, without pepper and chili, and the sweet soppressata, with either sugary red pepper or sweet peppers.
How highly regarded are the wines of Calabria, Italy?”
The history of wine in Calabria has its roots in an ancient past during Magna Graecia, when the Greek colonists moved along the peninsula’s coasts and brought with them the vine. The grapevine was a gift of Dionysus and his noble fruit, gaglioppo, is one of the most representative vines of Calabrian viticulture. Gaglioppo dates back to the eighth century B.C.E. and was imported by the Greeks along the Ionian coasts.
Thanks, above all, to the potential of an extremely varied territory in terms of geomorphology and microclimate, Calabria gave rise to rare, precious, and unique wines. Between the snow-capped peaks of the Pollino Massif in the Sila plateau, the Aspromonte mountains, and the long Ionian and Tyrrhenian coasts surrounding the region, there are many wine varietals that find themselves at home in the region.
Characterized by a clear prevalence of black-berried grapes, this panorama makes up to 75% of the entire production. Magliocco and Gaglioppo are undoubtedly the most representative black-grape varieties of today’s Calabrian viticulture.
You’ll find the best vineyards in the Cirò area, one of the most well-known wine-producing regions. For centuries, viticulture has thrived here. Its grapes ripen during the first ten days of October. This vine has few anthocyanins. This translates into a mild color distinguished by a clean palate and fresh taste.
On a scale of one to ten, how hot is a Calabrian chili pepper?”
Certainly, the Calabrian chili will never be able to match the SU (Scoville Unit, a measurement of how spicy a pepper is) achieved by the Cayenne pepper, the orange Habanero, or the Red Savina Habanero, which has an SU of 400,000 and is considered the hottest chili pepper in the world. However, considering that the Italian chili pepper has about 5,000 SU, while the Calabrian peppers are around 15,000 SU, we can safely say that the Calabrian pepper is the most piquant one harvested on Italian soil. So, on a scale of one to ten, we could easily ascribe it a value of seven.
What is the region’s signature dish?”
Because five provinces make up the region, there is no regional dish. Each of these provinces produces different traditional dishes. However, there is an appetizer which, for some reason, blends all of the provinces together in a harmonious and delicious explosion of flavors. It is the famous Calabrese Antipasto.
How do you prepare it?”
As explained above, the Calabrian people have dedicated themselves since ancient times to the preparation of preserves. Poverty led people to be provident in the sense that everyone tried to keep their pantries fully stocked by conserving seasonal agricultural products through traditional procedures handed down by peasant wisdom. They dried vegetables in the sun and then put in oil or vinegar. Meanwhile, they preserved pork in lard. How ingenious in a time when there were no refrigerators and freezers!
Today, our appetizers mostly consist of eggplant or mushrooms in olive oil, green and black olives, different types of cheese, capocollo, soppressata, and other various cured meats. In short, more than an appetizer, Calabrese Antipasto is a rich and appetizing single dish, capable of satisfying the most demanding appetites.
Please share your recipe”
Capocollo or any cured raw ham
Guanciale (pig cheek)
Soppressata ( or substitute salami)
Goat cheese or caciotta
Fresh pecorino cheese with hot pepper
Sheep ricotta with grape mustard
Bruschetta with tomatoes, eggplant in oil, sardella and ’nduja
Eggplant rolls with onion jam
Mushrooms in olive oil
You can prepare this simple recipe according to different variations. The main rule is to have at least a couple of cheeses, a duo of cold cuts, and some canned products in oil or vinegar.
If you can find the products listed above, all you have to do is thinly slice both the cheeses and the cold cuts and arrange them radially on a large serving dish.
In the center, place three or four different types of oil-based products. I highly recommend green olives, a few slices of roasted eggplants, and some mushrooms in oil (porcini mushrooms would be the best choice).
To finish this dish you will also need to prepare three or four bruschettas. You can do this using slices of wheat bread placed in the oven. Garnish the bruschetta with fresh cherry tomatoes cut into cubes, a sprinkling of oregano, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
Before I leave you… I would like to sign off with a special video about my hometown, Catanzaro. The video was recently made through the artistic fusion and genius of two great professionals in the film industry, who are also my dear friends, Vittorio Sala and Andrea Mauro. Their creative agency, A|BOUT, produces professional videos for commercial and cultural projects.
“Higher, Mateo,” urges Ángel. “Raise the bottle in your right hand, tilt the glass with your left, and pour.” Mateo is yours truly, as I’ve found Canarians have a problem with pronouncing Matthew, mangling it in a Cockney-style way as Mafu. I’ve learned, therefore, to introduce myself as the Spanish equivalent. Ángel is Angel Rodríguez, a taxi driver by profession and cider producer when not behind the wheel.
You’ll find Spain’s cider industry in the Iberian peninsula’s north. As acclaimed author Jason Wilson, the scribe behind Cider Revival: Dispatches from the Orchard, reveals: “In Asturias and the Basque Country, sidra culture dates back hundreds of years. As long ago as the 15th century, Basque fishermen set out to sea with hulls full of cider barrels. Many historians believe the wild apples in North America that the first settlers discovered originated from Basque seafarers.”
Cider, A Way of Life
As a Brit who grew up with the potent scrumpy, I consider cider a summer beverage. Indeed, I fondly recall my brother and I bribing fellow Glastonbury Festival goers to help us put up our tent by sharing our supply of the amber libation. It’s the reverse in northern Spain as Wilson discloses: “During a Basque wintertime, the cider house (sagardotegi) becomes a way of life.”
Unsurprisingly, a good deal of my sidra ends up outside the glass and that’s not because we’re in an Asturian cider house where spillage is so expected that sawdust sprinkles the floor to soak up the fluid. We’re in a different time zone altogether, over 2,000km south west of this mainland province’s Villaviciosa in deepest cider country. Our location is north-central Gran Canaria, Valleseco (Dry Valley) to be precise. I’m a novice pourer thrown into further ineptitude by the distraction of Ángel’s bizarre get-up of surgical cap, gown, wellies, and, well, not much else.
Later, listening to Ángel describe the cider-making process though, I realize that he reminds me more of an accoucheur than a sawbones. Why? He’s helping to give birth.
Ángel’s babies are his ciders, which he produces in both still and sparkling varieties, along with sibling cider vinegar. Prompted to describe what sets his cider apart from others, Ángel replies: “Love. They’re prepared with my personal care and attention which isn’t possible for other, bigger producers to provide. I’m in this for the long term too, and short-term commercial gain doesn’t interest me.”
El Lagar de Valleseco, Ángel’s family firm, sits proudly in the Doramas Rural Park. This area is named after a championed canarii warrior. The canarii were the Berber-descending people who occupied Gran Canaria or, more accurately, what they knew as Tamaran before the 15th-century Castilian conquest.
This was Doramas’ manor. He used to roam the rainforest-like green interior before losing his life at 1481’s Battle of Arucas. Governor Pedro de Vera and his army spiked Doramas’ severed head for display purposes. They left it as a putrefying warning in the island’s three-year-old capital, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
Most of Gran Canaria’s twenty-one municipalities have a fiesta tied to food and drink. In adjoining Firgas, it’s dedicated to watercress, the key ingredient of the island’s signature stew, potaje de berros, and in Santa María de Guía, the Fiesta del Queso celebrates the flower cheese made by utilizing an artichoke thistle’s head to form a vegetarian-friendly rennet. In Valleseco, they party hard about apples with October’s Fiesta de Carmen, the patron saint of the municipality, held during the manzana-harvest season.
Ángel’s previously strange brew (he was the first to produce cider on Gran Canaria back in 2010) has been garnering positive publicity because of its organic roots. There’s a real commitment to KM0 here, with apples sourced from the family’s 700 trees, and at the nearby EcoValles market. Ángel’s still cider is essentially boozy juice, as it doesn’t contain water or chemical additives. He’s keen to stress that you can’t over-press the apples as you risk damaging quality.
The average Canarian will tell you they don’t get drunk like the Brits who holiday on Gran Canaria (although carnival season seems to be the exception, which proves the rule). They certainly produce enough in the way of alcohol to create a stinking hangover. The dark and white rum in north-coast Arucas and east-coast Telde, vodka (the purest in the world) in the south-east’s Ingenio, and wine, primarily in the north east’s Bandama are all well-known. Then there’s the coffee of the north-west Agaete Valley (the only one to be made in the Northern Hemisphere) to help with that morning after the night before.
Despite his outfit, Ángel is very much a showman. He talks about his cider as if delivering a Ted Talk. But then, when seemingly in full flow, Ángel interrupts his presentation to show me his mobile.
There’s a new botellín (20cl bottle) in production and Ángel enthuses about the logo. It’s half apple, half wolf. I can’t help but agree it’s very striking.
Then he becomes more animated. “Lobo,” he almost spits, speeding up. “Two syllables are perfect. Easier to order. Think a-gua,vi-no.”
Ángel returns to the cellar from the everybar his bubbling brook of enthusiasm has conjured up. “Look at these barrels,” he gushes like a proud parent. “Oak. Many use American, but French roble is superior.”
The apples have a Gallic connection too. They’re of the highly-prized Reinette (French for little queen) variety planted in the mid-1800s to replenish Dry Valley land gone to waste. The tree takes pride of place on Vallesco’s coat of arms.
This is green Gran Canaria, a world away from the Sahara-like Maspalomas dunes. The local Tourist Information Office’s Carmen Angulo accentuates the appeal of breaking out of the all-inclusive bubble with a trip to the island’s interior: “Valleseco’s home to Gran Canaria’s only completely ecological market with local, organic fruit and vegetables sold alongside bread made from various cereals.”
I chew on this both literally and figuratively with a late lunch at the nearby Mesón Los Chorros. Where the bread’s matalauva (peppered with punchy aniseed) style and the traditionally salted wrinkled potatoes (papas arrugadas) come paired, as always, with mojo, which is almost as fluorescent as Indian restaurant curry sauce but not quite as spicy. I wash it down with a bottle of Gran Valle cider which, whilst drinkable especially due to the current heatwave, tastes more artificial than Ángel’s product.
Ángel swears by his cider. And by his cider vinegar too. “It’s part of my morning ritual, Mateo, to drink hot water with lemon and vinegar as it cleanses the colon and (many believe) prevents cancer.”
This is news to me. Before my visit with Ángel, I consumed cider vinegar on a regular basis, allied to an intense fitness routine, all to prevent middle-age spread. Many believe it suppresses appetite and lowers blood sugar levels.
We’re back to more sane than manic street preacher Ángel, as he steps up onto his soapbox to proselytize: “It’s all about controlling the pH. The perfect balance between acid and alkaline should be around pH 7.4, as in slightly more alkaline. Acidic cider vinegar becomes alkaline once consumed. Diseases such as cancer, and some have also suggested COVID-19, are no fans of alkaline.”
The Cider Prophet
Ángel has been in full flow since bumping elbows. Which explains my later-than-normal lunch (my UK-reared stomach’s still timed to remind me to eat around midday no matter how much cider vinegar I’ve spoon fed into my system). He’s in tour-guide mode from the off, pointing out the feed he grows for goats one minute, the confusingly-named cidra, which has nothing to do with apples but is in fact a pumpkin whose angel-hair exterior, when combined with sugar, lemon peel, and cinnamon makes for a popular not-quite-sickly-sweet jam and pastry stuffing, the next.
The Ángel gabbier is an incredibly open individual who loves showing people around. There are the certificates on the wall, a testament to the courses Ángel’s completed on the mainland. He returned to his island with Asturian glasses. Nonetheless, he says he’s more interested in producing a stronger Basque-style cider than the more well-known classic from Asturias.
“Look at this, Mateo,” exclaims Ángel as he admires the clarity of his product. “In Asturias, they prefer a cloudier consistency. But I like the simplicity of a Basque sidra which is as clear as chicken soup.”
A Q-and-A session follows Ángel’s presentation. What effect does organic production have on the cider-making process, taste, and price, I ask. “It slows it down with the still cider taking around two months and the carbonated variety between nine and twelve months,” he answers. “Ecological apples are punier and uglier than ones grown with chemicals, but they’ve got far more flavour. In terms of price, not much. I sell as cheaply as possible because, as I’ve already told you, I’m not motivated by profit.”
Ángel turns sommelier when I quiz him about the optimum temperature to drink and what food to pair it with. As he generously pours me yet another generous glass. He adjusts his glasses, which only serves to make him seem more authoritative. “It’s best served cold but without ice. You should treat it like a white wine. For that reason, it goes well with fish.”
Indeed, the Basques marry cider with a renowned cod omelette comprising the expected egg and fish with the less familiar purple garlic and red onion. Ángel offers me olives by way of sustenance, not noted for their soaking-us-booze properties. I make my excuses and leave, not before receiving an invitation to the Rodriguez family’s Fiesta de Carmen celebrations.
Thirty-something Diego Ambrosio was born in Catanzaro, Italy, located in the southern part of the country. He is passionate about wild nature, cooking (especially Italian cuisine), singing, and playing different musical instruments like guitar, piano, and bass. Diego considers himself an extrovert and talkative person, but he also likes to listen to people.
While now living in Phuket, Thailand with his father and partner, Diego cooks on a regular basis. He enjoys mixing the local fresh ingredients and produce with his Italian recipes. In addition, he learned to create new fusion recipes that he enjoys just as much as his native dishes. Read on to find out more about his favorite southern Italian cuisine and his homemade Thai-Italian fusion.
What is your favorite Italian cuisine?
This is probably one of the hardest questions you can ask an Italian since they would immediately begin thinking of multiple answers. Why? Because there are so many favorite Italian dishes! If I really had to choose a dish by type, I think my first answer would be tortellini with cream, peas, and ham. The second would have to be parmigiana di melanzane with fried potatoes and peppers on the side. Finally, for dessert, tiramisu… all, obviously, homemade.
What is your Italian hometown’s signature dish?
As in most countries, Italy has a rich list of excellent regional products. Many of these are even exported abroad, as they are delicious and appreciated by various European and non-European countries. Without a doubt, the best product from my region, Calabria, is ‘nduja. ‘Nduja is a particularly spicy, spreadable pork sausage typically made with pig parts such as the shoulder and belly. Producers combine the pork with tripe, roasted peppers, and a mixture of spices. ‘Nduja originates from the small southern Calabrese town of Spilinga. Italians mainly serve it with slices of bread or with ripe cheese. My hometown, Catanzaro, also has its signature dish. It’s called Morzeddhu alla Catanzarisi. This is prepared with tripe and beef offal, tomato paste, chilli pepper, salt, a bay leaf, and oregano.
Morzeddhu must be eaten while hot, perhaps with a further splash of spicy sauce. It also must be eaten in the pitta, a typical Catanzaro bread shaped like a flattened donut and with little or no crumb inside.
According to legend, Morzello, or Morzeddhu in the local dialect, was born from that mother of invention, necessity. An impoverished widow was forced to accept odd jobs to support her hungry children. On Christmas Eve, her boss asked her to clean a slaughterhouse and dispose of the waste in the nearby river, Fiumarella.
Worried about what she would serve her hungry children for Christmas dinner, she saved the meat, cleaned it, and prepared a meat soup. And thus, Morzello was born.
What is the most famous Thai dish in Phuket, Thailand?
Without a doubt, Pad Thai is one of the country’s most iconic dishes and is easy to find all over Phuket. There are two main types of Pad Thai, Pad Thai Gai and Pad Thai Goong. Gai includes chicken and Goong, shrimp. Pad Thai is a stir-fried dish typically made with rice noodles, chicken or shrimp, tofu, scrambled egg, bean sprouts, and other vegetables. The ingredients are sautéed together in a wok, which creates rapid heat distribution. Once finished, chefs serve Pad Thai with peanuts, sugar, chili peppers, and a lime wedge on the side.
And just for the record… Pad Thai is my second favorite Thai dish. I prefer Pad See Ew which is similar but has a sweeter sauce.
What types of Italian cuisine do you cook in Thailand?
When I arrived in Phuket, I thought it would have been impossible to reproduce typical Italian recipes at home for various reasons. The first challenge was surmounting the impossibility of finding all the authentic Italian ingredients. Next, we had to overcome the lack of an oven in the house. Ovens are critical for cooking different Italian dishes such as the famous Lasagne al Forno or pizza. Over time, we have fortunately managed to get almost everything we need to taste a bit of home. In fact, after a whole first year of researching, we managed to find a house that had a professional oven inside.
Now, we can cook any type of Italian dish. In fact, we have become so accustomed to making Italian food at home that we’ve eaten out very few times. Both my father and I are able to prepare any type of Italian recipe — first courses, main courses, side dishes, and delicious desserts — that enrich our daily meals all the time. Finally, we also make our own homemade bread.
Where do you source Italian ingredients from?
Fortunately, it is not difficult to find Italian products in Thailand. There are various shopping centers and supermarkets like Makro and Villa Market, offering imported products. However, you have to be very careful when selecting your products. Everyone can easily find products of apparent Italian origin, but some of these are actually not from Italy at all.
For example, an Italian knows very well that if he has to buy pasta, he can trust brands such as De Cecco, La Molisana, and Agnesi. All of these brands are available in Thailand, so we can avoid other little-known brands of dubious origin. The same goes for Italian mozzarella. Clearly the prices for authentic Italian products are higher than in Italy. For example, Italian fresh and aged cold cuts and cheeses cost at least 40% more. However, for some products (such as pasta), I can find similar prices to Italy.
If you were to pick a favorite Italian cuisine to make for us that you make on a regular basis, what would it be?
I practice making real Italian pizza for my loved ones frequently. Every two weeks, typically on a Saturday evening, we will get together and eat Italian pizza. My father is a great teacher, but I will obviously be his heir sooner or later and am determined to perfect it.
The preparation process has almost centennial origins, handed down from generation to generation. It has been perfected even more over time by generations of Italians.
The extraordinary thing is that my father created the so-called “mother yeast.” It is a natural yeast capable of regenerating itself eternally. It certainly has significantly improved the quality of the pizza. Additionally, you can vary the outcome by using different types of flour. Each flour has a specific protein intake capable of creating a unique gluten shield of its kind.
Spread the dough in round and rectangular trays. Follow that with a long process of rest, maturation, and fermentation for about three days in the fridge. At the end of this period, the pizzas are removed from the fridge, covered with a cloth, and left to rise for several hours. Finally, we move on to stuffing and baking. The oven must be at a maximum temperature of around 250 or 300 degrees Celsius. First, bake the pizzas on the bottom rack without ingredients in order to cook the bottom of the pizza. Then, add the ingredients. Put the pizza back into the oven. This time, put it on the top shelf to finish cooking.
Do you have to substitute the ingredients for the dish you are making with Thai ones? If so, what are the differences in ingredients that you see in Thailand vs Italy?
We managed to obtain all the Italian products we needed to make the pizza without having to resort to any Thai substitute. However, we have added a dose of creativity by trying to prepare some pizzas with typically Thai ingredients. For example, we made Tom Yam Goong Pizza. It is an Italian-made pizza with Thai seafood and Thai chili peppers.
While we were able to find all of the ingredients necessary to make the pizza, I can say that the Thai culinary culture is very rich in strong and contrasting flavors. Many of these flavors would seem absurd to mix together if cooking traditional Italian cuisines. This is because Thai food is actually based on a balance between different flavors, including spicy, sour, sweet, salty, and bitter. Sometimes, chefs combine these flavors together. For example, the famous Thai dish Som Tam is both intensely savory and insanely sour — in short, the flavors of southeast Asia mixed on a plate. Every Som Tam dish normally contains garlic, chili, fish sauce, lime juice, and dried shrimp. All these flavors fit with the direction that Som Tam should “taste sweet, sour, hot, and salty.”
Do you get creative and make Thai-Italian dishes with both themes or cultures in the dishes?
My culinary passions obviously led me to the preparation of typical Thai dishes. My Thai girlfriend likes to say that one of the Thai dishes that I like to prepare, the famous Khao Pad Goong, “comes out better than the original.”
After studying and reproducing the original version of the dish, I dedicated myself to experimenting and mixing the two cultures. I managed to propose a unique and delicious Italian-Thai version of Khao Pad Goong.
I added some anchovies, dried tomatoes, sweet pepper, celery, and Italian parsley to the traditional recipe. Furthermore, I also replaced the classic rice oil with extra virgin olive oil instead. The result tastes fabulous and the multitude of flavors generated in the mouth tastes literally sublime.
What is your favorite Thai ingredient to mix with Italian food?
I think that soy sauce is a very interesting ingredient I discovered in Thailand. Chefs in Italy rarely use soy sauce in Italian cuisines. This type of sauce goes fabulously with fish dishes such as salmon. It also tastes wonderful when added to typical Italian salads with a Romaine lettuce base.
Diego is an extrovert and very sociable person but enjoys eating Italian cuisine while living in Thailand. He prefers making pizza for his family and friends. However, when he is not baking homemade pies, he recommends trying these three pizzerias in this order:
1) Pizzeria Da Moreno in Patong (probably the best ever, since it follows the authentic Neapolitan recipe)