As much as I love traveling, I’m not a big fan of sightseeing. My perfect day in any city entails lounging in a cafe all afternoon, sipping coffee, and watching the locals converse, rather than visiting a famous building or museum. If I only had $10 left to spend at a destination, I would buy myself a great, local meal or two, rather than tour the sights.
Thanks to a shared love of food-tourism over other types of sightseeing, our last 6-months of travel has been punctuated with some incredible meals. A few mark some of the most memorable moments of our trip.
In part 1, I share some memorable meals from Slovakia, Bosnia, and Greece.
Slovakia: Horalky, pivo, a borovička at Zámockého Chalet
Last July, we trekked for five days through the Tatra Mountains between alpine chalets, climbing chains up mountain saddles, speed-hiking to avoid an approaching thunderstorm, and boulder-hopping through vast rock valleys. On the second day we left the Green Tarn Chalet early in the morning and hiked several hours, pulling ourselves up chains during a 1600ft ascent to a saddle and then hiked hours through the valley and forest until we reached the Zamkovského Chalet in the late afternoon. It was one of those hikes where I actually started to whine toward the end.
Once we finally reached the chalet we applied immediate first aid. Horalky, pivo, a borovička has been our mountain medicine trifecta since a particularly long and wrong-turn filled trek with Peter’s father in the Košice hills in 2008. Horalky is a Slovak peanut-filled, chocolate-coated wafer bar popular among hikers as it provides enough carbs to help you cover a few more kilometers. Pivo is beer, preferably Šariš, common in Eastern Slovakia. Borovička is a Slovak juniper spirit similar to gin, used to relight the fire under hikers’ boots.
Recommended adult dosage of this treatment: one of each. Most effective when used outdoors in combination with clean mountain air. Repeat every two hours if necessary.
Bosnia: Ćevapi at Zmaj
Our landlady at our apartment in Sarajevo stopped by one day with her boyfriend to fix our malfunctioning oven. While he poked at the stove, she asked us about our visit so far. We told her about the good ćevapi—a regional dish of meatballs, pita bread and raw onions—we’d had downtown. “They’re okay,” she said, referring to the restaurant we mentioned, “but the best ćevapi is at the bus station.” Since we had an errand at the bus station the next day, we stopped at Zmaj (dragon) for lunch.
This trip continues to prove to me the best food has the least amount of flair (take most food in Thailand, for example). Zmaj delivers ćevapi in a utilitarian package—old, wooden bench seats, aluminum plates, and a waitress taking orders while chatting on her cell phone. But the ćevapi was perfect: grilled, spiced meatballs served with brick-oven fired pita bread, a pile of onions, and a side of kajmak (a type of buttery, clotted cream). Highly unglamorous. Totally delicious.
Greece: Meze at Armenistis Taverna
We had a little bit of difficulty adjusting to the dinner schedule in Greece, which often didn’t get going until after our usual bedtime. Stumbling onto a beach-side taverna on Karterados Beach, Santorini, on an afternoon run, Peter chatted with the owner, who invited us to come back in the evening for their special menu and live Greek music, reminding him that the action wouldn’t start until after 10 p.m. When we arrived at 8:45 (we underestimated the walk time), the poor waiter gave us a desperate look then kindly sent us away to kill time on the windy, dark beach while he finished setting up. Finally at 9:15, he seated us, and there was only one other table occupied.
It was a fortunate thing, since it gave the waiter time to translate the menu, which was entirely in Greek. We tried to remember the dishes he had listed. “Some kind of pork thing. And a fish, I think. Fava! There was definitely fava.” Customers began to stream in after the music had started, all locals except for one other group. The band played rebetiko folk music and an elderly man with long white beard danced with the taverna owner. “We’ll be here until the sun rises!” she told us. We left well before dawn, and when we left she hugged us. The next day, we realized we hadn’t taken any photos. Which was okay: it was one of those experiences we felt a little protective of, a little too worthy and magical for Facebook.
In Part Two I’ll share stories of memorable meals from Turkey, the Netherlands, and Thailand.
Do you have stories of memorable meals from your travels? What were some of your favorite food experiences?