This June, I traveled with my family through Italy and Spain. We like to absorb the culture of the places we go rather than traveling to tourist destinations, so instead of hotels, we rented apartments through Feel Barcelona and Home Away. We’ve rented apartments before in New York and Chicago, and it really works quite well. Not only do you get a larger space than a hotel for about the same price, and get to stay outside the tourist zone hotels are found in, but you also get a full kitchen. This was useful to us because we travel on a budget and it meant we didn’t have to eat out every meal, but it also allowed me to try out the many interesting foods of the region. I love cooking, and food in general, so Italy and Spain were amazing places. While we did see things like Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia (within sight of our apartment in Spain), the Pantheon (a block away from our apartment in Rome), the Colosseum, and other great sights, what you can’t read about in every travel guide is the culinary experience.
The primary difference between American and European food is an issue of quality versus quantity. America has large scale chain restaurants and food comes almost exclusively from supermarkets. That’s not to say there isn’t any good food here, but food is primarily corporate. In Europe, most food comes from small local shops, typically specializing in a particular type of food. We found cheese shops, vegetable markets, bakeries, and fish markets on every street corner in the Encants neighborhood where we were staying. Supermarkets offer a wide range of ingredients that can be shipped from all over the world and used to create delicious dishes, but that really isn’t necessary if you can get a fresh baguette from the local market, drizzle olive oil on it, and stick some cheese inside and have an incredible meal from sheer quality of ingredients.
There were also some exotic dishes I tried cooking in our apartment, most notably a whole cuttlefish I found at the local fish market. For those of you who aren’t up to date on your deep sea biology, a cuttlefish is a relative of the squid with short tentacles and a pale, rounded body with stripes in one of several colors. Actually, its what the kraken in the Pirates of the Caribbean movie was based on, so just imagine that but about the size of a nerf football and a cute pastel color. The important part is the taste, which is similar to its relative the squid but more flavorful and therefore less like rubber. I first had one at a restaurant in the Barceloneta region by the beach, one of many upscale restaurants in that area that serve food on a patio overlooking the sea. In an attempt to imitate this delicious dish I flash fried mine with some cheese and olives and things, and we ate it for dinner.
We took a Grimaldi Lines ship across the Mediterranean from Barcelona to Italy and made our way by train to Rome. Rome is a place with amazing food that is popular across the world, so there’s really no need to explain this delicious dish I found there called pizza. Authentic Italian foods differ from those I’ve eaten before for the same reasons that make Spanish cuisine outstanding. I really found them somehow fundamentally beyond the imitations I had eaten elsewhere. The quality of the ingredients was so superior that they often seemed like different foods altogether.
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