I came, I saw, I ate

For an introvert who spends almost an hour riding crowded subways every morning and then again every evening, has a job that entails answering emails, calls and in-person questions/requests/demands all day, works out at a gym where people hover around treadmills like sharks in the water, and who in the entirety of her life thus far has only ever lived by herself for six months, going on vacation alone is a deliciously selfish  indulgence.

Sure, I love traveling with my boyfriend, select friends, and for short periods of time even my sister, but let me tell you, my favorite travel companion is ME.

Traveling alone means I wake up when I want to, go only where I want to, spend as much time in museum gift shops as I want to, and best of all, eat whenever, wherever and most importantly, whatever I want to.

Last month, in a move that was part anniversary trip (ten years since I left a two year stint in Italy for NY) and part desperate need for at least a temporary change of scenery/weather/daily routine, I went to Puglia, the part of Italy known as the heel of the boot. It was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken, in large part because of all the great things I ate… alone.

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All the company I needed. 

In Polignano a Mare, a beautiful little town perched up on the cliffs overlooking the Adriatic, I had one of the best meals of the trip, one that I’m pretty sure would have sent my boyfriend head first into the ocean had he been there with me.

The fried octopus sandwich at Pescaria had been recommended to me before I left but when I showed my boyfriend photos of it, he recoiled in disgust. He’s what I call a closeted picky eater (because he vehemently denies being one) and specifically refuses to eat octopus. (Something about the little suckers.) I, of course, couldn’t wait and went my first night in town, and then just because I could and had no one to even suggest otherwise, I went again the next day for lunch.

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It was huge, this octopus sandwich, with a thick smear of creamy ricotta, peppery turnip greens cooked in garlic and olive oil, fig compote, a drizzle of anchovy oil and several large, fat, fried octopus tentacles (suckers fully visible) bulging out from underneath a large, bumpy topped roll that resembled a turtle shell. I held it with two hands, my fingers spread wide to get a good grip, and with every bite, something delicious toppled out or smeared on my face.

With no one there to interrupt me with conversation, look at me funny because I had ricotta on my chin or a stray crumb in my hair, or judgily ask me if I was actually going to finish all that (the answer is always yes, ok?) I was able to happily wolf down my sandwich in peace.

Sure, there were times on this trip when I wished someone had been there with me to share a particular moment, but eating that fried octopus sandwich—both of them I should say— was not one of them. That meal required my undivided attention and I was all too happy to provide it.

Adeus, Lisboa and thanks for the memories!

And then this happened...

And then this happened…

I’d love to go on and on about the many great things I ate in Portugal almost as much as I’d love to go on and on actually IN Portugal, but alas, like my trip itself did, the lovefest has to end. But don’t you worry, sweet reader o’ mine, I’ve saved the best for last!

And by best, I mean most likely to possibly freak you out. Bear with me.

My last full day in Lisbon was spent with my old high school friend who lives there (the lucky bastard, him and his EU citizenship) strolling around town, stopping at museums, bars, markets, shops, and miradouros (viewpoints from which to take in the city’s many gorgeous vistas) basically squeezing every ounce of goodness out of life that day. It was a pretty phenomenal day at that, and you know I wouldn’t say that if it hadn’t included some good grubbing too.

For my last proper meal in Lisbon (not counting the pasteis I wolfed down en route to/and at the airport the next morning) I wanted one thing: caracois. Uh, huh. Snails. I’d heard about them and seen signs advertising them outside of restaurants so I figured, hey, when in Rome…

We walked up to As Zebras Do Combro, a small, homey restaurant with azuleijo covered walls and a sassy, Portuguese only speaking waitress who confirmed they had snails, among other traditional and regional Portuguese eats.  With stomachs growling (ok, possibly just mine) we ordered a plate of snails, linguica, grilled sardines (another thing I wanted to eat before leaving the country) and a cold bottle of white wine.

You know, just a casual, small mountain of snails.

You know, just a casual, small mountain of snails.

Ok, so let’s get right down to it: the snails. I posted a picture on Instagram (AngieDupinthelimousine if you don’t already follow me) and one vegan friend commented with a broken heart emoji. I texted the same picture to my sister, who immediately wrote back (5 hour time difference be damned): “HELL, NO.” So, I get it, people on this side of the pond aren’t crazy about the slimy little suckers as food. But over in Lisbon, they’re a local favorite, so I wanted them. Was I necessarily in love with them after? Well, no, but I didn’t think they were bad either. After poking them with a toothpick and dragging each one out of its shell, the tiny snails were kind of gummy, and didn’t really taste like a whole lot besides the butter and olive oil they were cooked in. Not as meaty or flavorful as escargot I’ve had prepared the French way, these were just ok. Not bad, but ok.

Bad food porn but GREAT food.

Bad food porn but GREAT food.

Now the linguica, a Portuguese chorizo that won’t be winning any points for its good looks, was deeeeelicious. Smokey and garlicky with a slightly crispy outside and a juicy, spicy inside, this sausage ranks as some of the best I’ve ever had. Again, not much to look at but damn good to eat, a true lesson in the importance of focusing on more than just looks.

It wouldn't be Portugal without sardines.

It wouldn’t be Portugal without sardines.

Last were the grilled sardines, probably the most Portuguese of foods since sardines are everywhere and on everything from a billion different beautifully packaged cans to keychains to magnets to t-shirts. I was most interested in getting them on my plate, however. Grilled whole with just a squeeze of lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, these little fish were the perfect example of less is more. They were simple and tasty, the plump, soft meat inside worth the work of pulling the thin bones away.

Having done everything I wanted to do and eaten everything I wanted to eat, I left Portugal with both a full stomach and heart. Until we meet again, lovely Portugal, obrigada and adeus! (But you can keep the snails…)

Hitting the re-set button

When the going gets tough, the get going... somewhere else (where they then order the simplest, tastiest fish around)

When the going gets tough, the tough get going… somewhere else (where they then order the simplest, tastiest fish around)

Travel, for me, is a form of therapy, something I need to do to clear my mind, start fresh, recharge and re-energize.  Recently, when I started to feel more than a little angsty, restless, grumpy, bored, and hot (the not-so-charming combination of feelings that I call Summertime Sadness) I snuck off for a quick jaunt to Portugal. (I know, seems extreme, but hey, that’s how I roll.) An old friend from high school moved to Lisbon a few months ago so I took advantage of his newfound insider knowledge and crossed the pond to meet him.

For one absolutely blissful week, I lounged in the sun, worked on my gluteal muscles by walking up and down Lisbon’s million and one hills, caught up with an old friend and made a few new ones, and just so I could tell you all about it here on this blog, I stuffed my face full of Portuguese deliciousness.

Taking some time off definitely hit the re-set button and over the next few posts I’ll tell you all about the eats that helped me do it.

A tasty mess

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Crab catching in Kep

Even though I love crab and lobster meat, I’ve never been a big fan of eating either straight from the shell. The whole business of cracking and shucking, slurping and mess-making just doesn’t appeal to me, especially since I’ve always felt that crustaceans are basically insects of the sea (and might I remind you, I don’t do bugs).

But while I was in the seaside town of Kep in Cambodia last month, I put all of that aside and had one of the best meals of my whole trip. Part of me going to Cambodia was to venture out of my comfort zone, and with a seafood cracker in hand and slippery bits of crab all over the place, I was definitely there.

During my stay in the sleepy riverside city of Kampot, a place famous for its pepper production, (fun fact: all of the pepper in Cambodia comes from Kampot… or so I was told. Fact check if you will.) I took a day trip to Kep, which happens to be famous for its crab market. Located right at the water’s edge, the Kep crab market is both a large open air market selling heaps of crabs and other seafood, and a collection of small restaurants that prepare the crab to be eaten right then and there.

Fried crab in Kampot pepper sauce

Fried crab in Kampot pepper sauce

My guide for the day, a funny little tuk tuk driver I hired to show me around, brought me to Kimly Seafood Restaurant, what he said was his go-to spot for cheap and delicious crab. I asked him what he thought was the thing to get and without a moment’s hesitation he said the fried crab in Kampot pepper sauce. He opted for the boiled crab, instead, which came out in all its freaky, underwater bug glory.

Boiled crab, creepy looking but tasty

Boiled crab, creepy looking but tasty

Both plates came out we each attacked our foods, one of us successfully and with all the finesse of a seasoned pro and one of us like a hot, wasteful mess. I don’t need to tell you who was who, but I’ll add this much: my guide turned parent when he had to crack all my crab for me, pulling out chunks of tender crab meat and tossing the empty shells aside, like I was big, dumb child.

The Kampot pepper sauce was creamy, and spicy, and a perfect match to the soft, sweet crab meat. It ended up almost up to my elbows, all over my face and on a thousand and one napkins littered across the table. It was an absolute mess but every bit as delicious as it was sloppy.

California love*

Happy camper, right here. So happy, in fact, I'm doing that face where I look like a cartoon.

California sun and a nice drink make for a happy camper. So happy, in fact, that I’m doing that face where I look like a cartoon.

I’m usually in a bit of a funk after I come back from a good trip somewhere. You know, the ol’ post vacation blues. But since coming back from California last week, where I spent a damn near perfect eight days, I’ve managed to not only not be mopey, but rather hold on to my vacation high!

Gorgeous weather in both Los Angeles and San Francisco (read: sunshine, cool breezes and not a single tiny bit of humidity), amazing friends who showed me the best time, and for the purposes of this blog: SO. MUCH. DELICIOUS. FOOD. Seriously, SO much.

Come think of it, if i’m still buzzing off my vacation, it could be that I’m actually still digesting all of the great things I ate. I know, it’s kind of a gross thought, but it’s true. I ate a lot of stuff.  Tasty stuff that I’m gonna tell you about a little at a time so as to not overwhelm anyone (myself included) with all of my California grubbing memories.

ceviche

Problems I like to have: too much delicious ceviche

To start off, let’s talk ceviche, which I looove.  Fresh, colorful, zesty, delicious ceviche, which is just the kind I had with my darling friend, Arlene at La Cevicheria in LA.  It was a no-frills kind of place, but the ceviche we had, both humongous bowls of it, was great. They were both different, but to be honest, in my hunger induced frenzy to wolf it all down as soon as it came out, I forgot to jot down what they were. What I can tell you though, is that octopus, shrimp and crab were involved, as were limes, avocado, onions, Worcestershire sauce and something I don’t remember ever having in ceviche before but loved, mint. Add a little dash of hot sauce and scoop a big heap on to a crispy tostada and you’re looking at a fantastic meal.

fish taco

Not surprising that a place that makes great ceviche would make fantastic fish tacos.

But because I tend to struggle with moderation at times like these, we also got an order of fish tacos. Each soft tortilla was stuffed with a fat, juicy hunk of crispy fried fish, shredded cabbage, avocado, tomato and cilantro.  Simple and perfect, one of the best fish tacos I’ve had.

It was my first time in LA, and even though I was prepared to not like it (because I imagined it would be the Miami of the west coast, and that’s an off-putting thought for me), I ended up loving the City of Angels.  It was the weather, the beautiful people (i.e. my friends) and yes, the delicious seafood I scarfed down that afternoon.

La Cevicheria on Urbanspoon

 

*Note: Yes, the title of this post is a Tupac reference, cause you know what, I’m a big ol’ Tupac fan.  Boom. Chew on that. 

Happiness is hot soup on a cold day

With the exception of a good cuddle, a creamy hot chocolate or being burrito-wrapped in my down comforter, there are few things I find more comforting or instantly gratifying than hot soup when it’s cold outside. I feel warm and fuzzy inside just thinking about it.  (Also because New York is pretty chilly right now and I want all of the above.)

In Iceland, where it was frigid every single day we were there (not that I was expecting any different), I probably had soup at least twice a day. Those Icelanders, man, they really know what they’re doing in that department! Below, the highlights of my soup-centric week.

The famous lobster soup at Saegreifinn

At the top of my things-I-MUST-eat-in-Iceland list was the humarsupa, or lobster soup, at Saegreifinn.  The tiny restaurant/fish shack in Reykjavik’s old harbor was supposed to have some of the best lobster soup in town, so the first night we were there, my sister and I made it a point to have it. I can’t say I tried lots of other lobster soups, but I didn’t need to because this one won my vote. Sweet and velvety without being cream-heavy or goopy, it had just the right amount of  fat hunks of sweet lobster meat. My only regret: not going back for more every single day.  Continue reading