“In Greece, food is an excuse to meet friends,” says Nikita Patiniotis
With half the national population, Athens is Greek cuisine in microcosm. Nikita weaves his Athens market tour through the narrow streets of Monastiraki to taste Greece, and during several hours Context Travel’s Beyond Feta Athens food tour introduces travelers to many future new friends.
We’ll wander through bustling Athinas Street into the vast Varvakios Agora and understand why Greece is still the ancient center of the culinary world. Context Travel’s Beyond Feta walking tour illuminates a civilization. Come walk with me.
The pleasant evening temperature, the lack of car horns and loud music coupled with the sounds of conversation and relaxed dining, Greek national pastimes, create a culture in contrast to the 21st century’s frenetic pace.
This is not tradition triumphing over the modern era; it is the modern era.
In the land of Bruegel, chocolate and mussels, the lush green land of Flanders is punctuated by towns of extraordinary beauty. Medieval castles, Renaissance houses, canals and cafes are in view with every convoluted turn in the ancient streets. Yet in Brussels, larger than life cartoon wall art decorates, and compliments, its historic core.
In four days, VisitFlanders introduced me to three cities rich in layers of culture, four restaurants bursting with layers of flavor as well as beer and chocolate as it ought to be enjoyed. Articles, as they appear, will be added to this post, so please check back often.
Flanders, today, is at the vanguard of a new wave in international gastronomy that’s pairing the freshest of locally sourced ingredients with 21st century culinary techniques.
The mild climate may have favored Flanders own agricultural abundance, but access to the world through trade constantly brought new products, such as the potato and chocolate, fueling today’s Michelin starred restaurants, creating chocolate beer and celebrity chocolatiers, although Dominique Personne is considered the bad boy of Brugge – watch the You Tube video in my latest article.
Ghent’s de Vitrine is Kobe Desramaults little city bistro. Yet the secret these young chefs are revealing is simple, fresh regional ingredients treated with respect and given pride of place. “I think about the vegetable,” Speybreck says, “not what meat or fish it goes with. What can I do with a nice cauliflower. Each ingredient has its own place.”
Amidst the frenzy of summer in London, it’s comforting to know that scotch eggs and marmalade with gold leaf can still be part of your customized picnic basket from Fortnum & Mason. In three hours, Context Travel’s Janine Catalano narrates a three century evolution in British gastronomy with “a walk through central London from less than a common perspective.”
Chef Fergus Henderson’s 1999 book, “Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking,” caused a sensation when published. It placed Chef Henderson and St. John’s at the forefront of an omnivore movement, in direct opposition to modern meat consumption, in which the whole animal is eaten – trotters, tripe, kidneys, heart, sweetbreads …
It would be easy to walk right past The Little French Restaurant on London’s narrow Hogarth Street. The diminutive road, opposite Earls Court underground station, is lined with at least a half dozen small cafes, shops and quaint flower bedecked townhouses. Yet a passerby would be hard pressed to dine in a more charming French bistro.
Not only is London’s population a polyglot of the former empire, but Britons have embraced an unprecedented broadening of their culinary palate. As Greek As It Gets, a restaurant in fashionable Earls Court, says it all in words and in the authenticity of its menu offerings.
Still a modest sized town of 10,000 founded in 1268, Ordizia (on some maps Villafranca deOrdizia) lies in the heartland of Euskadi’s prized agricultural abundance. Iberico and Serrano hams – from pigs who diet on wild acorns – Idiazabal sheep’s milk cheese, and flawless lemon-yellow peaches are only a few of the products from farms following ancient as well as state-of-the-art green methods: organic, grass-fed and chemical-free. In Spain, these methods are not only tradition but in many cases codified in law.
Leaving the beautiful Basque seaside town of San Sebastian on an early morning train for the 60-minute trip south to Ordizia, the countryside speaks its beauty. Vistas of lush green hillsides are dotted with cattle and centuries old white-washed red-roofed farm houses. Yet there’s resilience as over the years it was at the center of wars and atrocities. The past four decades has witnessed resurgence and affluence.
Like all towns in the Basque country, Ordizia is built on a hill close to water, in this case the Rio Oria. Easier to fortify, this topography also makes these century old villages picturesque and a decent aerobic workout. With perfect early October weather – high 70’s, sun, deep blue sky – I walked hilly, cobblestone streets lined by old narrow, townhouses whose window boxes were bursting with a profusion of flowers. Ordizia’s Wednesday Farmers Market, in continuous operation since 1512, occupies the plaza in the heart of the old town, but, unlike most plazas, it’s covered by an open-air Romanesque-Renaissance structure befitting an important 500-year-old institution.
This is not just another farmers market. Along with the variety of customers who come to purchase goods for their homes and socialize, there are serious negotiations going on among commercial buyers, restaurants and farmers. These negotiations usually result in setting the prices for many products throughout Spain – until the next Wednesday market. Food here is serious business.
The food stalls glisten with vibrant colors: peppers, squashes, fruits – fresh and dried – pickles, olives and preserved foods. Bushels of freshly picked mushrooms, varieties I’ve never seen, vie for my attention with dozens of Euskadi’s famous sheep and goat’s milk cheeses. Baskets of breads studded with herbs, grains and seeds are close enough to local sausages and hams to make me desire a sandwich.
Fish, especially fresh sardines, anchovies and salt cod (bacalao), are well represented, as well as services – like knife grinding. Serious cooks can purchase freshly executed pigeons, feathers and all, a Basque delicacy – of course most households know how to dress and prepare them.
A milk dispensing machine is a standard farmers market service. Sterilized quart glass bottles are removed from a refrigerated compartment and placed under the dispenser. Empty bottles are returned to the attendant. A local dairy co-op operates the kiosk. It was very popular.
Cafes, butchers and cloth shops line the edge of the market plaza. Sitting at an outdoor table listening to a musician playing Basque accordion compositions, sipping espresso, watching the bustle of a serious farmers market, I was struck by the permanence markets give to life. For the past turbulent 500 years the same hustle and bustle has occupied the Ordizia Farmers Market sustaining and celebrating every day life.
For an interesting “birds-eye” view, follow this link for Ordizia. Move the map a bit east (to the left) and the white covered structure of the market will come into view.