I love to travel, I always have. I also love food. My 2 passions come together often. Sometimes it’s just a trip to the grocery store in an unfamiliar neighbourhood or other times it might be a far off place like a gorgeous vineyard at the base of Mount Etna in Sicily. The point is that food will tell you a lot about a place. It can tell you a lot about the history of the place, it’s people and where they came from. It can tell you what is grown in a place and what the climate is like. In short, it is a history and geography lesson each time you eat dishes that are typical of the region! Although I never found history or geography interesting in school,  I find this fascinating….

But who am I kidding, I just love to eat & drink when I am travelling too!

Whenever I travel one of my last stops before leaving is often the grocery store. The grocery store is a great place to experience food like a local. I like to roam the aisles and just get a sense of what might be used in the average household in my host town. I always like to check out the baking aisles. I look for extracts that are easy to bring home and don’t take up much room. If a region grows beautiful lemons they most likely have great lemon extract that is inexpensive.  Often a speciality food of the region is more affordable in the local grocery store than the tourist shops. While in Quebec last month I bought 2 tins of local maple syrup at the grocery store at a fraction of the cost of the same maple syrup in the downtown shops. Saffron, the most expensive spice in the world…..I always stock up in countries that grow it. Where do I buy it? In the grocery store where the locals buy it.

On my most recent trip last year to Sicily and Malta I had to actually send some things home with my colleague as my luggage was overweight..! Multiple countries, that ‘s where it gets tricky. How could I decide between Marsala from Sicily and Maltese coffee?

I always plan ahead of a trip and make sure I have room for all my goodies. I bring bubble wrap with me to wrap bottles and breakables. I make sure my expandable luggage is only expanded on my return. I often leave unused toiletries at my last hotel and I don’t bring an umbrella but rather buy an inexpensive one, only if I need it, and leave it at the last hotel…I would rather save the weight for a bottle of olive oil…

I am headed to Puglia next month with a group of 15 and then to back to Sicily & Malta for our newest tour with a group of 17. (We have added a second tour to Sicily & Malta that still has room…)

The following is a list of my favorite culinary specialities of the Mediterranean that I often bring back from my tours…

  • Wine (of course!)
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar/vincotto
  • lemon & orange extracts
  • saffron
  • kitchen ceramics/unique kitchen tools
  • Maltese coffee
  • nougat
  • chocolate from Modica
  • Marsala wine
  • hard cheese, shrink wrapped for export
  • pistachios/almonds
  • oregano/chillies
  • regional cookbooks

Well, I am leaving for Puglia in 40 sleeps and I need to start thinking about what I want to bring back…maybe I will find some new treats!

Ciao for now! Natalina

 

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