Sunday, 23 March 2008

Gastro-tourism: Make Mine a Large One

The India Times published a piece last week looking at the unexploited potential of gastro-tourism - food tourism to you and me - in the subcontinent.

Which made me think what a large part food and drink plays in my own travel. One doesn't like to sound greedy by admitting that one has an overt interest in gourmet treats overseas.

But I must admit there's been more than a few foodie highlights in my travels. Off the top of my head:

1. Sipping incredibly potent grappa, an Italian alcoholic drink created from the skins of grapes left over after winemaking. It wasn't the grappa per se, but the fact we were drinking it in San Gimignano, a beautiful hilltop town in Tuscany.

Narrelle and I had wandered away from the tourist haunts, admiring the medieval towers and picture-perfect green countryside below the city walls, when we'd stumbled across a little place that had grappa on the menu.

Wandering around the narrow quiet streets afterward,admiring the architecture while unexpectedly intoxicated from a single glass each, was loads of fun.

2. Drinking żubrówka vodka where the żubry hang out. In the far east of Poland, along the border with Belarus, sits the little village of Białowieża. Once the home of the Russian Tsar's hunting lodge, it's now the gateway to the UNESCO-listed reserve nearby, in which you'll find the only wild herd of European bison.

A bison in Polish is żubr, plural żubry, and they gave their name to the famous żubrówka vodka, which contains a blade of bison grass favoured by the animals. Drinking this in the area associated with it, after eating a traditional dish containing egg, bacon, game meat and mushrooms served up in a frying pan, gave it an extra savour.

3. Sitting at an outdoor table at a restaurant on Easter Island on a Sunday, eating a tuna carpaccio containing fresh raw deep sea tuna. It's about the only dish you can eat fresh on the island, as most other foodstuffs are shipped in from Chile. But again, it was the surroundings that added the extra flavour.

As it was most people's day off on Rapa Nui, there was a soccer game going on in the park opposite, motorbikes zipping around, and young guys galloping their horses up and down the street. And just over to the right, there was one of the island's famous enigmatic statues, perched on a plinth above the fishing port.

In the end, it's not just about eating and drinking, is it? It's about being more deeply embedded in the culture, by enjoying the food and drink the locals do; and maybe understanding their culture a little better beceause of it.