Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Burgundy: An Epicurean Journey on Two Wheels

To start reading about how this trip was conceptualized and how it all began, click here.

While most of the destinations on my extravagant itinerary were centered around food and a few like Champagne were planned with wine in mind, Burgundy was an exception. Known for its rich cuisine and widely regarded as one of the great wine regions of the world, a visit to this part of France was inevitable. I strategically chose Beaune--close to the Cote de Beaune wine region and home to some excellent restaurants-- as my base.

Usually, the first foods that come to mind at the thought of French cuisine are Burgundian-- think coq au vin, beef bourguignon, escargot or Dijon mustard. Though I did find the best places to sample these, the lesser known specialties of the area are what truly piqued my interest.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Strasbourg: German Comfort Food Franco-fied

To start reading about how this trip was conceptualized and how it all beganclick here.

Even in my wildest imagination, I would never have expected to be cycling through a European city at night clad in my chef whites. But there I was, peddling briskly and keeping a constant ten yards behind rainbow girl who was leading the way. When we got to our destination, we were greeted by cowgirl and Captain America who then proceeded to introduce us to Caesar, Attila the Hun and Catwoman among many others.

No, this wasn’t a dream. How did I end up here, you ask? Well

La Petit France with the cathedral in the background

Strasbourg from above

My culinary conquest had eventually taken me to Alsace in the north-eastern corner of France. Strasbourg its capital city located just three kilometers from the German border is representative of everything splendid about the two nations. The cuisine unmistakably steers towards Germanic culinary traditions than French. This makes it very distinctive from the rest of the food in the country-- my raison d'être for visiting the city.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Champagne: Magic in a Bottle

To start reading about how this trip was conceptualized and how it all beganclick here.

Barring its price, I love everything about champagne. The delicate taste, the perfect balance of sugar and acid, the golden hue, the fineness of the bubbles and its ability to pair with any food imaginable.There's no doubt it's a magical thing.

Fully aware of the care and effort that goes into making a bottle, I included as part of my elaborate itinerary in France a detour to Reims, home of the finest producers of champagne in the world. 

By law, champagne can only be made from three grape varietals - pinot noir, pinot meunière and chardonnay. Though the first two are red grapes, most champagnes have a golden-green hue because only the colorless juice from the flesh is pressed. After an initial fermentation and bottling, the wine undergoes a second fermentation within the bottle. Careful aging for a minimum of 18 months at controlled temperatures and humidity levels and the interaction between the wine and the yeast produces both the delicate flavors and the bubbles which are characteristic of champagne.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Normandy: A Seafood Diet

To start reading about how this trip was conceptualized and how it all beganclick here.

Boom! It was the night of 6th June 1944. Nearly a quarter of a million troops had landed on the shores of Normandy in a secret operation of retaliation against the German occupation of France. The number of casualities were so high and the losses to both sides so catastrophic that the incident was henceforth referred to as D-Day.

Standing on one of the D-Day beaches near Caen, it wasn't hard to picture what went down on that fateful night. Though I haven't in any way been directly affected by the incident, it was hard not to feel for the thousands who lost their lives.

D-Day Beach


But this was a happier time and there were lots of things to be thankful for. For one, it was scallop season in Normandy, the leading region for the bivalve mollusks in France.

I love scallops almost as much as I love bacon. For those who know me personally, you know how much I love bacon and what that statement implies-- I sleep with a few rashers under my pillow every night.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Saint-Malo, Brittany: Fortress on the Sea

To start reading about how this trip was conceptualized and how it all beganclick here.


Having conquered Paris, I set out to explore the rest of France. Like in Italy, the plan was to visit at least one town or city in each region known for having its own unique style of cuisine. While my route in Italy was mostly linear and easy to navigate, France was a bit more of a challenge owing to its hexagonal anatomy.

I decided to begin in Brittany in the north western tip of the country and then work my way clock-wise through Normandy, Champagne, Alsace, Burgundy, Rhone-Alps, Provence, Acquitaine and the French Basque country, collectively clocking a distance of nearly 3000 kilometers in three weeks. 

Of the several options I had in Brittany, I picked Saint-Malo mainly because of my affinity for the sea. Saint-Malo was unlike other fishing ports I had previously visited on this trip. In fact, it was unlike anything I’d ever seen before.

Jutting out ever so slightly into the sea, this walled fortress city with its medieval charm was remarkably easy to fall in love with. There was an unmistakable smell of fresh oysters permeating the air and the beaches surrounding the city were so flat that I could tread several hundred meters inwards during low tide.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Paris: How to Live Like a Parisian

To start reading about how this trip was conceptualized and how it all beganclick here.

France, the country that gave the world champagne and camembert, cinema and haute couture. It's a nation that boasts of exquisite art, remarkable architecture and the most influential cuisine on the planet.

I had spent the better part of six years of my culinary education studying its food and wine, albeit from the outside. This was my opportunity to taste the revered cuisine and all its regional variations at the source, and visit the temples of gastronomy that I 'd been trained to worship.

My first stop was Paris, capital of all things elegant and chic, suave and sophisticated. Just a mention of the name evokes images of grandeur and finesse. 

With a social system that guarantees free healthcare and education and provides benefits during unemployment and retirement, the quality of life in France is perhaps better than any other country on earth. Paris with its beautiful public spaces, excellent transportation facilities and easy accessibility offers a whole lot more.

Atop Cathedral Notre Dame

Food and wine were still my number one priority but I had a specific mission here. I wanted to experience what it meant to be a Parisian. I was determined to get to the crux of daily life in this city and to not just witness the French art de vivre but also practice it.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Piedmont: Unearthing the Truffle

To start reading about how this trip was conceptualized and how it all beganclick here.

Tartufo. Even the name has a precious ring to it, doesn't it? It is perhaps the most expensive ingredient in the world and having previously worked with truffles, I felt it important to visit the region that boasts of having the world's best kind.

The town of Alba is particularly renowned for its white truffles, which are rarer and dearer in price than their black counterparts. It is also just a few kilometres away from Barolo and Barbaresco, which are among the top wine producing regions in Italy-- definitely enough reason to pay a visit.

White truffles

Truffles have a pungent fragrance akin to fresh earth soon after the first rainfall; the aroma of a good quality fresh truffle will permeate through a room instantly. While it is dry, crumbly, and almost tasteless when eaten on its own, thin shavings of truffle when added to a salad or atop pasta provide a certain umami-like flavor that mirrors it's aroma.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Verona: When Food Saved the Day

To start reading about how this trip was conceptualized and how it all beganclick here.

Every now and then, anything that can go wrong will go wrong. In my case, it was about time it did considering my travels had been flawless so far.

The first hitch happened minutes after I reached the city. I had decided to walk the three kilometre stretch from the train station to the Airbnb apartment where I was to be put up. As usual, I was trying to save two euros on a bus ticket only to later spend sixty at a good restaurant-- I had my priorities right.

The beautiful Verona!

Suddenly, one of the wheels of the suitcase I'd been lugging around came off its socket. My 30 kg three-month old American Tourister was now just a heavy box I was compelled to carry.

Then came the email from the wine importer who was supposed to show me around. Something important popped up and she had to leave town for a few days.

It also didn't help that the forecast for the following 48 hours called for intermittent rains.