Tastes of the World
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Pasta, pasta and more pasta in Tuscany
Faith, family and food: the three pillars of Italian culture are ever present among the rolling Tuscan landscapes. Especially food. Authentic trattorias and vast vineyards are some of the region’s biggest draws, as much for a taste of Italian hospitality as the rustic cuisine. Tasting your way through Tuscany is an experience in itself and you’ll have plenty of opportunity for that on our ‘Quintessential Tuscany’ tour. It’s a great way to learn about the local pasta in each area – and fortunately, there are a fair few types to try. So loosen your belt buckle and get stuck in.
Tortelli is made in Mugello, on the border between Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna. These square parcels are typically stuffed with potato and served with a dusting of cheese. We think you’ll have room for seconds.
In Florence, ‘gigli’ has a fluted shape with a ruffled edge. It’s designed to look like the city’s emblem, which is a lily (gigli translates to lily). Typically served in a venison ragu, it’s also a very popular pasta partner for creamy and vegetable-based sauces.
In the southern province of Tuscany, Siena is known for its fresh ‘pici’ pasta. This is thick, homemade spaghetti, very rustic and very long. In Siena, you’ll often find it seasoned with ‘aglione’ sauce (a garlicky tomato sauce) or in the most typical way, with breadcrumbs or pecorino and pepper.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner in Colombia
A common misconception about Colombian food is that it’s similar to Mexican food. We’re setting the record straight: you won’t be chowing down on fajitas or tacos on our ‘Contrasts of Colombia’ tour. Colombians are generally quite sensitive to spice and rarely use hot peppers in their dishes (with the exception of ‘aji’ – a spicy salsa served as a condiment), choosing to use herbs such as coriander, parsley and chives instead. So if you have a more sensitive palette, now’s the time to dig in!
On day 4 of our tour, you’ll have the chance to learn about Colombia’s most famous export: coffee. In the highlands of the ‘Zona Cafetera’ (coffee zone), you’ll enjoy a fascinating visit to a typical hacienda, giving you the opportunity to learn about the process of growing, harvesting and peeling coffee beans.
As you travel around the country, from the bustling colonial streets of central Bogota to the Caribbean coast in Cartagena, there’ll be plenty of opportunity to indulge in the country’s most famous dishes. At breakfast, Colombian ‘tamales’ will set you off to a good start. Made with corn or rice, tamales include chickpeas, chicken, pork belly, egg and vegetables wrapped in plantain leaves and steamed. Once it's cooked, unwrap and eat straight from the leaves. For something a little lighter, you might opt for ‘changua’ – a milk-based soup made with an egg and chopped onion and coriander.
Your breakfast beverages of choice: tinto or chocolate. A tinto is essentially a small cup of black coffee (bigger than an espresso). For something a little sweeter, try chocolate con queso (hot chocolate with cheese). Small cubes of cheese melt at the bottom of a steaming mug of cocoa for a sweet and salty treat. Muy delicioso.
One dish you must not miss in Colombia is the national dish, ‘bandeja paisa’. We say dish, but it’s more of a platter. In Colombia, the main meal of the day is eaten at lunchtime, rather than dinner. And there’s no denying this is a main meal. ‘Bandeja’ means plate and ‘paisa’ is the name for the people from the Andean state of Antioquia in north-western Colombia, where the dish originates, so this translates to the ‘people’s plate’. Chorizo, red beans, rice, ground beef, plantain, arepa (grilled patty made from cornmeal), avocado and a fried egg are topped with a big slice of chicharrón (fried pork belly). Maybe order one to share.
After all that, dinner is usually a small snack before bedtime. A slice of cake with coffee, an arepa with coffee, or a pastry (with coffee) is quite typical.
Coastal traditions in Portugal
Beautiful beaches, rickety trams and patterned tiles are usually what spring to mind when thinking of Lisbon and its surrounding coastline, rather than standout cuisine. But actually, Portugal has some true culinary delights in store.
On day 2 of ‘Royal Cascais with Lisbon’, you’ll have a free afternoon in the capital city. You might decide to stop for a coffee and a (plate of) pastéis de Belém. Antiga Confeitara de Belém (across the road from Jardim de Belém) is the only place in the city that serves these flaky, custardy little pieces of heaven – and they make 20,000 a day, so they’re the experts. Sprinkle with icing sugar and cinnamon and you’re good to go. You’ll find knock-off versions elsewhere (pastéis de nata), but nothing compares to the original.
When by the coast, there’s nothing better than indulging in a plate of seafood from that morning’s catch. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to do just that as you explore Cascais and the sleepy towns along the coast. Think clams in white wine and platters of bass, bream, mussels and prawns cooked in nothing but a splash of olive oil and lemon. Wash it down with a cold glass of Portugal’s famed vinho verde (green wine). Floral and zesty, this is a great accompaniment to seafood.
The Portuguese are particularly proud of their northerly produced port, so there’ll be no shortage as you roam about the capital and coastline. Pair yours with a good, regional Portuguese cheese such as azeitao for a foodie match made in heaven. The smooth texture of azeito is a wonderful combination with the rich texture of port.
Leisurely tastings in Como
In Bologna, there’s bolognese. In Parma, there’s Parma ham. In Naples, there’s thin and crispy pizza. It’s true what they say: there’s no such thing as a bad meal in Italy. The ‘kitchen of Europe’, home-grown Italian recipes have been adopted into many cultures worldwide. It’s simple and comforting, yet absolutely delicious – and there’s no better way to sample it than al fresco on a warm evening in Italy, with a glass of something cold and perhaps a dashing Italian waiter on hand.
The food in the north of Italy is slightly more robust and hearty than in the south, thanks to the influence of its Swiss neighbours. On our ‘Leisurely Lake Como’ tour, you might choose to sample the local lavarello – a fish caught fresh from the lake. A fantastic way to get to grips with the local specialities is on a walking food tour, which is included on day 7. Weave in and out of the twisting lanes of Como to taste some popular local dishes. Cheese, meat, pasta and wine are accompanied by stops at some of the important monuments of the town.
Traditional tastes in Switzerland
Waking up to a tranquil Alpine village with green mountain slopes is quite a treat, but all that walking will work up an appetite. In Switzerland, there’s no shortage of hearty food traditions to indulge in and our ‘Taste of Switzerland’ itinerary ticks off quite a few.
On day 5, waste no time in getting to know the local Swiss wine at a beautiful turreted medieval chateau surrounded by acres of vineyards. The Vine and Wine Museum has 17 rooms displaying the cultural aspect of wine production and you’ll learn about the journey of the grape from vine to table. In the afternoon we’ll visit a family-run winery in Chexbres, where you’ll indulge in a tasting of local wines paired with local cheeses and meats on a Swiss charcuterie.
You’re in for quite the feast on day 7 with a fondue cooking class in Gruyères. At La Maison du Gruyères, you’ll learn about the village’s famous cheese and then take a cooking lesson in making fondue – the Swiss national dish. Traditionally, fondue is enjoyed on rows of communal tables and benches, where a pot of fondue is enjoyed with pickles, pearl onions and dried meats and either hot tea or cold white wine (preferably chasselas). You’ll enjoy your melted creation with a meat platter for lunch. For a lunchtime dessert (this is Switzerland, after all), stop by Maison Cailler, where you’ll experience with all your sense the secrets of Swiss chocolate production.
What foodie traditions have you discovered on your travels? Leave us a comment below.
Article published on: 24th October, 2018