A taste for exploration: why you plan your next trip around exotic food
From rillettes to fermented ricotta, discovering foods you can't get back home is one of the last true delights of travel, writes Griff-Rhys Jones
There is a Left Bank market at the back of the Rue de Seine that almost everybody knows, because everybody in Paris ends up there - slavering over the made-up dishes in the windows of the traiteurs lining the street. Mayonnaise blobbed on top of suspiciously pink lobster. Some sort of gelée of asparagus tips. Pastry cases of mushroom duxelles in a cream sauce. It's what Parisians carry home to re-heat and show off with at dinner parties. And I want to eat it.
In France, the lure for me is old-fashioned excess. I usually make do with celeriac remoulade. It is simple enough and sums up what I am after: a mayonnaise with mustard and lemon juice, which for some reason is a staple of every food shop in France but is unobtainable in Britain. It's superior coleslaw. It makes me feel proper foreign. And I have to buy it in a shop.
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Rillettes are another one. They're gooey, flaky, goosey, fatty, essentially "other" and - this is my point - not likely to turn up in a Michelin-starred restaurant. It's one of the reasons I prefer to book an apartment rather than a hotel. I have to be able to buy a weeping slab of flaky, meaty goo, which you can't smuggle into a hotel to eat with a plastic fork in bed. Well, you can, but it feels furtive, messy and unsatisfying.I will never forget stocking up in Thailand once. We had a boat and a fridge. We'd been taken to a Tesco, but on the way back we diverted to a tiny grocery. Little polystyrene boxes were covered in tea towels. I lifted one up. It revealed magic ingredients including at least four varieties of aubergine, tiny herbaceous salad leaves, frogs, prawns, spices and herbs. Yum. Most of it looked impossible to cook but I was still very keen to try. I have even been moved to buy delicacies and abandon them because I lacked the means to eat them. A proper gourmet traveller might carry a folding fork and a collapsible dog bowl. I must remember to do that.
There are sensations to discover closer to home, too. On an ordinary Sunday in Acciaroli, Cilento - an unassuming Italian resort town - we encountered three stalls set up as an ersatz market. Jars of pickles, home-salted capers, lettuce (yes, unbelievable, exquisite, addictive lettuce) and fruit that tasted actually, you know, sweet - not the hard, picked-early, rubber dog's balls we have dumped on us in England.
To one side there was a pile of lemons the size of grapefruits. "Procida limoni?" I asked. They were explosively indignant. "No! Campania limoni." But they knew what I meant. I had eaten some on the island of Procida (yes, in a restaurant) a few days before - but here at this stall I could buy them and experiment. These huge lemons are grown for salads and the pith is half an inch thick like bread and is actually called "bread". The fruity segment is minimal and juicy. Just great. New, you see. And specific.
Or that time in Elba when I ate a burrata with a glug of olive oil, some fried leeks and reconstituted salt cod. Bliss. Novelty.Or the ice-cream place in Rome where I had a plastic glass half full of dark, lethal espresso granita: jellylike in intensity, with a wodge of whipped cream on top. I'd never experienced the like before. Must go back.
And mozzarella from Paestum, home of the buffalo, where it should come from - so far removed from the plastic waste that passes for the stuff back home. Smoked eel on the Baltic coast. Herring all across the lowlands. Bread everywhere. Mature cheese. There's this cheese shop in Naples, and another one in Amsterdam, which I have to rediscover.
In Liguria, I passed a stall selling fermented ricotta. I didn't know how much to buy. He could tell. He spooned out half a kilo before I shouted "Basta!" We carried that stuff around for days, and half a teaspoon blew the back of your head off. But it's all out there; you have to try it. It's worth taking a camper van and a fridge on your travels. Yes, culinary investigative touring is still possible - for the time being at least. – Telegraph Media Group Limited ...