Saturday, May 31, 2014

Epicurean Adventures: Looking Back

I am incredibly fortunate.

It's easy to forget such simple facts when the mundanity of everyday life sweeps over you relentlessly, with chores and errands calling your name, the pressure of work weighing down upon your shoulders, and the demands of creating homeostasis in your home -- even without the added intricacies of children -- leave you drained every day. However, it is for this reason we have pictures.

It's a running joke in my family that I take pictures of food when I travel, and Boy takes photos of monuments and statues he can't identify. Both are true. However, it truly is the food that makes me realize just how very, very lucky I am.

I've had real Kaiser rolls in Vienna, and grew up on its equally delicious doppelganger, the New York deli roll (dough conditioners be damned; I'll eat yoga mats if it gives my bread that sweet, fluffy, damp crumb that is my Achilles heel). I've tasted street dumplings in Beijing for 50 cents for ten, made by hand by a toothless grandma in a hutong shop, and was raised on my dad's rendition, with house-ground pork, home-grown organic Chinese chives, and hand-rolled dough -- a painstaking method he still uses at his restaurant to date. I've had grass-fed steak in Chicago and wood-smoked brisket in Austin. Barbecue ribs in Memphis and Birmingham. Experienced the pleasure of beignets among drunkards and revelers at 4 AM on the banks of the Mississippi, St. Louis Cathedral looking on in silent reproach and majesty. Compared the sweet oysters of the Chesapeake Bay to those of the Gulf Coast and Blue Point. I've tasted roasted Moravian duck in a cellar restaurant in Old Town Prague, just steps from the Astronomical Clock, Long Island duckling covered in cherry sauce, and Peking duck in both Beijing and Flushing. Berkshire pork in the Berkshire mountains, and smoked to perfection in Brooklyn. I've had a seared tuna burger fresh off the dock in Honolulu, the salty Pacific air adding more flavor and a sense of joy in the simplicity of being and eating. Sacher torte at the Sacher Hotel, where it was invented, and at Demel in Vienna, the confectionary that served the Hapsburg royalty for generations, and pretty much invented the art of pastry-making. Gyros, Japanese, Vietnamese and Italian in the most unexpected of places. Croissants in Barcelona, Rome, Cannes and Marseille, for comparison, yet not Austria, where it was invented and brought to Paris by Marie Antoinette. Goulash in the Czech Republic and Austria, yet not in Hungary, home of this stew. Shepherd's pie and Guinness in Ireland, in pubs whose woods have been glossed to a rich patina by age and recipes have been unchanged for centuries. 

Every one of these experiences have changed me in some little way, and it is through taste that I experience a world and a culture. It is to satisfy my literal appetite that I travel; my belly inspires me. 

And every once in a while, when I have occasion to glance through the hundreds of digital memories that mark the places I've been, establishments I've patronized, and food I've had, I can't help but thank the roads in my life that have led me to the roads I've thus far traveled, and become even more excited for what the future holds. With my thirtieth birthday coming up, it is with pride that I look at the map I bought Boy for our tenth (dating) anniversary and the many pins marking where we've been, jutting out of its surface like a Voodoo doll, and think to myself, "Man, am I one lucky betch that the best is yet to come." And that for 13 years, I've been with a Boy with a similar voracity for Epicurean Adventures and dreams of a lifetime of stuffing our faces, hand in hand.

"I do believe it's true,
But there are roads left in both of our shoes,
And if the silence takes you,
Then I hope it takes me, too."
- Death Cab for Cutie

Cinnamon sugar chimney bread in Vaci Utca, Pest.

Sweet rapunzel and Styrian potato salad with pumpkin seed oil, spinach and cheese dumplings, and the real, original Wienerschnitzel at Figlmuller's in Vienna.

Bakery of the kings, Demel, in Vienna.

Fresh roasted Prague ham with pungent mustard, fresh rye bread, and sauerkraut spaetzel, accompanied by a giant cheese and ham crepe, from food stalls in Prague.

Breakfast at the famous Cork English Market, where every ingredient served is sourced locally from the bustling marketplace downstairs.

The Temple Bar ... in Temple Bar, Dublin.

Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives-recommended hot dog stand in the International Marketplace in Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Oahu.

Dumplings in a delicious dump, just outside of a hutong in historical Beijing.