Yesterday I wrote about the importance of people in the travel experience and highlighted the remarkable Kathy Carroll from Lanai, Hawaii. Today I want to shift gears a bit and highlight a different aspect of the travel experience, but one that is arguably the most important – food. Whether you are a gourmand used to the very best or an aficionado of street food around the world, what you choose to eat and where you eat it has the power to make or break a trip. Our memories are tied to sensory stimulation, and the smell, texture and taste of food is the best way to etch lifelong memories.
I enjoyed a lot of great food this year on my travels, from freshly made hummus with hot flat bread in Jordan to a warm chocolaty waffle at a Christmas market in Brussels. What stood out most wasn’t a single meal or even a single dish, but rather a confection that seemed to follow me around the world – the macaroon.
I didn’t actually know what a macaroon was before my first, succulent bite. I imagined a dense cookie with chocolate and coconut, and certainly not the delicate pastry that has captured the culinary hearts of millions.
The macaron is a sweet confectionery filled with butter cream or jam sandwiched between two cookies. The small cookies are light, airy and come in a variety of flavors. I first laid my eyes on this delicious and somewhat addictive snack in Melbourne, Australia on a walking tour of the city. Macaroons are on the way to being a city-wide obsession, replacing the cupcake as the trendy pastry du jour. It just took one macaron, of the raspberry variety, to completely win me over.
Improbably delicate, too firm of a touch will crack the outer shell, the interior of the macaroon is soft and moist, filled with any of hundreds of different flavors. We returned to the macaroon-only shop later that day and bought a supply that would keep us in French confection heaven for at least a week. (You know, in case of emergency) They were gone in just a few hours.
Macaroons seemed to chase us around the world on our travels, but the most impressive expression of our new favorite snack was in the dessert’s home city, Paris. It was just a few days before Christmas and the pastry shops were working overtime to satisfy the throngs of holiday makers buying special treats for parties and family gatherings. Beautiful window displays of macaron pyramids in shimmering silver and gold were the norm, and thousands of rows of macarons in every color and even size imaginable were the most common purchase.
If I thought the Australian variety was good, the true French macaron put them to shame. Firm but delicate, soft and moist with an instant explosion of flavor upon that first bite all combined to make the perfect macaroon. That’s not to say other cities haven’t mastered the art as well. In Brussels the high end chocolatier and confectionery master Pierre Marcolini has created 25 flavors of macaroon including some unusual choices including the Cuba Libre (Dark rum and Coca-Cola) and Thé Vert (Ganache made from Matcha green tea). Yeah, we bought a box there too.
I’m sure they’re laden with tons of calories and are probably horrible for one’s health, but the allure of the macaron was strong this year and I soon found out that it’s impossible to eat just one. It’s also something now inextricably linked in my mind with travel and for that, it is my favorite food of 2011.
Did you find a new food this year that still makes you salivate?