An afternoon snack in Corfu, Greece.
From pizza in Naples and fish in Ksamil to burgers in Glenwood Springs, sampling new food is one of the joys of travel
By Bob Berwyn
It was a drizzling steadily in Linz, sort of what you expect on an early autumn day in central Europe, but despite the gray skies and slightly chilly temperatures, everybody around us was slurping ice cream. The people in this Austrian city on the Danube certainly weren’t going to let a little rain get in the way of their Sunday morning enjoyment of frozen treats, so Leigh and I decided to join in, sitting down under an umbrella at the Garda Eiscafé and ordering up a fancy ice-cream sundae, some coffee and some Prosecco before heading to the train station for the next leg of our trip.
That rainy morning ended up being one of the best memories of the trip, and when we reminisce about our travels, the food we’ve sample along the way often comes up. It’s not always the fanciest meal that’s the most memorable. In Piran, Slovenia, we raved about a simple platter of fresh scrambled eggs with truffle shavings, and in Gjirokastre, a world heritage city in Albania, we ordered a stream of snacks, each costing less than $1, from a plain-paper menu in a nondescript cafe, where each item made our tastebuds dance happily.
We’ve put together a short photoblog of some memorable meals and snacks we’ve enjoyed along the way, and we’d like hear your stories about memorable travel meals and see some pictures of tasty treats you’ve sampled. Every meal has a story!
Click on the read more button to see some food photos from around the world.
At an early morning stop in a Naples bakery, we were looking for some rolls to make sandwiches, but instead ended up with these Incredible flaky, light and buttery pastries wrapped around a sweet, dense almond paste that kept us fortified for a day-long stroll through Pompeii.
A pizza Napoli, with olives, fresh tomatoes, mozarella and an an extra-large helping of fresh anchovies. After a full day of traipsing around Pompeii, Leigh was crashed in the hotel room and I was starving, so I cruised the alleys around the waterfront until I smelled dough and cheese baking in a wood-fired oven. The coals were glowing so hot inside the bricks that this pie took only three minutes to cook, and cost less than $5
On the last day of a visit with relatives in Brignoles, France, we enjoyed a farewell feast of shrimp, oysters, fresh figs and, of course, jugs of French wine. The meal was so good we nearly missed our bus and ended up forgetting a few essentials in the bedroom as we scrambled to get to the depot in time. That meant we had to survive the rest of the trip without a power cord for one of our laptops, and without regular shoes, making do with a pair of well-worn Tevas instead.
The mother of all sausage platters at the Augustiner Keller in Munich, featuring a Regensburger (the short, fat one), a Nurnberger, a Frankfurter (the skinny pale one) and a minced liver dumpling.
The home-cooked American version of a sausage feast. Technically, we're counting it as road food since it was prepared at the tailgate of a car in the A-Basin parking lot. Long live the chili dog!
This waterfront cafe in Corfu had it all; Wifi, bruschetta with fresh tomatoes, olives and feta, an amazing version of the classic Greek Nescafé frappé and a killer view of the Venetian fortress.
This may not be road food for us, since it's right down the street in Frisco, but it could be for you if you come to visit. The chicken-fried steak with gravy and home fries at the Depot, in Frisco, Colorado (all for $6.95) will fill your fuel tank for a day on the ski slopes or crosscountry trails.
The best burger ever? One of the best food stops along Interstate 70 in Colorado is Vicco’s Charcoalburger Drive-in, a Glenwood Springs tradition first recommended to me by former Denver Post reporter Steve Lipsher. During a winter road trip to Grand Junction, Leigh and I stopped at the burger joint, figuring that an experienced journalist like Lipsher wouldn’t steer us wrong. After a white-knuckle drive over Vail Pass in a blizzard, we were psyched to pull off the interstate for our dinner break. The classic car-hop-stsyle diner is located at 51659 Highway 6 and 24 (the Glenwood Springs frontage road north of I-70). Leave it to a newshound to sniff out the best eats, I said to Leigh. Through the window, we watched a couple of 1/3-pound slabs of beef sizzle on the open grill, flames leaping up and licking the patties until the chef plopped them in between some lightly toasted buns and piled on lettuce, tomatoes and onions. We washed down the burgers and crinkle-cut fries with creamy peanut butter-chocolate malts (tastes like a Reese’s Cup!) and listened to Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water blaring on the car radio while Christmas light reflections twinkled in beaded drops of water on the windshield. During the summer, classic car collectors meet at the drive-in, showing classic ’57 Chevys, ‘Vettes and other assorted roadsters. Visit Vicco's virtually by clicking on the photo.
A casual walk-in snackbar near the Corfu ferry terminal offered some of the best food we found during a recent trek through Greece, Italy and Albania. The feast included shish kebobs, stuffed red and green peppers, tsatsiki (a spicy yogurt dip) and a classic crisp Greek salad with tomatoes, peppers, onions, olives and feta.
In Ksamil, Albania, the friendly family owners of the Restaurant Rilinda prepared a feast of fresh fish, roasted sweet green peppers and crispy salad even though I was the only customer of the day.
As one of the host nations (with Switzerland) of the Euro 2008, the European soccer championships, Austria enjoyed its hour in the spotlight of European sports. An Austrian pastry chef in Linz got into the spirit by creating this platter pf petit fours decorated with the national jerseys of participating countries. We walked by the pastry shop every day during our week-long stay but decided that the little tidbits were too pretty to eat. My son said, "But if we eat one, Dad, they won't have a complete set." I told him they probably had backups sitting "on the bench," be couldn't convince him to sample the confections.
ICE CREAM BEFORE BREAKFAST: Dylan takes a pretend lick of a giant cone at our favorite Gelateria on the main street in Urfahr, Austria. Since we were on summer vacation, we treated ourselves to ice cream before breakfast several times.
Napoleon, the bartender at a pub deep in the bowels of the Gjirokaster castle, showed us how to warm up with raki. to make the Albanian-style hot toddy, he browned some sugar over a campstore, added water, then the raki, and served it to us in tiny mugs.
It wasn't easy to find an open restaurant during the off-season in Gjirokaster, Albania, but when we did, Oh boy! With many menu items costing between $1 and $2, we enjoyed a kind of Albanian cheeseburger, made of spicy mince meat patties, layered on a bed of green pepper and whole wheat bread and topped with a hard goat cheese similar to feta. With a side of grilled sweet green peppers and washed down with a tasty Albanian Pilsner beer, it was a feast to remember.
On the flight home from our most recent trek through France, Italy, Greece and Albania, we decide to spruce up the on-board meal with a few bits and pieces left over from the trip. When the flight crew brings the cellophane-covered tray, we break out the picnic: Olives from southern France and Albania, hard feta cheese from Corfu and hard-boiled eggs that were part of picnic lunch packed by the kind innkeepers at Kelemi House hotel in Gjirokastra. When one of the flight attendants walks by later to pick up the trays, we’re still savoring the flavors of the Mediterranean. “Hey, that’s not a United salad. It looks a lot better,” she says with a smile. We nod in agreement. Nothing against airline food per se, but the astringent olives, the pungent cheese and creamy, farm-fresh yolk of the egg are powerful reminders of all we’ve seen and done along the way. Now, if we can only figure out a way to smuggle that pomegranate through customs!
Coffee, espresso and cappuccinos are done well all around the Mediterranean and the Balkans, sit was no surprise to get this delicious combo in a spiffy coffee shop in the middle of the slightly seedy harbor district in Vlore. Not seedy as in dangerous – in fact all of Albania felt as safe as could be – but seedy in the sense of scamming taxi drivers and vendors selling tickets for phantom boats at inflated prices. Our slight brush with this came as we carried our backpacks toward customs. A guy in an official-looking bright orange vest steered toward the maze and then gestured to us that we should put our packs down on a bench while the border guards examined our passports. He seemed to be suggesting that he would guard them for us while we dealt with the formalities, kind of like those guys on some tropical beaches who offer to watch your stuff while you swim, with the implication that they’ll steal it if you don’t hire them. Our man in Albania wanted a couple of Euro for his troubles. Vlore is seedy in a good way, as all harbor towns should be, and it’sdefinitely a crossroads for Southeastern Europe. Our Italian-style cappuccino and croissant represented that intermingling of cultures. As a certified coffee freak, I love a country where most cafes offer both Italian-style espresso-based drinks and thick-brewed Turkish coffee. Legend has it the famed pastry was invented by a baker in Budapest to commemorate a victory over Ottoman invaders — thus the crescent shape. Food historians say they can conclusively disprove this story based on painstaking research of historic recipes, but it’s a fun tale nonetheless. The dark, chocolate-filled croissants in Vlore didn’t have much of that classic crescent shape that symbolizes the near-eastern Orient (think Turkish flag), but they were so good that we bought a couple of extras to go for the long ferry ride, munching them on deck as we watched the forested mountains of Albania’s western shoreline fade into the hazy ocean mists.
At a sandwich shop just outside the Brindisi Centrale, Marcello fixed us a real Italian hero sandwich with marinated veggies, cold cuts and cheeses to fortify us for the all-night ride to Milano in a crowded couchette. And that wasn't all — as a bonus, we got to sample this year's first wine, only two days old, from a family vineyard near Foggia.
Stopping in for a quick sandwich isn’t always as easy as it seems. After hollowing out half of the fresh bread roll with his fingers, Marcello packs the cavity full of anti pasti — pickled peppers, marinated mushrooms and artichoke hearts — then piles on salami, mortadella and cheese. After he finishes, he asks us if we’d like some wine. “Si,” I answer, not quite sure where he stashes the fermented grape juice in his tiny snack bar, called the “Jardinetti” (little garden) of Brindisi. The answer is inside a plastic bag on the counter. After setting out a row of cups, Marcelllo pours a slug for each of us out of a huge plastic jug and gradually the story emerges. The wine is made by the family of Michele April, the man in the photo with the shaved head and the beard (the other guy is Marcello). “It’s the Novella, only two days old,” Marcello says, pantomiming a stomping motion with his feet. “It’s natural … only for the family,” he adds, explaining that the wine is not for sale, but is only shared among friends. We’re not sure why we’ve been included in this round of drinks. With our backpacks and somewhat grimy clothes, we must look like thousands of other backpacking travelers who stream through the train station and past Marcello’s booth on their way to the ferry port. Maybe he took a liking to us because we aren’t too picky. When he asked what we wanted on our sandwich, we just told him to fix it his way. And the wine is good — delicious, in fact. Think Beaujolais Nouveau, except with a lot more personality. Michele says the wine was shaken up a bit too much in the car during the ride from Foggia, where his family’s vineyard is located. He says the sediment will settle to the bottom in a day,improving the taste but we all enjoy it as it is. Michele shows us his Navy ID card after we tell him about our visit to Corfu and his eyes light up as we talk about the Greek island. He says he was stationed there for a while during his service. Just before Leigh and I head for our night train, He pulls his naval uniform out of the trunk of his car and asks Leigh to put on the dark blue dress jacket and white hat for a last round of pictures. The he tries to draw a map to his vineyard in mid-air and writes down the name of his family’s estate in my notebook just before we scramble across the street and into the station. We’re a little tipsy, and our Italian is questionable at best, but we’re pretty sure he wants us to visit if we ever make it back to this part of the Italian boot — and we’d sure like to taste that wine again after it’s aged for a year or two. Sounds like reason enough for a return trip to us!