Itinerant: a travel lover who has a gypsy soul.
Foodie: a person who has an ardent or refined interest in food and who eats food not only out of hunger but due to their interest or hobby and is passionate about food.
I guess that makes me an itinerant foodie. I took my first trip of a mere 350 miles when I was 3 days old and rumor has it that as a baby/toddler I ate anything put in front of me. My palate was not picky. Then came the pre-teen/teen years. Can you believe I would eat spaghetti/noodles only with butter and I didn’t like pizza? I had taken an aversion to tomato sauce. Obviously, that isn’t an issue today, although I still don’t eat raw tomatoes. My love of travel has stayed with my gypsy soul and my palate became more sophisticated. I often see those surveys on Facebook, give yourself 1 point for everything you won’t eat. If you have followed my journey, you might say I am eating my way around the world and there are few things I haven’t tried, at least once.
Currently, I am located in Warsaw, Poland. I have flatmates from Belarus and India. Our common denominator is food. We often spend Friday evenings cooking together, not only Indian, Belarusian, and American fare but whatever someone suggests. Mid-week, we make a shopping list, a plan and have at it…. cocktails included. For instance, we made margaritas the night we did nachos.
Someone, Barb Doster that would be you, suggested I should write about my culinary adventures. My hope someday is to write my story. I have many stories that revolve around food, so who knows, someday in a similar vein to “An Embarrassment of Mangoes” my book could be reminiscing and recipes. For now, how about a short (or maybe long) blog about a few food adventures with some recipes tossed in for good measure?
I’m not even sure I know where to begin, so let’s start with when I moved to Paris. Paris which stole my heart. Living in the La Ville Lumière is a whole different experience than being a tourist. The first thing I noticed was there were no giant supermarkets…no Giant Eagle, no Kroger, no Publix…I did eventually find a Carrefour, but for the most part, everyone shopped at small specialized markets. One place for fruits and vegetables, another stop for meat, one for seafood, a bakery, a pastry shop…no supersize anything. You bought what you needed for that day or maybe two and everything was fresh. Living abroad for the first time was a thrilling experience and I wasn’t quite into the food scene. I spent my days just wandering the city, visiting museums, and café hopping. Weekends were often spent taking the train to nearby villages and towns. I did have restaurants and cafes that became favorites. I dined on many French dishes. But if I think about my Paris life in regards to food, I will always think of crepe fromage (ooeey, gooey, cheesy deliciousness wrapped in a warm, thin crepe) from a small street stand a few streets behind Shakespeare and Co. Bookstore. I have eaten crepes throughout Paris, but these were my favorite. I always take friends to this crepe stand when in Paris. Even before my first trip to Paris, I had learned to make “clătite”. Clătite is a crepe, it’s just the Romanian version that I learned to make for Tom. Basic crepes are actually quite simple but it does take a bit of practice to get the thickness correct. The batter should be thinner than you think it would be. Get the batter correct and then have a quality pan and you’re all set. Tom liked them filled with cream cheese and blueberries or any other fruit. I like mine savory, so crepe fromage is the favorite for me.
1 ¾ to 2 ¼ cups whole milk
4 large eggs
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons butter, melted plus more for the pan
Once in a while, I added a drop or two of almond extract to the batter. Everything went into the blender and whirred away. The batter should be thinner than traditional pancake batter. Over medium-high heat, heat up an 8–10-inch nonstick pan (I purchased a crepe pan) spread some butter around when the pan is hot. Pour ¼ cup of batter into the hot pan lifting from the heat and swirling the pan so the batter forms a thin circle. When the edges start to lift (about a minute), peek underneath. If it is nicely browned flip over; cooking until the center is firm. Then slide onto a plate…of course if you are making crepe fromage the cheese will need to go onto the crepe after the first flip. Fill with whatever your heart desires and enjoy. Nutella filling was quite popular in Paris.
The first crepe I usually botch (it still tastes good, just looks ugly) since I don’t make them that often, but once you get the hang of it…yummo!
After living in Paris, I moved to China. I would call China home for 4 years. You might be saying to yourself, “oh, I love Chinese food”. Well let me tell you, Chinese food in the US, or even in Europe, is not the same Chinese food you get in China. You can read more about “real” Chinese food here. Moving to China, I spent 2 weeks in Beijing before moving to the rural village of Xiashan. When you live in a village of about 4000 people compared to the 21.5 million in Beijing, there is no Western food to be found. You also aren’t going to find egg foo young, General Tso’s chicken, or egg rolls and forget about fortune cookies. After Xiashan, I lived in Changning, a city in Hunan Province of about 750,000 (still small by China standards). From Changning, I moved to a coastal city of Qingdao which had a population of 9 million. After Qingdao, I spent my last 2 years in China in Dong’e, the population for the whole county was about 350,000. Dong’e being the largest city in the county. In Changning, we had a Kentucky Fried Chicken, but that pretty much covered it in the way of Western food. Qingdao had a little bit of everything and in Dong’e I was back to having just a KFC, which I rarely ate.
If I had to choose 1 food to define my time in China, it would be dumplings. No matter where I lived, dumplings were a part of daily life. I have been a part of many dumpling-making sessions and could probably whip up a batch. Although, I know I could never make them at the speed of my Chinese friends. We would get together and 300 dumplings would appear in no time at all. Aside from bugs and spiders on a stick, chicken feet, animal innards and grubs, and grasshoppers on the dinner table, I grew quite fond of food in China. Dumplings may define my China life, but my favorite food was Lanzhou LaMian/Niuro Mian or beef noodles. I could eat them every day with a little chili oil. My Chinese friends also loved BBQ. BBQ in China is usually meat on a stick seasoned with plenty of cumin and grilled over wood or coals.
Then there is the Chinese hamburger or roujiamo, which is really a pita-type bread stuffed with pork or lamb that has been stewed with cumin and hot peppers. Another favorite was jian bing which is basically a crepe stuffed with a variety of ingredients of your choice. I usually had chicken, lettuce, egg, and a spicy sauce. No matter where I traveled in China, I knew I could also find baozi which are meat stuffed steamed buns. I liked to dip them in brown rice vinegar and garlic for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The Chinese have a way with vegetables I can’t explain. I can’t think of a dish I didn’t like, from cabbage to lotus root, eggplant, and marigold stems. A popular side dish was cucumbers in garlic vinegar and chili sauce. One of my favorite vegetable dishes was gān biān sìjì dòu 干煸四季豆 or dry-fried green beans. I became quite proficient at this dish and that is the recipe I have chosen to share and I took it from Red House Spice which I have found to have to have the most authentic recipe base.
Dry Fried Green Beans
350 g green beans, 12oz
¼ tsp salt
1 tbsp cooking oil
1 tbsp cooking oil
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorn
6 dried chilies, or to taste
80 g minced pork, 3oz,
1 tsp Shaoxing rice wine
1 tsp minced ginger
1 tbsp minced garlic
1.5 tbsp Chinese olive vegetable 橄榄菜
1 tsp light soy sauce
Roast the beans
Wash green beans and trim both ends. Pat dry with a clean tea towel.
Put all the ingredients from Group 1 into a resealable plastic bag. Rub around to evenly coat the beans.
Place onto a roasting tray (large enough to avoid overlapping). Cook in a preheated oven at 220°C / 425°F (Fan 200°C / 400°F or Gas 7) for 12-15 minutes until the beans become lightly blistered and brown.
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a wok/deep frying pan over high heat. Fry Sichuan peppercorn and dried chilies until fragrant (do not burn).
Stir in minced pork and Shaoxing rice wine. When the pork becomes pale, add ginger, garlic, Chinese olive vegetable, and soy sauce.
Put in the beans then fry for 1 minute or so. Sprinkle salt and stir well. Serve immediately with plain rice and other savory dishes.
You will most likely need to find the Shaoxing rice wine and Chinese olive vegetable at an Asian specialty store. I believe the wine can also be found on Amazon. The Chinese olive vegetable can be replaced by any preserved vegetable such as Sui Mi Ya Cai (Chinese preserved mustard green), Zha Cai ( Chinese pickled mustard root) or all else fails just use some chopped up black or green olives.
Living in China, I was able to easily visit several countries on the Asian continent. I traveled to Seoul South Korea on many occasions but never discovered a favorite Korean dish although I often went for Korean BBQ. In Japan, I was introduced to yakitori which is skewered chicken cooked over charcoal and served with a variety of sauces. In Tibet, I think I ate every dish known to man that could be made from yak…yak burgers, yak stew, yak butter, yak cheese, you get the idea. In Vietnam, of course, pho is my absolute favorite. Pho is a type of Vietnamese soup that usually consists of bone broth, rice noodles, spices, and thinly sliced meat (usually beef). Though “pho” technically refers to the noodles and not the soup itself, most people consider the dish a singular unit. It’s often topped with herbs and bean sprouts. A popular street food in Vietnam, pho gained popularity around the world after refugees introduced it to other cultures after the Vietnam War. When in Vietnam, I generally eat pho every.single.day! I also prefer pho from the south of Vietnam over what I have eaten in Hanoi and the north. Here in Warsaw, I have found a pho shop and easily eat it weekly. Just for the record, pho DOES NOT rhyme with “toe”. It is pronounced more like “fuh” similar to “duh”.
Onward to the southeastern country of Indonesia and the island that has stolen my soul, Bali. Sitting 8 degrees south of the equator, I discovered a new world of food. The great thing about Bali, I was able to enjoy both Balinese and Indonesian dishes. My first trip to Bali landed me in a homestay in Peliatan which is considered the Ubud area. My hosts at the homestay were Koming and Ketut. Lucky me, Ketut had been a chef at an Ubud hotel before opening their homestay. I was fortunate to have many cooking experiences with Ketut during my stays in Bali. On my last visit, I spent 4 months living at their home and became part of the family. You can read how I “tumbled down the rabbit hole” to have Bali and Kenari House steal my soul here. As crazy as it sounds, my Paris life and my Bali life are connected just like my heart and soul. As you may have figured out. I am a noodle maniac. Naturally, I had to find a noodle dish in Bali. I first discovered soto ayam which is a chicken soup. Then Ketut turned me on to mi ayam which was as addicting to me as pho. Yes, I ate this dish almost daily. I became quite spoiled living at Kenari House with Ketut, Koming, and their children, Kirana and Kiera. They immersed me in Balinese life. They often included me on trips to the night market for sate kambing (goat sate, marinated meat on a skewer and grilled) and other Balinese foods. I attended Balinese ceremonies that often involved food.
Nasi Campur was a typical dish at gatherings. Nasi means rice and campur means mixed. You would receive a dish with rice accompanied by sides of meat, vegetables, peanuts, egg, etc. often served on a banana leaf and eaten with the right hand. Other popular dishes are nasi and mi goreng (nasi = rice, mi = noodles, goreng = fried). Then there is pisang goreng. You already know goreng means fried so add the word for banana (pisang) and you have fried bananas, a typical street food. No trip to Bali would be complete with trying baba guling or suckling pig. Then there is gado-gado or mix-mix. It is essentially a vegetable salad with long beans, corn, egg, bean sprouts, tempe, tofu, cucumbers, or any other combination of ingredients. It is bathed in a classic peanut sauce and devoured. I quickly discovered that many foods in Bali are served with sambal. Sambal is an Indonesian chili sauce made from a variety of chili peppers mixed with shrimp paste, garlic, ginger, shallot, palm sugar, lime juice, etc. Each sambal can be individual to the person preparing it. I for one never found sambal I didn’t like. Some, I couldn’t tolerate the heat as well as others, but I never passed trying the sambal.
Perkedel jagung or corn fritters is a popular Indonesian street food. I had perkedel at Kenari House and also at another homestay I lived at while teaching at Yayasan Widya Guna school for special needs children. Before leaving Bali, Ketut showed me how to prepare perkedel as it had become another favorite and I was always looking for it at the street stalls. Perkedel Jagung is the recipe I have chosen to share from my Bali life. Since we didn’t use a recipe when making the perkedel with Ketut, I took the recipe from here.
3 ears sweet corn, (or about ¾ cup per ear) or use 2.5 cups canned or frozen ear corn
1 carrot, (very small diced)
2 tbsp minced shallots
1 tbsp minced garlic
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp chopped green onion
1½ tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2-3 cups oil, (fill at least ¼-inch deep in a large frying pan)
Cut the corn off the cob.
In a medium mixing bowl, beat the egg with a fork until the white and yolk are combined, add chopped shallots, chopped garlic, chopped green onion, chopped carrots, salt, and pepper. Mix well until well combined, then add corn kernels, flour into the mixture, stir to combine everything thoroughly.
Heat the oil in a large deep skillet at high heat. Once hot, reduce the heat into medium heat.
Drop fritter batter by spoonfuls into the hot oil. Flatten them lightly with the back of the spoon, try to make them roughly the same size. Continue frying, and don’t forget to flip them as to cook them to a nice brown on both sides. Depending on the thickness, you may need to cook the fritters for about 2-4 minutes on each side.
Remove the fritters from the heat and transfer them to a paper towel-lined plate.
Repeat the process until you finish the batter.
Serve and Enjoy with your favorite dipping sauce.
Of course, I love eating them with sambal. A nice acar or Indonesian pickled cucumber pairs nicely on the side.
So much of my journey has gone hand in hand with food. I learned to make Thai green curry while staying at Muchshima House in Phuket, Thailand.
I’ve eaten nearly every part of a whole roasted sheep while living in a yurt in Inner Mongolia. I’ve eaten gyros while sipping ouzo with locals at a taverna in Mykonos, fresh calamari on the seaside in Barcelona, street food in Mexico, amazing pizza in Naples and sipped Limoncello on the Amalfi Coast. My culinary journey in Poland is still developing. Coronavirus/lockdown measures have been a small bump in the road but I have still been able to enjoy traditional Polish fare in my excursions around the country and in Warsaw.
I have discovered bigos (hunter’s stew) which has become one of my favorite dishes.
While in Zakopane, I was able to have oscypek, smoked sheep milk cheese served warm with cranberry jam. There is also gołąbki (stuffed cabbage), rosol (chicken soup), żurek (sour rye soup with sausage), zapiekanka (Polish pizza), placki (potato pancakes), pierogi, and of course, kielbasa to name a few.
When I started this blog, I had roommates from Belarus and India. As of this writing that has changed to Belarus and Vietnam, so maybe I will learn some Vietnamese cooking. Imagine if I learn to make my own pho.
Yes, I am an itinerant foodie and just like in the USA, I have discovered gathering in the kitchen to cook, share a beverage, and socialize is universal. I am going to end with a quote from Guy Fieri, “Cooking is all about people. Food is maybe the only universal thing that really has the power to bring everyone together. No matter what culture, everywhere around the world, people get together to eat.”
Now, I am going to go to the kitchen and prepare beef carpaccio for lunch. As we say in Poland, “smacznego” or “enjoy your meal”.