When deciding to have lunch with a Spanish family I did not realise that pig’s ears and cow’s intestines were on the menu. Spain has a tradition of eating the whole pig and the whole cow (including the testicles and the fat) because meat is expensive and many regions in Spain were and still are relatively poor. I politely picked at the meal. However, it did make me think about how often I tuck into chicken breasts and beef steaks without considering how much of the animal is actually being wasted.
During my time in Florence I had the opportunity to befriend Pino and become a regular at his Paninoteca in the Santo Spirito area. Every Monday after work I would order his iconic 'la bomba' sandwich, which was a delightful combination of tuscan pecorino, sun-dried tomatoes and salame piccante. It was the highlight of my week, and having the legendary Pino memorise my weekly order will always be a source of YA pride!
Cuba is not known for its cuisine, and rightly so. Much of the Cuban population still live off rations given by the government, and luxuries such as herbs and spices are rare. We were living with a Cuban family in Havana, and whilst relatively well-off due to renting their rooms out to foreigners like us, their cooking was basic and repetitive. We were given breakfast and dinner each day, the latter being a variation of rice and beans, or Moros y Cristianos as the dish is known in Cuba. But for the family’s son’s 18th birthday, we received a special treat. Our casa mama was explaining to us the dish beforehand, and was surprised we hadn’t heard of it. ‘Ensalada fría’ she kept repeating, and we couldn’t work out what she was describing in her thick Cuban accent. Then that night for dinner we were served some cold congealed spaghetti with mayonnaise, lardons and pineapple. All served on a tiny plate, next to a big slice of cream birthday cake. This was one of two evenings in two months we didn’t eat some variation of rice and beans.
During my stay in Russia, we took a trip to Lake Baika. We stopped off in Irkutsk for a couple of days where we made an ill-fated visit to a restaurant recommended by the Lonely Planet. After an hour and a half without food, we managed to get into a heated argument with the manager when we tried to leave. He went ballistic and chased us out of the restaurant and down the road all the while shouting “fascists” after us. Not a successful meal out.
Our luck didn’t improve a whole lot when we actually reached the lake, as we discovered that we had completely missed tourist season and the resort town we were staying in was deserted. It looked like a scene out of a western, there were literally tumbleweeds rolling down the “high-street”. The restaurants weren’t expecting any visitors and so were only serving their local fish, omul. After 4 or 5 days surviving only on omul, our passion for this local delicacy was wearing pretty thin. That was until we went on an excursion around the lake’s biggest island, Olkhon. Our guides took us to a spot in the woods and prepared a fish stew over a camp fire. It was absolutely delicious and sitting around a camp fire on an island in one of the biggest lakes in the world was a great way to end the trip.
I arrived in Berlin with far from high expectations of German cuisine. However, I soon learned that the city has an incredible amount to offer. On the traditional side, a particularly fantastic experience was at Repke, recommended by some German colleagues. It’s a restaurant in the heart of Charlottenburg (100% worth the trek to the West) serving the simplest yet most incredible German food. The Späztle are a definite highlight and you cannot miss the beef goulash and dumplings. This place serves all the staples of German cuisine; we soon became regulars to try out every speciality. On the other side of town, Pane e Vino (choose the one in the heart of Prenzlauerberg) is the place to go if you're strapped for cash but looking for a fun night. A bit like Spags, all the pizzas and pastas cost €3,95 - this is a restaurant where your drink will cost more than your meal. The food is great and so is the atmosphere inside - it’s always full and all available surfaces have been used as a canvas by punters. Street Food in Berlin is also fantastic...particularly when it comes to the döner kebabs which are so good you can enjoy them sober.