How to Eat: Going Local
Food. It’s all the rage lately. And as a lifelong devotee of its joys (and even its disappointments), I’ve been enthralled by the resurgence of conscious cooking and eating over the past few years: the (slow) death of squeamishness, the booming of farmers’ markets across the US (who would have expected it in the nation that spawned the Big Mac?), and the resurgence of local, farm-to-table eating across the country. Call it what you like—becoming a “locavore,” joining the “slow food” movement, practicing responsible eating—but it all rests on the simple concept of eating what’s in season and grown or raised nearby using natural, sustainable methods. It’s a concept that I wholeheartedly buy into—especially when I travel.
While I do my best to shop the farmers’ markets, buy organic and certified-humane meats, and avoid fast food at home, it’s a privilege I can’t fully sustain when money is tight and time is short. When traveling, the world of local foods and sustainable eating is often surprisingly economical and accessible—and always worthwhile. I’m a farmers’ market junkie (my favorite way to enjoy lunch in a warm destination is by shopping the local vendors and finding a sunny spot to picnic), and I almost always stay in rental houses for the same reason—with a kitchen and all the right tools at your disposal, it’s easy (and usually cheap) to experience local food. A few favorites have been fresh cheese and fruit from Montreal’s Atwater Market, handmade tamales from the Austin Farmers’ Market, and fresh sauerkraut and brilliant produce from the Split market in Croatia.
And then there are those memorable food experiences I’ve stumbled upon, like dinner at Villa Conte in Ivan Dolac, Hvar, Croatia. My friends and I had rented a house in the tiny fishing village on the south coast of Hvar, and as she welcomed us to our home for the week, the owner of our house mentioned that their neighbors would make us a traditional Croatian dinner with a bit of advance notice. I’m lucky to have friends who relish a memorable meal as much as I do; we jumped at the opportunity and contacted them the next day. The neighbors, who rent out apartments in their own home, are a Croatian family who tend to an overflowing garden of vegetables and herbs behind their house—and make their own wine and rakija from grapes harvested in nearby family vineyards. Lena, the matriarch of the Caric family, spoke with us briefly about what kinds of food we liked (everything), whether we’d want wine with dinner (absolutely), and what time we wanted to come. The next evening, we were in for one of the most fantastic meals of my traveling life.
All homemade from local ingredients (most of which were harvested from a garden about 20 yards from our table that morning), the dishes served were fresh, flavorful, and distinctly Croatian. We began with a velvety crimson soup that tasted as if a garden-ripe tomato had burst in our mouths; next came perfectly salted roasted zucchini and peppers; a crisp, bright tomato and cucumber salad; and whole roasted komarča (a white fish caught in the Adriatic waters off the coast of the island)—the meatiest and most succulent fish I’ve ever tasted (see above for a before-and-after). It was all accompanied by several bottles of the family’s red wine, which was surprisingly dry and drinkable. And the cost for this several-hour feast of local ingredients, prepared in the home oven of a skilled Croatian cook, was a mere $100 (US) for all four of us.
How to find your own one-of-a-kind eating experience in your next destination? Head for the local markets—they’re not always the cheapest shopping option, but they’re almost always the best. You’ll get a good sense of what’s fresh and popular among locals, and talking to the vendors will yield a wealth of knowledge about where you can find a meal prepared with just those ingredients. You’ll get a taste of the local flavor—and you’ll join the ranks of environmentally and socially responsible travelers (and eaters) the world over.
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