Food is such an important part of travelling. I promise I’m not saying that because I’m French. I also promise I’m not going to boast about French food. I hate it when French people do that when they’re abroad (actually they even do that when they’re at home, surrounded by French people — I guess good boasting requires training).
I remember that time on Okstindan glacier in Norway. We left the car (a Twingo) on a tiny, steep gravel road and headed for the long trail. I remember the moment we reached the end of the trail and sat in front of the glacier itself. What a glorious moment. The cold Norwegian air was giving its chocolate crust a soft yet crisp touch. Just below the surface flew the first layer: raspberry jelly. Despite the altitude and icy blasts of wind, it was neither too hard nor liquid anymore; it was perfect. Below that flow, where there’s more pressure, the truffle layer. More compact, unexpected, but exquisite; fresh. Finally, the layer you could only unveil by breaking through the upper layers: the white, pure marzipan layer was giving my tongue that deeper note, to counterbalance the tartness of the rapsberry, while my lips were still on the dark chocolate coating. I moaned (and I’m not saying that to attract a wider audience: I actually did). This, my friends, was a Troika bar. It is a made-in-Norway candy bar, and I mention it every single time I tell the story of our day on the trail to Okstindan. The trail was wonderful by the way.
I could tell you about that tiny sobaya (noodle house) in the Asakusa district of Tokyo, more precisely on a street corner nextdoor to Nakamise-dori. I went to Japan in 2007, and randomly sat there to have dinner. What can I say? Seven years later, I go back to Japan with my wife, we land in Tokyo, we drop our bags in our hostel and head out right away in the evening sun to fight the jet lag. The first thing that came to my mind upon reaching Nakamise-dori again, was that sobaya. That, and also the anko (red bean paste) pastries that they bake all day long on Nakamise-dori and sell — still hot — in paper bags. The airy dough and the soft paste. A cushion for the lips. Tokyo is great, although I preferred smaller places on Kyushu island, in the Kumamoto and Kagoshima areas, more than a thousand kilometers to the south. They make pastries with sweet potato down there!
Ok, just one last and then I let you go and prepare dinner (or lunch) (or, come to think of it, breakfast: I learned from experience that breakfast is the one meal of the day that can be had anytime during the day, several times a day).
Tetsa River. Did you hear of that place? Nope? I’m surprised. On the highway leading there, there are road signs that clearly say: “World Famous Cinnamon Buns”.
So of course we stopped there and installed our tent.
Oh, it’s in British Columbia by the way. On the Alaska Highway, not too far away from the Yukon border.
(My wife and I love these road signs. We don’t have them in France. Do you imagine a sign that’d say: “World Famous Coq au Vin?” Of course not. People don’t pull over for Coq au Vin. They pull over for Cinnamon Buns. And bless them for that.)
What can I say about Tetsa River Provincial Park? That it’s the best we ever had. Truly: homemade, still hot from the oven, it’s as soft as brioche (there: boasting) and not too fat, not too sweet. The sweetness only comes from the cinnamon: actual cinnamon, apparently home-mixed with sugar syrup, so that it floods the whole landscape of the bun, both hills and hollows.
Taste. Smell. Spice up your travel, sweeten your memories.
For me, there are two ways to keep your sensations, the people you met, the places you experienced, fresh in your mind. Write a travel journal, but also: eat, my friends. When you least expect it, and because you won’t always be carrying your travel journal with you, the least of your daily errands may spectacularly revive some travel experience and send you floating into a bittersweet daydream. A touch of cinnamon in your coffee, a can of red beans in your local supermarket, rapsberry jelly on your morning toast in that cheap motel you guys booked on your way to Spring break. Food is a memory-container. Have you ever heard of Proust?
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