In Search of the Freshest Foods Around the World
The thrill of the hunt: to me, it’s one of the most rewarding parts of being a traveling foodie. I live to find the best possible versions of my favorite food items. Most often, this means traveling to the location where those foods originated. As I plan my travels around the globe, I make it a priority to find the freshest foods imaginable. For me, being a vegan means finding the most succulent fruits, the best teas, and the brightest vegetables. Here is what my dream itinerary looks like.
Pineapples Off The African Coast
Anyone who knows me knows that I love pineapples. Biting into a fresh, juicy pineapple is one of my favorite sensations (as I imagine it is for a lot of people). So, the question is, where does one go for the freshest pineapples? I recommend the French island of Reunion, near Madagascar. Now, to be clear, the pineapple did not originate in Reunion; the delicious tropical plant is thought to have come from the Amazon rainforest in Brazil/Paraguay. Nor is Reunion one of the top exporters of pineapples—that title belongs to Costa Rica. So why travel all the way to a tiny island in the Indian Ocean to get my pineapple fix? Mostly because Reunion is home to the Queen Victoria pineapple. This extra sweet, extra juicy pineapple is the best in the world!
I may have a huge sweet tooth, but I love a good salty snack as well. That’s why I would love to go to Iran for pistachios. Iran has been producing the world’s best pistachios, in fact the word “pistachio” stems from the Persian word pistak. For years, most of the pistachios consumed in the U.S. came from Iran. After that country’s revolution in 1979, Iranian pistachios became very hard to come by in the west. To help Americans get their pistachio fix, a team of scientists developed a variety that would grow well in central California, which is where most of the pistachios we eat today come from. That said, there is nothing like cracking open this tasty nut from the place where it has been growing for thousands of years. Seasonally, late summer/early fall is the best time to visit, as that is when the pistachio harvest takes place in Iran.
Summer In Italy Means San Marzano Tomatoes
When it comes to tomatoes – especially tomatoes used for marinara sauce and other Italian red sauces – one variety is king: the San Marzano. These long, thin-skinned plum tomatoes grow in the town of San Marzano, near Naples. Famously, they are cultivated in the volcanic soil near Italy’s famed Mount Vesuvius. This soil – rich in phosphorus and potassium – lowers the tomato’s acidity and imparts a delightfully sweet flavor. For anyone who loves this sweet, tasty tomato, late summer is the best time to head to the Naples area. Peak availability is from late August through September.
Yes, you can buy canned San Marzano tomatoes here in the U.S., but nothing compares to eating them in Italy, especially when they are made into a bright red sauce and poured over some delicious vegan pasta. Word to the wise, though: if you do plan on buying canned San Marzano tomatoes here in The States, look for cans that bare the “DOP” designation. This certification – which stands for an Italian phrase that translates to “Protected Designation of Origin,” means that the tomatoes were actually grown in San Marzano. Unfortunately, there are many imitators out there!
Being a vegan, corn is one of my all-time favorite foods. Not only is it the base of some of my favorite dishes (tacos, arepas, corn bread), it is also incredibly tasty on its own (nothing like biting into a fresh corn on the cob on a breezy summer day). In Mexico, corn is literally mythological: the ancient Aztecs believed that corn was a gift from the god Quetzalcoatl—legend has it that he extracted the nourishing grains from the mountains surrounding Mexico City, where it had been buried beyond human reach. Corn has been at the heart of cooking in Mexico for thousands of years. Today, Mexico is home to over 60 varieties of corn—not counting the many hybrid varieties. This is why something as simple as a tortilla can be a sublime flavor experience. Sign me up. Luckily, I have a pretty big travel window, as fresh Mexican corn is available from September to February.
Springtime Is Peach Time In Georgia
Luckily, I don’t have to travel halfway around the world for good, seasonal foods that I love. So many good foods are found right here in the U.S. One of my favorites is peaches, which means there will be a trip to Georgia in my near future. Ideally, in the spring, as this is peach season in the Peach State. And there is a reason they call Georgia the Peach State: Georgia produces over 130 million pounds of peaches each year. Of course, there are many ways to enjoy fresh Georgia peaches, including peach pie, peach ice cream, peach cobbler, or peach salad. But my favorite way is to simply bite into one! And if you are looking for the freshest Georgia peaches available, here are some simple tips from the Georgia Department of Agriculture:
- Peaches should have a sweet fragrance (believe it or not, the peach is a member of the rose family)
- While many people look for peaches with a pink “blush,” this eye-catching color does not actually indicate ripeness. When selecting a Georgia peach, look for a yellow or gold under color.
- Refrigerate and eat ripe peaches promptly within a week of purchase.
Is anybody else hungry yet? I know I am! But what else is new…
Pawpaws In Ohio
Ever hear of the Pawpaw? This oddly named North American fruit is having its moment right now. Sometimes referred to as the “hillbilly mango,” the pawpaw is a green, pear-shaped fruit – about the size of your fist – that has a creamy, tropical flavor. Fun fact: the pawpaw is the largest native tree fruit in North America. Given the fruit’s tropical taste, it may come as a surprise that the largest wild pawpaw patches are in southeastern Ohio. Athens County, Ohio is home to the annual Pawpaw Festival, which takes place in September. Hungry festivalgoers watch/participate in tastings, cookoffs, and a pawpaw eating contest. Of course, the main draw is the “best pawpaw” contest, where one happy grower takes home the coveted crown.
Canadian Maple Syrup
There is a reason the maple leaf is proudly displayed in the middle of the Canadian flag: Canada is home to some of the best maple syrup in the world (though Vermont has a pretty strong claim to the title as well). Canada produces an astonishing 85 percent of the world’s maple syrup. Lovers of this cloyingly sweet condiment should head to Canada’s Eastern provinces: Ontario, Quebec (Canada’s main maple syrup producer), New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.
The best time to go is during the “sugaring” season in late Winter/early Spring. This is when you will find metal buckets attached to nearly every maple tree you come across. The window for the sugaring season is very small, as sap flows best when daytime temperatures are above freezing and nighttime temperatures drop below freezing. While traveling through eastern Canada from late February to early April you will find plenty of delicious local varieties of maple syrup. And plenty of delicious vegan pancakes to pour it over.
Heading To India For Fresh Chaat
Chaat is a classic Indian snack. The dish – usually served cold – consists of a starchy base (often puffed rice or fried flour) with veggies, spices, and condiments piled on. There are as many chaat recipes as there are chaat vendors, so eating this (usually) spicy, tangy dish will never get routine. Chaat can be served as an appetizer at Indian restaurants, though it is often sold and eaten at streetside stands. Personally, as a vegan foodie, I could crisscross the Indian subcontinent in search of chaat alone.
Popular chaat toppings include chutneys (tamarind and cilantro-mint are popular choices), yogurt, potatoes, diced onions, diced tomatoes, and chickpeas. Chaat will often have a crunchy element, provided by small strips of fried potatoes called sev. Chaat is a vegetarian (and sometimes, vegan) dish that offers an array of flavors and textures, often in one bite. This tasty dish can be found in Indian restaurants here in the States, but there is nothing like eating it on the bustling streets of India.
Quinoa In The Andes
This superfood has gotten a lot of buzz in recent years, to the extent that it has become something of a punchline here in the U.S. That doesn’t make this ancient staple any less hearty or any less healthy. Quinoa grows in the Andes mountains of Peru and Bolivia, where it has been harvested for thousands of years. The ancient Incas referred to quinoa as the “the mother grain,” though it is actually a “pseudocereal”: a seed that has many of the properties we associate with grains. It is prized for being gluten-free and rich in vitamins, minerals, and proteins (hence its superfood status). While most of the quinoa that we buy at our grocery and health food stores is white, there is actually a wide variety of quinoa colors and flavors. Red quinoa, for instance, has a nuttier taste, while black quinoa has a sweet, earthy flavor. To sample these many varieties, a trip to the Andes is in order.
Specifically, I should make this trip between April and July, as this is when the quinoa harvest typically takes place in South America. This is a labor-intensive process that is typically done by hand. Cool bonus: it is estimated that 40 percent of quinoa farmers are women, an unusually high percentage for the agricultural industry. A superfood that empowers women? I am all for it. I for one, can’t wait to eat quinoa against the magnificent backdrop of the Andes mountains.
Mustard in Dijon, France
You have probably seen “Dijon mustard” at your local grocery store. Perhaps you even have a bottle in your fridge. Did you know that this tart mustard originated in the town of Dijon, France? They have been making mustard in Dijon since the Middle Ages, and Dijon continues to produce vast quantities of mustard to this day. What sets Dijon mustard apart from the many other varieties of mustard? Primarily, it’s the “verjus,” a juice made from almost ripe grapes. Since Dijon is the capital of the French province of Burgundy, one of the world’s great wine regions (another reason to go) – there are plenty of good grapes to be had. If you are planning a “mustardcation” to this UNESCO World Heritage site, consider going in early November for the annual Dijon International & Gastronomic Fair.
All The Tea In China
We’ve talked a lot about food; how about drinks? Tea is a drink that has always been near and dear to my heart. And I like it all: Earl Grey, Chai, Matcha…you name!. As a tea lover, I have always wanted to go to China. Tea is as much a part of China’s history as the Great Wall, or the famed terra cotta warriors. In fact, China is the birthplace of tea: they’ve been brewing it there for over 5,000 years (according to legend, tea was discovered when stray tea leaves blew into Emperor Shen Nung’s pot of boiling water…back in 2732 BCE!).
Tea is still revered in China: the world’s most expensive tea – an ultra-rare Chinese variety known as Da-Hong Pao – sells for an astounding $600,000 per pound. While I will probably never get the chance to sample this extravagant delight, I do plan on working my way through markets all over the country, sifting through some of the world’s best tea leaves.
What would your itinerary look like if you were “chasing food”?
Have you seen August Recipes’ post? – https://www.cookingwithjade.com/food/season/august