Distinctively delectable: Devon

One element of the Master’s program here at UNISG is the six study trips, which are meant to immerse students in the food culture and gastronomy of a certain area of the world. When I told friends, family and fellow students I was going on a study trip to Devon, a region located in the southwest of the UK, they were surprised that our program would have any interest in the gastronomy there: “All they eat is fried fish and beer, right?” I knew that couldn’t be true and had heard wonderful things from other students, but was still cautiously optimistic that the trip would be of the caliber of our others. At the very least, I figured it would be nice to finally experience a stage completely in my native tongue – and who doesn’t love cheddar and beer?! But months after returning from this stage, I can’t help but remember it as one of the best weeks of my life. Food wise, Devon boasts a long list of amazing products: cider, haddock, hot chilis, the best farm fresh eggs I’ve ever had, cheddar of all variations, crab, organic meat and produce, beer, and even wine! Our visits to producers, farms, restaurants, breweries, and fish markets fascinated us all and truly exemplified that it’s not just Italians who want to share their food culture. Try the UK for yourself!

High-quality Highlights:

–       Manna From Devon

–       Devon Crab

–       Piper’s Farm

–       Dartmouth Picnic Boat

–       Quicke’s Cheese

–       Bridgetown Brewery

–        The Curator Cafe

–       The Seahorse Restaurant

–       South Devon Chilli Farm

–       Riverford Farm

The most wonderful thing you can offer someone, or be offered, in a foreign place

An excerpt from Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton

“In the evening, we were joined by a friend of his, and we walked to a restaurant near the Acropolis…Iannis, without wasting a moment on that awkward and tedious conversation that will unhappily precede so many hundreds and hundreds of future restaurant meals in all of our lives – whether to share or not to share and whether or not there are food phobias and dietary restrictions among us – simply ordered food for the whole table without even consulting a menu, and so set the standard for me for all time of excellent hospitality: Just take care of everything. Is it considered more hospitable to discover your guests’ preferences, their likes and dislikes? Is it rude to deny your guests choice and control over their experience? I don’t know, but I forever want to arrive somewhere hungry and thirsty and tired and be taken are of as Iannis took care of us. I want to be relieved of making possibly poor decisions, to be spared the embarrassing moment when I – the guest – am asked to state my preference…Delicious food and drink arrived at our table, and it was immediately clear how Iannis hadn’t needed a menu or a survey of our preferences to order because he simply presented a classic, traditional Greek meal.”

Trust Greeks bearing delicious mezze

I have always wanted to travel to Greece, not predominantly for the cuisine, but let’s be honest; food sells me on visiting just about anywhere. That said, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Greek salads are exactly the cubed tomato, cucumber, onion, olives and feta that I had imagined. Other Greek specialties, however, were not always quite so consistent with my preconceptions. For example, every moussaka I sampled was unique in its own special way. Every island, every family, every nana has a different twist of their own. Additionally the staple ouzo and mezze combo, though it could be found everywhere, always provided an exciting twist.  Various mezze staples like the Greek salad, hummus, aubergine and garlic-rich tzatziki were generally present, but similar to the moussaka, other mezze differed drastically from island to island. This distinction was not something I realized until attending a cooking class in Santorini with my mother. In awe of the breathtaking caldera views and lapis colored waters, we stumbled into an unassuming taverna at the south end of the island, where we would take part in a cooking class, enjoy some Greek wine, and dine with the chef, her husband, and their extended Greek family.

Once settled in Taverna Aeolos, Chef Litsa welcomed us all (with the help of a translator) and got down to business at a table full of local ingredients. She explained that they never really had soft bread on the island, and made due with the hard, stale bricks they always had on hand. By wetting them with water and olive oil and drenching each piece in juicy, sun-soaked tomatoes, a sort of pan con tomate was born. This bread was served with Santorini’s version of feta – a seemingly saltier version cut into rectangular cubes. Next up came tomato keftedes – which I would basically call a fried salad patty. Litsa mixed spearmint, basil, tomato and whatever veggies were on hand with water in a bowl, and added a handful of flour to keep it together before frying spoonfuls into golden disks. Of the few things that grow on the island, fava beans are a coveted food source and were historically milled on dry stone circles. Litsa demonstrated a use of this commodity by making a fava bean paste, similar to hummus. The game changer was when she added the most phenomenal capers and local olive oil on top to create a savory and refreshing spread that we couldn’t help but add to everything.  After sampling a beautiful lamb dish, we finished off the meal with fresh Greek yogurt and candied orange peel that could have kept me savoring at that table for all of eternity. By the end we were full, happy, and to be honest, a bit drunk! But as Chef Litsa and her husband explained, strong healthy Santorinians like to drink, and that’s why they have so many children to feed!