After the gastronomic excesses of the holiday season, I find myself thinking of simpler pleasures. While the gingerbread, mashed potatoes, roasts, and the best-gravy-ever (my mum’s) were delicious, the thought of any of them entering my mouth, let alone settling on my hips, is unwanted.
But I’m no dieter, and I have no interest in sacrificing taste. I want something that tastes good and makes me feel good.
Yes, there is Vietnamese pho, and its even herbier Lao cousin. The zucchini pizza from Pizza Al Volva in Venice. Freshly caught grouper on Cozumel, Mexico, grilled with garlic and lime. September heirloom tomato and melon salad from NYC’s Momofuku. But even these are feeling a bit too complex to me.
My mind wanders to the breakfast I ate every day while in Cape Town in July — passion fruit yogurt, with the pulp of two passion fruits emptied on top. (Why this exceptional flavor has yet to hit Canadian grocery stores I do not understand). I remember a trip to Germany I took as a teenager. It was during raspberry season and my mum bought me a punnet of the berries every few blocks and, with red-stained fingers, I popped them in my mouth as we strolled, savoring the juice and the crunch of the seeds between my teeth. In Turkey the squeezed-to-order orange juice was almost as cheap as water and I drank it accordingly. And I bought pounds and pounds of cherries. The pineapple from the street vendor in Bangkok, sliced in front of me and served in a plastic bag. Sugarcane juice on ice in Singapore.
Hmmm. This is a lot more fruit than veg. But let me tell you about a sublime tomato.
In Nice, France, I enjoyed an early summer dinner on the patio of a restaurant called La Petite Maison. On the table when we sat down was a bottle of olive oil, salt and pepper, and a single tomato. At first I thought the tomato was just for decoration, but the waiter laid a serrated knife next to it. I casually eyed other tables to see what they were doing. Our neighbours, after a loud “santé!” as they clinked glasses, cut the tomato into thick slices and delivered one to each bread plate. Each person sprinkled it with the olive oil, salt and pepper to their taste, and dug in. I copied.
The texture was perfect. It burst in my mouth. It was like sunshine, both in temperature and taste. It was at its peak of perfection, and tasted like it had been picked off the sun-drenched vine about twenty minutes ago. It probably had.
What I’d do to have this tomato in front of me now, on this chilly winter day.
Wandering local markets is one of the best ways to eat simple, delicious foods, with the added bonus that they’ll be a good price and good for you. Chat with the vendors and you’ll be in for an even better treat.
Seattle, Washington’s Pike Place Market always has good food, particularly so in the summer and autumn. On a late August visit, I struck up a conversation with a peach farmer. She asked “Do you want to try an Oh My God peach?”
I laughed. “Why are they called that?”
“Just try it,” she said as she sliced off a piece and handed it to me.
I took a bite, yet another morsel of my mid-afternoon snack of several free samples from all over the market. But as the juice hit my taste buds, my eyes opened wide. “Oh my god!” The words slipped out, luckily unaccompanied by peach, before I could stop myself. “That’s the best peach I’ve ever eaten — and the perfect name!” I bought eight and they were gone before dinner.
I try to include a recipe with every International Eating Expert article. But with a focus on such simple foods, recipes aren’t necessary. Go to the local market. Buy what is in season. Slice up the tomato. Bite into the peach.
(Ok, one recipe hint for next Christmas: the secret of my mum’s best-gravy-ever … don’t use plain water to mix up your pan drippings with flour. Use some of the tasty and vitamin-rich water you used to cook your veggies. Simple and delicious.)
Photos via Johanna Read