By Matthew Breazeale
The Star Herald
In French "gourmand" (gor-mond) means one who likes to eat and often too much; while "gourmet" (gor-may) simply means good food.
During a recent European tour to London, England, Paris, France and Barcelona, Spain, 18 students from Kosciusko, six chaperones and myself were able to become gourmands for gourmet.
Our group was able to partake in distinctively unique flavors both local and internationally influenced between the planes, trains and coaches.
Between the abbeys and bridges of London our first meal was near St. Paul's Cathedral in the basement of a pub called The Centre Page.
The Fish and Chips (French Fries) was a simple meal of a piece of thick cut white fish with a thick golden brown battered crust and crispy French Fries. Along with lots of vinegar and tartar sauce this fast and filling meal was good for trekking the metropolis.
London is known for its varied minority populations like Indian, Middle-Eastern and Asian.
These cultures have greatly influenced cuisines throughout the royal city.
Hummus, a Middle-Eastern dish consisting of chick peas, lemon juice, garlic, curry, olive oil while topped with various seasonings, was a treat during one night on the way to the theater. Ours was topped with grilled chicken, curry and cilantro served with pita bread, carrots and corn chips. The restaurant, Hummus Bros., served a custard style dessert.
Another influenced meal was the chicken with steamed mixed vegetables in noodles with teriyaki sauce. Served on clean white plates the presentation was impressive. Edamame, or steamed soybeans lightly salted, were served as an appetizer for the whole table.
My culinary highlight for the entire trip was in Paris during some free time. About two in the afternoon three of us chaperones and four students searched and scored a small restaurant serving Escargot. Never having tried it myself, I thought the best way to taste it would be in its country of origin, France. We ordered it as an appetizer with a "let's just get it over with"sense of adventure. Escargot is an order of cooked land snails with butter, garlic and herbs. With eyes closed we each tossed in a snail pried from its shell into our mouths. The flavor and texture resembled that of a mushroom, very delicious!
For my main meal I ordered the salmon plate with steamed, smoked and broiled salmon served with dill sauce. I can honestly say I've never had anything like it in America. The flavors were intense and rich. I can imagine fresh being a key ingredient.
At last the topic of dessert came up, with regret. I knew whatever sweet treat I ordered I would automatically want something else, it was Paris after all!
Our whole table settled on crepes, sweet thin pancakes topped with just about whatever you want.
Then our waiter asked us what toppings we wanted, all these loaded questions!
We split between chocolate-banana and strawberry-creme. We were able to sample each others sweets with no regrets.
Rounding out our taste of Europe was the hot and humid port city of Barcelona, Spain next to the Mediterranean Sea. That could only mean one thing, seafood!
First day in town we headed past Parc Olympic to the boardwalk for an outdoor treat.
The great sunny weather allotted us a Mariachi performance during our meal.
Some of the fun traveling on a very tight itinerary is just going with flow, not being able to micromanage every detail of your trip including meals.
We were seated four to a table with water and red wine to drink. First was a beautiful green salad with tomatoes, carrots and onions, lots of great colors. Also served was a warm hard crusty bread with mild tomato relish.
We knew we were in Barcelona with the warm, salty breeze blowing around while we ate outside.
Appetizers consisted of small whole bone-in fried fish. the fish was about as long as a hot dog. Our tour guide said the fish are eaten whole, bone included, except the tail. They were very crunchy but full of flavor.
The real flavor was in our entree. The waiters shuffled in lines of about six or eight people carrying large black wok-style pans, sizzling.
This dish was the famous Paella (pie-a-yuh) that I had been hearing about since my Spanish roommate described it to me while in college.
A definitely love it or leave it dish.
Large portions are designed to stimulate family conversation around one large pot. Among the countless versions of ingredients, ours included mussels, pork, chicken (I think), unidentified seafood, plenty of rice and rich herbs and flavors like Saffron and Bay.
For dessert, of course, flan.
We tasted, we tried, we conquered!