I am a lover of all things ocean-like. Beaches, rolling waves and generous helpings of little gems from the ocean on my dinner plate. Seafood, simply and deliciously cooked, is one of my favorite culinary pleasures. During my travels in Europe I’ve had some good food, bad food, expensive food, supermarket food, street food and simple Mediterranean food. There are three dishes that pops into my head first, when someone asks me what dishes I’ve loved most from my travels. Coincidentally, they’re all from the ocean.
The Mussel Pot
The time I ordered this in the South of France, Perpignan (which is kind of close to the ocean) to be precise, I was baffled by the size and quantity of the meal. Mussels and fries is usually one of the cheaper meals on the menu. Called moules et frites, its a bistro style main meal of a big black pot of mussels served with fries on the side. The dish is popular in France but seem to have originated in Belgium. At most restaurants you can have your mussels with a variety of sauces to add flavor. Steamed in white wine, Mediterranean tomatoes, wine and blue cheese, garlic etc. I prefer the mussels steamed in white wine. I haven’t had a bad mussel pot ever and it will only cost you 7 – 8 Euros. If it looks like too much, there’s the option of sharing with your travel companion which means you’ll pay even less for the meal! Apparently it’s also the second most ordered meal in France after magret de canard (duck). I love mussels so this is absolutely one of my favorite dishes ♥!
The Portuguese Cataplana
The Portuguese Cataplana I had on the Southern Algarve coast of Portugal is the best fish stew I’ve had in my life. The dish originated on the south coast of Portugal and uses a base of tomatoes, wine, onions and herbs. It’s characteristically cooked in a domed dish made from copper or stainless steel. The stew includes any fresh seafood of the day. The deliciously saucy mixture of fish pieces, squid, clams, mussels, scallops, prawns and any other available seafood is served with huge fluffy white potatoes that soak up the glorious juices. I had my first cataplana at a family run restaurant in Albufeira, where the owner himself came to make sure we had finished every last morsel of the stew. The flavoring was done to perfection and left me satisfied, impressed and wanting more!
The Spanish Paella
These days when you visit Spain you can get paella everywhere and anywhere. You can pay expensive tourist prices and famous seafront restaurants and disappointingly receive a pan/plate of colorful salty rice with five pieces of seafood. My recent travel companion complained that the paella they make at home (in South Africa) is much more delicious that the one we ate at the expensive restaurant mentioned in a guide-book in Spain. I’ve had paella everywhere in Spain. Meat paella and seafood paella. You really have to be smart about paella eating in Spain, it has become as touristy as tapas and a good one is not so easy to find. I guess the main reason people are disappointed is because they seem to think paella is seafood with rice. It is in fact, rice with seafood. Sure when you cook it at home you can add as much ingredients as you like but originally it was a rice dish with vegetables, meat/seafood and beans. I had the best paella in Valencia. We shared a big pan of yummy paella somewhere lost in the old town, again at a family run restaurant we stumbled upon chance.
I’m a seafood lover of sorts but these are my three most memorable dishes. Ones I’ve tried to replicate at home not so successfully… What are your favorites?