More Armchair Traveling – Italy to Vietnam

On rainy days when I have to get up and go to work, I wish that I could grab a cup of coffee, a good book or a stack of magazines and curl up in my cozy chair. I love the experience of being transported to new and exotic places through stories, photos and recipes. I imagine the smells and sounds of the marketplace, the salty air on my skin by the seashore, the feel of ancient cobblestone streets under my feet, the thrill of looking out over rolling hills of vineyards or rice paddies… All this without changing out of my jammies!

The best part about a rainy weekend is that it gives me the opportunity to do exactly that. Of course I could make myself do something more “productive”, but sometimes you need to allow yourself a vacation, even if that vacation is in your mind.

Yesterday, I decided to take that journey. I found a stack of unread Saveur magazines in my “to read” basket, made a small pot of coffee, and got comfortable. With the sound of heavy rain on the fire escape outside my window, I began reading about the sunny southern Italian region of Basilicata. Though I’ve always wanted to, I’ve never been that far south in Italy – Basilicata is located in the arch of the boot that is Italy. This region is known for sheep’s milk cheeses such as caciocavallo (a personal favorite), hard durum wheat which makes for hearty pastas, and peperoni di Senise(sweet hot red chiles). I was transported on the imaginary aroma of smokey peppers and fruity olive oil evoked by the photo of pasta con peperoni cruschi e mollica fritta (pasta with dry peppers and toasted bread crumbs).

Map of Italy







From southern Italy, I moved on to Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam… another place I long to visit. The aromas in my mind quickly changed to pungent fish sauce and lively fresh herbs. The photos of lotus stem salad and bahn xeo (sizzling rice crepes filled with mung beans, shrimp, pork, bean sprouts and fresh herbs) induced cravings that will be difficult to satisfy in this corner of Brooklyn… thankfully, Andrea Nguyen included detailed recipes and information on how to shop for the ingredients in the US. Now, to get my friend Mindy to join me in a little culinary exploration of the foods of her culture… I’m thinking Vietnamese may be the next food and culture discovery class I put together. What do you think?

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