Last year, I publically re-capped my year in bites with the best eats of 2011. It was a simultaneously easy and challenging – we had eaten so well it wasn’t difficult to think of many wonderful meals, but it was certainly hard to narrow it down and pick the number one meal.
This year, I debated creating the list. Compared to 2011 with our active travel in Prague, the UK, France, Portugal, Spain, Amsterdam, and Italy, 2012 was relatively tame. It was easy to compose a list, because it was obvious to focus on my time in Mexico and our lovely weekend in Toronto. But where to find candidates for the other spots? This year, our list not only centres around exciting new eating experiences abroad, but also calm dinners at home, wonderful new recipes, and basic ingredients that have found their way into our everyday eating. This is a travel blog, yes, but so much of what I discuss is food. And this year there was more to food than excitement and travel. Food can also mean home, comfort, health, relaxation and simplicity.
While we had some amazing experiences – me in Mexico and both WB and me in Canadian dining – this year’s list is less international and less based around new tastes and foods, and more around our experience of food at home everyday.
So without further ado, here are our Top Eats of 2012.
10. Everywhere and anywhere: KALE
Our number one “new” ingredient of 2012 was kale. We’d eaten kale before, but not often and never raw. Enter the kale salad and seriously my life has been changed. A healthy salad tastes so much more hearty and feels so much more filling. It’s just darn right delicious and has usurpsed broccoli and asparagus both as my favourite vegetable. This is a big deal.
9. At home: FOOD FROM PLENTY
You know those cookbooks you buy and never actually end up cooking anything from? Plenty isn’t one of those. The Wanderparents gave me and WB Yotam Ottolenghi’s vegetarian cookbook and we’ve already cooked a few of its recipes a few times over. Grains, yogurt, herbs, and eggplant galore, it really is my kind of cookbook. Our favourite dish so far has probably been the spicy Moroccan carrot salad, and the hummus is a great go-to recipe. It’s all pretty simple to make, but so delicious to eat.
8. London, Ontario: VEG OUT VEGAN REUBEN
2012 was our first full year in London, Ontario and as you might have noticed, we are struggling a bit with the dining options. We’ve enjoyed Addis Ababa and have found a few decent places for a bite or a pint, but it’s not terribly inspiring. It’s also the year I finally cut out fish, am re-thinking my other-seafood-things eating, and am trying to eat more vegan at home. What better time to try Veg Out, a vegan restaurant on Richmond Row we’d been eager to visit?
It did not disappoint. It’s a tiny, buzzing joint but the food was delicious and the service fast. I ordered the tempeh Reuben. I never really ate things like this when I ate meat, but some part of me that had been dormant for the past three years just really wanted to bite into a sauce-drenched, sauerkraut-stuffed, cheesy, meaty sandwich. The sandwich delivered.
Is it exactly a Reuben? No. Is it awesome? Yes. WB had the daily special – risotto balls in a really yummy sauce – and we vowed to be back for more. Especially since I forgot my camera thus rendering me unable to write a blog post about it. New Year’s Resolution!
The photo above is actually from a recipe from this blog, which I am totally going to try. Another New Year’s Resolution!
7. Toronto, Ontario: BUSKERFEST MUSTARDY CHICKPEAS
Okay, so a pile of chickpeas seems like an odd thing to make a top eats of the year list. But like I said, 2012 was no 2011. But the thing about these chickpeas was that they came just when I needed them. We had been exploring St. Lawrence Market and Buskerfest, and WB had a plethora of meaty options before him. Hot dogs, pierogies, kebabs, meat skewers, hamburgers, you name it. For vegetarians? Close to nil. And I was hangry (which, if you don’t know, is a portmanteau of hungry and angry and signifies the kind of vile grumpiness that can only arise out of hunger. When I say I’m hangry…back away slowly. Or, ideally, give me food).
From a street stall reeking of smoke and riblets came the calls “vegetarian!” and I whipped around to spot a vast wok of chickpeas sizzling away in tangy, grainy Kozliks mustard. It was seriously delicious (the mustard is fantastic!). And that’s why it makes the top ten – because it sates an aspect of food that vegetarians miss more than the meat itself (at least I do): the culture of street food and festival fare. It was creatively simple vegetarian (actually vegan) street food that was filling, easy, cheap, delicious and doesn’t even rely on carbs or cheese to do it. Um, yum!
As I was eating on a curbside, feeling happy and satisfied, about a million (okay, maybe not quite) people gawked and asked where I had gotten it and if it was vegetarian. Clearly there is demand, people! I call for a vegetarian street food revolution!!
6. London, Ontario: FROM SCRATCH TACOS
Mexico really inspired me in the culinary realm. I’ve always loved “Mexican food” but tasting real Mexican food really altered my views on what it is and can be. I came home and I made vegan mole (another post!) and my own salsa – which, if I do say so myself, is incredible – and, get this, I made corn tortillas from scratch. Are you impressed? Good. Then I’m not going to tell you how easy it actually is.
One night I bought a massive bag of corn masa, blended up a bunch of chiles into salsa, and we ate far too many black bean tacos with house made slaw, three different salsas, smooth avocado, and tart sour cream. You might think there’s no such thing as too many tacos, but when they are made of black beans…there is. But no regrets, no regrets at all.
5. Vineland/Beamsville Wine Country, Ontario: WINE TASTING AND LUNCH AL FRESCO
You know what makes me love Ontario? Wine. Okay, so wine makes me love pretty much everything and everybody. But wine country is truly one of Ontario’s best assets.
In the summer, WB’s parents kindly took us on a little tour around Beamsville where we sipped pinots and rieslings (the region’s particular areas of expertise), learned about grape growing and varietals, and ate an elegant lunch al fresco at Vineland Estates. We passed each other bits and bites of local cheese, soft purplish walnut bread (which the waiter kindly brought us especially after WB’s mom mentioned how much she loved it last time), fresh seafood and juicy meat. With a plummy wine and a cheerful buzz, there really is not much better in life than an outdoor lunch at a vineyard. Amirite? I am.
4. Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico: MARTINA’S HOMEMADE TLAYUDA
Where’s Mexico up in here? I bet you were wondering. Well you just had to wait for the top four, starting off with this super yummy tlayuda made by Martina, a weaver in Oaxaca whom we visited on our microlending tour with En Vía. You don’t think there can be much of a big difference between a thin corn tortilla with mashed beans, cheese, tomato, avocado and lettuce from a restaurant in the city and one made at home. But like all things in life, homemade is better (well, maybe not all things…). Martina and her husband told us about their business and she served us our lunches as we ate, laughed, and talked, despite the language barriers and cultural differences. Not only was this tlayuda delicious, it was to me very symbolic of all the best reasons for travelling.
Also, that drink in the background is milk blended with oat milk and sugar. Which was surprisingly enjoyable, particularly as I don’t actually like milk.
3. London, Ontario: NATE’S SHAWARMA FALAFEL
No, it’s not a shawarma falafel, although that might be amazing. It’s a vendor in little London’s Covent Garden Market called Nate’s Shawarma, but for us, it is the falafel that is the real draw. Or, to be more specific, it is the whole falafel pita experience.
A falafel just made the top ten last year, but number three? Really? Yes, really. Everyone should know the importance of finding a fast, cheap, filling, yummy convenience food close to home that isn’t just McDonald’s or pizza. And as a vegetarian who tries to sometimes be kind of sort of healthy, the not McDonald’s or pizza aspect of it is especially important. Nate’s delivers with fried-to-order falafels, various hummus flavours, tangy pickled things, and a super yummy garlic sauce. It’s a veritable mash up of flavours and your breath completely stinks after, but it is totally worth it. They also have a decent hummus pita for the kind of sort of healthy days.
I don’t have any pictures of the various times we’ve visited, but all the other menu items we’ve tried have been mediocre at best. The falafel, however, is good. And awesome hangover food. Not that we ever get those. (picture source!)
2. Oaxaca, Mexico: COOKING CLASS
Our cooking class at La Olla was one of those experiences that really epitomized the connection between travel and food that goes much deeper than just taste buds. Our instructor, Pilar, showed us the ropes of a local Oaxacan market and the sense of community between her and the women who brought their herbs and vegetables to the city was apparent and inspiring. We met a lot of wonderful people and the class and subsequent meal was filled with laughing, chatting, and learning not just about Mexico, but the different reaches of the world (okay, so mostly North America, though there was a German couple!) from which we all came. We made simple but beautiful quesadillas with Oaxacan string cheese, zucchini flowers, and fresh-tasting epazote and herbasanté, dipped in a silky smooth avocado salsa; smoky red mole on enchiladas; and a pumpkin dessert, almost like a sweet but rustic stew, with sugar cane and guava – and all enjoyed alongside seasonal Mexican beer with a shot of mezcal to whet our appetities. Delicious, fun, and memorable.
1. Toronto, Ontario: CAVA RESTAURANT
As I was just about to write about the number one meal of 2012, eaten and enjoyed to celebrate our 1st wedding anniversary, I thought “No, no – that can’t be right. We just got married this year!” Nope. Over a year has now flown by and one of the most memorable meals marked the passing of our first year of marriage, a milestone that seems absolutely crazy that we’ve already achieved. We ate it in the same city we went on one of our first dates when we were just 17, almost eight years ago to this very day, and was a far cry from the Kelsey’s we enjoyed on our actual first date. (Though WB claims that wasn’t a date – we were just “getting to know each other.” I’m not sure what he thinks dating is, but nevermind. I think he at least agrees we are officially married.)
So anyway, Cava. This was a really fun meal, as we’ve said before. Small plates flowed out alongside a bottle of red, and we had fun exploring the different flavours and interesting new items on offer. Our favourite was the surprisingly mind-blowing edamame bruschetta, which we’ve actually spent the past month busy trying to replicate for our Christmas Eve celebration with a fair amount of success (another post to look forward to for 2013). It was a long, lazy dinner, with friendly service, and by the end we were stuffed to the brim, feeling very satisfied about the meal, life, marriage, the universe, and everything.
There you have it. Our top eats of 2012. Not quite so mind-blowing as 2011, but a lot of fun and delicious memories to look back on. And in the gastronomical realm we also have a lot to look forward to in 2013, as well as some challenges.
I am no longer eating fish. I’ve finally given up my beloved sushi and bit the bullet on giving up fish. I’m still figuring out my stance on other seafood such as molluscs, etc. but not being able to fall back on fish has already been a challenging experience. I was already off fish in Mexico, but with the plethora of beany and cheesy options it wasn’t too difficult. However, our Europe travel plans will likely prove to be far more difficult, so it will be interesting to travel as a “real” vegetarian this time around.
Europe! Again! Despite the fish-related dilemmas sure to arise, we are really looking forward to getting some more top-notch food-related travel experiences. We’re thinking cheese fondue, truffles, goulash, chocolate, muesli, and štrukli. Any guesses?
Lots more London. We’ve hardly exhausted the dining options in our home, so we’re looking forward to eating more of London’s offerings. We already have one planned for next week!
HAPPY NEW YEAR! Hope 2013 brings you all lots of amazing experiences, foodie-ish and otherwise!