Why do you travel? To experience different cultures? Watch beautiful landscapes ripple in waves towards the horizon? Flex your adventure muscles by climbing crazy-high mountains? Or maybe, even, to get a tan? (Although if that’s really the case, a bottle of holiday skin would be much cheaper. Just saying.)
You can probably see where this is going. Wanderlust grips me for many reasons, but there’s always one dominant factor steering me towards a destination. Food. For me, the adventure of travel is in scouring a destination for that dish that reduces the English language to a pile of rubble, as I struggle to find a suitable word that adequately describes the joy of each mouthful. Add my pesky vegetarianism into the mix, and seeking out meals can become a full-on Indiana Jones-esque expedition, as I wade through countless looks of confusion, bursts of laughter and plenty of utterances of “But, Señorita, it’s chicken. This ok, no?” to find my veggie prize.
I always leave each destination inspired, vowing to recreate dishes back home in old Blighty. But while I give it a damn good try, I never quite manage it. Why? Because there’s always a vital ingredient missing, an ingredient that even the most thorough raid of Millies or the Spice Corner in Leeds Market can’t unearth. It’s the twinkle of the lanterns on Hoi An’s waterfront. The shape of Sugarloaf Mountain towering above Ipanema Beach. The moonlit silhouette of the Acropolis. These are the backdrops to dishes that can’t be captured on film, the ingredients that can’t be replicated.
Reimagining a classic
Enter, Destinology’s ‘Reimagine a Classic’ competition. Aside from my exploits as a top 25 finalist for ‘Best Jobs in the World’s’ Taste Master, I’m not really one to enter competitions, but this one caught my eye. (And not just because of the prize, before you ask, although hello, luxury mini break.) It was the idea of reimagining a classic dish, rather than recreating it. When you take the pressure away of trying to recreate an exact version of a dish, everything changes. No longer resigning yourself to failure by replicating a much-loved classic, you’re giving it a new meaning. A new context. A new memory.
Deciding on a dish to reimagine was easy. It had to be Spanakopita, a classic Greek filo pie filled with spinach and feta. One of my all-time holiday favourites, me and this dish go way back to the 90s, when I was rocking the velvet chokers and plastic backpacks currently draped on mannequins in vintage shops for real.