When we travel, we naturally bring back memories, experiences and ideas that were created in new places and cities, but also we bring back things.  Nick-knacks, souvenirs, food, etc.  How do you find out what to buy, where to buy it? How do you find authenticity when you travel abroad?
I’m interested in hearing about how people research for trips like this, or if you simple show up and discover things for yourself.  I heard once that almost all souvenirs are made in China now, as far as magnets and t-shirts, the normal things go.  But in the end, there are pieces of places you can take home that are more representational than a t-shirt (except maybe the I Love NYC shirt).

I think the creative industry has really added to the amount of information that is available online now about places around the world.  What started out as Lonely Planet travel guides in book form has turned into an all out plethora of information now available depending on what your looking for.  It can be the best pintxos places in the Basque country, or how to find a good osteria in Rome — it can even be a walking tour of coffee shops in Brooklyn, there is probably either an online guide, map or app that will help you plan you trip.

As part of my writing for Florens 2012 competition, I’m thinking about authenticity in travel and food and how we plane, discover and conceive our perceptions of authentic in the world.  Since we are now to the point in time where maps are hip again and being used as decorations in our houses, utilizing Iphones and computers to plan routes and trips, are we loosing some of the “getting lost” or are people still getting lost?  All questions to start a conversation — post your thoughts below.



Scannabue — Turin

You don’t need to look far in Piedmont for a good meal.  Between the Langhe, Roero and Monferrato regions, there are a host of famous, well know restaurants that range from the traditional to the gourmet.  For some travelers, it seems that the capitol of Piedmont, Turin, is just a stopping off point more than a place to linger.  Turin is perhaps overlooked as a food destination.  For those do venture into the orderly and somewhat rigid city of design, cars and culture you can be sure that the food is good, sometimes surprisingly so.  The regional foods of the Piedmont are slowing making their way onto the menus abroad.  Carne cruda is becoming a regular as well as vitello tonnato.  The new trend, or movement here it seems though is crafting traditional Piedmontese dishes along with one or two from other regions, normally the south (Calabria, Sicily, Puglia).  The concept is to utilize local and seasonal ingredients from Piedmont, to make dishes normally associated with other places.  It is an excellent and welcome site when menu fatigue sets in and one is done trying each variation of plin con burro e salvia or tagliatelle al ragù.

On a cool night in autumn, we visited Scannabue Restaurant in Turin. Arriving early, we were politely asked to wait outside under the heat lamps, and if we like, we can order some wine to have before dinner.  The wine list, which is heavily reliant on Piedmont for it’s reds and whites, was very reasonable and well conceived.  It has a fine representation of the better producers of the Lange, Roero and Monferrato areas, with a few smaller and distinctive producers.  Choosing a Nebbiolo from a winery that we had never heard or tried, Cavallotto we settled into the bottle.  It was full of the traditional, classical tastes of the area: spice and dried fruits, black cherry, a hint of leather in the nose and the finish.  Impressed with the quality, the price, it is a reminder of just how many good wine producers there are in the area.  The wine list also gives a nice mention to a few select wineries that are organic or biodynamic, just the right amount to please those looking for these types of production methods.  If you were interested in drinking something Tuscan, there are several choices as well.  The list of red wines totaled over 100 and was complemented with a nice selection of whites and sparkling wines from Italy and France, paying homage to the neighbor to the North.


Scannabue is a small restaurant, which can feel crowed by the 20 or so diners that fit into the dining room.  It is cozy without being plagued by the need to appear too special – it is quiet, reserved and charming.  Set on one corner of a four way stop, the windows open up to a beautiful and stately church overlooking the small corner of Turin.  It is unassuming on the outside, with nothing more than a name scrolled over the door.  The owners, three young entrepreneurs have turned it into a restaurant of distinction for its ability to manage excellent Piedmontese cuisine.  During the day it functions as a café and after the kitchen closes at night, it’s a wine bar.  This is not only a reflection on the difference between eating in the countryside versus the city, but also the changing face of the traditional osteria catering to late night drinkers as well as those seeking a meal.


The people of Piedmont are quite strict in their dining.  Most restaurants serve many of the same dishes. The difference comes in the local variation of the preparation, which doesn’t deviate from the original concept of the dish, but instead lets the chef create one that is unique to each establishment.  Scannabue doesn’t hesitate to include on their menu excellent hand pulled tagliatelle, tripe and braised ox cheek in Barolo. I located the pasta con le sarde and made my choice, trying a dish of the south in this northern city. This was, without doubt, prepared in a way that would rival many in Sicily.  It was teeming with ingredients at the peak of freshness; cherry tomatoes, fresh pasta and anchovies.  For my secondi, ox cheek in Barolo.  Here, I realized that the best way to utilize the bread on the table as to soak up the rich and aromatic sauce of Barolo and herbs.  Tender enough to eat with a spoon, the cheek is a very fine piece of meat with a perfect combination of fat and muscle.


Dessert is never to be missed in Italy, and in Piedmont especially where you can find classics like panna cotta, pears braised in Dolcetto or torta di nocciole with zabaione.  These are all well prepared at Scannabue, but in autumn you often find desserts made of chestnuts.  Chestnut cake, dry, but with moistness provided by olive oil is more than excellent.  The woody and smoky flavor of the flour gives the cake a unique taste, without being overbearing.  But what would a meal here be without cheese.  Piedmont is known, at least in Italy, for being an excellent producer of beef and dairy.  Some of the best cheese, butter and milk in the country are available here.  Scannabue is very keen to showcase some of these cheeses in their menu giving the diner an excellent assortment of high altitude, pasture cheeses from the Alps such as castelmagno, raschera and cevrin.


Piedmont will always represent excellent quality in food and wine.  The challenge is keeping menus fresh while still representing the traditions of the region.  Not all restaurants are taking on this new way of approaching their menu, with a touch of other regions, opening late as a wine bar or taking advantage of local ingredients in new ways.  It is always nice to have a change, or at least an option for change, once in awhile but with the added respect of the traditions and heritage of the region.  Scannabue is successful as a Piedmontese restaurant for this reason.  Turin is not a town to be overlooked for food.  Beyond Scannabue are several other restaurants that are also catering to the traditional and the modern diner.


Where are we going? What is our plan?As a person who sometimes feels at home in airports, on planes and in transiting types of places, I wonder what those of the past thought about this idea of “in-between”?  The airports of the past don’t really exist now, at least not in many of the modern cities of the world.  The time of being able to smoke inside is gone, as well as on an airplane — as well as the days of steak and champagne in the air.  Those of us, myself included, that long or at least think about this type of existence are lost in travel thought.  I once had the experience of going to one of the oldest, and perhaps the most interesting airport I’ve been to in Beira, Mozambique.  A relic of the past, complete with smoking lounge and the airplane that parks, just outside the waiting area with the stairs on wheels to allow the passengers to embark and disembark.  Upstairs in the lounge that overlooked the airfield, a small bar that served “drinks” and bad, albeit the only, coffee in the building.  What is it that attracts so many people to bad coffee in airports?  Or, what attracts bad coffee companies to airports?  This was not a company, but alas, and old many with a tea kettle and some instant coffee in a glass jar, or at least this is how I remember it.

Maybe my memory of this event is muddled, or maybe I am trying to over romanticize something that happened a few years ago.  Travel is easy to romanticize, even in this day and age where travel is never, or usually not, comfortable, reliable or convenient.  Those days too, have passed without much thought.

I think boat travel is perhaps the last refuge of the romantic traveller, giving way to long thoughtful periods of time spent in the open sea air, sunsets over the vast ocean, dinner in a formal dining room, pool drinks during the day.  This is what might be considered, civilized.  But when one fills these civilized ideas of travel with screaming children and tourists, you loose your mind and idea of comfort easily.

Globe Trotter

So what is travel now?  What is the state of moving around the world, country, state, city, block, house, room?  Why do we keep accepting the many challenging aspects of long distance movement?  I don’t know to be honest.  The reasons are different for each of us, from business to family to a need to escape from whatever kind of life you are in, to the absolute craving of a good bowl of spicy noodle soup.  These are all valid reasons, as many many others are as well.

It is a strange beast, traveling.