ADVENTUROUS STAYCATIONS, CULINARY ROADS LESS TRAVELLED

In this, our fourth and final, part of our staycation series, we look at how to amp up your offer with cuisine for the more adventurous staycationer. 

With foreign travel more restricted our intrepid explorers are looking for something exciting especially after binging on all the streaming travel and cooking shows over the past year! 

So, now’s the time to introduce our clients to some lesser-known dishes from North Africa, Caucasus and South East Asia.

When they leave, they won’t have had just a holiday experience, they will be inspired to visit again and again.

Morocco

Moroccan food isn’t shy when it comes to flavours; spices, herbs and citrus fruits abound, not to mention great peppery olive oils, almonds, sun ripe tomatoes, and a few surprises besides.

One of the local treasures that’s challenging to find outside of the country without paying a king’s ransom is Moroccan Argan Oil.

In Europe, you find Argan oil used almost exclusively for hair care, but in Morocco, there’s another grade of oil, specifically used for cooking.

The food:

  • For a Moroccan breakfast, serve either Beghrir (semolina pancakes) with rose petal jam, or Khobz (flatbread) with eggs cooked in a spicy tomato sauce
  • For lunch, it’s got to be Harira soup, again with more flatbread and sides of olives, spiced roasted chickpeas, fresh tomatoes, and cucumbers
  • You can’t go wrong with a simple Tajine, like Lamb and date, or chicken with preserved lemon
  • However, if you want to push the boat out, offer a Mechoui (slow-cooked, barbecued leg of lamb) for the whole table to share
  • Keep dessert simple with fresh figs, dates, or Briouat (like baklava)

The drinks:

  • Moroccan mint tea, and keep it coming!
  • Cardamom spiced coffee

Georgia

When you arrive in Tbilisi airport, you don’t just get a stamp in your passport, you’ll also get a small bottle of Georgian red wine! This is not a joke

Georgia has the oldest archaeological records of winemaking, dated back to 6,000BC.

When it comes to food, there are so many local dishes from which to choose, that you’ll need at least a half dozen popup nights to even make a dent in this cuisine.

The food:

  • For starters, serve a small plate of Khinkali; dumplings, usually filled with meat, broth, fruit and wild herbs. Make sure you learn how to eat them first, then teach this skill to your clients, as Khinkali are traditionally eaten by hand
  • Next, it’s onto bread. Now, bread on its own would not warrant a mention, but Khachapuri is something special. For maximum wow factor, make it Adjaruli style, like a boat, with the centre filled with molten cheese, butter and egg mixture. Carbs and fat in one go!
  • For main courses, try Chicken Satsivi (made with tons of herbs and walnuts), Beef Kharcho, or Lobio (kidney bean stew). Now, the last might seem a little basic, but when it’s cooked right, you may convert lifelong carnivores!
  • Side dishes: Ajapsandali! Imagine ratatouille, turned up to 11! Amazing
  • Dips: Tkemali, Sour plum sauce. In Georgia, this is a staple in every household

The drinks:

  • Georgian wine all the way! So little of Georgian wines get exported, that they’re worth tracking down to offer something completely different to your clients
  • Start with a sparkling white like Atenuri with canapés
  • For fish and white meat, Tsinandali is a winner
  • If you feel like experimental pairings, try an amber wine like Tibaani
  • Red meat it’s Mukuzani, an oak-aged wine made with 100% Saperavi grapes
  • Dessert wines, you have two options: To pair with a cheese board, try a chilled Kindzmarauli (semi-sweet red), or if you want a dessert wine with some acidity, then a Khvanchkara is the way to go

Laos

The Lao occasionally refer to themselves as Luk Khao Niaow, which roughly translates as Descendants of sticky rice.

With more than 3,000 varieties of sticky rice in Laos alone, it’s no wonder it’s so central to the diet and the culture. 

Laotian food is a riot of flavour. With hundreds of chillies, galangal, banana flower, Laotian mint, basil, roasted rice flour, green onions, water herbs. Dried buffalo skin is used as a flavouring along with sticky and liquid fish sauces.

If you’re imagining Laotian food as something akin to Thai food from your local takeaway, then think again! This will blow your socks off with its fantastic ingredients and flavour combinations.

The food:

  • Sticky rice! It’s a central element to the culture and dinner table, so has to be there. Make a focus of this simple dish, serve it steamed in banana leaf or in individual bamboo baskets
  • Laab Ped – minced duck salad. Laab or Laap is another central dish to the Lao cuisine. This version mixes crispy fried duck, fish sauce, lime juice, dark soy sauce, dried chillies, fried shallots, garlic, herbs and essentially, toasted rice powder. Served with lettuce hearts, and cucumber 
  • Tam Mak Hoong, unripe papaya salad
  • Sai Oua. Pork sausages elevated to another level. Stuffed with minced pork, ground pork belly, lemongrass, galangal, ginger, garlic and mint. Make lots because you will have people coming back for more! 
  • Essential dip: Jaew Bong. Hot and sticky pepper dip. Made with fish sauce, galangal, dried chillies, palm sugar, tamarind, garlic and shallots

The drinks:

  • Laotian coffee – serve with condensed milk at the bottom of a glass, and pour French press on top
  • Coconut juice
  • Sugarcane juice
  • Freshly pressed juices, especially mango or papaya
  • Laos makes a distilled rice wine, made from sticky rice. It’s incredibly hard to find outside of Laos, so replace it with a good Sake.

Azerbaijan 

The food in Azerbaijan blends regional influences from Iran, Turkey, and the Mediterranean.

The mountainous and subtropical climate, along with access to the Caspian Sea offers a wide variety of meat, game, fish, fruits and vegetables to the Azerbaijani diet. 

Spices and seasonings are widespread, as well as a variety of herbs – parsley, green and black basil, dill, green onions, mint, watercress, coriander, bitter and allspice, celery and tarragon are common.

There’s also a lot of yoghurt, butter and sour cream used in dishes.

The food:

  • To start – Dovgha. A sour milk soup is made with Gatigh, a fermented milk product similar to yoghurt, as well as eggs, rice, and herbs including coriander, dill, mint, and spinach
  • Dolma. Young grape or cabbage leaves, filled with minced lamb meat mixed with herbs and spices
  • Qutab – What pizza is to Italians, Qutab is to Azerbaijanis. Thinly rolled, the unleavened dough is filled with pumpkin, pomegranate seeds, cheese, onions, and chestnuts, then cooked on a sadj, a flat pan made of cast iron
  • Main dishes – Lavangi. A whole stuffed chicken filled with walnuts, onions and plum paste, and cooked in a Tandoor, or wood-fired oven
  • Piti – Slow cooked lamb, chickpea and chestnut stew, usually with the addition of quince or plum. Piti is usually cooked in a call pot, so if you have oven-safe clay pots, now is the time to use them

The drinks:

  • Shabat (sherbert) is made with ice, lemon, sugar, and sometimes herbs
  • Darchin chai. Black tea, made with ginger, cinnamon and rosewater
  • Azerbaijan produces an amazing pomegranate wine, well worth checking out. Best served chilled
  • Azerbaijan produces great white and red wines, unfortunately, they’re even harder to find in the UK than Georgian wines. If you’re keen to hunt them down, check for common grape varieties such as Matrasa, Saperavi, and Rkasiteli

Contributed by Kieran Creevy; Expedition chef and private chef, Mountain Instructor and Arctic wilderness guide. Kieran has over 25 years experience cooking and guiding in remote and challenging locations.

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