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ponchi101

Logbook to the middle ages. VI

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I am a man of gastronomical fortune. Through my life I have found myself in some places and situations in which the most delicious food has been served to me. And mind you, I have been fortunate in the “traditional” ways. 3 star restaurants are not unknown to me. I have had Cambodian food in Paris. I entered an Ethiopian hole in the wall in NYC only to find a food heaven. In San Francisco I was treated to a thousand different dim-sums, all flavorful beyond belief.
But the most memorable meals I have had are not of that type.
I was once part of a group that was moving a full camp through the Omani desert. We had planned everything to the most meticulous point of ridicule but of course, the one thing we did not plan was our food. So we found ourselves at noon starving and with no supplies. My partners, in typical British fashion, decided that they would drive back almost 100 Kms to get some food at the last stand we had seen while on the road. I simply said no and found myself with nothing to eat. Until the drivers of our convoy invited me to “their” lunch. As it turned out the men were bedu’s, the people of the desert and were used to these kinds of events. And under one of our gigantic trucks they prepared the most wonderful rice in my life. Salted fish, the most delicate noodles, dehydrated dates and spices were poured into a large pot, heated with some wood and served to all in a central plate. We ate with our hands, we told stories and did what the “uncivilized” do to become friends: we shared food.
In another occasion, I was again in the desert. We had to return to civilization so we began our drive (yes, you can drive in the desert). After a full morning of traversing the Sahara we stopped for lunch. Our hosts, a Chinese group, offered me a small bag with some items, all of which looked plastic in nature. Not being too tempted to have PVC hotdogs for lunch (or anything) I wandered to where our drivers were standing. There, in a small hut in the desert, some sort of argument was taking place. My driver, a seasoned Tuareg, explained to me that the owner of the hut was asking for too much money for the food. So, on an impulse, I told him to explain that I would pay for everything, my meal and that of the drivers gathered there.
So, knives in hand, we attacked the meal. Or rather, the roasted goat that was to be it. The meat, slowly cooked by the logs and the desert sun alike was tender and juicy, again bathed and marinated in some spices that I could not recognize. We ate to our fulfillment and after I paid, I realized the terrible faux-pax I had made: now, to the view of the Tuareg drivers, I was the boss. Not the Chinese but me. But the point of relevance had been the meal, one that still remains in my memory.
And now, here in Berat, another such occasion took place. After wandering up to the castle, we found ourselves hungry and too late to reach an open restaurant. But one such place looked inviting and we entered. A young man explained that most of the dishes were gone by now but, if we so agrees, he could provide us with food. We do so and simply accepted his offer to trust him with some meager delicacies.
Which end up being heavenly. The Albanian salad, the local variation of what the Greeks do, is beyond description. The tomatoes must have been hanging from the trees until mid-afternoon, the feta cheese is so fresh it crumbles at the touch of the fork, the olives peel themselves from their pits and the man explains that the olive oil is home pressed. He jubilantly offered us the house wine, from grapes cultured and pressed by his grandfather, and we received a vividly fruity wine that is nothing like anything I have ever tasted from a bottle. He brings us some pommes-frittes, salty and tasty from the olive oil in which they were fried, and a thick paste of cheese and heavy garlic that easily spreads on the also homemade bread. And all this is topped by the succulent lamb ribs, deeply roasted to the point that all fat has dripped away and the bone lets go of the fleshy meat with ease, the poor lamb that must have been baaing on a meadow early in the afternoon nourishing us in a fashion that simply proves that veganism is nothing but the modern version of the Spanish Inquisition, a form of torture of the flesh as ridiculous as celibacy.
The night is a success. We walk back to our hotel, squirreling through the small alleys of the ancient Berat. My jet lag is almost gone and I sleep the sleep of the tired but well fed.

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Updated 08-05-2019 at 01:01 PM by ponchi101

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  1. GlennHarman's Avatar
    I've also had some very memorable moments in gastronomy. But the ones you write about, because they involved some incredible adventure simultaneously, put anything I've done to shame.

    I hope the trip continues to bring such memorable moments. And feel free to continue to share the stories (and photos) with us!!!!

    GH