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Souvenir Tip - Return with an Apronful of Memories

Taj Bates


“My name is Socrates, but I am no philo-siphe,” he said, bringing an instant smile to my face.

Like the Oracle seekers of olde, I was en route to the ancient city of Delphi in Greece, but had detoured into a cafe for sustenance.

And there before me stood Socrates, in real life.

Well . . . a modern-day, chain-smoking Greek named Socrates.

Moments earlier, when I stepped inside the café, it was empty save for a lone man in his late 40s who sat by a small television, wielding a lighter in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

He was both the waiter and the owner, and he greeted me with the warmest and most genuine of smiles.

Partly because I was a customer. Partly because I was an American. And partly because I was a pretty young woman in her 20s.



To my erudite delight, he introduced himself as Socrates and invited me to sit anywhere — truly anywhere I wished. Then he handed me a menu with flourish and hovered amiably by, awaiting my order.

I was only a few days into my holiday in Greece and my tastebuds were quickly awakening to the ambrosia that is authentic Greek cuisine.

I stared at the menu, at the foreign names of dishes I knew and those I would come to know. From spanikopita to moussaka to dolmathakia.

There was one dish in particular, however, that was much too simple to even entertain ordering, yet my eyes kept coming back to it . . . to 3 simple words that needed no translation:

‘Yogurt with honey.’

Two of my favorite things!

Yet, I was a child of the U-S-of-A . . . a land of store-bought Dannons and Yoplaits, where yogurt was syrupy in its viscosity and came in individual cups with heavily-confectioned fruit on the bottom. It was not the sort of thing I would order in a café or restaurant, unless I was starving, in a hurry and driving past a McDonald’s or Starbucks.

The Greek yogurt craze had yet to hit in the States and, thus, I was not yet hip to the fact that Greek yogurt is quite different and leagues above the yogurts of my youth.

Luckily, my foodie’s curiosity got the best of me and I ended up pointing at those 3 simple words as I glanced up at Socrates with questioning eyes . . . in search of his culinary wisdom.

He breathed an excited sigh and assured me that I had made an excellent choice.

“It will be like nothing you’ve ever tasted,” he said with a trust-worthy grin.

He disappeared into the kitchen and, moments later, reappeared carrying a simple white bowl and a silvery spoon. He set these upon the table before me and took a step back, watching and waiting for the inevitable.

I dipped the spoon into a sea of ivory that swirled with whirlpools of golden honey. The yogurt itself was thicker and creamier than any I had ever encountered then or since.

And when this creamy concoction began to dance upon my tastebuds, I knew that my yogurt game would never be the same.

Years have passed since that day and that is still the best bowl of yogurt I have ever had in my life. A simple pairing of yogurt and honey that was elevated by a combination of locally-sourced ingredients and thousands of years of agricultural and culinary expertise.

Upon returning home from my Grecian holiday, I wasted no time buying the thickest, organic yogurt I could find and a locally-harvested jar of golden honey.

Some of my favorite souvenirs have been the recipes and culinary techniques I’ve brought back with me from my travels . . .

Taking a cooking class in China completely revolutionized the way I cook certain vegetables. In fact, I’m quite confident that my future children will thoroughly enjoy eating their vegetables in my house!



Ordering a spinach pasta dish in Italy taught me that spinach, chicken and fettuccine alfredo are fantastically-savory bedfellows.

Hopping into a chocolaterie in Montreal introduced me to the deliciousness that is white chai hot chocolate . . .

I was so enamored of it, in fact, that I not only ordered a second helping, but I also chalked up the courage to ask the barista for the ingredients, which she was more than happy to share. To this day, I make and enjoy cupfuls of it every winter.

So as you journey near and afar, keep your mind and tastebuds open to trying new dishes and flavors.

Order the unfamiliar or the seemingly simplistic off restaurant menus.

Take a cooking class with a local chef.

When possible, buy a cookbook written by a local to bring back to your home kitchen.

Before you know it, you will amass an apronful of recipes that will conjure up vivid memories every time you savor a culinary treasure from your worldly travels.

 



Photos: David Baxendale, Mia BattagliaJudy Lin