Riviera has just sailed from Istanbul, the city described by a 14th-century poet as “surrounded by a garland of waters.” The Galata Bridge diminishes behind us as we cruise along the Golden Horn to where it meets the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. This was the final port on our 15-day cruise, Lands of Time, during which we traveled from Barcelona to Istanbul, stopping in Alexandria, Haifa and many other ports along the way. I had the opportunity to experience cuisines from all across the Mediterranean, and so I will be sharing a three-part series here on the blog with the many highlights of this magical voyage.
We welcomed guests onboard in Barcelona, including my sister, Erin, who is traveling with me for a month. Our first stop was the Boqueria Market, a must-visit every time I am in Gaudi’s city by the sea, for breakfast at my favorite little stall. They always have a plate of fresh vegetables, such as artichokes and mushrooms, that they sauté with your eggs and of course, jamon. What would Barcelona be without jamon Iberico and fried eggs for breakfast? Yum!
We had two sea days on this cruise, which are always busy days in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. The classes were full and, as always, a lot of fun. We welcomed several families who took classes together and many guests who were true “foodies.” Having just returned from the Baltic, we celebrated with some new recipes in the Crazy for Crepes class: Swedish pancakes with saffron (a spice brought to Sweden by the Vikings from Constantinople) and authentic buckwheat galettes from Brittany.
After stops in Ibiza and Malta, we arrived at the healthy cuisine capital of the planet, Crete. Escorting 24 of our guests, I led a Culinary Discovery Tour to the small Cretan village of Arolithos, one of our favorite culinary destinations this summer. We were greeted by the friendly faces of our hosts who shared their favorite Cretan dishes in a hands-on cooking demonstration. Guests learned to stuff tomato and grape leaves with a heavenly vegetable mixture. They also made agnopites – a phyllo-like dough made with the local raki liqueur and rolled with myzithra cheese into a treat resembling a cinnamon roll. It is fried and then served drenched in Cretan honey that has a delicate hint of thyme. After a few hours of cooking demonstrations, tasting and strolling through this historic village, we sat for a delightful lunch overlooking the ocean and the olive and grape vineyards below. As they nibbled at the wild herbs and olive tree leaves around us, flocks of sheep bleated as if encouraging us to come and visit anytime!
After an enchanting day in Crete, we were off on a four-day immersion into the cuisines and cultures of Cairo, Ashdod and Haifa. Since my favorite cuisines are those with lots of fresh produce, vegetables and grilled meats, I was looking forward to tasting the foods of these ancient cities.
In Cairo, we began with a visit to the pyramids where my sister made me ride a camel. His name was Humphrie, and the ride felt nothing like the riding I did for 20 years on my sporting horses in Middleburg, Virginia! But you couldn’t beat the scenery – three pyramids and a Sphinx!
As we drove through Cairo to rendezvous with the boat that would take us down the Nile, it became clear that mangoes were in season because they were being sold in little stands every few feet. Eating seasonal foods is still a way of life here, not a farm-to-market “movement,” as it is in other parts of the world.
We ate lunch on a beautifully decorated riverboat as it sailed down the Nile. The buffet was a delicious collection of mezze: hummus with black olives, grilled eggplant puree with yogurt and chilies, dolmas (fresh grape leaves stuffed with minced lamb, raisins and seasoned rice), minted yogurt and freshly sliced tomatoes and cucumbers. The keftas, or meatballs, made with ground lamb, beef and veal were delicious. Keftas are an integral part of Middle Eastern cuisine, and it is always fun to taste the various seasonings and meats that are used to make them.
After a wonderful day in Cairo, we were off to Israel. I had been studying Israeli cuisine and was eager to spend some more time in this amazing country. I look forward to sharing my stories from Israel with you in Part Two of this series on our adventures on Riviera’s Lands of Time cruise.