Oceania Cruises guest Brad B. from San Diego recently returned from a beautiful voyage aboard Marina that called on Mediterranean favorites such as Florence, Monte Carlo and Barcelona before ending in Lisbon. The journey featured all of the signature Oceania Cruises experiences – convivial gatherings with fellow travelers, warm personal service from world-class staff and of course, The Finest Cuisine at Sea™ at every meal. Below he shares his humorous re-adjustment to “real life” back in California.
My history with Argentina has more to do with horses than it does with food. As the owner of an equestrian breeding operation in Middleburg, Virginia, I hired my fair share of über-talented Argentinian jockeys and trainers, not to mention polo players, and I recall how special Sundays were to my Argentinian cohorts. The Sunday night festival of food, drink, dance and intense conversation (which, by the way, started at 10 pm) went well into Monday morning on more than a few occasions.
My recent trip to Buenos Aires was all about the food, as I was scouting great locations for a Culinary Discovery Tour that will be offered later this year.
Buenos Aires is intoxicating, and the panoply of restaurants and cuisines is dizzying. But my quest was to find the pulse of emerging culinary trends, which often involves the preservation of regional or traditional cuisines. Barbecued meats, known as asado, will always be a staple here, but I also noticed culinary trends that went beyond the Argentinian fascination with meat and embraced other aspects of this rich culinary culture. With the help of my delightful guide Eugenia, I was transported into the belly of the Argentinian culinary scene and discovered a passionate commitment to the regional cuisines of this diverse country, deference to the cooking methods of native populations and a celebration of pre-Columbian cooking traditions.
We set out first to explore local markets, an increasingly rare venue in cosmopolitan cities worldwide. Eugenia selected Mercado San Telmo built in 1897 by Juan Buschiazzo as an open, airy, glass-filled arcade, the perfect haven for artists, butchers, bakers, antique dealers, spice mongers, cheese makers and anyone with a unique product to sell.
We strolled through the colorful stalls of fruits and vegetables, and it was clear that we were here in the middle of summer – the tomatoes were irresistible.
Argentinians do love their meat, so finding chorizo (pork sausage), morcilla (blood sausage) and assorted embutidos (sausages) was not difficult. Eugenia pointed out the choripan, a beef and pork sausage that is the official street food of Argentina. It’s typically grilled and placed in a soft bun with chimichurri sauce.
As we made our way through the market, we noticed a line at the stand for quesos artesanales, the local artisan cheeses. You can often sense the immigrant heritage of a place in its cheese, and Buenos Aires is no exception. While cheese is integral to Latin cuisine in general, here you can see the influx of the Spanish and Italian cheeses – esparto-woven manchego and the peppery Sicilian pepato made from sheep’s milk.
I was determined to find some spices, so I was thrilled when we stumbled across a treasure trove at a stand run by a man and his son. I have learned over the years that being genuine wins over being pretentious, so I confessed that I was a chef interested in trying some of his best spice mixes.
The truth is, I am a chimichurri addict, and I was most interested in uncovering any secret ingredients in this heavenly salsa of the gods. Chimichurri, besides being one of those words I just love to say, is typically served by the spoonful with grilled meats in Argentina. It is a blend of herbs, garlic, olive oil and vinegar, with some heat from black pepper or pepper flakes. Chimichurri is a lot like Indian garam masala in that it will vary from household to household, each cook having his or her own secret blend. When I was in Barcelona, I learned that many a Spanish chef has embellished chimichurri by adding pimenton (Spanish paprika) for a smoky, herbaceous flavor. I’ve shared my favorite chimichurri recipe with you below.
Needless to say, I walked away with not only the owner’s private blend of chimichurri spices – and instructions on how to bring the dried herbs to life – but also a sampling of both smoky and sweet pimenton and the house blend of maté. The dried leaves of the yerba maté plant make a heady tea with a bitter, tobacco-like taste, often sweetened with large amounts of sugar and a dried citrus peel.
As the granddaughter of a poultry farmer, I always make a stop at the egg vendor to jog my memory on what breeds of chicken lay what size and color eggs. On this day there were not only organic eggs but also double-yolk eggs, which I grew up believing was impossible to tell until you broke the egg! I have done the research since, and while there are a few hybrids that are bred to lay double-yolk eggs, it appears that, by and large, this is still one of nature’s wrapped packages, and the single-versus-double surprise is left until the shell is cracked open. I will continue to search, and perhaps in the meantime, Harold McGee can get to the bottom of this mystery!
After an informative and invigorating stroll through the Mercado San Telmo, we were off to explore potential sites for a luncheon for our Culinary Discovery Tour guests. Our first stop, La Ventana, was selected because it personifies the gaucho barbecue and allows guests to learn about the unique cuts of Argentinian beef as well as taste the country’s celebrated cherry-rich Malbec wines. La Ventana is also a popular nightspot for tango dancing, which is one of those experiences I would encourage anyone to put on their bucket list.
Our next stop was El Maté Café: The Argentine Experience. We were greeted by the chef and his partner, who not only run a trendy nightspot but also offer classes on Argentinian cuisine and wine. It’s a hands-on cooking school where seasonality and authenticity reign supreme. I was impressed! Eugenia had brought a group here recently, and she raved about the experience.
After a morning of exploring, we were ready to sit down and enjoy an Argentinian lunch. We chose Aldo’s Vinoteca, known more for its wines than its food, although the food was outstanding. After a tour of the restaurant, the private dining room and the wall-to-wall wines, we settled in and chose a wine from the seemingly endless wine list. As I am known to do, I beckoned the lovely sommelier and asked her to select wines for us, and she did not disappoint.
We started with a Torrontes from the northern region of Salta. This searing, brilliantly acidic wine had the heady floral aromatic of a botrytis dessert wine. It was paired with our humita, a delicious pudding of corn and creamy brie wrapped in a cornhusk.
Next was a filet steak grilled to perfection and served with an arugula salad. The pairing was a 2010 Mundo Revés Malbec, a smooth and full-bodied companion to our entrée. I was intrigued by the wine list presented on an iPad, but I guess I have been sailing for too long, as I hear this is no longer a novelty at shoreside restaurants.
After lunch we said goodbye to our gracious hosts and returned to our car. (Our driver confessed to me that he had lunched at McDonald’s. I am not sure if that was meant to impress or not.) My knowledgeable guide wanted us to stop at one more place: Havanna. This café is known for its prized dulce de leche cookies. Dulce de leche is a sweet milk and sugar spread that is an iconic treasure of Argentina. It is used like Hershey’s syrup on everything from morning toast to cookies (in between shortbread cookies like an Oreo) to ice cream.
After I filled my market bags with Havanna cookies (for class tomorrow, I swear!), we made one final quick stop at the famous Volta ice creamery for a dulce de leche ice cream cone. To be honest, I am usually not much for sweets, but this was a little piece of heaven.
As always, I am indebted to the generosity of my guides selected by Oceania Cruises’ local tour operators. It was a day well spent, and as I returned to Marina, I was convinced that this was yet another essential destination for a Culinary Discovery Tour. I hope you can join us next December when Marina returns to Argentina and sample some of the treasures I uncovered on this scouting mission!
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, washed
1 bunch cilantro, washed
6 to 10 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 cup champagne vinegar or white distilled vinegar
3/4 cup grapeseed oil or mild extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of smoked paprika (pimenton), optional
Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend, adjusting the amount of garlic to taste. If the sauce is the consistency of a thick paste, thin with more oil. Sauce can be stored in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container for up to 2 weeks.
Brazil, like so many places, is an amalgam of cultures. The influx of the Portuguese settlers and the slaves from West Africa along with the native Brazilian Indians have created a dizzying collection of regional cuisines.
I find the cuisines of tropical areas fascinating, largely because they make use of the abundance of freshly grown ingredients without having to rely on culinary “crutches” like butter and cream.
The Fjords and Wonders cruise sailed last month from Rio de Janeiro amidst beautiful sunny skies and temperatures a bit higher than the average for this time of year. I was taking over for Chef Annie Copps, who had been on Marina since September. Before she boarded her flight back to the US for a well-deserved holiday, we took our almoco – the Brazilian mid-day meal – at Porcão, a popular churrascaria on Ipanema beach.
It was buffet-style with many Portuguese and Brazilian favorites, like coxinha (chicken croquettes), a variety of beans (broad beans, black-eyed peas, black beans) and scrumptious fruit salads made with tropical rainforest fruits. As is typical of these barbecue restaurants, the passadors – knife-wielding, meat-toting waiters – circulated with grilled steaks and sausages on skewers, slicing off portions of grilled meat tableside. Luckily for me, I was able to return to the ship and take a nap!
My first morning in Rio, I arranged for a guide to take me to a few culinary highlights of the city. Carlos was an avid home cook and was keen to share his love of Brazilian cuisine. My mission for the day was to design a Culinary Discovery Tour to be offered in this vibrant city starting in December 2013. I was also joined by Illiana, a member of our Destination Services team, all of whom are always helpful in crafting the perfect day for our foodie guests.
I like to visit fish and produce markets early, so this was our first stop. I had already visited Mercado São Pedro in Niterói, which is sure to be a hit with our guests, so on this morning we went to Mercado Cadeg in the Benfica neighborhood, to research a second option. It is a commercial-grade market where the flowers as well as the produce are highly regarded by locals and chefs. With its high ceilings and colorful aisles, the Mercado Cadeg is a nice place to shop and also people watch from one of the many quaint stand-up cafés and family-style luncheonettes.
The Portuguese influence on Brazilian cuisine is evident in the multitude of bacalhau vendors, with their layers upon layers of salted and dried cod. During our Culinary Discovery Tours in Portugal and Spain, we frequently encounter salt cod and admire the quality of the preservation and the many varieties that can be purchased. Carlos suggested we try the fried cod cake made with mashed potato and deep-fried. It was delicious, especially with an über strong cup of Brazilian coffee. Carlos told us that these two local favorites were a typical mid-morning snack. Caffeine and cod – what an unusual combination! He also shared his grandmother’s recipe for cod cakes (oddly enough, the same recipe asmy grandmother’s!): equal parts potato and cod combined with onion, celery, chives and garlic and then rolled into small balls and dipped in egg and bread crumbs. Be sure to soak the cod well, rinsing three to four times to remove the salt.
Because it was early in the day, we peeked into several of the restaurants that line the aisles of the Mercado Cadeg to see what was on the menu for lunch. The place that caught my eye was Gruta São Sebastião, where several cod dishes were the specials of the day. Bacalhau à lagareira, a Portuguese recipe, is best when quality olive oil is used to sauté the fish and when served alongside smashed potatoes or a root vegetable soaked in the same high quality olive oil. Apparently the lines outside this local hot spot are quite lengthy around lunchtime, and I was excited to have arrived early enough to have a chance to take a quick stroll through the kitchen (with the permission of the chef) to see the impressive mise en place of fresh vegetables, fish and sausages.
The Brazilians love their peppers! The market was full of colorful fresh peppers, which are an integral ingredient in the relishes found on Brazilian tables, much like ketchup and mustard on American tables. If you don’t find a relish you like, an assortment of hot sauces is always in abundant supply!
After an enjoyable morning at the market, we were off to eat at Restaurante Aprazível, an authentic Brazilian restaurant enjoyed by foodie tourists and locals alike. As we drove to the restaurant, we toured the winding streets and unique architecture of the neighborhood of Santa Teresa. The artist-colony feel of this neighborhood reminded me a little of Nob Hill in San Francisco with its charming homes, shops and restaurants. We passed the famous Bar do Mineiro, home of the best feijoada in Rio de Janeiro, according to Carlos. Feijoada is considered by many to be the national dish of Brazil. It’s often made with meat scraps, such as pigs’ ears and feet, and served with black beans.
Dining at Restaurante Aprazível was a bit like sitting in a tree house in a tropical forest. As the three of us sat for lunch, I was reminded of how often a dining table unites us, as a meal compels us to share the traditions of our culture with others. Our party was from Croatia, Brazil and the United States, and yet each dish evoked a personal comparison to some meal, memory or cooking technique.
Our gracious host suggested we start our lunch with a local cocktail. The cheery bartender stood behind a large wooden bowl with a staggering array of tropical fruits at his disposal along with the ever-present cachaça, a distilled liquor made from cane sugar. When asked to pick a fruit, I chose a combination of passion fruit (maracujá) and star fruit (carambola). Illiana selected the stunning red strawberries. Carlos, who was driving, enjoyed an iced maté, a strong local black tea. Given that the temperature was unseasonably hot, the drinks went down easily and we were able to forget (or not care about) the heat and humidity. My drink had a sprig of rosemary as garnish, which tempered the sweet passion fruit. It was heavenly!
As I frequently do, I asked our waiter to suggest some local favorites for lunch. Our first course was pastels, fried pastries filled with meat and vegetables, similar to empanadas. Two relishes were served as accompaniments, one of onion and peppers and another of pickled peppers. The pickled relish was made with pimentas malaguetas, and these fiery hot peppers preserved in oil, vinegar and cachucha are a standard condiment on most Brazilian tables. (So much for the timid dash of hot sauce – these people are serious about their heat!) Apparently Brazilian pastels are regional, and the different stuffings and cooking methods, such as fried versus baked, define the region.
The next course was roasted yuca, mild sausages, lime wedges and warmed dende oil, a palm oil that was brought to Brazil by the West African slaves. It has a unique nutty taste. The yuca was starchy, but with the fat of the sausages and the sour limes, it was a perfect mouthful! The limes in Brazil are a little sweeter and milder than varieties elsewhere, and we were warned that the lime oils would stain our hands a mustard color when exposed to the sun if we did not wash them. Guess I won’t be drinking many caipirinhas on the beach!
Next up was patinha de caranguejo, a bowl of steamed crab claws with canjiquinha (dried corn), tamarind mustard sauce and the ever-present farofa, a favorite Brazilian side dish of warmed and toasted manioc flour.
The highlight of our appetizers was roasted fresh palmitos (hearts of palm), which were doused in olive oil and an herbaceous pesto and carved and served tableside. I had never had fresh hearts of palm, so this was a real treat. My research shows that it takes 12 years to grow the heart to three to four inches in diameter, at which point it is harvested from the mature palm. No wonder it is such a treat!
Having sampled meats at the churrascaria the day before, I wanted to try some local fish. We were served a perfectly tender, grilled tropical fish – a locally caught snapper – with an orange sauce and roasted banana. In contrast, we tried a moquequinha, a fish stew in a savory and flavorful sauce of coconut milk, roasted peppers, ground nuts and herbs.
After a delicious lunch in the treetops with the occasional monkey swinging from tree to tree, we headed back to Marina with our hearts and tummies full from the generosity of our lovely hosts at Restaurante Aprazível. On the way we saw a bus converted into a mobile produce store – perhaps the next generation of food trucks!
Considering our wonderful experiences in Rio, we will be sure to return this winter with a Culinary Discovery Tour to retrace this phenomenal market tour and lunch!
If you won’t have the opportunity to join us for a Culinary Discovery Tour in the near future, but you’re eager to learn about the cuisines of Latin America, I highly recommend Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America by Maricel E. Presilla. I’ve been nose deep in this book for the past month, partially because I was traveling to South America onboard Marina, but also because it is heralded as a must-read cookbook of 2012. When Rick Bayless, José Andrés, Jacques Pépin and Harold McGee use words like “sexy scholarship,” “complex and intricate,” “tireless explorer” and “amazing foods that tell a rich history” to describe the book and its author, I am all in!
We are having a bit of a cold snap here in Missouri, so when I saw that Riviera was in the British Virgin Islands on January 6, I pulled out the photos I took on my visit to Tortola for a little reminiscing. This particular photo was my favorite because I barely recognized my feet, as they have been bundled up in wooly socks and heavy boots for the last several weeks!
As Blogger-at-Large, I have contributed several posts about the amazing places I have visited in the Caribbean on my travels with Oceania Cruises. Today I want to tell you about one of the most beautiful and peaceful beach days I have ever enjoyed.
But first, a little about the plethora of options guests
have to explore from the port in Tortola. For those looking for adventures beyond
Tortola, there are several island-hopping shore excursions that let you
experience more of the British Virgin Islands. I have taken the Virgin Gorda & the Baths shore
excursion and I highly recommend it. There are also several snorkeling or
diving adventures available in the crystal blue waters that surround the island
of Tortola, as well as excursions to its many gorgeous beaches.
For guests looking for something a bit more cerebral, there
is a Historical Sites of Tortola excursion
that will give you a sense of the history of this island and its people with
visits to museums and important historic sites. Or if you’re traveling onboard Marina or Riviera, there is a Culinary Discovery Tour that visits an organic
farm, where you select fresh produce that is used to cook a traditional meal in
a yabba pot as you enjoy a beautiful day on the beach.
As wonderful as all of these options sounded to me, I
decided to set off on my own adventure when I arrived in Tortola. I had heard
that Cane Garden Bay had one of the loveliest beaches on the island, so that
was my chosen destination. When we docked, there were taxis and vans available
just outside the pier. I found a van to Cane Garden Bay for $8 per person each
way, and once the van had enough passengers, it took a group of us to the beach.
It’s a bit of a wild ride over the mountains of Tortola to
the other side of the island where Cane Garden Bay is located. It was incredibly
scenic and by no means unpleasant, but you may prefer to take an Oceania
Cruises excursion if you want to make sure you’re in a newer vehicle and that
your travels are being monitored by the ship’s staff. It can also be difficult
to find a taxi back to the ship, so if you venture out on your own, be sure to
establish a time for your driver to pick you up and return you to the ship. If
you want to ensure a carefree day at the beach, an Oceania Cruises shore
excursion may be your best option.
Because Tortola’s beaches are exceptionally gorgeous, the
island is a popular place to visit. When we arrived, there were two ships
docked, and I was told it might be crowded. I was pleasantly surprised
when I found that Cane Garden Bay wasn’t crowded at all. In fact, the area
where our van dropped us off was practically deserted. This is the most popular
beach on the island, so for those looking for complete solitude, I have no
doubt a secluded cove or deserted paradise is waiting to be discovered.
For me, Cane Garden Bay was exactly what I was hoping for. The
beach had several restaurants and bars just steps from the water and plenty of
chairs to rent for $5. The bay was beautiful and the beach was exquisite –
gentle waves, perfectly refreshing water and pure, soft sand from the beach all
the way into the sea.
My day at Cane Garden Bay was the most peaceful beach day
I’ve ever experienced. I was so thoroughly enchanted by the gorgeous beach, the
beautiful scenery in every direction and the island life that I did absolutely
nothing except enjoy it – I didn’t even take a nap or read a book! I relaxed on
the chair and took it all in, occasionally taking a break to wade into the
water for a refreshing swim and then return to my chair to dry off in the warm
After a truly perfect day relaxing on the beach, I met the
van at the appointed time and returned to the ship. To all of you travelers out
there escaping the winter cold in the warm blue waters of the Caribbean, I wish
you as warm and as wonderful days as I had. To all of you who haven’t yet
treated yourself to this experience, I hope you find the opportunity to visit
this island paradise on a voyage with Oceania Cruises very soon.
Captain Giulio Ressa and Jacques Pépin
One of Oceania Cruises’ most popular Signature Sailings, the recent Jacques Pépin Cruise onboard Marina was a resounding success. Guests on the Tuscan Artistry cruise from Barcelona to Rome were treated to special lectures, cooking demonstrations and shore excursions with Oceania Cruises’ Executive Culinary Director, world-renowned Master Chef Jacques Pépin.
Jacques wasn’t the only culinary superstar onboard. He was joined by his best friend of more than 50 years, fellow chef Jean-Claude Szurdak. The two have known each other since 1956, when they were cooking together for French heads of state. Jean-Claude lent his expertise to the culinary demonstrations, and the friendly banter between him and Jacques made the demonstrations all the more entertaining.
Culinary luminary Susie Heller (far left) is also a long-time friend and colleague of Jacques, having produced several of his television shows. She has served as producer for several cookbooks as well, including Thomas Keller’s French Laundry Cookbook and Oceania Cruises’ own culinary lifestyle book, Taste the World: The Food and Flavors of Oceania Cruises. Heller accompanied Jacques and his guests on some of the exclusive culinary excursions offered as part of this cruise.
While a cruise named Tuscan Artistry would obviously include Italian ports of call, this sailing began by visiting some beautiful coastal towns in Jacques’ native France. Pépin, Heller and Chef Noelle Barille of the Bon Appétit Culinary Center hosted a lunch at the Michelin-starred restaurant of Chateau Eza, one of the most stunning hotels on the French Riviera. Guests enjoyed exquisite cuisine, fine wines and beautiful views of the Cote d’Azur. They also got to shop the local spice market.d
While in Provence, Jacques and his wife, Gloria, enjoyed a stroll through the charming village of Cassis, which lies about 20 miles southeast of Marseille.
They couldn’t miss sampling some of the local fare, which of course included fresh seafood from this Mediterranean fishing village. The area is also known for its white wines and produces some lovely rosés as well.
While there was fantastic local cuisine to be tasted at every port of call, Pépin also enjoyed the culinary delights onboard, which is no surprise considering that the first restaurant to ever bear his name is found onboard Marina! There is a portrait of Pépin at the entrance to the restaurant, which is known simply as Jacques.
Also recently unveiled onboard Riviera, Jacques features fresh interpretations of French culinary classics. Succulent rotisserie meats, escargot, bouillabaisse…all of the French favorites are here. Each is perfectly prepared using only the finest, freshest ingredients, which are the foundation of any fine cuisine, as Pépin is always quick to point out.
The pumpkin soup is one of the most popular dishes, partly because of its wonderful flavor and also because of its brilliant presentation.
You won’t be surprised to hear that, while Pépin greatly enjoys all of the restaurants onboard Marina, Jacques is his personal favorite. We won’t hold his bias against him.
If you would like to join Chef Pépin on a Signature Sailing, the next Jacques Pépin Cruise will be onboard Riviera, sailing on September 19, 2013, from Barcelona to Lisbon. Jacques hopes to see you there!