Foodie Itinerary: New Orleans, LA

Since Jazz Fest is right around the corner, thought I'd bring back an old post that will help you eat your way through your time in New Orleans if you're lucky enough to be heading down for some fun!  I had an amazing time last year and I have to say the fried chicken at Willie Mae's Scotch House and oysters and gumbo at the bar at Dickie Brennan's Bourbon House were spot on, so I strongly recommend both of those from last year's full itinerary below.  I also strongly recommend the pork rinds at Jazz Fest itself...seriously the best pork rinds of my life.  Some also swear by the fried chicken at the festival but I thought Willie Mae's was even better.  If you want to see the post-New Orleans blog post with pictures of all of the food from last year you can check it out here for some inspiration to get you hungry. Happy Eating...oh yeah, and enjoy the great music too!!   Originally Posted on April 17, 2013: New Orleans has a very special place in my heart...the first and only time I've ever been there was 11 years ago on my cross-country road trip to move from my hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts to San Diego, California.  Since we were tight on cash and camping our way across the country, New Orleans was the only big city on our 2-week trip and I totally fell in love! I'm finally heading back for a work conference and Jazz Fest, so while my time will be tight I'm going to make the best of it! Luckily I know a few locals so my 11 year gap shouldn't slow me down at all.  Between all of the conference meals and Jazz Fest food I will only have a few meals to explore on my own, but in typical SavoryGirl style I'm going in prepared and sharing my full itinerary for all of the places I would want to check out if I had the time. So next time you're heading to New Orleans go ahead and use this foodie itinerary as a starting point to plan all of your great culinary adventures in the Big Easy and then let me know what you think.  The drinking and nightlife version will be coming next week, so stay tuned.  If you like what you see, feel free to check out my past foodie travel posts here.
The Great Boston Cannoli Taste-Off!

As most of you know, I'm from Massachusetts and a proud Mass-hole through and through despite having lived on the West coast for over 10 years now. While I didn't grow up in Boston, I did grow up heading into the city pretty often throughout my childhood for museum visits, parades, Red Sox games and of course, cannoli from the North End. So every time I return to Boston I make a bee-line straight for my old stand-by, Mike's Pastry, to get myself a cannoli experience filled with childhood memories, nostalgia and yummy Italian pastry.

But on a recent visit when I was doing a bit of foodie research I kept finding mention of another fan-favorite cannoli spot, Modern Pastry, and I had to wonder...could it stand up to my Mike's? Could these other people possibly know something I didn't when claiming that Modern, not Mike's, had the best cannoli in town? Only one way to find out...enter SavoryGirl's Great Boston Cannoli Taste-Off!

So first things, first....acquiring the cannoli. 10pm after a Red Sox game, my best friend and I along with our husbands headed to Mike's and then Modern to get a plain cannoli and a chocolate dipped cannoli from each spot. The vibe of each bakery was extremely different.

Mike's, just as I remembered, is bustling, disorderly, frenetic and has an air of anticipation within the large open bakery. A ridiculous assortment of cannoli type to choose from...not necessarily traditional, but certainly something for everyone. The women behind the counter are a bit gruff but in a forgiving way...almost as if they're playing the stern but loving Italian grandmother role.

Modern, on the other hand, is quiet and orderly with customers queuing in a straight line outside of their tiny shop. The cannoli selection is much more limited, but definitely more traditional. The women behind this counter are similar to those at Mike's in the sense that they also aren't friendly or warm but instead of being gruff, they are curt and short on patience with their customers.

So now onto the cannoli themselves...we removed ourselves from the potentially biasing atmosphere of either bakery and walked down to the Greenway right outside the North End to do the tasting itself. Jeff, always one to play along, presented the first cannoli to me in grand first-bite tasting style. We of course ensured that I had no idea which box the cannoli came from so that this truly was a blind taste-test (I am a researcher by trade after all). As you can see above, our theatrics were starting to draw a bit of attention...

Eating Our Way Through New Orleans!

The Big Easy, NOLA, The Crescent City…whatever you call it there's one thing that isn't up for debate.  New Orleans is one of the greatest food cities around!  Rather than try to put it into words, I thought a photo journey through our recent trip would be more appropriate.  If you missed them, check out my New Orleans Foodie Itinerary and New Orleans Nightlife Guide.

Go ahead and take a spin through our foodie photo tour below…you'll be planning your own foodie visit to New Orleans in no time!

First things first…breakfast.  SavoryGirl's favorite meal of the day. I have to say that any city that serves grits alongside most breakfasts is an immediate win…but beyond the creamy, buttery grits we had some amazing breakfast.  Pulled Pork Cakes over Mustard Greens with Poached Eggs Creole Hollandaise, Grits and a Biscuit (EAT). Strawberry Shortcake Cornmeal Pancakes (EAT). Banana Fosters French Toast with Boudin Sausage (Surrey's)  Yup, this is a fantastic breakfast town!

I love me some oysters and I have to say New Orleans had some of the biggest, plumpest oysters I've had in a long time.  So salty-sweet perfect and plentiful…which means cheap! If I had more time I would have had oysters every day I was there…those you see above are from Dickie Brennan's Bourbon House…sit at the bar, order a drink and enjoy the atmosphere of local oysters being shucked and served right before you.  I really loved this place and highly recommend it. 

New Orleans Nightlife

This is the second of two posts on New Orleans foodie travel...my first post was focused on eating well while visiting the Big Easy.  This one is all about enjoying your beverages and the nightlife just as much as the food! I have to give credit where it's due on this one though, my friend from business school and New Orleans native, Dave Heap, provided almost every single one of the recommendations below. Trust me on this...when it comes to drinking and having a good time, Dave is your man so I'm confident that we are all in extremely good hands with this inside source.

Have any favorite spots to imbibe of your own in NOLA that you don't see listed here?  If so please share! Otherwise, happy drinking...and as Dave said to me, "be safe and have fun out there. But not too much fun....we want you back in NOLA for more!!"
Foodie Itinerary: Peru

I've only been to Peru once...and to be fair, I've seen very little of it.  Just a small part of Lima, Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. But I would like to think that what I did see was pretty representative of all the great food, fun, beauty and people that the entire country has to offer. As you'll see below, one quick trip has already led to a pretty huge itinerary of what I would suggest if you were to plan a visit of your own but I'm sure I'm only scratching the surface...so for those of you who've travelled more extensively in Peru: What am I missing? Where have I gone wrong?  What would you suggest?

Wherever you visit and  whatever you decide to do and eat...happy travels.  You'll love Peru!  Need some more convincing to start planning your own trip?  Check out my Peruvian Foodie Photos here!
Camping SavoryGirl Style

I love camping...partially because it is so amazing to completely disconnect, be dirty and just not care for days at a time. But I also love it because I get to leisurely cook outside with the sun streaming down over me and a margarita in my hand. In my opinion, everything cooked over a campfire just tastes better so that's the only way we cook dinner when we camp.  I do allow a little camp stove for breakfast sometimes, but usually I'm a stickler about campfire cooking.

Since we're heading up to Lake Tahoe to go camping for Labor Day weekend I thought I'd share the SavoryGirl approach to camping. If I do say so myself, we eat pretty darn well!  We keep it relatively simple so clean-up isn't too intense but we've certainly moved beyond the typical burgers & hot dogs every night that most people associate with camping.

First things first, you have to go camping prepared if you want to eat well.  What you see above is my camping spice rack.  My spices at home are in these little magnetic tins hanging on a wall in my kitchen so when we go camping I stack them up and bring them along. Luckily (or unluckily) we live in bear country so pretty much everywhere we go camping has a nice big metal bear locker that works just fabulously to stick my spices to.  Seasoning at your fingertips!

We also bring along our good knives, cutting boards, can opener, wine key, aluminum foil, pot holders, tongs, camping pots/pans/plates/cups etc... so that we essentially have a fully stocked kitchen with us.  Essential if you want to cook well over the fire...so what exactly are we cooking?

San Pedro Market in Cusco, Peru

How I love visiting markets in foreign countries!  It's like a glimpse into the way the locals shop, eat, cook and really helps you understand their culture's perceptions around food.  Do they use the whole animal or mostly prime cuts?  Do the vendors want you to sample and try things you've never seen or are they more reserved and focused primarily on the business aspect of their stall? Are there fully prepared foods to eat or is it just an ingredient marketplace?  You can learn and understand so much from one quick stroll!

The San Pedro Market in Cusco, Peru is no different...it's like you can feel the pulse of the city as you explore row after row of fresh produce, just squeezed juices, handmade scarves and wares, freshly cut meats, handcrafted cheeses and breads and brimming bowls of just made Peruvian soups. If it wasn't for Christian I would spend a full day at this place, but at the very least let's take a quick tour:

The produce at the San Pedro Market is incredible!  Each row you walk down smells of another sweet, intoxicating smell so finally we gave in and tried Sweet Passion Fruit for the first time, which is shown above.  We immediately fell in love with this new fruit...you can read more in my post all about the sweet passion fruit.

Beyond produce there is an amazing array of freshly baked breads, artisan cheeses and of course the staples of the Peruvian diet; corn, potatoes and coca leaves!  Coca leaves have a similar effect as caffeine but more mild. You can chew them directly (kind of like chewing tobacco) or have them as tea, candies...the options are pretty limitless.  I'm not 100% sure that they actually helped our altitude sickness but if nothing else they certainly had a nice placebo effect on us!

Postcards: Sweet Passion Fruit in Peru

One of my favorite things about traveling is exploring the food markets of the region and discovering new fruits and vegetables. It’s nice to know that in our U.S. land of plenty, where we import just about anything, there are still foods that you can only find locally. Now I’m not saying you can’t find sweet passion fruit anywhere in the U.S., but it’s not super prevalent. Even when we do import exotic fruits they always taste so much better when you eat them where they are native, fresh and in season. I guess that means I’ll just need to keep traveling!

At the San Pedro Market in Cusco, Peru the produce was plentiful…rows and rows of brightly colored fruits, vegetables and herbs tempting you with every step. One of the fruits we decided to try out was the sweet passion fruit…I was sure I had eaten one before, but as soon as the local stall vendor began showing us how to eat it I knew I was wrong.
The Unexpected Alpaca

Alpaca is a cute furry animal that I had honestly never even considered eating...wearing in the form of a furry hat or sock, yes.  Eating?  Completely unexpected!  I’m not even sure I knew that there were people who ate Alpaca until I got to Peru and started seeing it on menus everywhere.  Of course, a gastronomic cultural explorer like me had to try it, and boy am I glad that I did.  Not only is alpaca mild and slightly sweet in taste, but it is also tender, lean and low in cholesterol. I enjoyed alpaca in the many preparations that I tried so much so that, since returning from Peru, I’ve honestly found myself craving it a bit!

Our first Alpaca adventure came in the form of Alpaca Tartar at Astrid y Gaston in Lima.  Having been named as one of the top 50 restaurants in the world, it was a pretty safe bet that this dish would be a winner regardless of the focus on this new, strange meat.  The tartar was served in three ways along with waffle cut potato chips.  The first preparation was traditional in style…quail egg on top with a bit of hot sauce to go along with it.  The other two preparations were international journeys in their own right with one taking us to Japan with flavors of wasabi and ginger and the other bringing us back to Thailand with Thai chilies and mango.  All three were distinct and amazingly delicious with the alpaca being lighter than your traditional steak tartar.  It’s almost what I would expect from a pork tartar if one were to exist.  And I love me some pork!

Our second taste of Alpaca was in the form of grilled skewers…slightly crisp on the outside and juicy and tender on the inside.  In this simple preparation the Alpaca was almost like a hybrid between pork and chicken.  The texture was very similar to well-cooked chicken but it was more flavorful.

Peruvian Guinea Pig Anyone?

One of the first things everyone asked me when I returned home from Peru was if I tried Guinea Pig, or Cuy Chactado.  As you can see by the picture above, the answer is yes.  Now before you get all bent out of shape thinking about the cute little guinea pig you had as a pet as a child you have to understand the perspective of someone like me who's passion is to explore new cultures through food.

Guinea Pig has a different meaning to Peruvians, particularly in the highlands.  It's not only an important source of protein, particularly in rural areas, but the guinea pig also holds a longstanding and meaningful place in Peruvian folk medicine and religious practices historically.  There's even an Indian version of the Last Supper on display in Cusco that shows Jesus and the 12 disciples feasting on this local delicacy. Not trying guinea pig while in Peru would be like going to Texas and not trying authentic BBQ or going to Thailand and not trying some insects...blasphemous to a food explorer like me!