Ask anyone about the highlights of a recent holiday, and chances are they’ll name the gorgeous weather, the sublime landscape, and then the taste of national delicacies as integral elements of their best experiences. There is nothing more evocative of a recent vacation than such sensuous snapshots; and it is the latter of these, food, which can be one of the most heavily lingering aspects of these memories. Though it so quickly perishes, it is the sumptuousness of this transience, and its irreplaceability, which so easily recreates a well-spent holiday: for me anyway, as a self-confessed gourmand, food is an innate part of any sojourn undertaken. Though I could reel off multitudes and multitudes of international dishes I heartily recommend, I want to focus on the top eight which, when thinking of them, never fail to conjure me an imaginary aeroplane and take me back to such delicious life experiences:
Granitas – Bam-Bar, Taormina, Sicily
It was a holiday tour guide who first told us about these utterly heartbreaking desserts – following her instructions after a hectic day of exploration, we stumbled from the hotel into the centre of Taormina, through the striking maze of streets of which the Sicilian town consists, and then into the brightly decorated Bam-Bar; where we were presented with three sun-coloured goblets; and, true to the guide’s words, we were immediately addicted. I so vividly remember my first taste: imagine a more sophisticated peach-flavoured slush-puppy, with a head of two inches of cream, served alongside a soft, golden brioche bun and all injected with a breath of Italian charm. There were other flavours too: I remember a piquant kiwi, and quenching lemon – but the peach variety had just the right combination of sweet and fruit alongside the velvet brioche. It was such a charming indulgence I have never savoured elsewhere; truly a taste of heaven.
Limoncello – anywhere in Italy
Head north, to the mainland of Italy, and you’ll find in every store multiple versions of an even more typically Italian delicacy: limoncello. According to some, this is the second-most popular liqueur in the country, and I can understand why: the dose of tart intoxication is summoned by a comforting cream-like texture; a perfect match to a day spent basking in the Italian sun. It is served as a digestive to Italians, but most tourists drink it like water and then take ample supplies home, which can be bought in various eclectically fashioned frosted glass bottles (some shapes of which may be too risqué to mention in this article). But I am adamant that it is never as good back in Blighty: its sharp and refreshing nature is really in its element with a backdrop of heat, style and Italian magic.
Pierogi – Restauracja Ceprownia, Warsaw, Poland
Heading east brings me to my favourite city on the planet, Warsaw, and the national dish that even those who have never visited Poland know: pierogi. Of course, this is available in pretty much every restaurant under that sweet Polish sun – but I love Restauracja Ceprownia’s the most: it’s such a quaint and friendly place to eat, with such a wide range of divine flavours, and immaculate consistency of dumpling (trust me, it matters). One of my favourite memories of all time was sitting outside the restaurant in the August sun last summer, gazing at those flitting past me down the busting Krakowskie Przedmieście street, with pierogi in hand – I think back to those moments like one would a dream, with such unapologetic adoration: I wanted it to last forever.
North Fish, Warsaw, Poland
I really am not a frequent fish eater, but this charming restaurant, nestled on the very top floor of Warsaw’s brightest and most modern shopping mall, might just convert me. It sells a wide range of fish dishes at the cheapest prices, and operates with a self-service, almost fast-food feel – but all is cooked to perfection, and served alongside a faultless complement of fresh salads, vegetables and regional dressings. No matter how large or small you want your portion to be, this place really does it all; it might be a bit of a trek to find, but is such a gem that all is worth it by the end.
Rose pączki (doughnut) – Blikle, Warsaw, Poland
This pastry is such a seductive complement to a sublime meal at Blikle; its light texture and delicate flavouring, complete with the vein of traditional rose jam inside, adds no unwanted density to food already consumed, but leaves just enough of a glimpse of sweetness on your tongue to satisfy. The dough is coated in a thin lilac icing, and sprinkled liberally with curls of candied orange peel: decadent, yes, but such a whisper of refined excellence that, really, no excuses need to be made to buy one immediately. Blikle itself has been a bulwark of the Varsovian confectionary scene since time immemorial; with a testament to the various renowned customers they’ve served plastered in an array of photographs across the walls – but when it comes to sweet delicacies, they definitely know what they are doing, and they do it faultlessly.
La Maison Gourmand, Warsaw, Poland
However, equally elegant products are sold by one of the recent addition to Warsaw’s many patisseries, La Maison Gourmand, which boasts seemingly endless rows of vibrant sweet delights. Every time I have visited Warsaw, I have always dropped in here to pick up a coffee and one of their marvellous creations; which are often almost too photogenic to eat. Aside from standard decorated slices of flavoured sponge, the restaurant also serves small crafted apple-shaped cream cakes; lurid yet chic eclairs; and blossoming fruit tarts – an eclectic mixture of dazzling designs which never fail to brighten my day.
Milk Bars, Warsaw’s Praga District, Poland
Seen as bastions of Poland’s communist-era days, milk bars have regained popularity in recent years for their vintage appeal; though their innate ambition of acting as cafeterias to serve exceptionally cheap food remains. They are now mainly found in the up-and-coming Praga district of Warsaw, where the old way of life still lingers most clearly; but they are used by locals and tourists alike who want to eat traditional, hearty Polish meals for a minimal price. In some, knowledge of Polish is needed to be able to communicate with the figure at the counter; the servers in the kitchen will look down on you harshly if you take any photographs; and you will be seated often at a shared table with strangers – but I think all this adds to the simple charm. The food, of course, is satiating and delightful – and for less than £3 for a two-course meal, well worth a visit.
Cherry Danish – Croissant Moon Bakery, Universal Orlando, USA
For my last pick from the buffet of international cuisine, I’m heading across the Atlantic to the small bakery which sits at the entrance to Universal Orlando. Of course, I remember how ecstatic I was about visiting the theme park, but my most intense memory from that vacation was of the moreish, calorifically delicious Cherry Danishes this café sold. The voluptuous whole cherries, sitting in the caress of rich smooth cherry jam which was smeared liberally across a bed of sweet pastry was a perfectly luxurious way to start each day – the parks were fun, but these were the cherry on the cake (pun intended).