Reason Why North Spain Is Called “Green Spain,”

By: Mary Luz Mejia

There’s a reason why the north of Spain is called “Green Spain,” or as our Trafalgar Travel Director Javier jokingly informed us, “The rain in Spain, in this region, does not fall mainly on the plane.” Much of the rolling green of northern Spain is also close to the coastline, from Santander on the Cantabrian coast to Galicia’s Atlantic shores, meaning that fresh seafood is as abundant as it is flavourful. If you happen to find yourself meandering in the north, here’s a crib sheet on some must-try northern Spanish seafood dishes you don’t want to miss!

Scallops (aka vieiras)

Visit any town or city along the Camino de Santiago (or St. James Way), and you’ll notice the scallop shell pointing the way from France and beyond through to northern Spain, ending at Santiago de Compostela. While the shell represents rebirth, reproduction and life, it’s also a delicious dish worth ordering at any bar or eatery. Steamed and served open on the half shell with a wedge of lemon, or with an onion, pepper and breadcrumb mixture (called vieiras gratinadas), either way, you can’t go wrong.

Razor Clams

These long, or rod-like, bivalves have a fitting name, given that the shells look like straight razors from days past and are razor sharp (so be careful when handling!) They taste a lot like any other clam and are best served grilled with a drizzle of Spanish olive oil, parsley and garlic. We advise a good hunk of crusty pan (bread) on the side for mopping up any errant sauciness.

Pulpo a la Gallega (aka pulpo á feira)

This is adult octopus, including its tentacles, that gets slow boiled until tender. Once that stage is reached, Galicians like to use scissors to snip the tentacles into round medallions. Flavour is amped up with a generous anointing of good, Spanish olive oil and smoky pimenton (or Spanish paprika) and served over excellent potatoes from Ourense, also in the department (Province) of Galicia.

To Drink (aka para beber):

You can wash any of these dishes down with some local Ribeiro wines or enjoy the crisp, floral Albariño whites from neighbouring Cambados. And if it’s a night cap you’re after, a local Orujo, or pomace brandy (obtained from the distillation of marc, the solid remains left after pressing of grapes), is also a fine choice. Set it alight like you would a shot of Sambuca and olé! You’ve just enjoyed a queimada that’s likely to ensure a good night’s sleep.

Feasting In The Rugged Outdoors

By Karen Leiva

Imagine the Alaskan wilderness where salmon run through creeks and gold miners’ strike it rich; all the while enjoying freshly-caught wild salmon barbecued over an open fire, paired perfectly with sides of reindeer sausage and wild-rice pilaf.

This is exactly the kind of incredible culinary excursion that you can experience aboard Holland America Line’s Alaskan voyages in 2015. There are 16 Sip and Savor shore excursions that allow guests to enjoy the rugged outdoors and get a taste for local culinary delights, including the “Glacier View Bike and Brew” and the “Louder Chowder Cook-Off” competition, where guest chef will go head to head, preparing chowder.

If you prefer a bird’s eye view of Alaska’s breath-taking scenery, there is the “Mountaintop Flightseeing & Crab Feast.” This excursion is an exclusive opportunity to experience the spectacular views of the Tongass National Forest aboard a floatplane. The flight begins at the Tongass Narrows, which is home to more float planes than any other port in the world. After 20 minutes, the flight ends at the remote George Inlet Lodge where guests will enjoy a gourmet feast of Dungeness crab and melted butter, finished off with Alaskan blueberry cheesecake.

If you’re looking for a hands-on experience to take home some delicious Alaskan recipes, there is also a cooking class excursion in Homer, Alaska, to join a local chef at the award-winning Tutka Bay Lodge set amongst a rugged coastline of fjords, mountains and forests.

Of course, any Alaskan food adventure will include an opportunity to sample Juneau’s Alaskan Brewing Co. award-winning craft beer or premium wines from Northwest vintners, including Chateau Ste Michelle, Betz Family and Long Shadows Wineries.

Contact your Ensemble travel agent for more information on Alaskan adventures.

The Best Fish Fry In Galapagos

By Karen Leiva

One of my most favourite travel and food memories is from a fish fry in Galapagos Islands. My partner and I had heard the fish fry happens every night; the only direction to find its location was ‘near the pier.’ It would be impossible to miss it: fishermen were docked bringing in their hauls from the day, while others were lined up around stalls cleaning the fish by the water.
All that fish attracts a lot of attention, particularly from hordes of pelicans surrounding the cleaning stations. At one point, I realized there was even a seal in the middle of a swarm of pelicans also trying to get its share. And, if you look over the pier, you’re bound to see small reef sharks coming up for whatever left overs are thrown overboard.
Alongside the commotion, one family set up a barbecue area with deep fryers, preparing the catch of the day along with slices of fried plantain, rice, onions and a spicy salsa. The first time we went to the fish fry, red snapper, lightly battered and fried, was served up whole – head and all –on our plates. There really is nothing as good as ocean to plate! It was simple, but delicious.
Over the course of the next week, following extraordinary days of swimming with seals, hiking and turtle spotting, we returned as often as we could to the fish fry. Every time, the catch of the day varied between tuna and snapper, but on the last day we had a special treat: langoustines, a shell fish similar to a lobster.
We sat on the small make-shift patio while a local dance troupe performed modern dance at a nearby square, entertaining tourists and locals alike. All the while, the pelicans kept fluttering by while we dug into our dinner of langoustine and snapper. It really couldn’t get much better than that!

A Famous Poet’s Ode To Eel Soup

By Karen Snider Leiva

So beloved is Chile’s congrio (conger eel), that even famed poet Pablo Neruda wrote about it in a poem called Oda al Caldillo de Congrio. To taste congrio soup is to know heaven, he said.

I got my first glimpse of congrio at the historic Central Market in Santiago, Chile. The market first
opened in Santiago in 1872 and is now touted as one of the largest in the world. Sipping mote con
huesillio, a drink of peaches and barley, I strolled past stalls of newly-picked grapes and fresh
strawberries, so rich in colour and mouth-wateringly sweet, before entering the hall to the market’s
famed seafood market.


While fish mongers were hawking their catch of the day, locals were shopping for their weekend
barbecues and tourists snapping photos of striking mounds of seafood, including the conger eel.  It
didn’t appear heavenly; ugly, long, and thin with razor sharp teeth.


I got to sample congrio at a nearby restaurant, frequented by locals and famed for unexpected guest
appearances by celebrity musicians. Sitting near the bar amongst a mish-mash of Chilean art and black- and-white photos from celebrities of the 1950s, the server first brought a pitcher of clery – a mix of white wine, sugar and strawberries.


The eel was served in a traditional tomato- and potato- based soup. When stewed, it is a hearty white
meat with a mild flavor. The soup is a simple, but delicious, broth spiced with coriander, garlic, bay
leaves and pepper. The secret to its flavor is that the spine of the eel gives the broth its flavor.


It is, indeed, as heavenly as Neruda boasted.

Want more?

Read about Dining in Santiago
Read about Comfort Food in Chile
Look for the new edition of Bon Vivant magazine for a full story on gourmet dining in Santiago.

Bathing In Beer

Recently, travel writer Tim Johnson toured the Czech Republic to get a taste of its famed beers. The Czech’s are a beer-loving nation, so much so that there is even a beer spa. So, Tim did what any beer lover would do – he took the plunge!
“Having visited breweries and drunk copious amounts of beer, only one experience remained—that of actually bathing in beer, something available at Purkmistr, a complex just south of town that combines microbrewery, beer-infused restaurant, hotel and beer spa,” he writes. “Stepping into a wooden tub, I let the warmth of a soupy mixture of malt, hops, beer and water wash over me. After dunking my head all the way under, I wiped my face and reached to my right, placing a frosty mug under a tap, filling to the top, then tipping it back. Supremely happy, I mused that you must truly be in a nation that loves beer, to be able to drink beer while bathing in it. And I pledged to return, soon.”
A beer-filled bathtub? That sounds incredibly fun!
Read more about Tim’s adventures in Czech Republic in the upcoming edition of the Bon Vivant magazine.

Fun Food Festivals Around The World

By Karen Snider Leiva

Looking for extraordinary food experiences in 2015? Consider these three fun food festivals from around the globe. From Milan to Maine, there is something for every food lover.

Expo 2015 in Milan: From May to October, Milan will host the Wonderful 2015 Expo. Foodies will want to pay particular attention to the World of Taste pavilion where more than 147 countries will showcase their culinary expertise. The Expo is conveniently located in Milan, a launch pad to exploring Italy’s northern communities such as Langhe Roero. Here you can expect rolling hills covered in vineyards, small villages adorned with castles, and of course, a gastronomical experience. Langhe Roero is home to delicious white truffle and Barolo wine; not to mention 12 Michelin star restaurants and some of the country’s finest wine cellars.

Panorama_BarbarescoMaine’s Lobster Festival, July 29- Aug.2: What could be better than a holiday centred around eating lobster! At the Maine Lobster Festival you can expect: the world’s greatest lobster cooker, 20,000 pounds of lobster, a sea goddess coronation, a big parade, top notch entertainment, an international crate race, fine art, talented crafts people and vendors, cooking contests, marine tent, etc. Just imagine 20,000 pounds of lobster! And if you’ve eaten too much and need to work off a few pounds, you could always partake in the ‘lobster crate race’. (

lobster_rollIreland’s Oyster Festivals, August – September: Get ready for a whole lot of shucking in Ireland this summer! Ireland surely must be the undisputed champion for countries hosting the most oyster festivals. In total, there are four oyster festivals happening across the country, not to mention a competition to beat the current Guiness World Record for eating the most oysters (currently, an Irishman holds the title after eating 233 oysters in three minutes). Ireland is also home to the Galway Oyster Festival, which is said to be the oldest annual festival of its kind in the world. Match that with Irish craft beer and you can’t go wrong. Galway Oyster Festival


Expect Eclectic: Destination Dubai

A city of luxurious hotels, beaches and a gateway for extraordinary activities, such as dessert safaris, camel racing or shark diving, it’s no surprise that Dubai is quickly becoming a popular tourist destination and an exciting stop-over. The city has taken great strides in making itself more attractive to tourists and in 2020 Dubai will host more than 25 million visitors as part of the World Expo.


Courtesy of Hotels

 Easier than ever to fly directly and comfortably to Dubai – it’s only an 11-hour direct flight from Toronto. (Did you know it takes less time to fly directly from Toronto- Dubai then it does to fly Toronto-Hawaii? It’s true!)

But, what makes Dubai special for a Bon Vivant?

dubai jeramiah

Courtesy of Hotels

 Here are some highlights of what a foodie can expect to find in Dubai:|Expect eclectic: With more than 200 nationalities living in Dubai, you can expect a variety of flavors and fusions

Taste culture: Emirate traditional cuisine commonly includes fish and lamb bursting with flavors of cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg

Spectacular setting: Dubai is never short of spectacular, lavish settings to enjoy your meals. Of note are the 117 luxurious Jumeirah hotel restaurants

Try za’atar: This Middle Easter spice is an herbal citrus blend with sesame seeds popular to the region

Camel for special occasions: It’s common for camel meat to be served for special celebrations, such as weddings, but you can find it in some restaurants throughout the year

Desert farming: There are more than 40 organic farms along the outskirts of Dubai in the desert are growing approximately 62 products, including crops of vegetables, along with honey bees and free range hens

Jamie Oliver: Yes! Jamie Oliver is one of several celebrity chefs to open up a restaurant in Dubai.

Oliver has two restaurants, the most recent opened at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel

Savor bold coffee: Rich, sweet coffee is favored in the Middle East, and you will find a great selection of cafes to unwind it

Exploring bazaars: Middle Eastern markets are quite the experience! Look for colorful stands of gourmet grocers and farmers markets in the souks and bazaars.

Home-cooking At La Via Di Mezzo

By Karen Snider Leiva

If you call famed Italian gourmand Giorgio Barchiesi a ‘chef’, he is likely to answer “mmmm… chef? I’m not a chef. I’m an innkeeper!” It’s a role that Giorgione, as he is affectionately known for his grand size, passionately embraces in his restaurant, La Via di Mezzo.

The restaurant located in the central Italian region of Umbria, is simple and rustic but full of charm, perfectly mirroring his cuisine. Stepping inside, you’ll feel as though you are home among friends – and nothing beats a home-cooked meal by Giorgione. You can see right away that Giorgione takes his role of innkeeper seriously.

giorgioAccording to Giorgione, a chef is someone who invents new recipes, new cooking methods and even new plating styles. But, an innkeeper sticks to traditional meals with local ingredients that his customers may already know.

Regardless of what he calls himself, there’s no debating that he is indeed a master of traditional Italian food. With his larger-than-life presence, there’s no surprise he has his own cooking program on TV, ‘Orto e Cucina’ (Vegetable Garden and Kitchen). He has also penned a cookbook that seems to sell out just as quickly as it is stocked.

Much like Chef Salvatore Denaro, the foundation for Giorgione’s cooking is a commitment to long-standing Italian family traditions. His savory dishes will transport you to days gone by with ‘nonna’ in the kitchen.

via di mezzoThe menu at La Via di Mezzo varies day-to-day, but always includes a selection of meats, homemade pastas and desserts. His menus incorporate local Umbrian specialties, such as truffles, cheeses or locally produced wines into his food.

But, the true inspiration for his menu is often his own garden – as he will incorporate whatever is growing at the time. That means if he sees an eggplant or a nice zucchini in the garden, that’s what will be on the menu of the day!

Taste the menu at La Via di Mezzo

A Taste of Umbria is being offered to those aboard the upcoming Oceania Cruise with Chef Christine Cushing. Guests will enjoy a specially prepared menu at La Via di Mezzo.

Day One In Santiago De Chile

By Karen Leiva

Arriving midday in Santiago, travelling with my husband, our first plan was to find good food and relax on a patio to enjoy the good weather before joining a culinary tour the following day. We found the perfect spot located in the popular Bellavista neighborhood, a trendy spot for restaurants, patios, cafes and bars.

Wanting to eat light, but try lots of new things, we ordered a platter of typical Chilean appetizers. The dish included three small clay pots of seafood stew, chupe; the first was a creamy mixture of shrimp; the second a thick orange-colored stew made with sea urchin; the final a white fish stew. On the side was half a dozen machas, razor clams deliciously baked with melted cheese on top.

 MachasNext, chicken pil pil, a bowl of bite-sized chicken parcels cooked in deliciously light chili and garlic oil, served in a traditional dark clay pot. Alongside the chicken, were three different kinds of empanada served with a fig compote and pebre, a salsa of tomato, onion and coriander.

For this meal, we enjoyed perfectly wrapped pino empanadas, cheese empanadas, so warm and fresh the cheese practically oozes from the pastry; and a third which I had never tasted before, stuffed with a mixture of sweet corn widely popular in most Chilean homes, known as pastel de choclo.

Pastel De ChocloFor dessert, we ordered pear tart, artistically plated with a scoop of white late harvest ice cream. That ice cream is, by far, the best I have ever tasted. Late harvest refers to grapes left to grow on the vine until the end of the harvest – the longer they are left there, the sweeter they become. These grapes are typically used dessert wines. In the ice cream, every small spoonful was a burst of wine flavor.

It was the perfect start to a real Bon Vivant holiday!

Comfort Food In Chile

By Karen Snider Leiva

Across Chile in cities such as Valparaiso or Santiago, the culinary scene is exploding and Chileans are exploring different cultures and foods including Thai, Peruvian, American and Japanese. Chilean comfort food, however, remains the main fare.
Newly married into a Chilean family and visiting this South American country for the first time, I was thrilled to explore the traditional food, much like the dishes my in-laws serve when I visit for dinner, which remain vital to the country’s cuisine. It’s not difficult to understand why tradition prevails: Chilean food is simple, but full of flavours and local ingredients, particularly seafood and wines. Chileans are immensely proud of their cuisine, and recipes have been passed on through generations.

What I love most about Chilean comfort food is that it is impossible to find the same dish made the same way from one restaurant to another. Subtle changes in otherwise common recipes result in a completely different experience every time. A perfect example of this is the beloved Chilean empanada.

Pino Empanada

Chile EmpanadaThe most common is the pino empanada with beef, egg, raisins and black olives (it’s most commonly one olive per empanada). However, even this simple dish is never made the same way twice. Some cooks marinate the meat overnight changing the flavor considerably, while others grind the beef rather than serving it cubed. The real magic, however, is said to be in the dough. While some cooks hold their recipes close to their aprons, I discovered the secret ingredient in the dough is often white wine, as opposed to milk or water.

Machas A La Parmesan

seafood_machasAnother example of subtle changes in flavor on common Chilean dishes, is with machas, small pink razor clams native to this country. Most popularly, machas are served in their individual shells with a layer of parmesan cheese, white wine, or cream. However, every cook has their own twist, changing the wine, the type of cheese or the amount of cream being used. I confess to trying to eat machas almost every day that I spent in Chile and can personally attest to the differences in the restaurants!

The best part is that regardless of the changes, you just can’t go wrong when it comes to comfort food in Chile.