Journey of the Senses: Part 5 – Smell

I must confess that initially when I thought about my travel related smells, I came up with more “bad” smells than “good”,  but then I took a closer look at the whole experience and discovered that I had some wonderful memories associated with them.  So here goes …   

Grand Etang National Park, Grenada:  If you’ve ever travelled to Grenada – a small Caribbean island in the southern part of the Windward Island chain – then you will know why this delightful island is called The Spice Island.  On one of my earlier visits to Grenada, I was taking a hike in Grand Etang National Park. The smell of the rainforest was intoxicating. I can only describe it as comparable to walking into a giant fruitcake. . . nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, pimento (allspice), bay leaf and ginger were growing all around me. Grenada is one of the world’s top producers of these common spices we find in our North American pantries.  Call me weird but I love fruitcake.

Norcia, Italy: It’s hard to think of Europe and not think of food. My passion for cooking led me to develop culinary and wine – farm to table tours – long before they were in vogue.  I was obsessed with where food was grown, how olives were harvested, how authentic pasta and gelato were made, what went into wine making and regional food delicacies, but my time in Norcia will forever be etched in my sensory bank.  Norcia, located in the mountains in eastern Umbria is home to the rare “black truffle” or “tartuffi” as it’s called in Italian.  Truffles are a form of subterranean fungus found near tree roots.  They smell like earthy mushrooms when first dug up. Our culinary groups, accompanied by a truffle hunter and his dog, discovered how these rare treasures were sniffed out and dug up for collection. Truffles are a natural product which cannot be cultivated. This accounts for their high price on the market – around $800 per pound.  After hunting, we would head back to a local kitchen and learn how to prepare a traditional meal paying homage to the black truffle.  The secret was not to wash the truffle too much.  Instead brushing away the dirt and then quickly cleaning off the remainder with water so as not to wash away the volatiles responsible for the aroma of the truffle.  I think my favourite was the shaved truffle we put on a simple pasta and on our pizza.  To this day, I will splurge on a tiny jar of Norcia winter black truffles which I find seasonally in my local specialty shop. 

Quebec City, Quebec:  Ahhh, Quebec City in the winter is intoxicating. My favourite time to visit is during the annual Québec Winter Carnaval, a tradition which began in 1894 as a way of facing the harsh winters and to warm the hearts of local residents.  One only has to walk the cobbled streets and alleys of Vieux Quebec to be drawn into the sensual smells wafting from the bistros, taverns, boulangerie, and patisseries as well as the chimney smoke rising up from the many Auberges (Inns).  Crêpes, tortières, sugar pie, pot-au-feu and local fromage – there are so many ways to enjoy regional specialties, some dating back to the 16th Century. Wander at your leisure, or take a culinary heritage tour – learn what it means to eat like a Quebecois – using ALL the SENSES.

We can learn a lot about savouring a meal from the European culture . . . careful preparation, with quality ingredients, culminating in good conversation. Thank you for allowing us to share our great travel sensory memories. Now it’s time for you to remember how your senses were teased and tantalized through your past travels.  We suggest you start a new bucket list of where you want to travel when the world opens up.  Let’s not take any vacation for granted ever again.   

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