The butterflies began to flutter in the pit of my stomach as we turned off the highway. Wide angle views of open vineyards and hazy mountains gave way to dense branches hiding groves of trees.
"Chêne!" exclaimed Guy in French as he navigated the Volkswagen. They were in fact Oaks. But as we drove further, I realized something about the trees - they were all the same size...and in perfect rows. We were in a truffière. This was someone's truffle farm and we were going on a cavage.
As we followed closely behind a miniSUV with completely tinted out windows, I could barely make out Billie and Athis, the two Lagottos in the back. They were eagerly waiting to be set loose to do what they were bred to do - hunt truffles.
We parked the cars and released the dogs. Immediately, their noses dropped to the tilled soil and off they went. We were each handed a steel crowbar for digging by our cavage host and told to stay close to Billie.
"She's better at finding truffles but when she does, she prefers to eat them."
Athis doing his thing
Less than 5 minutes into the trek, Billie begins fervently digging. We run up to her, dodging the flying dirt, and kneel down around her. A moment later, she lifts her face, which is already covered in chocolate colored dirt, and clamped between her teeth is a grape sized nugget. Our host wrestles the prize away and gives Billie a well deserved doggie treat. Immediately, she presses the truffle to her own nose. Eyes closed, she expertly analyzes the aroma. She opens her eyes, brushes off the truffle and hands it to us. "Melano," she confirms.
Billie just found the highly sought after and arguably second most expensive truffle variety in the world - the Black Diamond - tuber melanosporum.
We spend the next few hours repeating this process and pulling up ripe truffles from the groves. Our host keeps them in her satchel along with an endless supply of treats. As dusk set in, our breathe appeared and fingers and toes began to ache with the cold. I felt the chill creep up my sleeves and down my collar but could not stop smiling. We finished the day with over 3.5lbs of harvest - a small fortune.
The unforgettable day was capped by a feast of freshly sliced truffles on buttered bread and a sprinkle of sea salt paired with a glass of champagne.
Simplicity at its finest.
Some of the dishes we ate in one week.
Malaysia - the melting pot of Asia. With influences from nearby Thai, Chinese and Indian cuisine, Malaysia truly is a foodie destination. I was fortunate enough to make it to three very different cities during my week long stay.
Kuala Lumpur, or better known as KL to the locals, is the capital city and exactly what you'd expect. A downtown area filled with shopping malls, luxury goods, high end restaurants and 5 star hotels. If you told me I was in Shanghai or Singapore, I wouldn't have doubted it. Although, all these major Asian cities have one big difference compared to their western counterparts - street food!
Peripheral streets and alleys are lined with food stalls displaying colorful arrangements of non matching plastic tables and chairs -- you know, the kind of chairs that buckle the moment you lean the wrong way. Patrons range from mothers feeding babies one noodle at a time to businessmen in suits shoveling down bowls of rice covered in spicy curry.
One somewhat well known food street within walking distance from the heart of downtown KL was Jalan Alor. Little did we know, but unavoidably could tell, it was the peak of durian season in Malaysia. The popular variety called Cat Mountain King seemed to be available at every fruit stand in the city which is why I mistakenly assumed Malaysia had an open sewage system. Anthony Bourdain, a actual fan of durian, states that it makes your breath "smell as if you'd been French-kissing your dead grandmother." With that description in mind, I steered clear of the stuff. I had more important things on my mind - like beef noodle soup.
Kansas City has its ribs, New England has its lobster rolls, Ipoh has its salted chicken. Based on a few local recommendations, we walked to Taman Jubilee which was about 20 min from our hotel in search of the famous dish. Not only did we find it, that's all we found. We made it to a street corner where all four corners where restaurants serving the same pre-fix meal. Bean sprouts, salted chicken and your choice of rice or rice noodles in broth. The easy part was choosing which one to to go. Since all the seating was outside, it was obvious which place had the most customers.
We finished the trip in true vacation style at a resort on a small island off the west coast of Malaysia. Pangkor Laut Resort is a privately owned island only reachable by a reservation and chartered boat. Since the rest of Malaysia was so affordable (food was a few dollars a meal), we decided to splurge on a very luxurious sea villa which we booked a month in advance.
The food on the island was on par with what you'd expect from any fine dining restaurant (and priced equivalently). Scattered around the island were 6 or 7 restaurants representing various cuisines. I'd say this portion of the trip was more about the experience on the island than the food. 82 degree water, beautiful sunrises, and tennis with the local wildlife.
He who eats alone, chokes alone.