Saturday, December 1, 2012

"East Meets West" & "The End of The World"!

After reading up on European cuisine and watching television shows, I have developed this particular fancy for visiting Europe, starting in Paris and then travelling by road down to Spain and then further eastward to Cyprus.
I can imagine myself driving on the French countryside amidst vineyards and olive groves, sampling the goodies on offer - the cheeses, the wines and delicatessen. I had written about France earlier - the Rungis in Paris and all that. 
Now for something new....
At the crossroads of Europe and the Middle East lies the island of Cyprus. Cyprus is unique - it is the only nation whose map, copper coloured, is on its flag - with two olive branches below it.
Based on its unique blend of ethnicities - Greek and Turkish, Cyprus has developed a unique food tradition - an unorthodox "East meets West" kind of place. This is the place where kebabs meets pasta, where Arab mezze meets cured meats, Oriental spices meet vegetables like Okra from Africa! 
Cyprus is a place I have always wanted to visit since 1983, when I saw photos of sun-kissed Nicosia, the green Mediterranean countryside and the sun-kissed beaches. But Tonia Buxton's show My Cypriot Kitchen, was quite a revelation that Cypriots have blended various culinary traditions to evolve a very delectable cuisine.
The Basque region of Spain particularly excites me. The Basque people are believed to be the original Europeans, who inhabited this continent much before the Indo-European races migrated from the Caucasus region. Their language, Euskara, is much unlike the rest of the Indo-European languages. A lot has been speculated on the origin of Basques - speculative reports on the internet say the Basques are from Atlantis or are of alien origin (gasp!) - but truly, they are unique!
One unique tradition of Basque is the Txoko - a closed gastronomical society, traditionally only open to male members who come together to cook, experiment with new ways of Basque cooking, eat and socialise. The first record of a Txoko goes back to 1870 in San Sebastián, Spain, from where the concept spread. During the Franco dictatorship, Txokos became increasingly popular as they were one of the few places where Basques could legally meet without state control, speak Basque and sing Basque songs. 
The Txoko tradition has helped in the revival of many traditional Basque dishes, which could have otherwise died out. These clubs have also influenced the development of new dishes as Txoko members frequently experiment and innovate with Basque cuisine. The tradition has led to Basque cuisine being both highly refined and affordable.
Anyone for a Txoko in Mumbai?
Travelling westward from San Sebastián along the northern coastline of Spain, to Cape Finisterre, where the bay of Biscay meets the Atlantic promises to be exciting. The Finisterre are has several rocks associated with pre-Christian religious legends, such as the "holy stones", the "stained wine stones", the "stone chair", and the tomb of the Celtic goddess Orcabella. 
The significance of Cape Finisterre is this - it was believed to be the end of the world - 100 metre high cliffs and the Atlantic waves crashing below. Finisterre is the final destination for many pilgrims on the Way of St. James, the pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Cape Finisterre is about a 90-km walk from Santiago de Compostela. This is said to be the remnant of pagan traditions which have become very Christian today. 
It is a tradition for pilgrims to burn their possessions - clothes or boots at the end of their pilgrimage at Cape Finisterre. Perhaps that is to signify ending the past and beginning on a clean slate! That makes me want to visit Finisterre, "the end of the world", perform this pilgrimage (despite not being a Christian but a devout Hindu) and make a new beginning, in what I love the most, yes - it is food!

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