July 23, 2010

Eat to Beat the Heat While Traveling

At this point I had planned to be sharing my juicy stories from Croatia where I have started my three month gastronomic journey. I have made a 'must-to-sample" list of the vegetarian Croatian dishes and have started looking out for the country's best regions and eateries to accomplish the mission. Ah, the plans we are so quick to make and the reality they can't withstand! I found myself in Zagreb mesmerized by the profound baking traditions and pasta-based dishes of the Zagorie region as I myself was getting baked under the 37C heat where eating pasty and pasta was the last thing any sane person would think of. Here came a million-dollar question: what to eat to beat the heat while traveling? 

Hot Day
 So your cookbooks and kitchen utensils are at home which is somewhat far away, most of the meals you eat are cooked for you, traditional local dishes at your destination are often hearty and you don't want to spend your vacation organizing healthy meals that keep you well during the heat. So what do you do? I am sharing some ideas here and I am inviting yours - lets join forces in eating well and beating the heat during the summer vacations.

Eat to Beat the Heat Tip #1: Pick up Breakfast from the Farmers' Market

How you start your day when traveling is important. You may be getting a power breakfast at the hotel which is either a generous buffet where you run a risk of overeating and feeling heavy for the rest of the day or carbohydrate-charged fare (bread and butter, pancakes of all sorts and nations, baked pastries, you name it) which maybe something you love back home but which does little to keep you well in the hot climates. I suggest a good alternative to this: get up early, visit a local farmer's market, buy the freshest supplies of the day and head out to a local park for an early morning breakfast al fresco. There is a tremendous wisdom to such a practice on a given hot summer day. First, you'll take advantage of the cool morning hour and can take a nap later during the afternoon heat to recharge. Second, you'll explore the area as you will be making your way to the farmer's market or any vegetable market. Third, you'll get to observe some local life, the way the locals do their shopping and interact with each other. Forth, you'll get to know the locals as well, practice the bit of the local language you have picked up or use this opportunity to pick up some. Fifth, you'll learn about the local seasonal ingredients - you are free to touch, smell, taste, inquire about the various known and odd-looking things on the stalls of the vendors. Sixth, you will pick up for your meal the freshest foods: look our for berries, watermelon, melon, peaches, pears, applies, sweet cherries, apricots, plums, grapes and if you are lucky to be in the tropics - mangos, pineapples, passion fruit and other exotic harvests. See what is on offer, mix and match: one day I had melon and fresh figs with sheep cheese and the other day it felt like tomatoes, cucumbers and white goat cheese with freshly backed whole-wheat bread. Have I also mentioned you'll get the meal that will keep you full and hydrated? This tip alone works wonders - do you still need any others?  

Eat to Beat the Heat Tip #2: Carry on Drinking

The most obvious way to stay hydrated in the heat is to consume as much liquid as you can. However not all drinks and beverages are created equal for a hot day. A very sobering truth is that coffee, black tea, carbonated drinks and alcohol dehydrate your body: you are not doing any good to yourself when ordering that cappuccino (even if iced) or buying that soda (even if cold and cooling). Here are some suggested drinks that keep you hydrated and energetic when it is hot and meting outside: 
  • Water, plenty of water: Check with your hosts whether the tap water is safe to drink and if not - stick to the bottled one. No need to wait till your throat becomes a dry desert - drink all the time: there is no crime in having 2-3 liters of water on a hot day.
  • Lemon water with salt and sugar: I picked this tip when surviving 45C heat in Delhi, India from my co-workers who were truly concerned with my well-being. The recipe is simple: glass of water, few drops of fresh lemon or lime juice, pinch of salt and half a tea spoon of sugar - stir well and drink it. The beauty of this drink is that you can ask to get it made at any eating place as they have all the ingredients or go for DIY with a lemon and tiny sachets of the salt and sugar kept handy.
  • Cucumber water: What about adding a few slices of cucumber to your glass of water? The cucumber adds a very light fresh flavor to water which results in a very satisfying and refreshing drink. Again, this is something you can ask for at most of the places.
  • Fresh juice: Fresh juices made at spot from berries, fruits and vegetables are a rich source of carbohydrates and vitamins that will keep you up an running on a hot day. Find out what is in season and make a good use of that knowledge: what about a glass of orange juice in Morocco, pomegranate juice in Turkey, sugarcane juice in India, coconut water in Thailand or celery and carrot juice in Ukraine? Another good news is that normally this luxury will be priced at a fraction of what you pay for a packaged version back home.
  • Buttermilk and other sour milk products: Why buttermilk, dahi, ayran, curd, kefir and other sour milk dishes are so common in the countries with hot climate? Well, they have a natural cooling effect on the body and also contain good bacteria which help digestion. 
Eat to Beat the Heat Tip #3: Snack and Snack Smartly

Healthy Summer SnackDuring the heat you do yourself a big favor if eating small meals and eating more often. That way you will not overburden your body that is  already struggling with the heat with yet another process to handle and digest that heavy meal. Taking light snacks in between the meals is definitely a good practice especially for beating the heat on the road. Usually it is greasy, oily and fried foods that are more easily available and luring but there is so much more that a bite of pizza, a bag of french fries or a pack of butter biscuits. I can recommend sticks of fresh cucumbers, carrots and celery are they are juicy, rich in vitamins and can keep well for a few hours in your bag.  A small Victorinox  Swiss army knife to carry in your luggage would be a good idea for this purpose in particular.  You can also go for fresh beans such as chick peas. Another lighter source of protein that gives your  energy for your explorations are nuts such as hazelnut, almonds, walnuts and more: make sure to pick up fresh nuts from this year crop that do not taste perished oil. We have discussed the goodies from the farmer's market above - whatever vegetables or fruits you find or save from your breakfast would make a perfect snack during a hot day. In addition, there are very easy-going sandwiches which you can always ''compose' mess-free from the ingredients from a local shop or market: get fresh pita, baguette or any over  bread from a local bakery and pair with brie cheese and cherry tomatoes, or marinated olives and green salad leaves, or simply have it with hummus  - and these are just a few combinations.

Eat to Beat the Heat Tip #4: Sample Local Dishes with Seasonal Ingredients

Croatia 2010. Zagreb The wisdom that has withstood the centuries can't be wrong: there is a good sense about eating with the seasons. The national cuisines have been shaped for centuries to use the produce available in the region for a specific season. That way people have been taking advantage of the highest nutritional value of the seasonal harvest and getting the food synced with the seasonal body needs being it warming up in winter, energizing and getting vitamins in spring, cooling down in winter or preparing for colder days in autumn. Check out the cooling local summer dishes at your destination as they are based on the refreshing juicy fruits of the summer harvest and this is just what you need before heating the road on a hot day. Take advantage of the mango season in India by eating the fruit fresh and pickled, celebrate the vine-ripened tomato still warm from the summer in you gazpacho while in Spain, go with the light eggless pasta dishes with ruccola while in the Mediterranean countries, try summer soup of okroshka in Russia or seasonal vegetables in the shepherd salad in Turkey. 
Eat to Beat the Heat Tip #5: Use Herbs to Boost Your Stamina

IMG_2351_doneHerbs and their combinations are natural healing agents that can give you energy for the vacation adventures or relax you after a day packed with the new experiences and moving around. Get them in your teas and go far beyond what the regular green tea offers. Tea of ginger root is very energizing and stimulates the whole body, it also helps with morning and motion sickness. Rooibos rejuvenates body and mind and has stomach-settling and relaxing effects. Rose clears toxins and heat from the body and hence has a cooling effect. Mint is good for digestion and no wonder that it is customary in Morocco to wash down the elaborate meals with a glass of sweet mint tea. Camomile is a wonderful relaxing bed-time tea. Crushed coriander and dill seeds make a fine digestive tea. You can check out the herbal tea menu at your restaurant or hotel, or buy our favorite herbal selection from a local tea shop to have handy. Or even better -  head out to a nearby five star hotel: its lobby bar most definitely has good herbal tea and the peace you need after a busy day. Have your caffeine-free herbal tea with ice and a slice of lemon - divine!

Eat to Beat the Heat Tip #6: Eat spicy! Eat spicy?

Let's benchmark people from the countries that have summer all year round and think nothing of the heat: it’s no accident that some of the warmest countries such as India or Thailand are known for the spiciest cuisines. Spices increase the body temperature that can make you feel cooler by diminishing the difference between you and the surrounding air and by causing sweating, which cools the body as the sweat evaporates. If spicy food is not something you can easily tolerate you can try to adjust by starting with the least spicy dishes of the local cuisine and then gradually progressing towards the spicier ones. Again, watch how the locals handle that - they use many of the cooling products mentioned earlier when eating spicy food: sour milk products in particular help relieve the burn. Even better when drinking liquids you can stick to absorbent food like bread or steamed rice to accompany your spicy meal.

And whatever you eat make sure you stick to the freshly prepared food what was not staying  out there waiting for you for too long. Travel, eat, beat the heat, stay healthy - and do share your experiences and ideas on eating to beat the heat when traveling. Great summer travels to everybody!

2 Responses to Eat to Beat the Heat While Traveling:

Chocolate Shavings said...

All great tips - I have to increase my spice tolerance to follow them all!

Olga Tikhonova said...

Thank you very much, I am glad you found it useful. Well, even without spices there is a vast area for experiments)

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