Monday, October 11, 2010


Whenever and wherever Mars and I travel we like to eat the local cuisine. It is a major part of an area's culture, and it tastes better than most other aspects of the the lifestyle.

On the Mediterranean island of Malta we dined on thin crust Maltese pizza topped with a fried egg, and indulged in Lampuki (known in other circles as dorado or mahi-mahi) -- the "national" fish. Both dishes were accompanied by "chips" (French fries) -- an culinary homage to the country's historical ties to Great Britain.

In Barcelona Spain we ate ourselves silly on Tapas such as Albóndigas (Meatballs with sauce), Chopitos (battered and fried tiny squid, aka puntillitas), and Aceitunas (olives, sometimes with a filling of anchovies or red bell pepper). We knew about these tiny plates before we arrived.

We did not know about 'Pa amb Tomaquet', also known as 'Pan con Tomate', or 'Pan a la Catalana' - bread with tomato rubbed over it, and seasoned with olive oil and salt.

Mars and I discovered this entrée, as we did the Maltese pizza, at our very first meal in that locale. We explicitly ordered the pizza and knew what to do with it when it arrived. The four separate ingredients for the tomato bread however, were placed in front of us, without comment, when we sat down. And we figured out what to do with them by watching what everyone around us was doing with their own "Construccion Pan con Tomate " kits.

In Budapest there was of course homegrown Hungarian Chicken Paprikash made with homegrown Hungarian paprika -- the signature spice of that country's cooking. The big hit with both of us however were "palacsinta" (fried pancakes) served with ice cream and toppings at an outdoor café which we found ourselves drawn to for a frozen dairy lunch on several occasions.

We visited Florence, Italy with the intention of seeing Michelangelo's David and experiencing cinghiale alla maremmana (wild boar stew). The Eurasian pig endowed the meat and vegetable dish with a sweet, nutty flavor. And the statue was just, well, endowed.

And now, having just returned from a two week hiatus in North Carolina, Mars and I are experiencing SFW -- no, not "Southern Food Withdrawal" but "Saturated-fat Withdrawal".

We have been making the auto trip from the Nutmeg State to the Tarheel State intermittently for the past twenty-five years. And unlike our reasons for taking the aforementioned out-of-the-country jaunts, we return here for the familiar -- the beaches, the sun, the golf, and the food.

Every road trip requires pit stops. And our first such respite on day two of the trip always occurs at Stuckey's on the Lankford Highway (US Highway 13 & State Road 689) in Mappsville, Virginia.
"A little magic, a lot of hard work, and an American tradition is born.
Why does a classic become a classic?

When W.S. Stuckey, Sr. opened his Georgia pecan stand in 1937, his recipe for success consisted of melt-in-your-mouth treats (our world famous Pecan Log Roll speaks for itself), fun gifts and souvenirs, and the simple belief that nothing was more important than making - and keeping - the friendship of American travelers generation after generation."


Its imminence is announced by a series of billboards, the first of which is forty-five miles in advance. Verbal visions of Pecan logs, fireworks and Virginia Style Hams are proffered to the bored motorist -- along with gasoline and clean rest rooms.

The store itself is less impressive. "[A] small building with typical tourist junk and a gas station. 2 stars if you like a tourist place with over priced limited selection of fireworks, and the same junk as the 100 other places on the way down route 13" according to one reviewer on (

But that's not why we stop. Stuckey's is the home of Hunkey Doreys - the entry point into the Saturated-fat Zone.
"Sweet and scrumptious, this mouth-watering Pecan Almond Buttercrunch Popcorn is absolutely wonderful and finger-licking good."

There is a reason that food that's bad for you is so popular. It tastes so good.

We actually had stopped at Stuckey's several times before we were turned on to Hunkey Doreys by a co-worker at our former place of employment. With our first bite we instantly regretted all those years of gustatory ignorance.

On this particular southward junket we limited ourselves to one 9-ounce canister. Spaced properly it eased us into the SFZ without shutting down our arteries too quickly. And still left some to nibble on when we completed the seven-hour drive from Mappsville to Emerald Isle, North Carolina - deep in the heart of saturated-fat country.

We arrived at dinner-time.

Restaurants at this Oceanside area are known for their abundance of fresh fish -- and their hushpuppies.

Hushpuppies are deep-fried cornmeal batter shaped into spheres. Sometimes onions are added. In this part of the south they are served in a basket as a part of the "taking the order" ritual and replenished as needed. Most folks, us included, up the ante by dipping their pups into the little individual plastic butter tubs, which also seem to appear on every Tarheel table. (At home in New England we would probably pour maple syrup all over them.)
"The name 'hushpuppies' is often attributed to hunters, fishermen or other cooks who would fry some basic cornmeal mixture (possibly that they had been bread-coating or battering their own food with) and feed it to their dogs to 'hush the puppies' during cook-outs or fish-fries. Also, runaway slaves would feed them to the guard dogs of their owners in order to 'hush the puppies'." (

Well, shut my mouth! They are good!

The local eating establishments are also known for their almost total lack of fresh vegetables (even the better ones serve them from the can) -- with the exception of "slaw" and fried okra.
For two weeks these two veggies and fried cornmeal were the Holy Trinity of my vacation diet. If only real life were so simple.

On our way home we swung into Stuckey's for some more Hunkey Dorey. We will devour it slowly over a several week period. Don't want to take a chance on getting the bends -- saturated-fat rapid decompression sickness.

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