Minty Memories

Recently a travel website had a vacancy for a food blogger position, which I would have loved to do, but I’ve never been one of those cats who writes vivid, flowery descriptions of my food. Normally I’ve scoffed my food far too quickly to wax lyrical about it. To apply you had to talk about a dish you’d discovered on your travels that you’d adopted at home, and explain how you make it and the personal meaning behind it.

Much as I’d love to have applied, I couldn’t really think of any food I’d bought back from a trip. That’s not to say that I don’t have food related memories, France calls to mind my Dad going early in the morning to bring back fresh, warm baked goods while we stayed in Normandy and I’ll always associate the country with Orangina.

orangina

In Ireland after a very hearty meal my Dad decided to finish off the puddings that the rest of us, stuffed, had left half eaten. My Dad is a man who loves his food, and will stuff himself silly at Christmas or buffets (like father, like son) but in this instance he’d miscalculated and he staggered from the pub like a man carrying a cannonball.

During my trip to Sri Lanka I discovered rottis, and scoffed a few on a day long train ride. The following morning in Badulla I bought one for breakfast, but I guess the recipes vary in different areas and I started my day coughing and spluttering as I ate an obscenely spicy rotti.

Can I cook rottis or bake stuff? No. Heck, I can’t even find Orangina in most shops. I had nothing.

And then I remembered something I could make. It was no frills and tasty, and it definitely had memories for me.

Mint tea.

When I visited Morocco a few years ago I drank several cups a day, and loved it. I could easily make that, all I’d need is some mint leaves. This turned out to be a bit of a struggle, as most places sold mint plants or shredded mint, which would be too small, but finally, weeks after the deadline for the site, I found mint leaves and bought some.

The next evening at MWG’s I made myself a cup. It’s pretty basic- mint leaves + boiling water, and then you can add sugar if you want. It’s really lovely and refreshing, and I’d advise people to check it out, unless you hate mint flavoured stuff.

mint tea

The first thing that hit me was the smell, and it definitely seems to be the case that this is the sense most connected with memory because it brought a ton of things to mind.

My trip to Morocco was a solo venture which saw me travel by train through France (Orangina galore) and Spain before I caught a ferry to Morocco, which was the first time I’d left Europe. It was an exciting trip for me, as I’d planned the whole thing and was striking out by myself, it made me more confident in my abilities and eager to do more traveling.

Llywelyn, my flatmate at the time, and a far more experienced traveler had helped in the planning, and had told me to try mint tea. I finally ordered one on my second day in Morocco, at Chefchouen a beautiful mountain town where I sat outside looking across a glorious valley.

The mint tea was made by the owner of the cheap and charming hotel I was staying in, and it tasted wonderful, although I think it tasted even better because I was feeling relieved and hopeful.

The trip up until Algeciras, the Spanish port I caught the Ferry in had been fantastic, but there’d been a bit of a bump in the road after that. Algeciras is a little bit rough, but it’s heaven compared to the city which was my first exposure to Morocco, Tangier.

I’d only booked one night in Tangier, warned by guide books to just get the hell out of there ASAP, and it didn’t take long to figure it out. Four years later it remains my least favourite place that I’ve ever been to, and I’ve been to Port Talbot. It’s a claustrophobic town, filled with little alleys and labyrinthine passages that would be appealing in an Arabian Nights kinda way if it wasn’t for the fact that almost every step you take sees you hounded by people trying to sell you stuff or wanting to be your guide.

After finding my hotel I’d ventured out in search of food and the forty-five minutes I was out on the streets was not pleasant. Maybe I was just tired, but the pestering and harassment got to me, and after loading up on some basic snacks and soft drinks I retreated to my hotel room where I sat and cried. I felt utterly isolated and for the first time wondered if I’d made a massive mistake.

Was all of Morocco going to be like this? Was I to spend the rest of the week feeling got at, harassed and hot, reduced to hiding out in my hotel rooms and reading? Maybe I wasn’t cut out for the traveling lark after all, and should stick to package holidays or look into caravans?

Luckily Tangier was a blip, and while the rest of Morocco saw street peddlers, beggars and would be guides it was less menacing in the other cities, and a firm “No!” was usually enough for people to smile and back off. I didn’t know this at the time though, and a snafu with finances just made me more stressed.

The next day improved my mood, I left Tangier behind and sat on a bus, watching Morocco role by as I listened to music (top tip: The Bee Gees make surprisingly good traveling music, although CCR are still the best soundtrack for a road trip). I sorted out the snafu, and got to Chefchaouen, where despite being offered the three things it’s famous for repeatedly (water, weed and women), I never felt harassed, and the Moroccans I met were largely friendly and cheerful.

Having people watched for a bit at a large communal square where half a dozen kickabouts were taking place I returned to my hotel and the owner brought me a drink. I sat there when he brought me a mint tea, and it tasted delicious as I took in the view and looked forward to the rest of my journey.

Sipping the mint tea at MWG’s bought that all back and made me remember how much I’d enjoyed that trip, and how I’d like to take MWG there and show her Marrakesh and Chefchaouen. And it got the old feet itching once again.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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