This month’s classes were special. We made a pretend trip on the Orient Express. Yes, the same train Agatha Christie wrote about and that mysterious murder. We ate our way along the route the train took in the 1930’s. Five stops and just as many fine plates.
Even better, we took a page from the book and honored Hercule Poirot with a glass of sparkling wine at the beginning of class. I told you it was special.
Class members brought some wine to share too. We had an array of beverages in most classes.
To be a little different, we began our trip on the Orient Express from the last stop to the first. That is to say from Istanbul to Paris. Yes, it ran both ways. Basically, we did not take our meals onboard the train.
The Express is in from Paris and stops in between. Cleaning and reset are being done. Fuel and water are getting loaded. In a couple of hours, it will be time for us to board and make our journey west. There’s time for lunch at a spot nearby.
We got a large assortment to share – a mezze platter. Enough for the eight of us. It had the expected items like oil-rich hummus, olives, cheese, pickles and bread. The star of the show was a dish of stuffed eggplant rolls.
Simple really. Put a finger of rice seasoned with dill and mint on a slice of baked eggplant. Roll it up and put in a baking dish. Top with an oregano-scented tomato sauce and scatter feta all over. Bake and serve warm or at room temperature.
Gosh were those good. We could have had another round or two. Then we would miss the train and have to wait for it to come back.
We headed north and a bit west and arrived in Budapest the next morning. The plan was to stay there as we did in the other cities. Sure was a good thing we had all month for this singular experience. Sleeping cars and elegant dining on board if that was our choice. Fine cocktail service too.
Our dish was Goulash – Gulyas. This is traditionally a soup but can be a stew as we had it. Beef with onions and garlic plus carrots, sweet red pepper and mushrooms. Special seasoning like carraway and paprika – sweet Hungarian of course. Tomato gave the stock body. Potatoes were added toward the end. What a great meal in itself.
The next stop was Vienna. Schnitzel. Absolutely. Shallow-fried until golden brown and tender. Ours was made with pork tenderloin. Served with a lemon wedge, this was a perfect light meal. We all had a second piece.
From Austria we found our way into the Alsatian region of France and the city of Strasbourg. We were served Flammkuchen – Tarte Flambée. German and French are spoken freely. This thin flatbread is very pizza-like. Coated with a white sauce and topped with onions and bacon before baking. How could you go wrong with a combination like that? Seconds were ordered of this one too.
Last stop – Paris. Our dish was a classic and available on board. Poulet Chasseur. Hunter’s-style chicken, the Parisian way. This rich sauce of stock enhanced with tomato and seasoned with thyme and bay, plus mushrooms and finished with cream, was worthy of its placement at the end. It took simple chicken to a very high spot.
This was one heck of a trip. It sure seemed real. The food absolutely was. It was so much fun and packed with fine eats.
Jim Sikes is an Opelika resident; a food, wine and restaurant consultant; and a columnist for the Opelika-Auburn News. Contact him on Facebook at In the Kitchen with Chef Jim.