Gastronomy and fine wines are an intrinsic part of our all-inclusive, luxury rail cruises. We take pride in offering a culinary experience that reflects the very essence of the countries we travel through and strive to incorporate fresh local ingredients and specialties into our menu. Understandably, our chosen ingredients depend largely on what local markets have to offer, subject to seasonal and climate changes, but this is what makes each and every dish so delectable.
On our recent Jewels of Persia tour, which ventured from Budapest to Tehran, we sourced and showcased some delicious local specialties, as Edit Mészáros, our Food and Beverage Manager on the Golden Eagle Danube Express, shares with us below.
Roe’beh Anar – Persian Pomegranate Syrup
Known in English as pomegranate concentrate, molasses or syrup, this thick ruby red liquid with a rich, luxurious flavour is made by evaporating juice from a bitter variety of pomegranate until it is dark and thick. It is a key ingredient in Iranian cuisine – you will find it in dishes such as Khoresh-e Fesenjān but it can also be used in drinks and even desserts such as fruity semifreddos. Luckily through our contacts there we have found a supplier of home-made pomegranate syrup in Yazd, who I visit on each trip.
Although it is widely used, the flavour isn’t always easy to pick out because it is usually mixed with a variety of ingredients. We add it undiluted to our tomato salad to give passengers the chance to fully appreciate and enjoy it.
Apricot Jam – Hungarian speciality
Nobody seems to know where apricots first came from – Armenia, China and India all claim them. Apricot is the most popular jam in Hungary, and the best apricots in Hungary grow in the area around Kecskemét, a town we visit on many of our tours, as it has a sunny and dry climate.
The apricot jam we serve on the Golden Eagle Danube Express is home-made by our chef’s mother. I grew up in a village where our neighbour said that life was not worth living without apricot jam, so it really is worth sampling!
Rose jam – Bulgarian speciality
Roses are used in Bulgaria for their scent, for decoration and especially for eating! Rose jam is sweet and floral, made from the rose cultivated to produce rose oil, Rosa Damascena. This “Queen of Flowers” was domesticated from the Middle East to Bulgaria some 5,000 years ago and grows best in the heart of the Balkans.
The rose jam we produce on board the train does not need liquid pectin to thicken the jelly or rose water to add flavour – the natural pink petals of the oil rose do it all. To enjoy rose jam at its best, try to visit the valleys south of the Balkan mountain range during the Rose Festival at the beginning of June.
Lokum (Turkish Delight)
Turkish delight or lokum is a family of confections based on a gel of starch and sugar, and premium varieties consist largely of pistachios and hazelnuts or walnuts bound by the gel. This Ottoman confectionery was originally sweetened with honey and molasses, using water and flour as the binding agents, with rosewater, lemon peel and bitter orange as the most common flavours (red, yellow and green).
Lokum was introduced to Western Europe in the 19th century. An unknown Briton reputedly became very fond of the delicacy during his travels to Istanbul and purchased cases of it, to be shipped back to Britain under the name Turkish delight. It became a major delicacy in Britain and throughout Continental Europe for high class society. During this time, it became a practice among upper class socialites to exchange pieces of Turkish delight wrapped in silk handkerchiefs as presents. The Turkish names lokma and lokum are derived from the Arabic word luqma(t) and its plural luqūm meaning “morsel” and “mouthful”.
When I first shopped in Izmit with my local guide we walked past a shop selling Turkish delight and I wanted to buy some. “Oh no!”, Serkan said, clearly horrified by my suggestion, “Not here! I will take you to the shop that has the best lokum”. When we got there I had to try quite a few varieties – out of duty, of course, to see if he was right, and he most certainly was. Our guests were able to sample some of these delicious sweet treats in the bar lounge later that evening!
Van otlu peyniri (Van Herbed Cheese)
Van otlu peyniri is made out of sheep’s milk during spring. Ripened cheese varieties containing herbs are traditional in Turkey and have been manufactured for more than 200 years in the east and southeast of the country. They are made from raw milk, semi-hard in texture and salty in taste and have the aroma of garlic or thyme due to added wild herbs collected in the surrounding mountains. Twenty-five types of herb, including Allium, Thymus, Silene and Ferula species which are most popular, are used individually or as appropriate mixtures. Otlu peyniri is produced mainly in the Van Province of Turkey in small dairies and villages.
In the city of Van an entire isle of the local covered market is dedicated to this delicacy, and customers are positively encouraged to try several batches as each and every one is slightly different. My local Kurdish guide Ferzan took me to the stall he frequents on my first visit and I am now a regular there. This cheese is not really available anywhere else – I once bought some in Istanbul in desperation but it was nothing like the real McCoy!
Tavarzo fruit & nuts – Iranian Specialty
The best quality dried fruits & nuts in Iran can be found in Tabriz. Tavazo, one of the most prestigious local family businesses selling these delicacies, was established in 1950. Their products are naturally grown, sun-dried and contain no additives or preservatives.
Shopping in the busy and exotic Tehran branch of Tavazo is quite an experience. You really are spoilt for choice and, in the best local tradition, you have to try everything to make sure you get just what you need. The cashew nuts we had in the Bar Lounge came from there courtesy of our kind assistant, Fetneh, who flew in from the capital to meet us in Tabriz. We always encourage guests to try them on board and if you are ever in Tehran, you can visit the Tavazo store there to experience the ambience first hand!
Our team of talented Chefs includes Head Chef, Csaba, who also cooks for the Primate of the Catholic Church in Hungary and our Pastry Chef, Krisztián, who works at Auguszt Patisserie, one of Hungary’s oldest family businesses. Each one is passionate about food and delivering a level of service of the highest standard. They enjoy nothing more than going the extra mile to find the best quality ingredients in order to wow passengers with culinary delights.
For more information on the culinary experience available on board the Golden Eagle Danube Express, click here.