When in Rome...

We just got back from a lovely camping holiday on Vancouver Island. Camping is a whole other world from our every-day life, with slightly adjusted priorities.

It’s far more important when we are camping, to plan time for the campfire as opposed to doing the laundry.  One needs to shift gears when one’s surroundings change, don’t you agree?

It made me think of that old adage, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” That’s much of the fun of being in a different environment.

I looked up the history of that saying, wondering if it really did have anything to do with Romans. And guess what – it does. Way back in the 4th Century AD, a new bishop moving to Milan discovered that some of the customs were different than in his hometown of Rome. (You see, by then the Roman Empire was beginning to be less stable and so cities became a bit more independent.)

The wise, old bishop who had been in Milan for a while told him that when he went to Rome, he followed the Roman customs so that he could better fit in. Then, when he came back to Milan, he went back to his Milanese ways.

This counsel proved useful for the new bishop, and he wrote it down. His words were read centuries later, and writers and playwrights ever since have been using the saying. Now, it’s so popular that people don’t even have to finish it for it to be understood.

As regular readers of this column know, I am a firm believer of supporting local businesses and eating local food whenever possible. This applies to farm produce and to store-bought items.

I like to experience the more unique atmosphere of a small enterprise whenever I can, and to taste the local flavours – literally and figuratively.

Of course, being a gourmand means that I often focus on food. Really though, a gal has to eat, right? Why not get out in the neighbourhood?

When my hubby and I travel, we love to visit local food markets when the season is right. This late in the fall the markets were less active, but we did stop by some lovely green grocers and general stores.

In Victoria, I have to sing the praises of The Root Cellar, where the fruits and veggies were piled so neatly and the range of local dry goods was dazzling. One of the quotes on their re-usable burlap totes was “Keep your friends close and your farmers closer." 

My kind of advice.

They even had a coffee bar featuring a local roaster and bakery. The bakery makes donuts – our other travelling treat.

If you want to have a quick taste of local food culture, one of the best stops is at a bakery or café (the European kind of café, where they serve lighter snacks). Since one can only eat so many full meals, a snack means one has more opportunity for variety in any given travel day.

Hubby and I both have a penchant for sweets, so pastries anywhere near by make our noses twitch. My man, bless his heart, is particularly fond of donuts.

You may be shocked at this news, but let me clarify: I don’t mean any old donut. No offence to those who are fans of Timmie’s, but I’m talking freshly made from scratch, with a hearty dose of imagination laced into the recipe, offering funky flavour combinations and all kinds of presentations.

We have had donuts in New York, London, Montreal.

We have also had doughnuts in Canmore, Revelstoke, Fairmont, and Tofino. It’s not about being in a big city or looking fancy, it’s about them being fresh and delicious.

Yonni’s Doughnuts in Victoria deserve a gold star. (Their cinnamon buns are wicked good, too – just in case you’re not a donut fan.)

They partner with a team of folks who are seriously dedicated to serving good coffee and tea, a delightful bonus. (When they time how long your tea steeps, you know they take pride in their work.)

Thanks, Discovery Coffee.

If you are a tea granny like my hubby (he just might be the only Frenchman who doesn’t like coffee), then you should check out Westholme Tea Farm. I think they should have yoga classes here, it’s that peaceful and zen-like.

The owners of this little acreage in the Cowichan Valley planted tea in 2010. Their vision for becoming the first commercial single origin tea plantation in Canada is singular, to say the least.  Their passion is electric, and yet the atmosphere they create in the place and with their lovely teas is mind-blowingly mellow.

If you can’t get to the farm, I bet even a visit to their website will help you relax.

On our way up island, we drove past this string of small shops and buildings as we left Parksville.

It was a rainy Friday morning and we hadn’t seen a lot of traffic all week, despite the approaching Thanksgiving weekend. Lo and behold, this eclectic bunch of businesses had something going on, as we saw more and more cars parked along the side of the road. “Let’s stop and see what the fuss is about."

I ventured. It took a bit of doing to turn in with our little camper attached, but thankfully my hubby has a great sense of adventure.

We passed the Emporium that sold everything from small trinkets to bigger than life stone lion and Buddha sculptures (“How about a couple of those at the end of the driveway?” Hubby chuckled as we walked by.)

There was a tiny general store jam packed with all kinds of old treasures – kitchen tools, estate jewelry, oil lanterns and Depression glass pieces, old vinyl LPs (ABBA’s Greatest Hits for  only $0.79) But the most interesting place was a building with a low sloping grass roof, with goats on top.

For those of you thinking of the Okanagan version of Goats on the Roof, this is not the same. OK, there are large sculptures outside as well, but the store is totally different.

It is there for the tourists, certainly, but there are lots of local specialties as well. Believe me when I tell you this place has everything from soup to nuts and a whole bunch of “good stuff” in between.

They have scrounged the four corners of the earth for home décor trinkets, children’s toys, small gift items, seasonal decorations… oh, and a whole lot of food. I was in Paradise.

We came out with a cast iron rabbit door stopper and knocker, a rag rug of many colours for the front door, some lemon crunch cookies, Saskatoon berry spread, candied salmon, felt Santas strung in a garland and local honey. I haven’t hung the Santas yet, of course, but the rest was all delicious or well-suited, as it needed to be.

We spent Thanksgiving weekend in Tofino, next to the beach. We had a fantastic week sampling local treats and chatting with folks about places to go to best experience their corner of the world. (The fabulous donuts in Tofino are at Rhino Coffee House .

Our Sunday dinner was fresh crab with lemon, grilled veggies and sweet potatoes in garlic butter. No turkey, no pumpkin pie. We did toast to our good fortune, and we talked about all the things for which we were thankful.

After dinner, we sat by the fire and said “Cheers," quite pleased that we had new memories to cherish and new favourite experiences to share.

I would hate to think that we could have missed all that. We could have stopped at chain stores and had a reliable experience, ensuring we would know what to expect. But I don’t think they missed our business, and I know that the folks who did see our money were all very appreciative.

I can’t encourage you enough to get out there and sample the local fare, whether it’s at home or away.

You can always have the hometown version at home, so why not be brave and try someone else’s version if you’re in their neck of the woods?

More Happy Gourmand articles

About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."


E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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