Brian Knowles, a food blog author with a passion for Guatemalan food and culture is our Tripper of the Week. Meet Brian from Boston.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
Growing up on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, I learned at a young age to respect Mother Nature and to eat what she made available to us. We had a large garden and grew our own vegetables and also raised chickens for eggs and meat, goats for their milk as well as pigs. I lost that way of life for a while, but a year or so ago it came back into my life. I am not able to do it like when I was a kid, but what I don’t grow myself I buy locally.
This is probably why I have such a strong connection with Guatemala. The land is very important to them and what they don’t raise or grow themselves they buy at the local street market or barter from a friend or neighbor. They respect the land and it treats them well by giving back to them.
You’ve traveled to several countries and cities all over the U.S. – which destination is your favorite so far?
This is where I am supposed to say Guatemala, which is one of my favorites because it’s like home to me now. I look forward to visiting the street markets, buying jocote from the kids on the side of the highway, eating mangoes and papayas I just picked off the tree, and eating tostadas from a street vendor in Antigua.
Paris and Grand Cayman round out my top 3 favorite places. Paris is all about food, history, and architecture, how can you not love that? One of my best memories of Paris is eating Nutella crepes from a stand in the Jardin des Tuileries. Grand Cayman is my favorite tropical island-it’s so relaxing, the beaches and water are beautiful, the snorkeling is amazing, and the people are so warm and welcoming. Of course the food on Grand Cayman is worth the trip itself. In fact we plan cruises around stops to Grand Cayman so we can eat at our favorite restaurant in the world-Calypso Grill.
What do you enjoy most about hosting travelers?
It is fun learning about other cultures and hearing what it is like first hand. Letting my guests use my kitchen and cook their favorite dishes. You learn a lot about a person and place through food. Plus I love making people feel welcomed and at home in my home, it gives me such pleasure.
What are your 3 favorite places in Boston you often take guests visiting the city for the first time?
When we have people visit Boston they always want to see the Revolutionary sites-so I take them on the Freedom Trail where some of the sights you see are Old North Church, Granary Burying Ground, Paul Revere’s house, and the USS Constitution. Harvard Square is always fun to bring people to visit, it’s mix of education and art is always interesting to see. Being Boston water needs to be involved somewhere. Some favorites are Boston Harbor cruises, Charles River cruise and the best……Duck Tours-land and water in the same vehicle!
You love to experiment with new recipes. What is the craziest dish you’ve ever made?
The craziest recipe I ever made was one I was going to try and recreate from a local Pan-Asian restaurant here in Boston called Myers+Chang. They have a wok charred octopus dish that is out of this world. One day I decided I was going to try and make it at home. I went to the supermarket and bought an octopus. I got my octopus home and cut open the package and this 4-5 foot long whole octopus fell out. Seeing that big octopus sitting in my kitchen sink was freaking me out. I love eating octopus, but there was not enough wine in the world for me to cut that monster up.
More recently I developed a recipe for Tacos de Lengua (beef tongue tacos) that I write about on my site. A beef tongue is a big thing and I had octopus flashbacks, but I was determined to cook it. I got over my fears of this big tongue licking me and I cooked the tongue and made the best tacos ever! Some people are afraid to try new and different things, but it is quite often worth it. If I didn’t tell you it was a beef tongue in the tacos, you would just think it was a beef roast. It tastes and smells just like pot roast when it’s cooking.
You have a relatively new food blog. Tell us a bit about it and how it has been inspired by your travels.
My first trip to Guatemala was for Christmas in 2005, and fittingly the first thing we did was stop at a family friend’s house for lunch. From that first bite of Guatemalan food, I was hooked. Everything about that trip was amazing; my senses had never been so alive before. The taste of homemade tamales, the smoke from fireworks on Christmas Eve permeating my skin, the sound of the Posada singing as they search for a place for Mary and Joseph to spend the night, to the sights of the Mayan woman in their traditional clothing made up of brightly colored thread woven into intricate designs. I was in love with this beautiful country and wanted to know all about it.
Arriving home for that first trip I looked for books on Guatemalan cooking. Unable to find anything in English and only one or two limited ones in Spanish, I looked to Carlos and his family to teach me how to make the food of Guatemala. Many of their recipes are handed down from generation to generation and are not written down anywhere. So as I was starting to learn to cook the traditional recipes of Guatemala and decided to blog about it, keep a record of my journey. Over the past year my blog has taken on a life of its own and is this amazing resource for not only gringos like I, but also for a lot of Guatemalans who are rediscovering the foods their grandmothers made when they were kids. At least once a week I get an email from a reader thanking me for bringing them back to their childhood and of memories of their abuela (grandmother).
What are the classic New England foods and beverages that Trippers must try to have an authentic New England experience?
Clam Chowder, Fish and Chips, in summer anything with blueberries in it, Parker House rolls, Boston Cream Pie and of course lobster. Sam Adams beer is always popular not only to drink but to visit the brewery and see where it all started.
Thank you Brian for sharing your love of travel, Guatemalan culture and cuisine and for your tips on New England travel.