What have a trip to the U.S. Southwest and a banana bread in common?

Well, nothing in particular really. Except that for me personally this combination stands for one of the most remarkable trips I’ve ever made in my life. And, perhaps even more importantly, a lesson about travel and how vital it is to learn more about different cultures and yes, food.

Each time I eat banana bread, well honestly each time I even see a new recipe for banana bread somewhere, I am drawn back to a holiday many, many years ago.

Said holiday was a family trip to the US in the late 1980s and whilst I was truly excited about the idea to spend a holiday in the States, truth be told there was some disappointment (OK, there was HUGE disappointment) as we would not go to all the ‘hot’ places like New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco or Los Angeles.

Food travel memories | Chocolate-coconut Banana Bread

It was the first time I would travel to the US and we would stay with my mother’s aunt in some small town in the Rocky Mountains in New Mexico. What would we do three weeks in this forgotten place in the middle of nowhere?

Well, I would not only find out what a splendid and history-rich region the Southwest actually is. This trip became a lesson about travelling itself. Before that, travelling for me meant lazy days, ideally spending time at the beach and most important of all, not having to go to school. But it had never occurred to me that travelling could be a life changing experience that is exposing you to different cultures, customs, and flavours.

Food travel memories | Chocolate-coconut Banana Bread

Most intriguingly, this all happened at a time when the whole region was still largely untouched by organized tourism. Meaning we could roam freely around in most areas like the Mesa Verde, Monument Valley National Park or Acoma Pueblo, exploring the sites as we liked and all by ourselves. Hardly any other tourists around, and no rangers, guides or security guards overlooking and regulating activities. Today, you will have to follow a guide, and sticking to official paths. Which of course makes sense with today’s high numbers of visitors and the vulnerability of many of these historic places, threatened to get severely damaged and lost to future generations without control.

OK, and that banana bread?

Quite simply, it has been the first time I discovered banana bread. And though I am not a huge fan of bananas, it was love at first bite.

Food travel memories | Chocolate-coconut Banana Bread

Since, I have eaten lots of banana bread and tried a lot of different recipes at home. What they all have in common is, the smell and taste will always bring up memories of this unforgettable three weeks spend criss-crossing the US Southwest.

Needless to say, National Banana Bread Day celebrated annual on 23rd February has become a fixture to try a new recipe. This year’s version with chocolate and coconut flakes is currently one of my top three all-time favourites.

Recipe: Chocolate-coconut Banana Bread

Food travel memories | Chocolate-coconut Banana Bread

100 g walnuts, roughly chopped
30 ml olive oil
30 ml honey
40 g brown sugar
3 tablespoons coconut flakes plus 1 for topping
2 eggs
4 large ripe bananas
1 solid banana
75 g flour
100 g spelled flour
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
125 g dark chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to 190°C.

In a non-stick saucepan without fat roast chopped walnuts until they start smelling. Set aside and let cool.

Peal ripe bananas and in a blend until obtaining a smooth purée.

In a bowl, mix together the oil, honey, brown sugar, coconut flakes and eggs until well combined.

Mix in the banana purée than add both flours, baking powder, vanilla extract and a pinch of salt and combine well. Finally, add the chopped chocolate and roasted nuts and mix in lightly.

Line a baking tin with parchment paper and fill in the banana batter. Peal the remaining banana, cut in half in length and press into the batter. Sprinkle with coconut flakes.

Bake for 50 – 60 minutes. The banana bread should still be slightly moist but making the test, a tester inserted into the centre should come out clear.

Remove from oven and let cool for a couple of minutes. Take out of the tin and let cool completely before serving.

Do you have an unforgettable travel moment based on a local food experience? I’d be curious to hear your story!