Sunday, May 26, 2013
ARE YOU A FOOD TOURIST?
I started traveling long before I began writing about ethnic foods. I've been lucky to have flown to many countries around the world. 80% of my trip memories are of delicious and occasionally not-so-laudable cuisines.
Beijing had the most exotic food I’ve ever eaten—scorpions. But the scariest was their black tofu, maybe processed with lead. But they also have the most amazing tourist sites: The Great Wall, Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and the Hutong, where a whole neighborhood shares one outhouse and the soup is boiled over sidewalks--their kitchens.
The best vegetarian offerings were in Taipei, Taiwan like mung bean milkshakes, fried stinky tofu with pickled cabbage, and durian that was NOT stinky. It’s also the most polite and considerate city I’ve ever visited; ask strangers how to get to Taipei 101, where there’s a food court to die for, and they’ll walk you there.
The best shellfish? Step aside wine mussels in Nice and garlic mayo-doused mussels in Paris. It's the grilled foot-long prawns in Singapore. By the way, Singapore feels like the safest place on earth, but no gum allowed, and the island is so small, there isn’t much to do besides eat—which I suppose is not all bad.
Best snails were stir-fried in a little fishing town in China, near Hangzhou, but I had to first get over walking through the restaurant’s door and maneuvering around a sweaty man beating a three-foot-long fish to death.
Best dumplings were in Shanghai, made with special crab; it seemed likely that the chefs had to suck at the shell to get the small amount of meat out of the palm-sized crustaceans. It’s a specialty of a multi-story restaurant. The farther up you go, the cheaper the menu. Fine with me, my legs are strong.
The best spare rib soup is in Wuhan. The city suffers hot monsoons, but it’s only half a day from the Three Gorges Dam, convenient for me because I was able to study the dam for a screenplay I was writing with Janet Fogg (AKA Folio). The script is set beside those giant controversial turbines.
In the West:
Venice had the best pasta—gnocchi. It’s also the most relaxing and romantic city I’ve ever visited.
The best snack was the conch fritters in St. Thomas—but also the least welcoming locals.
The best sauces and worst steaks were in Paris as well as the most aloof servers (I lived there and spoke French, but still!). Paris has an endless list of things to do, more than any city I’ve explored. I don’t judge the French by the Parisians; those in the countryside are very friendly and know a thing or two about food also.
Milan had the best appetizer I’ve ever eaten—stuffed squash blossoms. But Milan also has my least favorite shopping since I have little interest in fashion or spending that kind of money.
Germans had the cleanest hotels with the most welcoming, gracious and efficient staff. But they also served up my overall least favorite meals. I don’t like dark beer or endless sausages and kraut. The only memorable thing I ate was a liver meatball soup, which I promptly made once I returned home.
The best fish I've had was poached bass in Cannes. They also have the best film festival but I’ve never been there at that time of the year, though I'd love to go there with one of my screenplays someday!
French fries are best in Belgium, doused in one of a dozen flavors of homemade mayo, a habit I still have. The barges are worth the money, but you may question yourself if you pay to climb their giant molecule.
Switzerland had awesome fried beef fondue with homemade mayo. Mayo is sounding like a theme, isn't it?
Like a trite traveler, in London I favored the amazing Indian food. Austria, Wiener schnitzel.
Mazatlan had the best tortilla soup with generous chunks of avocado. But before you get to the restaurant, you must buy many little boxes of Chiclets from the sad little kids along the sidewalk.
The best gelato was in Rome, but I didn’t like having to pay more for it if I sat down rather than take it to go. Gelato is not my all time favorite dessert. My favorites are here in my own back yard. Best cake, a tie between the chef’s special order cheese cake at the Lake Valley Golf Course and Whole Foods’ flourless chocolate decadence cake.
Now that I’ve flown back to the U.S. with my list, the best fruit falling off the trees were in Maui--guavas. But I couldn’t live on an island so small with little to do beyond hiking, beaching, and eating icky Loco Moco (rice, hamburger, egg, blopped with gravy).
I’m sure I’m forgetting many wonderful foods from my travels but I’m hungry and have to go plan dinner.
What are your favorite travel foods? Please tell the Inkster.