The Ways of a Traveling Eater
In the eyes of three food monthlies, May is the month to travel -- or at the very least, develop an appetite for it.
Readers of Bon Appetit will find a "Where to Eat Now" issue, with longer features on what's cooking in Istanbul, Shanghai and Sydney. In Food & Wine, the focus is on wanderlust dining, with a lengthy "Go List: The World's Best Restaurant Guide," covering eateries at all price points in 40 cities near and far.
And this month's Gourmet boasts a "Global Guide to Food at the Source," a hodgepodge mixture of armchair-style, gastro-vignettes from several corners around the world, both well-traveled and obscure, decadent and humble.
It's hardly a new phenomenon to find travel content in food magazines or vice versa, but over the past few years, the content crossover has reached a crescendo, sometimes making a travel magazine indistinguishable from a food magazine.
As a professional eater who'd rather be on the road than at home, I'm hardly complaining. I love learning about new places through travel stories, and if there's mention of local food and drink, I'm in armchair heaven.
All this got me thinking: Do I travel to eat? Or do I eat to travel? My preference is to do the former.
As a traveling eater, I better understand how people make sense of the world, when I see up close the fruit picked from trees and sold on the road or how breakfast is defined. When I travel to eat, I inhale the local perfumes -- of a freshly cut papaya, of a fish just pulled from the sea or whatever is coming out of the bakery oven. My music is the sound of coconut palms, breadfruit roasting and the crack of a nutmeg's outer shell.
When I travel to eat, I am a student of culture, past and present. And through my appetite, I get the best view of all.
Of course, eating to travel is not without its merits. Those travel articles feed my ever-hungry wanderlusting appetite, giving reason to plan a new destination, replenish the travel reserves or sometimes, escape from a day at the office.
I know, there so many other reasons that people travel -- art, architecture, animals, history, religion, sports -- to name just a few, but for me, when I think of place, I think of food. For me, travel is not about buildings and monuments, but pots and pans, the sizzle of cooking oil, the heat of a brick oven and the people who bring those sights, smells and sounds to life.
I'm very fortunate, having traveled to at least 17 countries since the age of 14, and dipped my transit toe in at least five others. Below, a sampling of the places I've gone, and the food that makes them special.
I remember the strangeness of eating apple strudel and the weiner schnitzel in the African desert town of Swakopmund, Namibia, which I learned was a hub for German exiles, and an oasis of home-style German vittles.
Forget the incredible array of seafood; what I remember about Greece is the best peach of my life.
On Eleuthera, an Out Island of the Bahamas, I remember the grapefruits placed every morning at the front door of my cottage by Mr. Duckworth, the innkeeper, and cooking up a just-pulled-out-of-the-sea hog snapper that evening, seasoning it with those grapefruits.
In Jamaica, it was all about the bananas, which I couldn't get enough of, and an introduction to road-side jerk chicken and a plate of pigeon peas and rice.
In South Africa, it was a boiled sheep's head passed around in a pot in Soweto, washed down with a bottle of Castle lager, the most wonderful boxed juices of flavors that I thought only existed in my dreams, the most incredible oranges, peri peri sauce, the most fiery pepper sauce I've ever grown to love, learning to make pap, a porridge made from cornmeal and drinking amazing wine for next to nothing.
In Uganda, it was the enormous papayas and passion fruit big enough to scoop into with a spoon for breakfast; and wild (not farmed) tilapia, grilled whole, with fries.
In Italy, the ultimate living classroom of gastronomy, it was among many things, learning to cook with lardo, how to season with salt, making risotto, eating duck and goat salami, making time for an afternoon espresso and drinking blood orange juice for breakfast.
Share your favorite eating tales from the road in the comments area below, or the destinations on your to-go, to-eat list.
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