Thursday, March 11, 2010

Travel Food Nostalgia

Come this time of year, when winter begins to dangle spring just barely out of our reach, I start getting a case of the travel bug HARD. This past week though, the travel bug has been manifesting its symptoms rather strangely. My stomach is rumbling, I'm having the oddest cravings...

No, I'm not pregnant. I'm having food nostalgia. Since I don't have the $$ to cure my nostalgia through reliving my food memories (willingtoacceptdonationsfoodnetwork) lets all relive them for a moment here. And we can, thanks to the magic of the internet and google street view.

Starting in order of their appearance in my life, from most recent to least....

1. The Chippy - Ullapool, Scotland
Ah, vacations while on vacation. I visited this little shop while on a tour of Scotland with some friends. The tour (the adorably named Highland Fling by Haggis Adventures) went all over Scotland and this was the northernmost spot of the entire tour. When we got off the tour bus here, our driver told us that this was the "best fish and chip shop in all of Scotland." I was dubious, because every other corner shop in Scotland and England claims to have the best Fish and Chips in town/the county/the country/the world. Its like claiming you have the best Apple Pie (which, if you're wondering, is Elegant Farmer). It's clearly open to interpretation.

Or so I thought. I don't think I am just saying this because I was on vacation; this was the best fish and chips I have ever had IN MY LIFE (you'll hear that phrase repeated quite often in this post). I wasn't even that hungry. The breading was hot and crisp, the fish was insanely fresh, having come from the bay 25 feet from the shop. The chip were a nicely salt compliment, and the whole thing, wrapped up in paper and sprinkled with malt vinegar, was so delicious I think I'd eat it every day and gladly welcome the heart attack.

2. The Sandwich Shop, London, England
When I was studying abroad in London, life was pretty much just a constant decline of the bank account. Aside from of course having no job while there, London is one of the most expensive cities in the world. In order to enjoy your time there, you couldn't always eat out at all the fancy restaurants. Enter the Sandwich Shop; the poor college students dream. For only a pound, you could get a delicious sausage baguette, which is exactly what it sounds like; a foot long sausage, sandwich is a baguette, liberally toasted and slathered with butter. Top that off with some brown sauce, and you've got a delicious and filling lunch that won't eliminate the trust fund.

When I went back to London with my then boyfriend (now hubby) for an irresponsibly expensive vacation, I insisted we make a stop there again. It was definitely the cheapest meal we ate there, and possibly the one I remember the most.

3. Caffe al Ciclope - Pachino, Sicily

What do kids spend their money on? Ice cream! Or in this case Gelato. If only our parents had known when they sent us to Sicily on a church program that all of our money would go towards gelato. We bought gelato for lunch. We bought gelato for snacks. We bough gelato for dinner. We bought gelato just because we happened to pass by a gelateria. And this place, by far, got most of my money. I've had gelato since, and its been good, but never quite the same. Perhaps there was something unique about it, the bizarre combination of flavors resulting from the fact that I didn't always know what the signs said, perhaps just being young, when the most awesome thing you could think of was having an ice cream store right outside your house...Whatever it was, I've never again felt like I could always eat more and more of something, to a limitless extent.

4. House of Nanking - San Francisco, CA   
I'll be honest. I don't know if this is the right place. The funny thing about memory is that very often its not names and dates you remember best, but tastes, smells and feelings. While on vacation with my parents in San Francisco, we stopped at a Chinese restaurant for lunch, because you have to when you go to San Francisco. This place was carefully researched and chosen by my mother out of Frommers, which is how I found it again ( I think). Maybe she's reading this and can tell me if I am right.

The guide specifically stated to listen to your waiter, and just let them select dishes for you, and you won't go wrong. When our waiter came to our table (he happened to also be the owner!) my mother gave him a list of foods she did NOT want to eat, which included all seafood. The owner looked a little sad, as if we had just told him his best art was a pile of crap, so I was a little worried about what we would get. But still, he said "I will take care of you," and went back to the kitchen.

Then, came out the dishes. Over the course of the meal, there could have been 6-15 dishes, and everything was amazing, completely unlike any Chinese food I had ever had before. There are certain meals that you eat where you feel like you're experiencing something for the first time, despite the fact that you have, technically, experienced it before.  I understood now that the reason that I didn't like a lot of Chinese food was actually because a lot of Chinese was in fact not good. This, however, was fantastic. We ate as much as we could, but there was a lot left at the end. The restaurant had a no doggy bag policy, so taking it with us was not an option. Which is just as well I guess; it wouldn't have been as good the next day, or even later that evening. It was a singular experience, which refuses to be cheapened or diminished in the memory.

What are your most memorable travel food experiences?


  1. two of my most memorable travel foods are ones you've listed here.
    chocolate hazelnut gelato in Rome (from anywhere, really, just making me think about it still makes me salivate a little)
    Chinese food in San Francisco -- a place called Brandy Ho's (that I just found, holy cow!
    I'm more apt to remember what I had to drink, rather than what I've eaten.

  2. What--you spent all of your Sicily money on gelato? I am shocked. L, Mom

    P.S. House of Nanking appears to be correct. Mom is pretty good at picking cheap eateries (except when they have gone belly-up before our arrival), eh what? Most memorable travel food experiences probably involve les escargottes, blood cheese, quail heads, and the like (invincible youth in France). Favorite travel food experiences would more likely apply to Southwestern adventures (slightly wiser maturity)--fry bread on top of Puye Cliffs, Orlando's in El Prado, NM, and Guadalupe Cafe and The Shed in Santa Fe. I look for the best food for the best price.

  3. Salchipapas from la doñita (lady street vendor) in La Paz, Bolivia qualify as the best street food and travel food ever. French fries topped with fried hot dog slices covered with ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, and a spicy salsa (if you're lucky you even get a couple plantain slices thrown in)- all for 50 cents! Also, doña Raquel in Rurrenabaque, Bolivia makes a mean arroz con leche.

    I've heard that Salchipapas have officially made their way to Madison via a new peruvian restaurant on the west side. Can't wait to try them!