Since Memorial Day weekend is considered the start of the summer vacation travel period, it’s apropos that this post be travel related. And so….
In all my years of traveling, I’ve never been to New York City. Nor did I have any interest in visiting there. Not sure why, other than perhaps a perception that it is a big, wild, somewhat nasty urban jungle. Probably too much negative TV and movie PR.
That attitude began to change about a year ago. A co-worker who doesn’t enjoy traveling much visited NYC some years ago and fell in love with it. She tries to return at least every other year and regularly suggests that I should visit. Another co-worker who grew up there says I will love NYC.
I came very close to visiting last September when I learned about a special package deal. But we were in Utah in July and were traveling for Thanksgiving so I decided to save my vacation time.
Now I’m planning a trip to NYC for mid-September. To help research the trip, I bought the award-winning guide book by Pauline Frommer (Arthur’s daughter). After reading the guide, I’m excited about visiting NYC – for the food! Especially all the international cuisine.
Thinking about the eclectic cuisine available in NYC got me to thinking about my more memorable meals while traveling. Few of them stayed in my memory because of the food; normally, it is the “total experience” that imprints a meal in my memory. And that “total experience” is rarely dependent on a white table cloth setting with gussied up wait staff in an ornate room.
When traveling, I don’t make it a point to visit any fancy “tourist” restaurants that the guidebooks say are a “must.” For example, I’ve never eaten at the Cliff House in San Francisco. I prefer the “local” places that would rarely make a guidebook, except perhaps the “cheap eats for backpackers” guides.
That doesn’t mean I’ve not had some memorable meals while traveling. But, with one exception, they were fortunate finds I stumbled upon. That “discovery” factor is why I usually prefer to search out my own dining places while traveling rather than relying on a guidebook’s picks.
So in no particular order, except for my most memorable meal which I‘ve saved for last, here they are:
1. We were in Monterey (CA) for Thanksgiving one year. I wanted to go to a buffet and after looking through the local paper decided upon a buffet at a Best Western Hotel on the beach. The dining room offered views of the ocean and I thought it’d be a nice way to spend the holiday.
I was right. I was concerned about a crowd but there were hardly any other folks there and we had a table with a magnificent view of huge waves crashing onto the beach. The food was perfectly adequate: nothing to rave or complain about. After eating, we walked the calories off on the beach in very gusty wind.
2. In New Orleans, we dined at the Alpine because (a) we had a “buy one entrée get one free” deal and (b) the menu featured roasted duck in praeline sauce. Duck is my favorite entree and it was the best duck I’ve had yet because of that sauce. The restaurant itself was small and quite modest.
3. On one of our many visits to San Francisco, we were roaming Chinatown and stumbled upon a dim sum restaurant around lunch time. The only way you could tell the restaurant was there was a small sign that simply proclaimed “Dim sum upstairs.” I recall climbing an outside stairway to the second floor of a large, plain building.
Inside, there was a cavernous room the size of a football field. They only had tables of four and eight and we were given a table for four, probably because as far as I could tell we were the only non-Chinese folks there.
There was no menu. Instead, a continuing procession of rolling carts filled with various plates of dim sum made the rounds to each table. We pointed out what we wanted and the plate was placed on our table. Usually, there were two or three pieces of whatever was on the plate so we could share.
At the end of the meal, they counted the empty plates. It was $1.50 a plate. No charge for the tea. Unfortunately, I could never find the place again and I never learned if it even had a name.
(Now, when in Chinatown, we usually just go to a butcher shop and order about a pound of roast pork, which is chopped off a whole pig strung up by its hind legs and then chopped up into bite size chunks which we eat at a park. Then, we go to a Chinese bakery for a dessert of sweet rice cakes.)
4. On a visit to San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, we bought one of the steamed, whole Dungeness crabs that every seafood restaurant has lined up outside for “to go” orders. They cracked it for us and we took it around the corner and dined “al fresco” at a picnic table on a pier after buying a loaf of sourdough bread at a bakery. I enjoyed some of the tastiest crab I’ve ever had while we took in a great view of the San Francisco skyline looking towards Coit Tower.
5. In Hong Kong, we took in a small diner in the Wan Chai district (of “Susie Wong” fame). We shared a table for four occupied by an elderly Chinese couple already eating. As we looked at the menu, Susie was glancing at the plate of the Chinese woman, who was eating some sort of meat that looked like short noodles.
The woman noticed Susie’s curiosity and offered her a piece but Susie declined. After more prompting from the woman, Susie tried a bite. She loved it and decided to order it, but had no idea what it was. She showed the woman the menu (in Chinese and English) and made a pointing motion. The woman showed her what to order: fried, sliced pig ears. Delicious… 😉
(I have no idea what I ordered but I’m certain it was very conventional!)
6. When I visited Hong Kong as a teenager with my parents, we went to Aberdeen, known for it’s Jumbo Floating Restaurant. You take a sampan out to a colorful four story boat that looks like a paddle wheeler. One floor of the restaurant is devoted to a large number of fish pens with various types of fish. You wander around and select the specific fish you want and it is netted while you watch. Not too much later, that fish is on your table cooked to order.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t squeeze Aberdeen in when Susie and I visited Hong Kong in 1995. (The Jumbo and similar floating restaurants in Aberdeen are big time “tourist” restaurants.)
7. In Bangkok, we had finished up a long day by visiting an outdoor market on a major thoroughfare. As we left the market in the late afternoon we came upon a small restaurant with outdoor seating. We plopped down at a table for dinner.
After looking at the menu, I inquired about the Tom Kha Gai (chicken in a coconut milk-base soup). The waiter assured us that it was a meal, not an appetizer. It came out in a huge kettle with lots of chicken. We each had at least three big bowls and still could not finish it. Dinner for about $7 as we watched Bangkok life go by.
8. My most memorable meal was in Spain. On Susie’s birthday, we took a day trip to Segovia, about an hour by train from Madrid. I had read that Segovia is known for its cochinillo – roast suckling pig.
Around lunch time, we came upon a restaurant that displayed three trophies the chef had earned. It also had the most reasonably-priced cochinillo we’d seen, probably because it was away from the tourist areas. (At about 18 Euros each, it was a splurge but a bargain compared to the other places that wanted 25 Euros.)
We began with an appetizer-size plate of paella, then the cochinillo (which we didn’t need a knife to cut because it was so tender), and finally some flan for dessert. That price included a beverage of our choice and I picked a nice local beer.
I’d like to hear about one of your memorable restaurant meals. Include the restaurant’s name and city so if I’m there I can check it out too.
I’m in St. Augustine for the weekend!