Are you a foodie? I certainly am (waistline as evidence) and trying different foods and ways of eating them is an important part of my travels.
It's not just about different foods, though, but about diverse approaches to food. Eating environments are different, portions vary, and how you approach food can be vastly different from one country to the next.
I'm in New York City as I write this, hopping from food stall to market to restaurant and I realize I have definite preferences. How about you - how do you like your food experience? Surrounded by luxury? At a food stall? In a private home?
Let's find out!
Before we do, I wanted to thank all those of you who bought my e-book, Women on the Road: The Essential Guide for Baby Boomer Travel. Can I ask you for a small favor? If you liked the book, please go give it a five-star review at Amazon. Haven't bought it yet? Buy it now - for yourself, or for your mother, aunt, grandmother or friend of the family - a great Christmas present.
And now, let's get through this season of over-indulgence by testing different ways to... indulge. My philosophy is: 'There's no way around it, so you might as well enjoy it'!
Recently in Spain I visited food markets and this is a joyful reminder of wandering through stalls filled with mouth-melting Jabugo ham, tart Manchego cheese, unusual fruits (my very favorite, cherimoya, which I believe is called custard apple), uncommon (at least in my corner of France) seafood like barnacles and sea snails and cuttlefish, ingredients for paella (I bought a pan to make it at home), olives and more olives, spicy chorizo sausage... walking out with armfuls of fresh foods, all you need is a fresh crust of bread, some cathedral or church steps, a bit of sunshine, and the leisure to enjoy it all. Wherever you are, you're bound to find a great food market on your travels.
Having the chair pulled out for you, unfolding a crisp white linen napkin, counting the number of forks and watching the sommelier hover are just the ornaments of eating in the world's top-rated restaurants. The real experience usually comes in the plate - daunting sculptured shapes, a rainbow of colors, unexpected textures and explosions of taste, all followed by a check that is as striking as the food. Still, nothing can beat a superb restaurant, in a superb setting, with the world at your feet, if only for a couple of hours, at least once in your life. If you're traveling somewhere with a top establishment, phone or email the second you know as they fill up fast. Even if they are too full to accommodate you, try calling the same day. Perhaps some unlucky soul missed her plane and you'll slip in at the last minute.
Wine, Beer and Spirits
Whether in the vineyards of Chile or France or Australia, wine tours are not only popular but becoming more so. Down the road from me in Beaune, day tours to visit vineyards are hugely popular. They're often combined with a delicious meal, or cycling (supposedly safer than drinking and driving). Tours can be expert-level, teaching you about specific sunshine and types of oak barrel, or beginner, learning to differentiate and appreciate some basic qualities and grape types. When it comes to spirits Scottish Whisky and Irish Whiskey tours will lead you to top distilleries, organize tastings, and make sure you make it home afterwards. Finally, there are zillions of beer tours around - entire sites are dedicated to them. You could, of course, bypass the whole tour thing and go straight to the beer at festivals like Oktoberfest or any other of the world's top beer festivals.
Taking a cooking class is one of the more fun foodie things I do when I travel, although it can lead to some rather impromptu moments, like the time I was asked to the front of a crowded restaurant in Bangkok to demonstrate my som tam preparation skills (no one was carried out on a stretcher so at least I didn't poison them). Looking for classes when you travel? Try Gourmet Traveller, CNN Go, Yahoo or ABC News for a sample listing of good classes around the world. It's also a great way to meet fellow travelers as well as local people, who often outnumber foreigners among the students.
It's not exactly cooking in YOUR home but the trend of cooking at home is growing. In many cities you'll find private individuals opening up their homes for an evening of regional cooking or gastronomy. Whether they're dodging the taxman or simply don't want the pressures of a full-time restaurant, these experiences can be amazing. From pop-up restaurants in London to social food networks in Paris, eating in someone's home is a definite departure from a restaurant - and can be as good, or better, not to mention intriguing and more fun.
Bouchon? Tearoom? Trattoria?
Each country has it's specialty eatery. In Spain you'll eat your fill in tapas bars. In Italy you'll stand in line to get your ticket inside a tavola calda, the Italian version of a cafeteria. In Lyons (strangely, it's spelled with an 's' in English but not in French, like Marseilles) the typical specialty restaurant is called a bouchon. In England you'll spend part of the afternoon in a tea room or eat a ploughman's lunch in a pub, and in France you'll drop into the patisserie or bakery for breakfast or a snack. Want more? Think diner in the US, poutine shack in Quebec, sushi bar in Japan, an auberge in Switzerland, paladares in Cuba... These are just a few specialty eateries but everywhere you go you'll find local places with local foods where locals go. Foreigners are welcome but these aren't places that were designed with us in mind. Which makes them all the more attractive.
Hawkers, Food Stalls and Food Courts
Whether it's a pretzel on a New York street, a hot noodle soup in Bangkok or a taco in Mexico, there's something about street food that feels authentic. It ranges from the best to the worst but street food is aimed at people who don't have a lot of money and are usually local, hence the authenticity. It can range from the sublime to the downright dangerous but street food is becoming an art form and the best stalls are now even written up online. In some countries, stalls can be grouped together under a single roof or awning - I'm thinking of the night markets of Thailand or the indoor food courts of Singapore. Often this is for the sake of convenience, either the customers' or the authorities who police such places. Either way, eating at food stalls is, for me, the best of all worlds:
freshness, variety, tradition, cost and good plain fun.
Most countries have their fast foods, often a modern offshoot of US-based brands. Much fast food, like McDonalds or KFC, has been globalized - you find them almost everywhere. But countries also have their own versions: local burger or sandwich chains, pizza and other italian food, sushi, ice cream - you've got Spizzico pizza in Italy, Quick burgers and Delifrance pastries in France, Nordsee fish and seafood (I love them!) in Germany and Switzerland, Nando's in South Africa, Jollibee burgers in the Philippines, Wimpy in the UK or Harvey's burgers in Canada, to name just a few of the literally hundreds of home-grown chains worldwide. Some of these can actually be great value for money. Others... I'd rather go hungry.
...and Slow Food
Slow food is a movement founded in Italy (where else!) to promote great local foods as opposed to fast food, so it is more of a lifestyle than a mode of eating and revolves around food that is 'good, clean and fair'. There is an actual association dedicated to the slow food movement to promote great products along with community involvement and environmental respect. Further down that line is eat local, also more of a lifestyle choice that promotes eating foods grown close to home rather than carried in from around the world. We certainly aren't spoiled for choice!
Don't know what to try or where to go? Stumped by choice? Many cities, from Paris to New York to Bangkok - have food tours on which experts take you out - to eat! Most tours involve some of the following: walking around a specific neighborhood, visiting local markets, eating at food stalls, sampling something sweet from a pastry shop or chocolaterie, sipping the local brew, and learning about the history or culture of what you're eating. In Barcelona I recently was treated to Context Travel's From Farm to Fork walking tour and it was exceptional, a mixture of food and history and sightseeing all rolled into one. And tomorrow, I'm heading for a food tour of NYC's Lower East Side. A walking tour is a great way to experience a city!
Here's a quick update on what's happening over at Women on the Road.
I've got two new offerings for you, Drinking Water Safety on the website and my One Hour Camino to Santiago de Compostela on the blog. I've also discovered a brilliant new travel accessory to protect your money, the Sholdit travel pouch - I've written an entire page about it and if you decide this product is for you, enter the code leylasentme to get a 10% discount until the end of the year (think Christmas presents!) So please have a wander over...
A great question by Deepa from Washington DC this month - she is thinking of traveling across Africa and asks if anyone has traveled from Cape Town to Cairo?
Lonely Planet's Top 10 Countries to Visit in 2013
How Not to Kill Your Travel Companions
8 Things Travelers Should Watch Out For in Bangkok
Extended Travel: Making it Happen
World's Eeriest Abandoned Places
No Degree, No Problem: 6 Best Countries To Teach English
How to Navigate a New City
Reverse Culture Shock: Politics
Restrictions Sinking Sea Gypsies
For food lovers...
...and lovers of other arts
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10 Breathtaking Glass Ceilings From Around the World
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The Emergence of Gothic Architecture
10 Amazing Works of Architecture to Visit
5 Fanatic Ways to See Vienna
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North Korea: Images from Desolation
Curacao Beyond the Beaches
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Life After War: Sarajevo Today
The Valparaiso No One Writes About
Nova Scotia: A Visit to the South Shore
20 Reasons to Visit Samoa
If You're Visual
The 2012 Pushkar Camel Fair
London's World of Culture
This is South Africa
Antarctica Travel Highlights
Instagram Photography from Northern Portugal
Top 10 in Tallinn
The World's Most Spellbinding Sights
It's a Bazaar Life
82 Iconic Landmarks to Visit Before You Die
A difficult question?
Last month, on the day a major global report on family planning was being launched, a quiet dentist of Indian origin was busy dying in Ireland. Savita Halappanavar died from septicaemia in an Irish hospital as she begged to abort a miscarried and unviable foetus. The hospital refused due to its religious beliefs. A foetal heartbeat was still detectable and so abortion was denied. By the time the heartbeat disappeared, it was too late for Savita.
A few months ago, in the Dominican Republic (which has strict anti-abortion laws) doctors initially refused to give a pregnant 16-year-old girl suffering from leukemia chemotherapy for fear it might harm the foetus. It took major ethical discussions at the highest level to finally agree she could have the cancer treatment. Permission came too late and she died.
These are two of the most recent cases in which the survival of a foetus is placed ahead of the mother's survival. There have been others. Countries with total abortion bans, even when the mother's life is in danger, include El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua. Many more countries have strict abortion laws which allow abortion only under extreme circumstances, for example if the mother's life is at immediate risk or if the pregnancy is the result of rape.
To read more about this issue:
Center for Reproductive Rights: Whose Right to Life?
Abortions Increase by 25% in Totally Pro-Life Arizona
Amnesty International Report
Spa travel, to chase away those winter blues.
© Leyla Giray. All rights reserved. Women on the Road News is published monthly. Reproduction of any material from this newsletter without written permission is prohibited.