Eat the world – Food & Travel – BootsnAll 2012 Indie Travel Challenge

27 lovely roasting lambs at the 2010 Saturna Island Canada Day Lamb BBQ
27 lovely roasting lambs at the 2010 Saturna Island Canada Day Lamb BBQ

Prompt #23: How Has Food Connected You To a Destination During Your Travels?

Food has a way to connect us to the places we visit. You may remember only a hint of smell which takes you back exactly to that hidden alley where you tasted something special. Even if the result was sometimes a belly ache. How has food connected you to a destination during your travels? Tell us your story. What was the weirdest food you tried? What was the tastiest you tried?

Eat the world

A few years back, my wife, some friends and I planned a trip in Central Oregon. The only activities we planned was who was cooking when. Everything else we left to whim, weather and mood—but we damn sure knew what we were eating.

That tells you a lot about how food and travel interweave for me.

Food, and experiences around food, remain among my most memorable moments for every trip I’ve taken. Here are just a few…

Bend, Oregon, 1998

I’m 20 years old, and have traveled the farthest I’ve ever gone in my life so far. Born and raised in Virginia, on the east coast of the U.S., I’ve flown to the opposite corner of the country to visit my best friend over Oregon’s fabled immaculate Pacific Northwest summer.

One day, we go to a neighborhood potluck and cookout. I think of the South, where the cookouts I’ve known have been burgers and chips, which I can eat, surrounded by gloppy baked beans, potato salads and coleslaws, which I can’t stand. At the Bend cookout, tables stand proud with burgers, steaks, salmon burgers, salmon fillets, enchiladas, 5 kinds of salad, fresh fruit, and more food and variety of food than my overwhelmed memory can contain.

It’s at this moment that I realize I want to move here.

Edinburgh, Scotland, 1999

There are some things it’s best to do when you are young. Or, more specifically, when your heart is young. That’s why, in a chip shop on the Royal Mile, I had my first deep-fried Mars Bar. The warm, gooey chocolate still sweetens my memory, and the heated nougat waits softly beneath the crunch of the batter. It was amazing, and it was, truly, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Stirling, Scotland, 2000

A poet honors Robert Burns and brings out a haggis, the fabled and infamous Scottish dish of sheep bits boiled in a sheep’s stomach. My Scottish then-girlfriend won’t eat it, but I like it immediately. In fact, I like it so much that, years later in Oregon, I’ve now made haggis myself. Twice.

Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2003

Over two days, some other travelers and I learn to make and enjoy Thai food from scratch. From learning the ins and outs of a market to pounding our own curry paste, I wind up wrists-deep in chiles and garlic. And more garlic. Over one day alone I’m pretty sure I ate at least 20 cloves of raw garlic. Mosquitoes burst into flame from over two feet away. To this day I suspect that my DNA has been altered and that I am now in fact part garlic.

Kunming, China, 2004

BootsnAll’s Pho 101 piece reminded me of a similar dish: the across-the-bridge noodles of Kunming, China. I sought out the famous dish at a local noodle house. Seated family style with people whose English was about as good as my Chinese, we instead used food to communicate. On a spinning disc in the center of the table, ingredients beckoned: chiles, vegetables, seasonings. As blazing bowls of broth were brought to us, the folks at my table guided me on what to add to make the perfect bowl. We laughed, we tasted, we enjoyed, and it was one of the best lunches and fondest moments of my travels.

Kathmandu, Nepal, 2004

Of course, it isn’t all fond memories and camaraderie. I don’t know what I ate or where I ate it, but some microbe in Kathmandu found me, grabbed me by the intestines and didn’t let go for days. In between running to the toilet and reading up on the fine points separating mere food poisoning from amoebic dysentery, I at least got some R&R in the room. And read Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons, though I don’t know if they helped or hindered my recovery.

Saturna Island, British Columbia, Canada, 2010

My wife and I got to be honorary Canadians for a day at Saturna Island’s Canada Day Lamb BBQ. 27 crucified lambs roasted on a huge open bonfire, a sight both appetizing and slightly Mad Maxly barbarian. (“It’s the frying of the Christians!” someone said to me in passing.) My wife and I waved flags, we tattooed our faces with maple leaves, and we ate succulent, tender, immaculate lamb with nearly a thousand other celebrating people.

Oregon, 2000-present

And then there’s home, which will always be both where I live and a place I travel and am always discovering. From backyard cookouts and potlucks, to meals at amazing local restaurants and our own not-too-shabby efforts in the kitchen, Oregon’s edible bounty remains one of the things I love most about my adopted home.

As I write this, we’re a few hours away from taking our 6-month-old son on his first camping trip. It’s been a couple years since we camped, so we’re trying to make things easy on ourselves as we ease back in to one of our favorite ways to get a few days away. Nonetheless, food is our primary concern. The meals will be simple yet wholesome, and we’ll pack enough coffee and cocoa to last weeks, though we’ll only be gone a couple of days. Tonight we’ll dine under the lingering sun, and we’ll clink a glass under the stars.

Well, the baby won’t be clinking a glass yet—but he’ll be there. Outside. Traveling. Learning that the world always has something new to discover, something new to experience, and that food and travel are as inseparable as a good traveler from their backpack.

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