I often say that food is the most important part of the travel experience and, well, it is. The smells, tastes and even sounds from what we consume while traveling form some of our strongest and happiest memories. But there are some foods, single bites really, that go above and beyond and become our very favorite travel food moments. While it was hard to do, I decided to share my top five foodie moments (NOT in order of preference), keeping in mind that this list is always changing.
1. Butter Chicken, Garlic Naan and a Mango Lassi (Anywhere) – When my partner and I travel at some point we usually end up at an Indian restaurant. For whatever reason, they seem to be in every city in the world and usually the quality of the food is pretty good. It’s also a good way to break up the monotony of whatever national or regional cuisine we’ve been enjoying. I’m a creature of habit though and tend to get the same dish no matter where I am, butter chicken with fresh bread and a mango lassi, a yogurt based drink I love. The unique combination of light spice, garlic and fruit is for me culinary perfection. It’s one of those taste sensations that leaves a tactile memory and leaves you wanting for more.
2. Chicken Tagine with Fries (Marrakech) – I had mixed feelings about traveling in Morocco. Overall it was a positive experience, but an intense one. The people, the noise and the chaos of Marrakech got to me at times and one way I escaped the madness was by enjoying a calm and simple meal at my favorite restaurant, the Cafe de France. Located adjacent to the massive square known as the Djemaa el Fna, at first glance the restaurant looks a little touristy, and it may be. However the food prepared there is also delicious and the staff provided the best service I enjoyed in the city. I tried several dishes at the cafe, but my favorite was a classic chicken tagine with fries. This unique triangular cooking vessel is like a North African crock pot and the resulting chicken and spice mixture is tender and intensely flavorful. I loved the technique so much I bought a tagine to use at home, but of course it’s never exactly the same.
3. Peking Duck (Taiwan) – This is a brand new addition, as in I ate it last week, but almost immediately this meal captured my foodie heart. The first time I had Peking duck was at a restaurant in Melbourne’s Chinatown. And it was awful. It was so bad that I never, ever wanted to try the so-called delicacy again. So it was with extreme hesitation that I accepted an invitation to dine at one of the most famous Peking duck restaurants in Taipei. I didn’t want to be rude, but I didn’t want another horrible dinner either. As it turns out, what they did to me in Melbourne in no way resembles true Peking duck. Once ordered, the duck is prepared in all of its glazed yumminess and presented to diners before carved. The food is served in stages though, to heighten our anticipation even more. The duck is served with small crepes onto which you place crispy skin, some duck meat, hoisin sauce and a small green onion if you prefer. I was hooked at my first bite. The unique combination of flavors amazed and even shocked me, and I tried to eat as much of it as possible while maintaining at least a shred of dignity. After my first experience I couldn’t stop thinking about it, my obsession so intense I ate there a second time before leaving Taipei. I’m not sure if I’ll ever enjoy Peking duck that good again, but if I don’t at least I can die having had the best.
4. Potato Croquettes and Bacon Rollups (Saskatoon) – I think that breakfast may be my favorite meal. The options for a great breakfast are diverse and done properly, are a delicious combination of flavors. Breakfast is so great that many even enjoy it for other meals, a phenomenon one doesn’t often see in reverse. (I’ve never had pasta and sauce for breakfast) Saskatoon surprised me with its diversity of food offerings, but the best experience was at the unusual breakfast-only cafe, Poached. The restaurant was light and modern, I couldn’t believe that in the evenings it’s actually a saloon. I expected a normal breakfast, but when I opened the menu I saw immediately that Poached doesn’t do normal. The bites in question, potato croquettes served with goat cheese and pecan and maple syrup bacon roll ups weren’t just my personal favorites, the entire table sampled and immediately wanted more of these extraordinary taste sensations. They were delicious but not greasy, and the combination of flavors may have sounded a little unusual, but were the work of a true master. It’s funny, I posted a photo of these bites of heaven on Instagram where the world immediately professed their own virtual love of these delights but my favorite comment was: “That kind of makes me want to weep with happiness, that there’s something so wonderful in the world.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
5. Goat Cheese Macaron (Toronto) – I was at a reception at the magnificent Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto, Canada when I got sight of a new plate of hors d’ oeuvres with something I thought familiar, macarons. I love these delicate French desserts, but was surprised to learn that the chef at the Four Seasons had not produced a sweet macaron for us, but a savory one. Uncertain what to expect as I took my first bite of the goat cheese macaron, I knew right away the creation was a stroke of genius. I may have even hoarded a plate or two of them throughout the evening. Ok, I did. While macaron may be a food fad at the moment, my love of them will never go away and I hope more chefs follow this example and develop more intensely creative ways of using them.