Travel to Eat: My Favorite Food Moments of 2018

I write about food a lot on this site, but with good reason. I firmly believe that it’s the most important aspect of the travel experience, forming some of our strongest memories through taste and smell. It’s also the fastest way to learn about a new culture and what the people value. More than anything else though, it’s just a lot of fun. There’s nothing better than snacking your way through a foreign market, or tentatively ordering a meal, not quite sure what you’ve gotten yourself into. It can be adventurous, sometimes disastrous but almost always rewarding. Not all food experiences are made the same though and today I want to recognize those special travel moments that were more than just nice things to eat, they came to define entire cities, towns and even countries and created a lot of fun for me along the way.

Icelandic hot dogs

Food in Iceland runs that gamut from the bizarre to warm and homey. But if you want to feel like a real Icelander, don’t miss their famous hot dogs. The meat itself is the first thing that separates this comfort food. Made from free-range and impossibly well taken care of animals, the meat is a mix of lamb, pork and beef. But, it’s what you put on them that makes all the difference. The Icelandic way is to add raw white onions along with crispy fried onions, ketchup, sweet brown mustard and a slightly tangy remoulade. You’ll find these delicacies everywhere, but one of the most famous is in downtown Reykjavik, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur hot dog stand.

San Diego California

San Diego tacos

Located just 17 miles from the Mexican border, there has long been a near constant sharing of cultures, languages and food between San Diego and Mexico. Waves of immigration over the decades has created a food scene that has strong roots in traditional Mexican flavors and what may be at the heart of that experience, other than avocados, is the taco. When asked, San Diegans suddenly drop their laid back veneer when the topic of Mexican food comes up; everyone seems to have very strong opinions on the matter. Luckily, I seriously doubt many of them are wrong when it comes time to identify the best tacos in the city, the options are all fairly amazing. One though in particular stuck out in my mind and the experience of enjoying a robust lunch at the restaurant ¡SALUD! in Barrio Logan was one of the many culinary highlights of my trip. Housed in a heritage 1910 building, the restaurant is pure Southern California from the tattoo inspired murals to the pinstripe car hood on the wall. Barrio Logan has a long and colorful history making this delicious taco shop the perfect addition. With a traditional taco for any taste the highlights are the Birria, Al Pastor, Carnitas, Carne Asada and the Barrio, which is Carne guisado topped with frijol nopal & sour cream wrapped in a hand pressed flour tortilla. A true local took me here and honestly, it really is one of the best in the city and probably the country.

Street food in India

I was very nervous about eating in India, and with good reason. Without taking certain precautions it can be far too easy to become sick during a trip to the subcontinent. I was very careful though and while I did have some tummy issues towards the end of the trip, I was able to enjoy a couple of different food tours before that happened. I’ve visited a lot of chaotic neighborhoods around the world, but nothing quite compares to Old Delhi. Almost as if I had crossed an invisible border, the crowds, the smells, the sounds, everything was instantly magnified. Following my guide like a lost puppy, I was amazed how she effortlessly navigated the bazaar, clearly knowing her way through the jumble of backstreets. Before I knew it we were at our first of many stops that morning, my first time enjoying the sweet pastry known as jalebis. One of many culinary influences from the Mughals, it was still glistening with ghee as I bit into it, instantly falling in love with the treat. Although modern day Delhi is very much like any other world capital with food influences of a global variety, locals still descend on the crowded lanes of Old Delhi for authentic bites like the jalebis, as well as the many other dishes I tried that morning.

Comfort food of Route 66

I was excited to drive Route 66 for any number of reasons, but the great comfort food of America was one of the most important. Whether a snack, full meal or dessert, the country is famous for the many regional favorites found in only a few spots and I was excited to try as many of them as I could. That meant an Illinois “shoe” sandwich, incredible hamburgers in Oklahoma and amazing BBQ in New Mexico, but one state in particular may have been my favorite – Missouri. Finding great food was never a challenge on Route 66, but the meals and snacks I enjoyed in Missouri I think were my favorite. It started in St. Louis where I returned to my favorite ice cream place in the country, Ted Drewes, which is actually frozen custard and not ice cream. They’ve been an important fixture on Route 66 for decades and even have a special dessert devoted to it, which I of course had to try. Keeping with the dessert theme, I had made a special note to stop at a small café in Rolla famous for one thing – pie. I’m glad I did too, because the massive slice of pie at “A Slice of Pie” was probably the best I’ve ever had. They’re actually world-famous and every day sell a variety of different pies, all freshly made in the back kitchen. It wasn’t all desserts though, before leaving Springfield we skipped breakfast at our hotel in order to visit a local institution, Gailey’s Breakfast Café. Moving to its current location in the 1940s, Gailey’s has been a critical stop for Route 66 drivers since the day it opened. I’m thankful I only spent a couple of days in Missouri otherwise I know I would have gained a lot of weight eating my way around the state.

Dublin Food Tour

On my most recent trip to Ireland, I made sure to include an extra day so I could spend some time in one of my favorite cities – Dublin. Although I’ve visited the country a number of times in recent years, it had been a very long time since I stayed the night in Dublin and I was excited to revisit some favorite spots. I was also excited though to discover new-to-me parts of the city, including taking a unusual food tour through one of Dublin’s neighborhoods. Definitely not your typical tourist haunt, I soon came to appreciate the quiet neighborhood of Stoneybatter and learned to appreciate the entire city more than I thought possible, all thanks to an afternoon enjoying some of the best bites in the city.

Chicken Bog

I love great soul food, which is why I was so happy my first stop in Myrtle Beach was at the locally famous institution Big Mike’s Soul Food. Known for some of the best homemade food in the area, there were a lot of items on the menu that sounded great, but my eyes immediately went to something new to me – chicken bog. If I find a local dish that is foreign to me, I almost always try it and I’m so glad that I decided to order this mysterious Low-Country classic. Like most great comfort food, chicken bog is also incredibly simple. Thanks to centuries of rice production in the region, you’ll find it as the basis of many dishes, including bog. Made with a generous amount of wet rice, chicken, sausage and seasonings, it’s a hearty but delicious meal and – for me at least – was the perfect introduction to Myrtle Beach.

Macao

Macanese Egg Tart

The one thing I knew before first visiting Macao was that I had to try one of their famous egg tarts. While similar to the Pastel de Belem of Lisbon, they are not the same dessert at all and are a true Macanese original. Lord Stow’s Bakery opened in 1989, introducing the egg tart with a pale filling and caramelized top to locals and a new tradition was born. A creamy custard filling and flaky, hand-made crusts are truly what separate these pastries from others and from personal experience I can attest to just how delicious they are. What started in a small shop now very much defines the city, just make sure you try the original version when you visit.

Disney snacks

One of the best aspects of visiting Disneyland this year was the food, especially the snacks. Sure, if you eat every meal in Disney then the costs can easily skyrocket, but be sure to enjoy at least a few of the park’s many iconic menu items. Mickey shaped everything from pretzels to beignets are fun snacks, as are the park’s now famous churros and ice cream treats. One of the most popular snacks though in Disneyland has also attracted a cult following, the Dole Whip. It’s a simple enough concoction, a soft serve pineapple treat served in a cup. You can also get a Pineapple Float, but the purists go for the original. At Christmas their food offerings are even more robust, including churros in a variety of different flavors and special food stations set up in Disney California Adventure. Personally, I’d skip a sit down meal and instead just snack your way around the happiest place on earth.

Frankfurt Germany

Frankfurt green sauce

I usually shy from anything in this part of the color spectrum, but I knew I couldn’t visit Frankfurt without trying the city’s most popular savory dish. Made from seven different kinds of herbs, this culinary staple of the city first entered the scene in the 19th century and has been popular ever since. Normally served cold over hard-boiled eggs and boiled potatoes, I was shocked as soon as I took my first bite. Not only did I like the green sauce, I loved it and quickly finished my small portion. Tasting a lot like a flavored sour cream, it’s especially good when served with schnitzel, a combination I tried on my second visit to the locally famous restaurant Lorsbacher Thal.

Crystal Cruise Cheeseburger

Burger and milkshake onboard a luxury cruise

My last trip of the year was with Crystal Ocean Cruises, one of the best luxury cruise lines in the world. Honestly, I didn’t have a bad meal onboard from the specialty restaurants to their main dining options, but my favorite bite was much more basic. I’m sure the cruise line would prefer I highlight something else, but the Trident Grill adjacent to the pool area was my go-to spot. Open from lunch until early evening, it was also one of the most popular spots onboard the ship. Here guests can order hot dogs, chicken, steak sandwiches and, of course, hamburgers. I’m extremely picky when it comes to the ideal cheeseburger, but the ones onboard the Crystal Serenity were nearly perfect in every way. Even better, the ice cream stand is adjacent which meant I could easily order a chocolate milkshake to accompany my burger, which I may have done on more than one occasion.

Travel and food go hand in hand and for me, these were my favorite bites of the year. What were some of yours?

The post Travel to Eat: My Favorite Food Moments of 2018 appeared first on LandLopers.

My Favorite 2018 Travel Experiences

Agra Taj Mahal India

It’s that time of year again, when we all reflect on the previous 12 months and for me that means reflecting on the great travel experiences I was fortunate enough to enjoy. This list is more than just about far-flung locales, it’s about travel experiences that were special, many times unique and oftentimes just a whole lot of fun. Sure, we learn and grow as people when we travel, but the experience is also supposed to be fun and for me, these moments were amongst the best I enjoyed in 2018.

Iceland

Iceland

Iceland is one of my favorite places to visit and it’s a destination I never get tired of exploring. On my 2018 trip, I ventured deep into the north of the country in the middle of winter; a daunting experience, but also a fun one. The northern regions, particularly the Lake Mývatn area, are rich with natural wonders no matter the time of year, but in the winter months the landscapes are covered with sparkling snow and ice, very much turning it into a scene from Game of Thrones. That’s no surprise, since the show has filmed in the northern reaches of Iceland for years, the real life landscapes mimicking the fantasy world perfectly. Whether you drive yourself or take a tour with a local, there are plenty of natural sights to enjoy from waterfalls and lava fields to natural baths and mountain landscapes. Spending time in the northern tier of Iceland feels like standing on the edge of the world because, well, you are.

Taj Mahal Agra India

India

I had long wanted to visit India, but in all honesty I was nervous. I had heard so many mixed opinions on what it’s like to travel there that I wasn’t sure if it was for me or not. However, when luxury tour operator Abercrombie & Kent invited me to join one of their subcontinent adventures, I knew I couldn’t say no. The entire trip far exceeded my expectations but of course one of the highlights was visiting the Taj Mahal. Like many other visitors, I spent the night in Agra and enjoyed seeing this incredible building complex at two different times of day. For me though, my favorite time to be at the Taj Mahal was during the quiet morning hours. As it turns out, there’s a reason why my guide insisted on visiting at two very different times of day. The experiences could not have been more different from one another. While there was a short line, the crowd entering the Taj complex that early morning was nothing like the night before. With so few people there, it was an intimate and almost private experience. Don’t misunderstand, there was still a 5-minute wait to sit on the so-called “Diana bench,” and to grab that one famous selfie also required a wait. But overall, the crowds were negligible and as I waited for the perfect morning light, I walked right into the main mausoleum itself, skipping the hour-long wait that was there the night before. The tomb perhaps was the one aspect that was disappointing, a simple nod to a great love affair. But the complex isn’t about that one final resting place, it’s about a love so deep and profound that it inspired one of the most remarkable structures that the world has ever seen. And, for the most part, it looks just as perfect as it must have the day it was finished.

Route 66 Amboy California

Route 66

Another important bucket list experience for me in 2018 was driving the entirety of Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica, California. In partnership with Marriott International, I spent nearly two weeks driving the Mother Road and loved nearly every second of the trip. This epic drive was near the top of my bucket list for years, and the actual experience of tackling Route 66 was everything I had hoped it would be and more. From the Dust Bowl to the American Renaissance in the 1950s, this road has held a special place not only in the hearts of Americans, but of people around the world. It hearkens back to an era when anything seemed possible, when taking to the open road was an adventure and the fun truly was in the getting there. While Route 66 technically doesn’t exist anymore, it’s still possible of course to drive huge parts of it as you meander from Chicago to the pier in Santa Monica, California. Along the way are quirky roadside attractions, strange motels and national wonders that rank amongst the top in the world. Yes, I wanted to see and experience all of those things but I also wanted to reconnect with my own country, one I love dearly and of which I am fiercely proud. Just as people did in the 1950s and 60s, I wanted to experience a great American road trip and to discover aspects to the American experience that I never knew existed.

Ireland

Aran Islands, Ireland

Visiting Ireland is always a treat and I honestly have never had a bad experience wandering around the Emerald Isle. Some experiences though naturally rise to the top, and this year spending a couple of days exploring the Aran Islands was one of those special experiences. The Aran Islands are a group of three islands located in Galway Bay on the west coast of Ireland. Largely isolated throughout the centuries, their remote location has defined culture on the islands even up to today. There’s a reason why thousands of tourists visit Inishmore every week during the high season – it’s amazing. Due to its location and history, Inishmore remains a destination that honors its past in a way that is almost unique in Ireland. This is experienced through language and culture, but also the preserved thatched roof homes and ancient stone walled farms dotting the island. Although my time in the Aran Islands was all too brief, it was the highlight of my most recent trip to Ireland. I love visiting small, remote islands, to enjoy both unique cultures as well as gorgeous landscapes. Inishmore is one of the most impressive I’ve seen around the world and instead of satiating my curiosity, my first visit has only fueled a strong desire to return and explore even more.

Holland America Alaska

Alaska

Although I’ve visited most of the 50 states, Alaska had eluded me until this year when I joined a Holland America cruise touring the coastal highlights of the 49th state. Ultimately though, I wasn’t prepared for what the reality of sailing in the waters of Alaska is really like. It’s far from being a run of the mill cruise. No, in fact it reminded me much more of those expedition style experiences I’ve enjoyed in remote parts of the planet. The ports were great, but what really impressed me was the time spent sailing. Different from most other cruises, every second onboard the Westerdam featured incredible views and stunning scenery. Unlike the Caribbean or the Mediterranean where it’s common to lose sight of land for long spans of time, throughout the sailing adventure in Alaska, getting there was as incredible as the featured stops. Once we did arrive in port, we were met by even more opportunities to get out and explore the wild expanses of the state. Whether it was taking an old train through scenic mountain passes or soaring high above the trees on a floatplane adventure, the experiences shared the enormity and beauty of the state in stunning detail. While you can easily sail around Alaska on a larger ship with all of the amenities it affords, it very much feels like an expeditionary experience and that is all too rare.

Stuttgart Germany

Eating Around Germany

Like Ireland, Germany is another country I never get tired of exploring and that was especially true this year when I essentially ate my way around a huge swathe of the country. One of my favorite culinary experiences was in the great city of Stuttgart, a place I have come to know and love. We’ve all heard of Bavaria, that German state best known for oompah bands, lederhosen, beer and pretzels. But it’s just one of many states and distinct historical regions around the country, most of which aren’t widely known to non-Germans. There are many reasons for this odd discrepancy, which I won’t go into today, but there is one region I want to highlight and which has been important in my German travels over the years – Swabia. Located in southwestern Germany, Swabia is no longer a distinct political unit, but instead is a cultural region. Its roots go back for centuries and even though the area is now divided between two different states, the people who call it home absolutely identify first with being Swabian. Stuttgart is one of the best places to experience Swabia, but you can also find elements of the culture throughout southwestern Germany including Freiburg and even Augsburg. Language, culture and naturally food help form the basis of this identity. Traveling in Germany always means great food experiences, but in Swabia I think it’s a little extra special thanks to these dishes and snacks.

Xishuangbanna China

Exploring Rural China

Cathay Pacific is one of my favorite airlines and working with them again in 2018 I was able to experience new-to-me spots in Asia, including a region in China I had never before heard of. Globalization certainly has both its advantages as well as disadvantages. One of the cons in our shrinking world is that, sometimes, travel doesn’t feel like exploration. Don’t get me wrong, the trips I take are all nice, but many are too easy. I love the sense of adventure and discovery that I get from a true exploratory travel experience, and so far China has provided those opportunities in abundance. On my most recent trip this same spirit revealed itself again, especially in Xishuangbanna. My first night in town, I visited the local night market where attendance was light due to some scattered storms. It provided me the chance though to explore without being bothered, learning more about the region in the process. I looked down at the wriggling bugs and then back up again at my guide and then back down at the bugs. Roasted corn, meat skewers and diced pineapple were all fine, but the worms I just couldn’t do. Just as I couldn’t ever manage to eat them in Thailand, where the night markets mirror the one I found in Jinghong almost completely. Set up in front of a massive, and I later learned new, temple, that religious site put into visual terms what I had been thinking all day. The overall design was Burmese, but the accents were a strange mix of both Lao and Thai elements. It was as if someone picked up the pieces from the region’s temples and smashed them all together. That’s what all of the temples in and around the city were like, a beautiful cross-cultural comingling of traditions that is actually rare to see, especially among temples in China. That night was a simple one, but the effect on me was profound. I once again felt like an adventurer, like I was learning something and it encouraged me to get out there and experience as much of this remarkable part of China as possible.

Luxury Cruising

I like cruising and have been on a fair number of them over the years in nearly every corner of the world. Very recently though I enjoyed an experience that was new to me, a true luxury cruise with top-ranked line Crystal Ocean Cruises. While I have sailed on a few premium cruise lines, this was my first honest-to-goodness luxury experience and the trip was extraordinary in every way. Sailing from Puerto Vallarta to Los Angeles, we experienced the best of the Mexican Riviera – a part of the world completely new to me. Between exploring the vibrant destinations, I enjoyed unparalleled comfort and service onboard the newly refurbished Crystal Serenity. Enjoying a very spacious cabin, the accommodations were the best I’ve ever had at sea. Add in butler service, an all-inclusive experience and incredible attention to detail and you have a cruise experience that is totally unique. Now that I’ve experienced a true luxury cruise I understand the appeal and the difference between that and a more run of the mill cruise couldn’t be more extreme. Crystal creates trips that are memorable for all the right reasons and I can’t wait to sail with them again.

Disneyland California

Disneyland

If you’ve been reading the site for a while then you already know that this year I became quite suddenly obsessed with Disney. I had my first Disney experience a few months ago at Disneyland and loved it so much I returned during the Christmas season. So much more than a simple theme park, Disney has come to mean a lot to me and it’s a phenomenon I’ve been thinking a lot about recently. Life as an adult in the 21st century is hard. Mortgages, jobs, responsibilities and our electronic-tethers otherwise known as phones all conspire to make even our vacations more stressful than they should be. When I travel, I can’t escape anything, but in Disneyland that all changed. For a brief few days, I was able to forget almost everything challenging in life and instead just have fun. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have the real Disney experience as a kid, but I threw myself into the moment and was richly rewarded as a result. I’ve never had that much pure and innocent fun in my life. The honest and wholesome enjoyment that is Disneyland isn’t kitsch or corny; it’s fun at a base level. I’ve been to every corner of the planet and while I enjoy most trips, that level of fun is unheard of. It goes well beyond the attractions though, it’s about a feeling. For those two days I was able to be a kid again. I was able to have fun and to amuse myself without concern or fear. I think that’s what drives so many adults to visit in the first place, and most if not all are well rewarded as a result.

I’m very thankful for all of my 2018 travel experiences and can’t wait to see what 2019 has in store for me! Where do you plan to travel in the New Year?

The post My Favorite 2018 Travel Experiences appeared first on LandLopers.