A Love Letter to Travel Food

Mulled Wine Booth at the Christmas Markets in Munich, Germany

They say travel is food for the soul, but what about the food that you discover while traveling? You know, that meal that stays with you long after the trip is over. The tantalizing pictures collected on your phone of those incredible bites while touring. I know about those; I have several foodie photos on my phone. When I want to go back to a particular trip, I review the shots, and I am there. I was in Munich a few “days” ago reviewing the mouth-watering snaps of my family and I nibbling our way through the stalls at the Christmas market, tasting some of the incredible specialties from gingerbread to sausages.

My work as a writer requires me to eat out a lot. Those restaurant experiences are woven into articles. I write about where to dine and where to explore and stay in a particular location. I recommend spots travelers should visit to enjoy a fantastic meal. Whenever I travel, I make sure to dive into the street foods or seek out local haunts that really showcase the flavor of a place. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been possible lately. When the pandemic shut down borders and businesses, I became paralyzed watching our world go through the unthinkable.

The Lambertville House Review from The Yums

I needed to find a way to change my mindset. With all the restaurants closed, I returned to my love of creating food at home. I scoured websites looking for recipes and made a list of ingredients to whip up favorites from my travels. Cooking and baking became a way for me to manage my anxiety and lose myself in a favorite hobby. I focused on making everything from scratch. With the quarantine, I had plenty of time to attempt more complicated, multi-step recipes.

Blues City Cafe, Memphis, TN

I was scrolling through photos this week and stopped to look at a few from October on my trip to Memphis, Tennessee. I traveled for a food and wine festival, and I remembered the tasty barbeque ribs seasoned perfectly with a dry rub from Blues City Café. After learning that May is National BBQ month, I decided to make my own. I checked the freezer and discovered I had boneless ribs. After a quick recipe search, the pork was prepped to be roasted and later covered with a spicy homemade barbeque sauce. Thank goodness for those grocery runs because I had a stocked pantry with all the ingredients.

Spicy homemade barbecue sauce
My own version of Pad Thai

I had initially planned to make Pad Thai. I ate the delicious dish at Jay’s on Third last summer, and I wanted to try to copy it. Jay’s, an Asian Fusion restaurant in Stone Harbor, New Jersey, serves an authentic version. Chef Jason Hippen recreates his mother’s recipe for the famous street food. The flavors are incredible; a squeeze of bright lime juice over tender rice noodles, mixed with a salty-sweet sauce and perfectly prepared shrimp. It’s an homage to Thailand from his kitchen. If I can’t travel there, at least I can visit through his food. I couldn’t choose between the ribs or Pad Thai, so I made them both.

Two loaves of homemade sourdough bread

Later this week, I began dreaming up a new challenge. I am more of a cook than a baker, but I decided to jump on the sourdough bandwagon and attempt bread. Amongst the pandemic preparation, I bought a coveted bag of flour and scored some yeast. After reviewing a bunch of recipes, I found an easy “starter” and began the journey. I found a bread recipe that received five stars, so I figured that it was the one to try. The method had 25 different steps (talk about time-consuming). At one point, you have to work the dough every 30 minutes for two and a half hours. Between the resting and the prepping, I was at it all day. But when my loaves emerged from the oven, they were gorgeous. Once cooled, the flavor brought me back to San Francisco, where I tasted an incredible sourdough at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market at the Embarcadero.

I am a foodie to the core. I miss travel so much; I am willing to make anything that will bring me back to my favorite meals from my travels. As I write this, I think it might be time to use the rest of my flour for fresh pasta. I can’t forget that unforgettable plate I tried in Tuscany.

Social Distance and Silver Linings

I looked back at my calendar the other day and realized I had hit my sixth week of social distancing since the Corona Virus changed our daily lives. During this time, I have experienced every emotion from worry, to hope, about the state of our entire world.

There are days when I just want to wake up from this collective nightmare and go out without thinking about the danger and continually washing everything down with Clorox wipes. I miss the simple things, like visits with friends for coffee, trying a new restaurant, or heading out to a movie. At times I hit a low, and then I remember to count my blessings.

My family members are safe in various cities, both near and far. I am quarantining with my husband, who is employed and working from home. And, while I am not technically able to work like I used to, my days are filled with opportunities and silver linings. With an abundance of time, I have found ways to sharpen my skills or just stay in sweatpants and binge an entertaining show on TV. With a lot of time, I can decide how to spend it.

Cooking on Instagram Live With Christina Tosi

I love movies. Thanks to Focus Features, I streamed the first-run production of Emma at home. In a unique offering, a recipe was posted on Instagram for a Victorian Sponge. I always loved baking, but it isn’t something I do often. I found it therapeutic to challenge myself, and the results were delicious. It gave me the courage to follow celebrity Pastry Chef Christina Tosi on Instagram and join her baking club. She shows up every day at 2:00 pm to teach anyone who shows up. I look forward to baking with her as often as I can.

I take daily long walks with my dog, and one day, I was treated to the first beginnings of spring as the colors exploded in my neighborhood. It’s impressive when you can look around and take in the beauty of your surroundings. I breathed deeply and paused to experience the splendor.

I have the time and the energy it takes to cook again. I prepare dinner every night and have rediscovered my passion for cooking with and without recipes. It feels nourishing to eat healthy meals and enjoy them with my husband. We set the table, open wine, and savor the experience of being together at the end of the day.

I tried to level – up and learn new skills. I found webinars and Zoom calls to learn about the travel industry so that when this ends, I will have a bank of knowledge to work from. I also connected with friends and family via those apps and felt a sense of connection in having the face to face sessions. It helped to lessen the loneliness.

Instagram Training With Carla Biesinger

I found free opportunities to tour museums, places around the world and even ride the FROZEN ride at Epcot virtually. I am a travel addict, and with the help of these opportunities, I was allowed to travel again.

No one knows what the world will look like in a few months, but I am thankful for the silver linings. I am eternally grateful for the healthcare workers (including my friends) on the front line. I am also thankful for the selfless people who soldier on while the rest of us wait for the pandemic to end. I pray for those who lost loved ones and who are suffering from illness or loneliness, and I am keeping the faith that we will see this end soon. Stay safe and healthy and stay home.

A Celebration Amidst Social Distancing

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I love the energy and excitement of crowds and the camaraderie that we experience when America shares a celebration. Being an Italian American, I never thought it was weird when my mom made corned beef and cabbage every March 17th or thought I didn’t belong when a group of my friends skipped school on St. Patrick’s Day when we were in high school. We walked across the George Washington Bridge senior year and hopped on the downtown subway to watch the famous New York City parade make its way down 5th Avenue. I marveled at the pageantry and the bagpipers. I completely subscribe to the saying, that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.

When March approaches, I start to get excited about the prospect of spring but also about St. Patrick’s Day events. Thanks to several friends of Irish heritage, I fell in love with the traditions. I enjoy the music and the rhythm of step dancing. I adore a meal of corned beef, potatoes, and cabbage, and I cherish raising glasses of cheer with my friends, clinking glasses and saying, Slainte!

On March 17th, I always wear a traditional Aran Island knit sweater that a friend gave me years ago from her vacation in Ireland. My husband and I plan a trip there this August to experience the kind people and the beauty of the Emerald Isle.  And, to fulfill our bucket list items of hitting the links and seeing the Cliffs of Moher.

Unfortunately, this year, a virus took the world by storm.  We were asked to observe social distancing. Parades around the United States were canceled, and Americans were asked to gather in groups of no more than ten. Bars and restaurants closed for the time being while we all try to stop the spread of the insidious Corona Virus plaguing the world. Travel to and from the United States has halted and advisories went out to have at least two-weeks of provisions at home.

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My friend Mela and I were commiserating on the phone about the state of things when she shared with me that her family of six would all be under the same roof on March 18th. She would make sure that “Lucky” would arrive a day late. You see, “Lucky”  appears magically on the morning of St. Patrick’s Day to turn everything in her home green. For breakfast, the milk and OJ are green, and most of the food items are green. Of course, they serve green Lucky Charms too. “Lucky” turns the water in the toilet bowls green and hides a pot of gold somewhere in the house filled with chocolate coins and occasionally gold dollars. Sometimes he leaves trinkets too, like a shamrock charm for a bracelet or shamrock socks. It all depends on what he can bring each year.

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Of all the St. Patrick’s Day traditions, I love this one most of all. Mela goes all out, and her girls (the youngest a junior in high school) have grown up with “Lucky” their whole lives. “Lucky” is akin to Santa, as everyone believes he is real (wink wink), but if you don’t believe, you don’t receive. As a family of six, Mela waited until they were all under one roof, and then he magically appeared to spread joy for St. Patrick’s Day, one day late.

In this tense time, while people are scared and life as we know it grinds to a halt, I am thrilled that “Lucky” visited the Montgomery family to bring on the green this year. Two daughters saw their semesters and their sports seasons cut short, another, a freshman, had just joined a sorority, was making friends, and had to leave her new school abruptly. The youngest, a junior in high school, had her prom, and her SAT canceled.

You don’t have to travel anywhere to experience culture. You can enjoy it at home with the people you love and the traditions you hold dear.  Who knows, maybe “Lucky” will grant me a wish to see my country heal from this scourge and open up world – travel soon so we can see his beautiful land in person.

 

 

Hungry in Budapest? Sample the Street Food

One of the best parts of discovering a new country is trying the cuisine. As much as I like to plan out my days to see all the most significant tourist spots in each city, I also love to discover a place from the lens of their local street foods.

I recently returned from Budapest, Hungary and while I made sure to try traditional favorites such as Hungarian Goulash and Chicken Paprikash, I also ventured to the street to get a taste of some of the popular fare. The best part? These stalls don’t require reservations.

Karavan Food Truck Garden

While touring the Jewish Quarter, I came across a food truck garden named KARAVAN. Luckily, I happened to stroll by right around lunchtime, and I decided to check out a fried bread, cheese-topped, dish called Langos. Langos starts with a dough (flour, yeast, salt, and water). After the dough rises, the mixture is shaped into balls. When you place an order, the balls are flattened into a disk and then fried in sunflower oil. Once the bread is golden brown, it is slathered with garlic butter, topped with sour cream and a decent amount of a mild grated cheese. I was amazed at how good this simple grub tasted. It is really filling and is big enough to share with friends, especially if you want to save room for more street food. It is prevalent all over the city, and while it is consistent in preparation, every vendor puts their own twist on it. At this food truck, you could get a burger between two pieces of Langos. No matter how you choose to eat it, it is something you have to try.

Langos Food TruckThis food truck will also make a burger out of two enormous disks, but I decided to try the original and save room for a sandwich from an innovative street food place called Bors.

BorsBors Gastro Bar is all about the pressed panini served on hollowed out baguette. The choices change weekly and each version offers a unique twist on the usual sandwich. The line can stretch down the block at this tiny, quirky, establishment. There are no tables, but there is a flatbed truck where patrons sit just beyond the door on the sidewalk. If you can grab a seat, you can relax and dig into your selection. They specialize in International, European street food and innovative soups. At Bors, you can also find vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options.  I shared a green curry chicken sandwich that was slightly spicy, warm and toasty. It was delicious. If you find yourself in the Jewish Quarter, head to Kazinczy street and get one of their signature creations.

If you are ready for something sweet, you have to try a Sekler Cake aka chimney cake. A traditional wedding pastry that hails from Romania, it is popular around Central Europe. There are stalls all around Budapest so you won’t have too much trouble finding a spot to get some of this warm, cone-like cake that is rolled over hot coals until it turns golden brown. Once the cake comes off the grill, it is sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. After it cools, you can choose how to fill it. Typical fillings include ice-creams, sauces, and toppings to put inside the cake. The dough is slightly sweet and remains chewy even though it is roasted over coals. It is similar to an ice-cream cone, but the cone is soft. Once you scoop out all the delicious filling, you tear pieces of the cake apart and eat that too. Absolute heaven.

Whenever I travel, I always check out the food scene to get the full picture of the culture and the traditions of each place. I find it so interesting to discover what the locals like to eat and I have had memorable food experiences every place I have visited. If you get to Budapest or if you have been there, drop a comment and let me know some of your favorite Hungarian dishes.

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