My Favorite Culinary Travels

I have been lucky enough to travel quite a bit. Growing up, my parents drove an ancient Aerostar van (roll up windows, oh yeah) and we had a cement floor in the living room because the carpet flooded and we never got it re-floored. That’s because all the money was ALWAYS spent on traveling. Sure, we went to some museums and saw a few sights. But the main thing we did was eat. We ate at fancy restaurants, at cheap holes in the walls, at storied places and at supermarkets. You already know how much I love Paris and Singapore, but here are a few other of my favorite international destinations.

Tokyo

I could live here. The culture is intoxicating – it is the exact opposite of American culture. There are whole brigades of workers who clean up the subway at every stop, the department store employees line up to greet you as the store first opens, and you aren’t supposed to walk with a beverage, even from Starbucks. It’s like visiting another planet, especially if you are a tall, fair redhead who suddenly has what is considered to be an ample bosom.

I love feeling so foreign, and that doesn’t even include the food. You just haven’t had ramen till you have had it at a tiny store where you order at a vending machine and are served by a somber man at a counter. The broth is universally rich and full-bodied, the noodles are bouncy, and the eggs are perfectly soft boiled, with delightfully runny yolks. You haven’t eaten yakitori till you have eaten it under the train tracks near the Shibuya train station, perched on overturned barrels, laughing with the businessman next to you as he tries to explain what it is that you are eating. The char is deep and smoky, the meat is at turns soft, springy, tender, and minerally, and when he offers you some beer, you must accept. You certainly haven’t had Japanese pizza until you have gone to Harajuku, sat in a pizza parlor that looks like My Little Pony mated with Little Red Riding Hood and an S and M shop. That pizza will be topped with corn kernels, octopus, Cheez Whiz, mark my word. We haven’t even touched on eating sushi for breakfast at the Tsukiji Fish Market! The food here is wonderful and weird, and Tokyo is a total trip.

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Vienna

Can you say “sausage capital of the universe” Because this place is. During Christmastime, which is when I have visited, there are people in period costumes playing Mozart in the streets. There are classical music concerts in palaces and Christmas fairs every day for weeks. These fairs sell homemade mittens and artisanal candles but also incredible food. Sour, crisp pickles. Snappy and spicy pork sausages. Hearty, doughy pretzels, bitter and sweet with yeast. Go to Figelmuller for a weinerschitsel that my drapes over both sides of the plate and is so crisp and light that my sister describes it as “eating a cloud.” Go to Demel, where you order a coffee and choose from one of the seemingly hundreds of cakes on the menu, then cover everything with whipped cream and sit for hours, reading and watching the crowd outside hustle and bustle with shopping bags. And, by all means, order potatoes. Fried, baked, mashed, and dumplings – you can’t really have enough potatoes here. And with the magical feeling, you can’t really have enough Vienna.

Tel Aviv

Whoever told me that kosher food wasn’t good was a liar. A big liar who clearly ate at all the Passover dinners that I had to eat at my whole life. Kosher food isn’t only good, in Israel, it is amazing. I can’t recall any of the restaurants I frequented in Tel Aviv because it wasn’t supposed to be a culinary trip. But, oh, it became one. Piles of falafel, crisp and soft at the same time,  served in fluffy pita with tangy pickles and hot mango sauce called Amba. Garlicky hummus and velvety roasted eggplant.  Bricks of halva, so nutty and sweet that it tasted more like Butterfinger candy than anything else. Creamy cottage cheese, thick enough to eat with a fork and fatty enough to counteract the freshest tomatoes and sweetest lettuce imaginable. Go get a McSchwarma from McDonald’s – it might not be great, but it is incredibly fun. The old market in Haifa is a riot of fruits and vegetables, fish and meat. The atmosphere of Santa Monica with the history of the ages and food the likes of which I never knew existed.

Where are some of your favorite culinary destinations?