I have very few Christmas food memories. So … this vlogmas post is going to be all over the place. Normally, at Christmas, I’m walking around a grocery store, or getting takeout, because I forgot the holiday was happening. Most of my food memories are from my travels. Sometimes, I have no idea what I’m even eating. In 2009, I attended the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora (ASWAD) conference, in Accra. There was a lunch included, with one of the excursions, and everyone was served the same meal. Jet lagged, I just needed a Coke.
I’m no Anthony Bourdain. Being a food tourist really isn’t my thing. Don’t get me wrong. If I’m in London, I’m all about a proper English breakfast or pie and mash. Bring on the eels. Personally, I just like to ease on down the culinary travel road and a nice hotel breakfast buffet is a great place to start. If there’s an Asian breakfast option, watch the smile on my face grow. At the Westin Cape Town, I booked the executive room option, with spa access. Executive guest also received complimentary breakfast, plus afternoon drinks and hors-d’oeuvres, from the 19th floor restaurant.
There have been a few times when the location was more important than the meal. On my way home from Peace Corps Armenia, I stopped in Reykjavík and booked myself into the Silica Hotel. For dinner, I made a reservation, for one, at Lava. As a hotel guest, I had free shuttle service to and from the restaurant. Being able to view the lagoon and the volcanic architecture while having an amazing meal was the perfect way to go from being a volunteer to being just a tourist. Although I jokingly said that I went to the Blue Lagoon to take my post Peace Corps bath, there was something special about being there, alone, reflecting about where I had just been and where I was about to go.
The one time I remember being really picky about food was the first meal at my site, in Ethiopia. I traveled there with my teaching counterpart, after a meet and greet conference in Addis Ababa. The idea was to have host country partners help Peace Corps volunteers travel to site, using local transportation. At the Hub Town, our counterparts could also help us shop for necessary items and save us from being over charged for beds, blankets, cooking items, etc., along with helping us get all those items to our permanent sites. When it came to shopping for food, my one request was a salad. After twelve weeks of living with a host family, during pre service training, I simply wanted a salad for my first solo meal.
I lived such a double life, with food, in Armenia. I stayed with my host family for the entire two years. Each weekend, I would travel the short ten miles to Yerevan. The Armenian capital is a foodie paradise. You can get your Anthony Bourdain fix and visit Dolmama for traditional Armenian dolma. You can get Indian food, Thai, American burgers, pizza, and some really amazing local cuisine. Plus, there are coffee and tea cafes. I could go from a simple meal with soup, bread and cheese, at my home in Masis, to a bowl of red Thai curry with spring roll appetizers, the same day. I can’t wait to return to Armenia for both.
One of my most surprising food memories was on Via Rail, traveling from Vancouver to Toronto. I booked a sleeping berth and figured it would be tea, sandwiches, and snacks, across Canada. I was wrong. The train offered gourmet Canadian cuisine made fresh by on-board chefs. I couldn’t wait for my call to breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Like everyone else on the train, I was prepared to be dazzled by the scenery outside. The level of pampering aboard was a big surprise. I’m planning another train trip across Canada, in the near future.
Another food surprise happened in Asia. In 2006, I booked a 50th Birthday trip to Hong Kong, Beijing, and Thailand. Because I was traveling solo, I booked all executive level hotel rooms. Having breakfast and an evening snack (which was always enough for a full meal) was the perfect way to travel. On that trip, I realized my love for a good Asian breakfast. Each day, I totally ignored the western food items. A few years ago, I was in Colombo. I’ll just drop that third Bourdain reference right here. I wasn’t in Sri Lanka on a Bourdain foodie pilgrimage, June of 2018. His death happened while I was there. So, I went to the Galle Face Hotel and had a drink. I stayed down the road at the Wonder Hotel. The breakfast there was amazing. Tony would have liked it.
The Yard House is an American sports bar chain, with 80+ locations across the United States. Founded in 1996, in Long Beach, California, the restaurant is famous for having more than 100 taps of domestic, local, and import beer. I don’t like beer and I certainly wouldn’t ever drink a yard of beer. I moved to California in 1996. The Yard House became my favorite spot, because of their Ahi Crunchy Salad. It’s all I ever order to eat. Last May, I went to Las Vegas right before it reopened. There’s a Yard House at the LINQ Promenade. Guess what I ordered?
Probably my favorite travel meal was at the Mount Kilimanjaro View Lodge, in Tanzania. I went with a friend who needed one last chapter for her next book. The plan was to tag along while she did the short three hour hike to the Big Tree base camp. I’d take her picture and we’d return to our hotel. After my long flight, Yerevan to Dubai to Nairobi to some tiny airport in Tanzania, and the two or three hour wait for the hotel pick up service, the dining area was closed, when we arrived at the hotel. We divided up our leftover airplane snacks and went to bed.
The next morning, we went up the hill to breakfast. We had an omelet, toast, and tea. We never made it to base camp. The clouds cleared. We saw Kilimanjaro. From the beauty of it all, we were fed. —GGT