By Wendy Knecht
As I pack my travel bag, my mind recollects all the good times that have included plenty of fine dining and tasting of new cuisines for the very first time. In my many years of traveling, both as a flight attendant and a passenger, I have found that eating my way around the world is not only a learning experience but also one of the major highlights of traveling.
Nothing beats eating foods where they originate and learning about the specialties of any locale. Food is an integral part of the local heritage, and experiencing the regional foods and drinks has enriched my travel experience immensely, and I’m certain it will yours.
People are proud of their culture, and food is culture, so trying the local fare is mandatory. I really can’t think of any place on earth that I have been where people aren’t proud of their local food heritage. Cincinnatian’s pride themselves on their Chili; 3-way, 4-way or 5-way… and I have even had it 7-ways! A trip to Texas without eating barbecue? Unthinkable! Kobe beef in Japan, New Zealand mussels, Hungarian goulash, the list goes on.
Sharing a meal is what makes life pleasurable. What could be more fun than sharing a Caprese salad in Capri or paella in Spain? You might discover your favorite food along the way. I discovered Pavlova working my way to Sydney as a Pan Am flight attendant, where it was our premier First Class dessert. Pavlova is a creamy, marshmallowy, crunchy-crusted, fruit-laden delight—and I still dream about and crave it to this day.
You may be surprised at how we’ve made our own version of certain dishes. Our take can be a lot different than the way it was originally intended. You may be happy or disappointed to discover that pizza and pasta in Italy are not sauce-laden like their American counterparts. Though I must say that I have never eaten anything in Italy that was a disappointment.
In all honesty, new foodie experiences may not end up to be entirely pleasant, but they are always an adventure. I have had some scary dining experiences, such as choking on a fish bone at an upscale karaoke bar in Seoul, eating grease-laden potato pancakes at a long-lost relative’s home in Prague, and trying to consume an entirely unidentifiable plate of “something” in Bhutan (they swore it was vegetarian).
Speaking of “vegetarian”; when the thought of blood sausage makes your stomach turn, this can be the best tack to take. If you’re truly adamant about not trying something new, professing strict vegetarianism can get you out of some hot water. I once had to employ this in the hinterlands of Vietnam. Adventure is one thing, but I just couldn’t bear the thought of what could be in that mystery meat. You might want to be a little careful in food stalls in places like India or China, but others can be a delicious delight. Check out any French fry or waffle stall in Belgium and you’ll soon be going back for more.
Don’t forget the local drinks. You must have the original Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista Café at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco and the original Singapore Sling at the Raffle’s Hotel bar in Singapore. These places might be touristy, but they are institutions and you’ve got to go. Brazil’s national cocktail is the Caipirinha, and you wouldn’t want to miss drinking one there.
As an international flight attendant, I would sometimes pick my flights for the onboard food, which Pan Am always matched with the country traveled to. The best gravlax ever was on the Oslo flight and the creamiest, best cheeses were served in First Class from Paris. To this day, I can’t resist cambozola cheese, the most mouth-watering mix of gorgonzola and camembert you ever tasted. I loved to work first class to ensure there would be enough caviar left over for the crew. Oh, the joys of world class food.
Gourmet food browsing in local markets can not only be the best entertainment, but you could stumble upon the best meal or treat of your life. I have always considered a visit to a local grocery store a mandatory destination on any trip. Checking out the aisles is an education in and of itself and a most interesting one at that.
So, eat your way around the world. You don’t want to miss out on any culinary pleasure. As for me, I’ll be unpacking this time in Savannah, Georgia and I just can’t wait to try those fried green tomatoes and grits.
Wendy Knecht is a former Pan Am Flight Attendant, world traveler, entrepreneur, and author of Life, Love and a Hijacking: My Pan Am Memoir. Her website is wendysueknecht.com