Food Travel Hacks

At the end of the day, it’s all about problem solving.

You see, in my quest to find food fluency, sometimes hiccups manifest out of nowhere. The hotel room refrigerator is broken. There’s no mini-fridge. I forgot a mouse pad. I just got back from the supermarket, and it’s freezing outside, but boiling hot inside.

Short-term issues as they might be, I still try as hard possible to find a solution for them. Let’s call these curious solutions food travel hacks.

Need an example? Always on the lookout for local food brands, I bought a hefty lot of smoked salmon, milk, and produce the first night I was in York, England on business. However, my bed & breakfast understandably didn’t have a fridge in the room.

Fortunately, however it was early December, and fortunately, both the bedroom and bathroom windows had exterior sills. Having forgotten about the lack of refrigerator while at the supermarket, I wasn’t about to let the perishables go to waste (and this particular bed & breakfast didn’t have a shared fridge). Consequently, I placed all of the refrigerable items on the sills, where they remained properly chilled during my stay. And yes, I checked to see if there was any likelihood that the items would fall on an unsuspecting passer-by, but each window overlooked swathes of shrubbery.

Note: you probably wouldn’t want to do that in a famously windy location.

But it’s not always a problem with the food. Maybe there’s something else in the room that could be adjusted with the assistance of some creativity, without having to inform hotel staff.

For a few of my tips, check out my food travel hacks YouTube video:

Khachapuri Adjaruli (Georgia’s Bread Boats)

I briefly visited the country of Georgia twice, in 2008 and 2018.  For my first visit, I was a bit wet-behind-the-ears, unsure of what I was doing there, and more importantly, what to eat.

After a random meal at a wine cellar in Tbilisi, its capital, I was floored by the deliciousness not only of the food, but also the wine.  And even after piling on the kebabs, the pomegranate seeds, the walnut sauces, and the spontaneous lessons in viniculture by the waitstaff, I wanted to know more about Georgian food.  So, I sampled baklava, cherry juice, quince jam, and khinkali (dumpling)…all excellent.

Yet, it took me the return trip to New York to find out about the mother-ship of savory bread, that being khachapuri.

Khachapuri, Adjari-style

Khachapuri (in Georgian, ხაჭაპური) is the catch-all for cheese-filled leavened bread, whereas “khach” = curd, and “puri” = breadDifferent regions in Georgia have their own methods to prepare khachapuri, but today’s post will focus squarely on the version from Adjara, along its southwestern border with Turkey.

Khachapuri Adjaruli with Eggplant in Walnut Sauce and Cornelian Cherry Nectar

Khachapuri Adjaruli, quite simply, is a carbohydrate AND fat paradise.  What does that mean?  Inside of the bread canoe, you will find butter, eggs, and briny Sulguni cheese.  Nothing leafy and green – i.e. healthy – to get in the way, just pure corporeal malevolence.

Brooklyn’s Toné Café, where I first tried Khachapuri Adjaruli (notice the slices of butter in the foreground)

How do you eat it?  Mix up the butter, eggs, and cheese to create a “soup,” then start tearing off the bread bit by bit, dunking it into your the heady mix.  After you’re done, you may not want to eat for the rest of the year – make sure you’re trying it on December 31st to cheat – but oh is it ever worth it.

On my second visit to Tbilisi, I literally took a cab from the airport to Cafe Khachapuri, not because I read that it was good, but because just look at that name.

Airline Meals

Looking through photos of the pre-pandemic travel days, I began to feel nostalgic for something unusual…or so I thought, until coming across news of Malaysians being able to order AirAsia meals at Kuala Lumpur malls.  Soon after, I found out about Singapore Airlines catering economy and business class meals to private residences.  Folks, you’re in Southeast Asia; don’t you realize you’re in a hotbed of diverse cuisines?

But then I think, those people don’t necessarily miss the food, they miss the gestalt of traveling…among those traits are the thrill of boarding a plane, gazing at the various destinations visible on the airports departures screens, exploring the unknown, the mono no aware element, and of course, trying different foods.

The way I look at it, if I’m eating an airline meal, tasty or inedible, that means I’m traveling somewhere.

Hey, it could be worse.

Azerbaijan Airlines, New York JFK to Baku GYD, 2016.

When Azerbaijan Airlines launched this route – their only flight to the US – I had read that visas would be easier and cheaper to obtain by traveling on it.  Wanting to avail of this offer, I booked a flight to Istanbul, with a few days stopover in Baku.

Surprisingly, the in-flight meal wasn’t terrible.  Chicken and pasta, basdırma (air-dried beef), and a raspberry crumble were on the tray, none of which offended the palette too much.

Qatar Airways, Doha DOH to Philadelphia PHL, 2017.

Through some creative routing, I snagged a long-haul business class flight.  And really, Doha to Philly?  Yep, because Qatar Airways and American Airlines have hubs in those airports, respectively.

With this meal, the airline was truly cooking with gas.  Since it was breakfast time, they served ful medames, or cooked fava beans with olive oil, cumin and garlic, served with tomatoes, olives, cucumbers, and the mild Lebanese cheese called Baladi.

Skymark Airlines, Naha OKA to Ibaraki/Mito IBR, 2017.

Skymark Airlines is a Japanese low-cost carrier, so beyond a successful take-off and landing, don’t expect much.  Then again, it has never been an airline’s job to do anything more than get us from A to B, right?

Nevertheless, the snack was a company-branded Kit Kat bar.  What is it with Japan and Kit Kats?  Great marketing, that’s what.  When pronounced in Japanese, the name sounds similar to きっと勝つ, which translates as “undoubtedly/surely win.”

What consumers win besides a sugar rush is beyond me.

Japan Airlines, Tokyo NRT to Dallas DFW, 2017.

More business class airline food, but this time, courtesy of frequent flier miles.

They really piled on the courses, but this was one of the lighter entries.  Two things stand out: 1) On the smoked salmon salad is that condiment ubiquitous in East Asia, mayonnaise.  Can’t stand the stuff, primarily because of my time over there.  2) Tomato Juice.  I love tomatoes, and love their juice, but I only really drink the stuff on planes.  Seems many travelers share this behavior.

Oman Air, Bangkok BKK to Muscat, MCT, 2019.

This is the most recent in-flight meal photo I have in my photo gallery. The meal, chicken biryani with vegetables, green beans, and a chiffon cake, were not particularly memorable.

What does stand out in my mind was that just a few hours earlier, I was returning to my hotel room after partying with some Chinese colleagues in Shenzhen.  The full itinerary was Hong Kong to Bangkok to Muscat to Jeddah, so when this photo was taken the trip had barely begun.  All I can think about now is when the next time I can party in Shenzhen will be.

Chiayi’s Turkey Rice (Taiwan)

When I crave turkey, not many countries come to mind.  For sure, the US does, for its Thanksgiving meal.  Also, the Yucatán in Mexico, where it’s quite common to find guajolote (“turkey” in Mexican Spanish) on a menu. But, how about Taiwan?

Chiayi (Jiayi-嘉義) - Train Station A few years ago, while on my way to a friend’s wedding, I was visiting Chiayi, a small Taiwanese city sandwiched between Taichung and Tainan, in the central western part of Taiwan.  As far as Taiwanese cities go, it’s quite typical – you’ve got your mopeds and scooters, giant signs, and bustling food markets – but there is one particular food that stands out. Turkey rice, or 火雞飯 (火鸡饭).  Amusingly, turkey in Chinese translates as “fire chicken.”

Chiayi (Jiayi-嘉義) - Turkey Rice (鶏肉飯)

Although turkeys were introduced to present-day Taiwan by Dutch colonists in the 1600s, it was only in the 1950s that they really took off on Chiayi menus.  Apparently, some liaisons with the former Chiayi US air force base were longing for a taste of home, a longing which inspired local chefs to add it to bowls of rice. In Taiwan, I would generally make a beeline for oyster pancakes and pineapple cakes, but the turkey rice proved to be an amusing if unexpected find in the crowded field of Taiwanese specialties.

FoodTrex Spain Presents The 4th International Congress of Gastronomy Tourism, Pamplona, May 27th-28th

This Thursday and Friday, the World Food Travel Association, in association with Navartur, is holding its FoodTrex Spain event, also known as the International Congress of Gastronomy Tourism.  Normally, Navartur would be hosting a larger event focused broadly on tourism; however, due to COVID-19 this was postponed until next year.

The 4th Annual International Congress of Gastronomy Tourism will focus primarily on workshops in which exhibitors and patrons learn about how to reignite culinary tourism in the wake of a pandemic.

For background, the World Food Travel Association is a 20-year old non-profit organization that promotes hospitality and tourism through local cuisine, and Navartur is a Pamplona-based tourism group focusing on Navarra and the Basque country, located in the central northern portion of Spain.  Furthermore, with its idyllic beaches, cuisine, landscapes, and ancient history, Spain is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, not to mention the headquarters of the World Tourism Organization.

In addition to in-person conferences and B2B sessions, as the COVID-19 pandemic is still very much a concern, event organizers have decided to also add a virtual session for attendees unable to travel to Spain for the two-day summit.

The 26th Annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival Starts This July

From July 15th until November 20th, 2021, if you’re raring to travel abroad but your desired countries are still closed due to COVID-19, perhaps you will want to check out The 26th Annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.  To attend, you will need to have both admission to Epcot, as well as reserve a place in the Disney Park Pass system.

Marketplaces such as Greece, Germany, Hawaii, and Islands of the Caribbean will be present, showing off food and drink commonly found in those parts of the world.  Wine and beer aficionados will also have their shops at which to indulge in buying souvenirs.

Due to the pandemic, the Festival will be taking place in a somewhat modified format.  For instance, due to frequent overcrowding at the Eat to the Beat Concert Series, in order to properly maintain social distancing among Festival attendees, Epcot will instead host local musical acts spread throughout the day.  Also, the number of global marketplaces will only be twenty, as opposed to thirty before the pandemic.

Epcot is known for its futuristic attractions as well as its permanent country pavilions, with Morocco, Japan, and the United Kingdom among the more popularly visited ones.

Menorca, Spain Is A 2022 European Region for Gastronomy

Along with Trondheim-Trøndelag, Norway, Menorca earned the recognition of European Region of Gastronomy for 2022, as voted by the International Institute of Gastronomy, Culture, Arts, and Tourism (IGCAT). IGCAT is a non-profit organization formed in 2012 with four primary goals:
  • Empower People and Engage Citizens
  • Instill Local Pride
  • Support Local Communities
  • Create Ambassadors and Inspire Young Generations
Although it had been chosen at an event in Brussels in 2019, since the tourism outlook for Spain is improving with regards to COVID-19 – and, they are planning to open to fully vaccinated tourists on June 7th – I decided that this would be a good first post for FindingFoodFluency. In spite of its small size – Menorca being 43 times smaller than Belgium – this Balearic island in the Mediterranean is home to more than 300 food producers, and more than 1800 businesses in the food industry, including hotels, restaurants, bars, and distributors. You may also be interested to know that its capital, Mahon, lent its name to one of the world’s most popular condiments, mayonnaise.
h/t to https://www.hosteltur.com/133501_menorca-ya-es-la-region-europea-de-la-gastronomia-2022.html
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