Five Tips For Eating Well While Traveling: Oz/NZ Eats
November 22, 2010 § 9 Comments
I had a blast in Oz (a.k.a Australia) and New Zealand, in large part because I ate quite well. Reflecting on why I enjoyed my culinary adventures so much, I realized that there are certain things we do while traveling that I could distill into five tips that anyone can use to eat well while traveling. I thought I’d share them below, and I’d love to hear yours!
1 — Try something you’ve never had.
This is the easiest eating-well-while-traveling tip to offer, because no matter where you go, it’s likely they eat something there that you haven’t — whether it’s hush puppies in North Carolina, live squid that’s still undulating on the plate in Tokyo or, in my case, spatchcock in Melbourne and Marmite in Auckland. And while you may not always hit the jackpot in deliciousness, at least it’s an adventure.
Even though they say “spatchcock” as if it’s a breed in Melbourne, actually, it’s not a type of bird but a method of preparing one. It’s a small chicken whose backbone has been slit out and that has been flattened to reduce cooking time. This one, braised in an onion and herb gravy that we sopped up with bread at a tapas bar, was incredible.
And in Auckland, I was introduced to the salty, umami joys of Marmite, a yeast-based, nearly black spread. The friends with whom I was staying made me something I can’t wait to replicate if I can find Marmite here: wheat bread spread with Marmite, topped with a slice of cheese and broiled in the oven. My new favorite way to start the day.
2 — Give something you normally don’t like another chance.
On my travels, I often find that I enjoy something that I typically don’t eat at home because it’s done differently or better. Case in point in Melbourne and Auckland: muffins. I never, ever order muffins in the U.S.; personally, I find them too sweet, too dry and/or too big. But a raspberry, walnut and honey muffin looked unusually tasty at a cafe in Melbourne, and I was glad we ordered it: it was more like a moist tea bread than the American muffins I’d had, it had just a hint of sweetness and it wasn’t alarmingly gargantuan. In Auckland, they serve you muffins warmed, split in half and accompanied by a generous pat of butter — which, let’s be honest, makes it pretty darned hard not to like them.
3 — Notice the little differences and give them a whirl.
There are a lot of cafes in Melbourne and Auckland, and at each of them, I always saw “flat white” above “latte” on the menus (a flat white, it turns out, is similar to a latte — espresso and milk — but has slightly less milk and is cheaper). And when we went out for coffee and dessert post-dinner in Auckland, I noticed that my friend ordered a flat white with a marshmallow. So, I gave it a whirl and thoroughly enjoyed it: a grown-up version of the classic hot chocolate-marshmallow combo, made even better by the fact that the marshmallow was one of those dense types, versus the air-puffed sugar pellets you typically get in grocery stores here.
4 — Sample something locally grown and artfully made.
Given my general preferences when it comes to eating, I of course couldn’t pass up proffering this tip. Discovering what the area you’re visiting is known for gives you a new taste sensation, teaches you something about the local culture and offers you the opportunity to support a local business. About 30 minutes outside of Auckland at Bees Online, we experienced how local, artisan honeys could enhance a variety of dishes:
5 — Get yourself invited to a local’s home for dinner.
Okay, this could be difficult. And I cheated on this one a bit as I stayed with friends in Auckland, so eating dinner at their house wasn’t exactly a challenge. But dining, or even drinking, with locals on their turf often gives you the chance to try food and beverages traditional to, or suited for, that geography and to forge or renew friendships.
In Auckland, my friend cooked a traditional lamb leg roast for dinner one night. Funny enough, we ate the lamb roast the same day that we strolled among sheep in a large paddock in Cornwall Park — a unique experience, as it’s a green space smack dab in the middle of the city.
We ate the tender, juicy meat with gravy made from lamb drippings and roasted veggies. My favorites were caramelized onions and kumera (a New Zealand sweet potato), perfectly crisp on the edges and soft and sweet inside. While we enjoyed my friend’s expert cooking, he shared fond memories about how his mother would make this meal for his family growing up (though she’d make even more food — what you see below plus three types of potatoes!).
But even if you don’t get invited to a local’s home for a meal, you can adapt and apply this tip anywhere — for example, when we spent a week in Sonoma, California for our summer vacation, we sought out a small, family-owned winery for a tasting and discovered new wines we now love, learned more about that particular area of Sonoma and forged a connection with that family (click here for that story).
What are your favorite ways to eat well while traveling?
Journal Cafe, 253 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, Australia. Click here for more info
Frasers Cafe and Espresso Bar, 434 Mt. Eden Road, Auckland, New Zealand.
A big thanks and dedication of this post to my dear friends, Paul and Reiko Kennedy, who generously hosted me and made sure I ate so well in Auckland. And if you’re interested in more photos of MoVida’s excellent tapas, or my non-food photos of Melbourne and Auckland, see them on Facebook here.