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.

Stewed spatchcock at MoVida in Melbourne

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.

Breakfast of champions

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.

The muffin that changed my muffin views at Journal Cafe

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.

Flat white with marshmallow at Frasers Cafe

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:

Venison sausages in puff pastry with honey-onion compote

Trio of honey ice creams topped with honeycomb

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.

Not the sheep we ate, but makes you think, right?

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!).

Generous platter of roast lamb and veggies

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?

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MoVida, 1 Hosier Lane, Melbourne, Australia. http://www.movida.com.au/

Journal Cafe, 253 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, Australia. Click here for more info

Frasers Cafe and Espresso Bar, 434 Mt. Eden Road, Auckland, New Zealand.

Bees Online, 791 State Highway 16, RD3 Waimauku, Auckland, New Zealand. http://www.beesonline.co.nz/

············

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.

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§ 9 Responses to Five Tips For Eating Well While Traveling: Oz/NZ Eats

  • Jun Belen says:

    What a wonderful way to write a recap of your travels. I couldn’t agree more with your list, particularly #5. Although being invited to a local’s dinner table is quite a difficult task, my partner and I try to seek out the local dinner spots, bakeries, coffee shops, food carts whenever we travel. We try to veer away from touristy places. I love hanging out where the locals hang out — it gives you a sense of how people live in that place. I am always curious about how people eat, what people eat, how they live their everyday lives.

    New Zealand is in our list of must-visit. I’m glad you enjoyed your trip.

  • what fabulous adventures you had alongside new taste sensations. I smile at the marmite discovery because in England Marmite is much talked about even by those who don’t like it. Check out their website and you’ll see what I mean – http://www.marmite.co.uk/ . All of their branding is about the love it/hate it reaction people have to it! (personally I’m in the hate camp but have started to appreciate it’s uses in cooking)
    Look forward to seeing you recreating some of your holiday grub….

    • Ahh, Marmite. I miss it already. I don’t know if I want to slather myself in it like a hippo as the Marmite website says (thanks for sharing that link–hilarious), but slathered on a toasted piece of bread with cheese…yum. Even though the flavors aren’t the same, it kind of reminded me of Maggi sauce (another nearly-black, super salty umami taste sensation), great as a condiment or dashed into soups/stews.

  • Lee says:

    Of the many things you mentioned trying (and I love trying new things!), I’d try all of them other than the live squid which was, as you vividly put it, “still undulating on the plate.” I don’t think I could eat something when it was still alive. That is very bold, Stephanie 🙂 Also, it’s funny, but I mis-read your last tip to say: ” Get yourself invited to a local farmer’s home for dinner”— I think I was seeing the picture of the sheep as I was reading it, and I mentally imported the word “farmer.” I was imagining you seeking out farmers on your travels and chumming up to them, which was sort of a funny image.

    I love your travel tips, Stephanie— thanks for sharing them!
    Lee

  • zlain says:

    Hi Steph,

    ~25 counties later, I completely agree with you your post, especially numbers 1-3. How often are you ever going to have a guinea pig in Peru or a slow roasted tangine in Algiers? Probably not often, if ever again. Take advantage of your unique situation in the world and experience something different.

    Something I learned in my travels is to not be intimidated when in comes to restaurants, especially in countries where English is not widely spoken. On two specific occasions – in Kosovo and then in southern Egypt, a few miles from the Sudanese border – I found restaurants packed with locals. Not a single Westerner. I was backpacking through these areas by myself and went into the restaurant for a peek. The menus were all in Serbian and Arabic, respectively. I decided to just go for it – again how often is this ever going to happen? The waiter brought me some of the best food I have ever had. I am so glad I did.

    Take a chance. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone. If you come with a smile and make an effort to say “thank you” in the local language (“hvala” in Serbian and “shukran” in Arabic), it doesn’t matter how dissimilar you look from the indigenous populace or if you’re a polyglot or not – you are welcome literally everywhere in the world.

    Another interesting read,

    Zach

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