Okay, it’s not really like cake or death. I just like random Eddie Izzard quotes.
I love food. I think that my, um, curves make that perfectly clear. I can shovel food into my face like a champion. As I’ve gotten older, foods I hated as a child (yogurt, mushrooms) have become more palatable. I think this speaks to my great maturity and sophistication. Or something.
Clearly a huge part of any culture is its cuisine. The travel and food industries are enjoying a symbiotic relationship thanks to Anthony Bourdain and all those Travel Channel foodie shows. People seem to be traveling more and more to culinary-ily interesting destinations. Theoretically my personal love of travel should go hand in hand (hand in mouth?) with my love of putting things in my mouth. And now here I am, wandering in places with some of the most extraordinary food in the world.
And yet and yet and yet…
I never make food a priority when I travel. I eat for convenience sake, in hotels or quick over-the-counter cafes. I don’t research the best restaurans, the best street food, the local specialties, the way I research the most famous sights or the most obscure little know treasures.
I’m not sure why this is. On this particular travel expedition I can blame it partially on the fact that I have such limited time on any given day to get to and from a city that just seeing one sight and grabbing a snack so I don’t collapse from exhaustion is about all that I have time for. In addition, when you’re getting free food, no matter how mediocre, three meals a day, it’s hard to motivate yourself to go pay a lot for it. Choices have to be made, and I always opt for souvenirs over meals.
It’s a well-established observation that Europeans luxuriate over their food more than Americans do. Meals go on course after course, and waiters steer clear to allow their customers the time and space to enjoy their food, without bothering them with the check to turn the table over. In fact, it can be near impossible to flag your waiter down to get the check even when you’re done with dessert and coffee, even when you make direct, prolonged eye contact. It’s nice, mellow, expansive.
And it annoys the shit out of me.
I never feel like I have the time to just sit. There’s too much to see and do. Or maybe I really just don’t know how to be still with a plate of food and savor it. I just snarfle all my food down like I’m trying to win a race. It’s partially a product of eating alone so much at home (no conversation makes for eating faster) and also the fact that I am a rather unimaginative cook just for me (I hate doing dishes. Microwaveable vegetables, which don’t require a pot, are a staple in my life.) I just don’t know what “good” food is.
But still, food culture is as much if not more what a place is about than its museums or historical sites. So why don’t I work a little harder to have a good meal and learn the true flavor of a place?
Maybe I need to expand upon my grown-up appreciation for foods I hated as a kid by finding a more grown-up way to enjoy food. To seek out the local cuisine and try to treat it as a discovery as much as seeing a piece of art that really moves me. I’m not exactly sure how one makes one’s palate more sophisticated (seriously, my food pronouncements run along the lines of “yum” to “ew.”) I’m not good at picking out particular flavors and nuances. But it might be worth taking a cooking class or something to see how it all works.
Anyway, now I pose the question to you: do you think eating when traveling is more or less important than seeing the big tourist sites? Would you be okay with missing a major museum in order to have a five course meal of the freshest, most local fare possible? What are your travel priorities?