From TV personalities, celebrity chefs, and award-winning writers to top travel bloggers and dear friends, I’ve interviewed a lot of fascinating people over the last few years. And while they’ve shared loads of terrific travel tips and advice, what I love most are the stories they tell! It’s no surprise to me that so many of their fondest travel memories revolve around food and how it connected them to a particular place or person.
Here’s a look back at some of my favorites.
Dina Honke, Olive Oil and Lemons
One of my favorite culinary experiences was not so much about the taste of the food but the setting and how it was experienced. I was in Rome by myself and much younger. I walked up the Spanish steps to the hotel on top to have lunch (could it have been the Il Palazzetto?). I was looking around at other diners and saw a naturally elegant young woman dining alone. The staff was fussing over her and I noticed she had a plate of green asparagus with shaved Parmigiano that she proceeded to eat with special asparagus tongs. She had a glass of white wine with it, I assume a Pinot Griggio. I remember being so inspired by that scene and of course, proceeded to order the same (I invented the “I’ll have what she’s having” line). Funny how some things stay with you. Next time I am in Rome in the spring I will return to that hotel and order a plate of asparagus and proceed to savor it using asparagus tongs. Perhaps I will then offer inspiration to another young woman who may be watching me.
My husband and I drove down to Baja California, Mexico, a few years back. We took a few days of a detour, off of Highway 1, to explore the wine route near Ensenada. I had scribbled the directions on how to get to a restaurant called Corazon de Tierra. We definitely thought I’d made some transcription errors as we drove down sand roads, seemingly further and further away from any main roads, for what seemed about 30 minutes. It was just us, the cactus and the odd donkey. The directions were correct, however. When we arrived, we marveled at the beautiful new modern restaurant, with a huge vegetable garden. The young chefs would zip back and forth between the open kitchen and the garden, and we literally watched them picking vegetables, flowers, and herbs that, 10 minutes later, would arrive on our plates. The local Valle de Guadalupe wines were surprisingly sophisticated and everything—including the Sonoran beef rib eye with pickled watermelon— made total sense! It still remains one of my favorite meals to date. That one meal was worth a seven-day drive! We’ve been back since, and the second time didn’t disappoint, which means that it wasn’t a one-off or just sheer relief of not being lost and hungry in the Baja desert.
Claire Rouger & Rosemary Kimani, Authentic Food Quest
When we were in South America, we had the opportunity to explore Chilean cuisine with Chile’s top chef, Rodolfo Guzmán. In a country that is not well-known for its culinary tradition, Guzmán stands out for cooking with indigenous Chilean ingredients. His restaurant Boragó was named #2 in Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants 2015 by San Pellegrino.
We spent the day with Rodolfo at his organic farm and learned about the native ingredients he uses in his cuisine. Later that evening, we dined at Boragó and had one of the most creative meals ever. The food was served using primal elements, such as cow horns or earth elements such as rocks, trees, and shrubs. We had dishes with ingredients from the Atacama desert in the north of Chile, the Andes Mountains and the freshest fish and seafood from the Pacific ocean. An amazing and incredible experience.
Andi Fisher, Misadventures with Andi
I have flashes of living in Panama, of going on a day trip with our maid, being on a bus, crossing busy roads and eating salty plantains and really sweet coffee with lots of milk and sugar. That would be about 4 years old.
Michaela Morris, House Wine
One of the most memorable experiences though was eating freshly shucked oysters on a market street in Paris. My traveling companion and I were drooling pathetically over the oysters at a ‘to-go’ stall so eventually, the vendor told us to buy some wine and a baguette then come back. We happened to find a rare bottle from one of my favorite Chablis producers and when we returned the oyster guy had set up a table with two chairs and wine glasses for us. He then served us two dozen of the most succulent oysters I had ever eaten. We were the envy of Parisian market-goers that morning.
Bryan Richards, The Wandering Gourmand
Recently, I was on a daylong press trip in Palafrugell, Spain to attend an annual arts festival. The highlight of the day, and my culinary travel experience was our “lunch with the locals.” We sat at a single table with 100 locals that ran the length of the alley. It’s a dinner that only occurs once a year and is very special to the village. Everyone on the press trip was seated at the far end of the table. As I was late to the lunch (lost the group during the city tour), I was seated towards the end of the group closest to the locals. Over several bottles of wine and a three-course dinner, I used my broken Spanish to make friends with those around me. We shared many laughs and a meal that was truly special. When we left, the teenagers next to me asked our tour guide if I could stay longer! Notice I mentioned nothing about the food. The food was good, but it was the people who made this experience.
Sabina Trojanova, Girl vs Globe
When I was about 16 years old, I went on a road trip around Italy and France with my parents, visiting some of the best foodie destinations in the world – the entire trip was like an extended culinary experience! But one moment stands out in particular. We arrived at the small town of Tivoli, exhausted after exploring the ancient Villa Hadriana all morning under the scorching sun. Unfortunately for us, most places were closed for what I presume was a midday nap and we had almost given up when I spotted a tiny restaurant in a side street and a friendly looking old man sitting on a bench in front of it. In broken English, he told us to wait and sprinted inside. After a minute or so, he reemerged with a young girl who explained that she was his daughter and that, although they were still closed, they would open the restaurant just for us.
What ensued was a two-hour feast during which we tried some of the most mouth-watering local dishes you could imagine – all locally sourced and handmade. When we asked to see the chef, she shyly introduced herself as the owner’s wife. There is nothing better than mother’s cooking and this visit left us feeling like we were part of their family.
In 2009 we traveled to Africa to do some aid and charity work in Ethiopia and Uganda. Afterward, we treated ourselves to the beauty of Southern Uganda and tracked gorillas, went on safari and relaxed. As the world economy was completely in the tank, we found ourselves to be the only guests in most of the places we stayed, often with the entire staff to take care of us.
At the end of our trip, we ended up at the Jacana Safari Lodge on a huge crater lake. We once again were the only guests. The cook was bored and essentially became our private chef. One of the features of the Lodge was that for dinner, guests could reserve a floating barge which would head out onto the lake for a candlelight dinner. Normally the table could be set for 8 people, but since we were the only guests we had it all to ourselves.
We ordered some champagne and some nice wine and brought our little music system and floated off with the cook and a waiter. As we got to the middle of the lake, the Lodge shut out all of its lights so we could be on the lake in the dark, under the stars with just our candles flickering on the table.
The food was superb and the staff let us have our romantic moments. The desserts had our names individually written on them in chocolate. As we approached the shore they turned on all of the lights again so we could see the Lodge lit up in all of its glory. It was pure magic.
Murissa Shalapata, The Wanderfull Traveler
It started off as a bunch of art history students on a budget, starving and cranky while roaming the hot summer cobblestone streets of Bologna. There were about 7 of us who decided to look for some lunch after we toured the unairconditioned University of Bologna, in particular, the old room where they would perform autopsies for audiences. The presentation we received there was very graphic and in the restored room of wooden decor in the June heat it quickly transformed into a sauna. Some of the students became nauseous and had to excuse themselves.
It had quite the opposite effect on me and I was famished. Bickering over the importance of budget versus air-conditioning versus vegetarian options versus traditional Bolognese fare we collapsed at a random restaurant with outdoor seating. We were all grumpy and irritated with each other. That is until we fed ourselves. The moment the freshly made pumpkin ravioli with balsamic reduction hit my lips I realized that there are worse things than arguing over a restaurant to dine at in Bologna with famished university students figuring out what Italy meant to us.
Yes, the ravioli was a heavy option in the summer but my need for nourishment prevailed. It was also one of the best things I ate while in Italy and later I found out it is a Bolognese specialty. Our moods improved immediately and we once again understood where we were in the world and how lucky we were to be there.
Carolyn Robb, The Royal Touch
One of the abiding memories I have of the garden parties that I attended at Buckingham Palace is of the mountains of cream scones and cucumber sandwiches. Forevermore, scones will be synonymous with garden parties for me.
What about you? Do your best travel memories involve food? If so, we’d love to hear them! Send your food stories to firstname.lastname@example.org or share them in the comments below.