About Jessica Festa
Jessica Festa is the editor of the travel sites Jessie on a Journey (http://jessieonajourney.com) and Epicure & Culture (http://epicureandculture.com). Along with blogging at We Blog The World, her byline has appeared in publications like Huffington Post, Gadling, Fodor's, Travel + Escape, Matador, Viator, The Culture-Ist and many others. After getting her BA/MA in Communication from the State University of New York at Albany, she realized she wasn't really to stop backpacking and made travel her full time job. Some of her most memorable experiences include studying abroad in Sydney, teaching English in Thailand, doing orphanage work in Ghana, hiking her way through South America and traveling solo through Europe. She has a passion for backpacking, adventure, hiking, wine and getting off the beaten path.
Latest Posts by Jessica Festa
Looking to travel to Singapore? Here are some great tips on where to go after dark and how to go beyond the guidebook in Singapore.
1. What made you decide to spend eight weeks traveling through Singapore?
I chose Singapore primarily for research reasons (as mentioned in my bio) but Singapore applies their ultramodern innovativeness to more than just education, which makes the city safe, easy to get around and filled with mind-blowing architecture. I also loved its ethnic neighbors — Chinatown, Little India, Arab street — you could travel the world in less than an hour via metro-hopping. It is like a more authentic version of Epcot for adults!
2. What was your favorite misadventure traveling through Singapore?
A friend and I visited Haw Par Villa on purpose but it was stranger than we ever imagined. Haw Par Villa was built in the 1937 by the owners of Tiger Balm as a way to teach kids morals through Chinese legends and folklore. Now, it’s partially abandoned and free to visit its 1,000 terrifying, life-size statues. You can see a woman breast-feeding a granny, dress-wearing rats drinking tea and demons yanking out their tongues in the dark diorama of 10 courts of hell. This bizarre “family park” is not for the faint of heart.
3. For travelers going to Singapore, what’s one thing you recommend that they probably won’t see in their guidebook?
Pulau Ubin, Singapore’s “wilderness” island is probably in the guidebooks but often understated. Most people visit Singapore to see its skyscrapers, impeccably manicured gardens and state-of-the-art shopping malls. Pulau Ubin requires a ferry ride, but it’s totally worth it for a trip back in time. On the island, you can imagine what life was like 60 years ago, when Singapore was a jungle island with no natural resources of its own, overshadowed by its Southeast Asian neighbors. You can explore the country’s last village, or “kambong”, by mountain bike or hike through the flora and fauna of the Jawa Wetlands. Seeing Pulau Ubin’s untamed rustic simplicity renewed my appreciation of how far the country has come in the last few decades.
4. What’s your favorite local dish in Singapore? Explain.
Eating at real restaurants in Singapore can be expensive, especially if they feature international cuisine, but hawker centers are an amazingly cheap way to eat dishes from around the world and they’re everywhere. Most neighborhoods, dorm complexes, university buildings have a food court area with stalls that sell Chinese, Indian, Malaya, Middle Eastern, Thai, Korean… the options are endless.
Even better, meals typically cost $2-5 USD and there’s always a juice stall where you can get fruit freshly juiced to wash down your meal. Singapore was surprisingly hard for a vegetarian like me but I loved Roti Prata at the Indian booth. This is a very thin, flat Indian flour-based pancake that can be traditionally filled with cheese, onion, mushroom or egg and is often eaten by dipping it in curry. Singaporeans eat this for breakfast but I’d eat it as for lunch or dinner, as a snack with beer before going dancing (Prata is best in Little India, which is conveniently the cheapest place for beer, FYI!), late night munchies… when a plain prata costs less than $1, why not?
5. What’s one underrated destination in Singapore? Explain.
The airport! With an area of less than 300 square miles, Singapore is small and being surrounded by an ultramodern cosmopolitan city caused me to go a little stir-crazy. But with budget airlines and a convenient airport, Singapore is an excellent launch pad to explore the rest of Southeast Asia. When it costs about $100 for a six-pack of Corona, swapping out a night on the town in Singapore could easily fund a long weekend in Malaysia or Indonesia. Since I traveled to several neighboring countries, I spent some time at Changi, which Skytrax recently named the best airport in the world and rightfully so. The open and airy space is filled with greenery including a orchid and butterfly garden. There’s a rooftop cocktail lounge and swim-up bar, a four-story amusement park slide, a movie theater and massage chairs everywhere. You can get clothes dry cleaned, visit a dentist and watch kids play at the jungle gym or coloring stations. Visitors with a long layover can get a free two-hour bus tour of the city- usually I hate spending time in airports but Changi is a traveler’s dream come true.
6. If a traveler had to choose one single thing to do in Singapore, what would you recommend?
That’s a hard question. For many, Singapore Zoo’s Night Safari is its best attraction and the world’s wildlife park for nocturnal animals. However, for an experience that epitomizes Singapore, I’d recommend getting a drink at 1-Altitude. At the world’s “highest multi-experience lifestyle joint in the world”, you can enjoy a 360-degree panoramic views of Singapore’s 20 most significant landmarks, including the boat-shaped Marina Bay Sands hotel, the port and the Singapore Flyer observation wheel. If you get bored listening to international live bands or guest DJs, tee off with a world championship golf simulator at the sports bar two floors below.
7. What was one thing that surprised you about Singapore?
For a metropolis, “Garden City” makes room for green space and exquisite gardens. I thought flowers were boring until I walked through the (free) Botanic Gardens. In the evolution gardens, you can see how plant life began after the Big Bang. You can learn about medicinal herbs in their healing garden. If you want to see 250,000 more rare plants, go to the innovative Gardens by the Bay. In the Supertree Grove there, 16 story vertical gardens collect rainwater, generate solar power and act as venting ducts for the park’s conservatories (which contain cool things like a Cloud Forest and plants from around the globe).
Answers written by Katie Foote who spent eight weeks in Singapore.
If you ever find yourself in Russia, and someone offers you a glass of Vodka, you don’t turn it down. The same is true in Italy, when being served food, whether you’re hungry or not.
San Pedro Market, Cuzco, Peru. Photo courtesy of Andean Discovery.
Aperitivo: Drinks Paired with Food
The freshly baked focaccia sits in front of me. Next to it, taking center stage, pieces of toasted bread sit underneath well-oiled, succulent tomatoes. Across the way, a tiny, purple pyramid of olives fills a white bowl, and rests in a golden sea.
Just a moment ago I ordered a glass of Prosecco. Upon its arrival came this savory selection of appetizers, posing a real problem for me. It’s six o’clock in the evening and a four-course dinner awaits me later tonight. I have no intentions of spoiling my appetite. On the other hand, turning down food in Italy could give the wrong impression that something is wrong with the meal, injuring the pride of those serving it.
Placing my wine back on the table, I admire the plates again. They are silently staring back at me, seducing my taste buds.
Freshly baked focaccia with garlic and rosemary. Photo courtesy of Alexander Von Halem.
Fragrant, baked garlic cloves sit tucked in tiny divots atop the focaccia. Their warm caramelized juices seep out. Enticing aromas float through the air. Hints of rosemary sneak up and touch my nose, then dance away. Come a little closer, they beckon me.
I want to send the food back. I didn’t order it. But then again I would love just a bite.
I hear a faint whisper. What are you afraid of? Have a taste. And again, the seduction continues.
Mouth watering Bruschetta. Photo courtesy of Michael Spencer
Next to the focaccia, the bruschetta baits me with its brilliant red and yellow looks. It catches my eye and I’m about to give in, almost picking up a piece, but then I stop myself. Two can play at this game. Leaning down I simply smell the bouquet of earthy, fresh tomatoes and garlic. My resolution, however, is diminishing.
Olives marinating in oil. Photo courtesy of Stuart Spivack.
As if I could handle any more, flirting on the other side of the table, the tiny bowl of olives comes into view. The purple skins dressed in golden olive oil await me. Their salty, rich flavors radiate toward me, reaching for my lips.
I don’t think I can resist any longer.
My willpower has been defeated and I feel myself relinquishing to the food. Ready to satisfy my craving, I reach for the tiny focaccia square.
And the wait is over. My palate breathes a sigh of fulfillment.
In almost perfect timing, so I do not overindulge my appetite, my Italian friend arrives. She partakes in the finger food, without a second thought of it ruining her evening dinner.
Telling her about the unexpected arrival of food with my drink, she laughs and explains the concept of Aperitivo.
Aperitivo: More Than A Happy Hour
Aperitivo is derived from the Latin word, aperire, meaning opening. The pre-dinner drink and spread of food is meant to open the palate, awaken the taste buds, and stir up the stomach juices.
Occurring after work between the hours of 6pm and 8pm, aperitivo is not to be confused with the American happy hour. Rather than overindulging in drinks with friends, Italians indulge their senses in preparation for a dinner ahead.
Campari is a typical drink enjoyed during aperitivo. Photo courtesy of Massimiliano.
Typically, drinks that will kick-start the digestive system are low in alcohol content and tend to be bitter rather than sweet. Good choices are the “Spritz” (Prosecco, Aperol or Campari, and soda water), the “Americano” (Vermouth, Campari and soda water) or the “Negroni” (Gin, Vermouth, and Campari). My personal favorite is a light and refreshing glass of Prosecco wine, especially enjoyed on a midsummer’s night at an outdoor bar.
Aperitivo time – Prosecco and a few snacks to open the palate. Photo courtesy of Fabiana.
Food offerings vary depending on which bar you find yourself, but are always included in the price of your drink. A very busy time of day, these establishments seek to produce the best aperitivo in town. While some places keep it simple, only offering bowls of olives, nuts and chips; other places offer dishes that could contend with those of a four-course dinner. Freshly baked focaccia and bruschetta, platters of meats and cheeses, and marinated vegetables are quite common, and rival the first course of dinner, the antipasti. Still, competing with dinner itself, other places offer an elaborate buffet, testing one’s willpower not to overindulge.
Aperitivo with variety. Photo courtesy of Anie Mendreck.
One thing is for sure: Italians are passionate about their food. The aperitivo is a testament that eating in Italy is taken seriously. Nothing is overlooked or ignored. Dinner consists of more than preparing the meal and eating it. While the appetite may seem like something that hardly needs addressing, it is considered a very important detail in Italian culture. Breathing energy into it by way of aperitivo ensures a very enjoyable dinner ahead.
Aperitivo: Experience it for Yourself
Aperitivo in Italy. Photo courtesy of Fabiana.
An alluring scene awaits you in Italy. Next time you find yourself in the land of food and wine, find a local bar and experience an aperitivo for yourself. Better yet, grab a bottle of Prosecco, a few small snacks and surround yourself with good company for a do-it-yourself aperitivo, wherever you are.
Where do you like to enjoy Aperitivo in Italy? What’s your favorite drink or snack to stimulate your palate?
Top Photo credit: Aperitivo in Milano. Photo courtesy of Luca Volpi.
Adana, Turkey. Photo courtesy of Orhan Alturk.
Located in Southern Turkey, Adana is one of the most agriculturally productive areas in the world. As such, history buffs can see remnants of ten ancient civilizations while visitors feast on fresh regional dishes. The city is situated on the beautiful Seyhan River, 30 kilometers (19 miles) inland from the Mediterranean and surrounded by Çukurova’s flat and fertile farmland.
The city’s food combines Mediterranean, Arabic and Anatolian inspiration with local ingredients. Meals often showcase local bulgur, a rough, cracked wheat with a dark color, apparently tanned by Çukurova’s sun. Red pepper, spices and tahini season local greens and peppers. Lamb and other meats are often featured in hot, spicy, fatty and traditional dishes, while thyme from the Taurus Mountains flavors the meat and thickens the milk. Many Turks instantly associate Adana with its kebap, but there’s more to eating in this city than just this famous, meaty, spicy dish.
Adana Kebap, Adana’s signature dish. Photo courtesy of Orhan Alturk.
1. Adana Kebap
Adana kebap is the city’s pride and joy and the quintessential kebap in Turkey. The dish has created a culture with specific ways to prepare, serve and eat the kebap. The meat comes from a young lamb — less than a year old — fed on the local fauna. The cleaned meat and fat are hand-kneaded with pepper and salt. After reaching a homogenous consistency, the meat is “impaled” on iron skewers and cooked over oak wood coals. Flatbread is often pressed on the meat to absorb melting fat, while warming the bread for serving.
This foot-long belt of meat can be served on a plate (porsiyn) or wrapped in flatbread (dürüm). Julienned onions, diced tomatoes, salt, cumin and sumac top the meat. The kebap comes with complimentary side dishes, such as grilled tomatoes and green peppers, pickled ornamental peppers and ezme salad (a paste-like mixture of tomatoes and hot peppers).
Ayran. Photo courtesy of tomislavmedak.
For the perfect beverage to go with your kebap, try Ayran, Turkey’s national beverage. The drink is made with yogurt, water and a little salt, and is served chilled, often with grilled meat or rice. This ancient beverage has existed since the Gokturks diluted yogurt with water to cut the bitter taste. Serve ayran in a copper bowl with a frothy foam for a classic take on the drink, although packaged versions are ubiquitous throughout the country. Even though ayran isn’t unique to Adana, the mild beverage tones down the city’s spicy food, making it the perfect place to indulge. Packed with electrolytes, aryan can help prevent dehydration after a day in the sun in Adana’s hot climate. Filled with probiotics, calcium and vitamin D, you may soon find this beverage in the West, where interest in its health benefits is growing.
Lahmacun, often served with lemon juice and tomatoes. Photo courtesy of Orhan Alturk.
A Turkish classic is lahmacun, a flatbread with meat and spices, sometimes misleadingly known as “Turkish pizza.” Although similar in appearance, lahmacun has no cheese, a spicy taste and features ground meat. The preparation of lahmacun varies widely all over the country but Adana serves a midsize, circular, spicy lahmacun. Thin bread is topped with spices, minced meat, onions and tomatoes then cooked in a stone oven. Often garnished with lemon and parsley, lahmacun is frequently rolled up and eaten by hand. A popular lunchtime snack and fast food, street stalls and restaurants serve lahmacun. At home, people prepare meat then bring it to the neighborhood oven where bakers would add dough and cook it for a minimal charge. Since a little meat goes a long way, it’s a relatively inexpensive party food.
Yuksuk corbasi. Photo courtesy of Rubber Slippers in Italy.
4. Yüksük Çorbası
Yüksük çorbası, or “thimble soup,” is an Adana specialty and a popular wedding dish. In the villages, families prepare this soup the day before the wedding. During the ceremony, the soup boils in cauldrons over fire pits. Homemade Turkish ravioli and chickpeas in a spicy broth comprise this hearty, main-dish soup. The name (yüksük for thimble, çorba for soup) comes from the thimble shape of the dumplings, which look like manti but are prepared differently.
This dessert is found in the Adana and Mersin regions of Turkey. “Karakush” derives from the Arabic word “krekush”, which means crispy dough. Traditionally filled with seven spices, today, Adana pastry shops sometimes make this dish plain. Cinnamon serves as the main spice, accompanied by allspice, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. When spices were expensive, karakush was served for New Years and other special occasions, but today, Adana’s residents consume it daily.
Amanda and son drinking fresh squeezed orange juice in Penang, Malaysia
Interested in traveling with the kids? Not only can playgrounds be culturally informative, but there are many reasons why traveling with kids isn’t as hard as you think.
1) What are some of the trips you’ve taken as a family?
My almost-four-year-old son first got on a plane aged four months and has since taken some 20 flights and visited 10 countries. We call Perth in Western Australia home, but because my husband is from Germany we get to Europe every couple of years and manage shorter trips in between — some of them just me and my son when my husband can’t get away from work. We’ve just come back from a two-week mother-and-son trip to Penang, Malaysia; last year we had a great time traveling around Europe to Slovakia, Austria, Switzerland, Germany and Ireland.
2) What’s one thing that’s surprised you about traveling with young kids?
To be honest, I expected traveling with a young child to be much harder. I think we forget how resilient kids can be. I thought managing a four-hour layover in Singapore’s Changi Airport in the middle of the night with a three-year-old would be a disaster; he happily watched some of his favorite TV shows on the iPad and skipped onto the next plane with me. We hear a lot about kids needing a routine — and my son, when he’s at home, definitely does better with a really regular routine — but it seems that when we hit the road, he’s OK with things being a bit all over the place for a while.
Amanda’s son at the cat street art in George Town, Penang.
3) What’s the best part about traveling with young kids?
Seeing my son learn about the world through his young eyes is incredible. It is like the way I feel about experiencing new places but with the excitement and amazement amped up ten-fold. I also adore taking him to places that have been important to me already (for example, to Slovakia where I worked for a year, pre-family). Actually, there are so many best parts that I could write a book about it!
4) What’s the biggest challenge of traveling with young kids?
It was easier than I thought, but probably the trickiest part for experienced travelers is giving up the “old way” you traveled and adapting it to suit young children. For example, more time in local playgrounds instead of museums (although it’s amazing how much you can learn about a country from the local playgrounds!). For some kids, entertaining them for long distances is a problem though I’m lucky with my son that he’s easily amused and also, like me, is happy to stare out the window of a bus or a train for hours.
5) What’s one thing you would tell someone wanting to travel with young kids but is nervous to do so?
Start traveling as soon as you can — the younger the better! I think one of the reasons my son travels well is because he sees it as a normal part of life, just like going to kindergarten or to Grandma’s — it’s just something we do from time to time.
Otherwise, I’d start off with a short trip, with the absolute optimal flight times and accommodation, and get them used to the idea of being in strange places. I have now learnt that an overnight stopover on long haul flights (eg stopping in Dubai between Australia and Europe) is a massive sanity saver.
Contributed by Amanda Kendle who blogs at NotABallerina.com.
During a recent trip to Hawaii’s Big Island, I had the pleasure of hiking The King’s Trail, or The Mamalahoa Trail in Hawaiian.
When you enter the Waikoloa Village (the complex where the Marriott is located) from Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway (Route 19), you’ll see a sign for the trailhead and free parking lot on your right. While at the very beginning the trek seems like it’ll be a paved road, the terrain becomes rough very quickly, although stays pretty flat throughout.
The entire time you’re immersed in volcanic rock, ancient terrain and petroglyph fields. Additionally, your surrounding views alternate between palm trees, golf courses, luxury properties and mountains, sometimes even a mix of both. The trail traverses around the entire island, although some sections are completely eroded; however, you’ll often be able to hike for 20+ miles (32+ kilometers) without stopping.
Not only is the King’s Trail scenic, it’s part of the Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park. Built between 1836 and 1855, by prisoners and local laborers for horse travel, it once went for 32 miles (51 kilometers), connecting the villages of Kailua and Kona in the south, and Puako to the north. Notice the rock shelves on both sides. These were used to keep the animals on the trail, even if the rider fell asleep.
The name of the trek — The Mamalahoa Trail — is also interesting, as the word “Mamalahoa” refers to a law passed by Kamehameha the Great to ensure the safety of travelers. Additionally, it pertained to an elite regime that acted under his rule to help conquer the surrounding islands and unite what we now know as Hawaii.
Petroglyphs are the main reason people hike the King’s Trail, as it’s home to one of the largest concentrations of ancient rock carvings in Hawaii. There are literally thousands — dating between 1400 and 1800 AD — with various religious and celebratory meanings, especially as crossing borders in these times was not something to take lightly. Petroglyphs were made using sharp stone tools crafted into a kind of chisel and hammer. Sharp rock fragment was used to dig the carvings further. Another method of creating petroglyphs included rubbing blunt stone against lava.
While it can’t be determined exactly what the carvings mean, it’s clear these were more than mindless drawings, as in ancient Polynesia no form of expression was done without meaning. That being said, there are some theories, for example, pictures representing guardian spirits, and concentrations of dots, lines and circle representing groups, days of travel or the number of trips made past a certain point. No matter they mean, it’s interesting to get a close-up glimpse into this ancient culture.
Cave shelter along the King’s Trail
You’ll also find an interesting cave shelter toward the beginning of the trail. These were used to hide armies defending or attacking a certain border. They were also encampments for shielding oneself from wind and bad weather.
To give you a better idea of what you’ll see on the trail, continue reading the photo essay below.
Big White Ski Resort in Kelowna, Canada, is home to world-class skiing and snowboarding as well as spectacular scenery. Living in the village, I’ve created a photo essay of Instagram shots capturing some of my favorite slopeside moments for you to recreate on your travels.
1) Living in a completely ski-in ski-out village
2) The only reminder that you’re not going snow-color blind being the bright ski chairs
3) Running with a sundog – a sunny sight caused by refracting ice crystals
4) Cruising through endless fields of Okanagan champagne powder snow
5) Changing pace with a horse drawn carriage ride
6) Ramping things up again, climbing up a tower of ice
7) Watching the sunrise in the morning over the endless mountain ranges
8) Making it to the top of the mountain and feeling like I’m in another world
“The Western Ghats are a very important place in India. It’s home to the richest bird life on the Indian Peninsula as well as thousands of Ayurvedic plants.”
I’m at the Hornbill Camp, taking a tour of the onsite organic plantation with Chris and John, two interns from England. Kerala is renowned for its natural beauty and diverse ecology — which is why its tagline is ”God’s Own Country” — and the property is lush with sweet fruits, earthy nuts and Ayurvedic ingredients: bone-strengthening pineapple; cancer-fighting jack fruit; fiber-rich tapioca; heart-healthy chilies; turmeric with its antiseptic properties; nutmeg which helps upset stomach; clove which aids tooth aches; coffee cherries whose skins are full of antioxidants; and much more.
“Try this,” says Chris, handing me a tiny chilli. I catch a mischievous glint in his eyes. “It’s one of the more milder peppers.”
I catch his bluff. “Okay. But you first.”
He glances quickly at John, and plops the pepper on his tongue, immediately choking and turning red.
“Looks mild alright,” I smirk, punching him playfully in the arm.
Organically-grown rubber trees at the Hornbill Camp.
The plantation’s main crop is rubber, and you can tell which trees make the product from the plastic visors worn on their trunks. This is to protect already tapped areas from getting wet and infected with fungus. What’s really interesting is seeing how with one small cut liquified rubber runs down grooves chiseled into the trunk, dripping into a bucket stretching like puddy once it congeals. Afterward, we stop by the small onsite factory, where the rubber is turned into thin sheets that are sold to manufacturers.
After the walk, it’s time to immerse myself in Kerala’s rich biodiversity through a bird-watching kayaking adventure in the Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary. The camp sits on the Periyar River, the longest river in Kerala at 244 kilometers (152 miles). Here you’ll find over 260 bird species, 24 of which are endemic, like the Malabar Grey Hornbill, White-bellied Treepie and Nilgiri Flycatcher, as well as rare species like the Mottled Wood Owl, Rusty-tailed Flycatcher, Grey-headed Bulbul and Nilgiri Wood Pigeon.
Sunrise over the River Periyar at the Hornbill Camp.
The water of the river is still and serene, bordered by lowland tropical forest. Immediately we see birds flying from every direction — Dollarbirds, Snakebirds, Cormorants, Parakeets, Indian Cuckoos and even an enormous squirrel that looks more like a monkey called a Malabar Giant Squirrel. On the way home, more “animal life” is spotted as a local man paddles with his dog in a wooden canoe.
The bed in my cottage tent, which is crafted from local materials, is a welcomed sight after so much activity — especially as I had ridden a bike 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Kochi to get there. I fall face first on the cushy mattress. Not for too long though, as 7:30pm is dinner time.
Relax on your own private deck on the river at the Hornbill Camp.
Meals at the Hornbill Camp are done in traditional Kerala style, with ingredients sourced locally, many from the property. A creamy vegetable soup is the starter, followed by an aromatic buffet of vegetable korma, aloo gobi, chicken curry, ash gourd and tasty vegetable snake gourd. With each bite the spices and herbs I’d seen both on the property and cycling through Kerala come to life: the cashew and clove in the korma; the coriander and turmeric in the aloo gobi; the ginger root and cumin in the curry; and the coconut and dahl in the gourds. For dessert, a cardamom-spiced tapioca pudding showcases India’s “Queen of Spices,” which is not only sweet but excellent for healthy teeth and digestion. Sipping water from a mug hand-carved from local wood, I feel truly immersed in Kerala culture.
That night — after a refreshing shower using India‘s famous Ayuverdic soap — I go to bed hearing nothing but the sounds of Jerdon’s Nightjars and Ceylon Frogmouths. Unlike my apartment in Brooklyn, there’s no WiFi, subways, gangster rap or fighting street kids to distract me from a restful sleep. And while I usually toss and turn fretting over deadlines, bills and parking tickets, on this night not a thought crosses my mind. Not surprisingly, I sleep better than I have in ages.
Tulips in wine bottles. Photo courtesy of Joseph Hernandez.
Want to know where to experience the best food and wine in the United States? Joseph Hernandez, Assistant Editor at Wine Enthusiast Magazine, dishes on budget-friendly vinos, lobster pies, Detroit’s culinary revival and where to savor the country’s most delicious epicurious journeys.
1. What’s one foodie city in the U.S. that you think lives up to its hype?
I’m going to demure, because I honestly don’t think there’s just one. “Second” cities—those cities that exist in the burning star orbit of larger metropolises—are really coming into their own these days. Look at Detroit’s current, slow-but-inspiring revival, or Philly’s own emergence, as cities attracting talent and passion. Hell, Charleston and Asheville are Southern cities with huge foodie cred. As for the Big Guys, New York (particularly Brooklyn) and Chicago shouldn’t be ignored by gastronauts.
2. What’s one underrated food/wine city in the US you wish more travelers explored?
I recently had the pleasure of visiting Burlington, Vermont, and man, can that city cook. The Green Mountain state’s bounty is seemingly on every table, and every restaurant has an established relationship with the region’s farmers. They truly live the Slow Food, farm-to-table lifestyle, with none of the pretensions that seem to have emerged with it.
3. What’s one meal you’ve had on your U.S. travels that’s worth a trip in itself?
I essentially travel to eat, so this question is hard to answer, but the Northeast’s seafood culture is a habit I can’t break. I’m not even talking restaurant-wise. One of my favorite meals was on a trip to the sleepy seaside town of Newburyport just outside Boston. My companions and I got hold of some great Maine lobsters along with fresh, local goods and we made dinner together. I was introduced to my first lobster pie by my friend who grew up there, which is a traditional food you may not exactly find on any menus. It’s rustic, simple and the kind of eating and traveling I enjoy the most.
4. If you could teleport to one restaurant in the U.S. which would it be and why?
There’s a Filipino food joint in Orange County, California called Salo-Salo Grill that my family went to all of the time. The dishes are traditional Pinoy fare, zero to no flair, what some might call “authentic,” whatever that means to them. It’s the food my mom made for me growing up, and oh god, is it good. I’m a huge fan of Filipino food being the next Pacific food du jour, but places like Maharlika and Jeepney on the Lower East Side—and both are amazing!—will never come close. But that’s the danger of food memories, I guess; nothing will ever compare to that memory.
Sakamai in the Lower East Side. Photo courtesy of Joseph Hernandez.
5. As a New Yorker, what do you wish visitors understood more about the food and drink scene in NYC?
Stop basing your dining decisions on the health code letters in the window. I take it as a suggestion most of the time. Unless I personally know someone made sick by a place, I can’t be bothered with Yelp reviews or a glance at its letter grade. If it passes the smell test–”what is that delicious smell?”–I’m game. The city’s food scene represents so many different cuisines; as a person who can’t travel as much as I’d like to, I prefer using my dining experiences as a way of exploring a culture. Screw what a nameless health inspector thinks. The resto would be shutdown if they killed someone with a dish, no?
6. What’s one lesser-known wine region in the US you think wine travelers should plan to visit and why?
I’m biased, but New York! This state is seriously kicking ass, wine-wise. From the Finger Lakes to Long Island’s North Fork, and even the emerging Hudson Valley wineries, there’s so much good wine being made just outside of New York City. Even Brooklyn is churning out high quality juice, from Alie Shaper at Brooklyn Oenology, to Red Hook Winery enlisting the likes of wine world movers-and-shakers Abe Schoener and Robert Foley, it’s becoming damn-near impossible to find a bad wine from the Empire State.
Champagne. Photo courtesy of Joseph Hernandez.