Travel and eating are inevitably braided together. Local dishes can be the focus of a trip, offer bonding time with locals, and deepen our immersion in the destination’s culture. That immersion can happen spontaneously and make any journey an unforgettable food trip. Here are some tips on how to do it well as culled from years on the road and writing professionally about food. I also want to acknowledge that I live in gratitude to have these concerns to grapple with.
I’ll never forget the museum tour guide who ended up showing my partner and me around Mexico City’s massive fish market and my most recent trip to visit a friend who lives in a village outside of Oaxaca, one the country’s famous foodie towns. I spontaneously trailed her through weekday markets in search of ingredients for a party she was catering. We wandered between stalls looking for ingredients, sampled spices, moles, and chocolate, and even pinched turkey legs (live!) It turned into a wonderful food trip but the eating perplexed me.
My tummy isn’t built of iron and this has humbled my appetite. Others have food restrictions and special diets but we can all enjoy a food trip. No one wants to experience the crushing disappointment and discomfort of missing a trip excursion or having to slow down because of stomach problems and headaches that could’ve been avoided. It’s also true that as we get older, we can’t eat and drink like we used to!
FOMO: Don’t let food trip you up
Imagine my predicament while on a food-centric press trip when, after two large meals early in the day, we arrived at a renowned restaurant for an early dinner and the chef proceeded to cover our table with plates. Beautiful seasonal vegetables swam in sauces, perfectly crusted fish fillets were displayed on serving platters, thick sirloin steaks followed with baskets of cheesy biscuits, and our host stood beside us beaming with pride. But given a chance, I would’ve fasted for days before attending.
What to do if you encounter abundance at a buffet or celebration? Help yourself to only a few bites of each dish. Your plate will still be full enough and this part of the food trip won’t leave you in agony. Here are some other suggestions and an earlier article about a stellar food trip.
Embrace the trend toward small plates
I love tasting menus and how small plate menus are becoming popular. I first discovered them in a tapas bar in Barcelona, then the Aperitivo phenomenon in Rome. While strolling the Travestere neighborhood, we saw signs offering appetizers and cocktails and thus began a love affair with Italian happy hours. Drink menu prices may be inflated slightly to help cover free buffets but it was well worth the delight of noshing and clinking while we enjoyed people-watching through the golden hour.
Share with abandon
Once sharing dishes was frowned upon. Sorry, Miss Manners, but this is one perfect solution to avoid the discomfort of over-eating. I love sharing a few bites of roasted meats for example, instead of ordering a huge entree. The pleasure of first bites when taste buds first awaken to a new texture and flavor is a phenomenon any foodie lives for. Sharing is also a great way to extend a trip budget as well.
Start the meal with a plan
I learned about portion control while on a diet program and it really helped me avoid over-eating and avoid extra calories. In that light, here’s a wonderful word for the mind-brain connection in relation to food:
Appestat: a mechanism or region of the brain that regulates the desire for, and intake of, food: thought to be in the hypothalamus or region of the brain that regulates the desire for, and intake of, food.
The thing about this appestat phenomenon is that it can take twenty minutes for our stomachs to feel full but the mind may still ‘feel’ hungry. I eat too quickly too often and can miss that signal. Eventually, I feel too full! Eating slowly and more mindfully helps a lot but there’s another technique. When presented with large portions ask for a to-go container and use it before taking the first bite!
Then cut the dish portion in two and put part of it away for later. As long as I have a refrigerator in my room, it’s a great strategy for avoiding late-night hunger pangs or getting back to the hotel to discover that the hotel restaurant is closed and neighborhood places are too. This also helps to reduce food waste.
Eat early to sleep better
Savvy travelers can tell you that eating a big breakfast or saving the day’s largest meal for midday helps extend budgets. Eating larger portions early also helps with sleep. Your body can rest more deeply when it’s not busy digesting a big dinner at the same time you’re trying to rest.
Food Trip Libation Strategies
Spontaneously attend a wine tasting? Of course, what a wonderful opportunity to meet local vintners and sample their wares. However, I’ve learned to slow down, accept only small, partial portions, and cut myself off no matter how much my travel buddies drink. It’s saved more than one trip.
Keep track of quantities
Who doesn’t love a home dinner party with friends? However, I’ve learned the hard way that it’s easy to lose track of how much you’re drinking while talking and hosts keep pouring. One evening, by the time I realized I’d overdone it, it was too late. That embarrassment aside, I’ve learned to set my intention once I walk in and politely decline more wine. Watch out for ‘just one more’ or ‘Let’s share the bottle’ moments.
Don’t Mix Grape and Grain
I picked this up from George Clooney. Didn’t know we were friends?! (Just kidding) He famously promoted a Tequila brand with other celebrities and has since nodded to drinking responsibly. I swear that not mixing distilled cocktails and wine with dinner makes for more fun. Right, George?
Having a glass of wine or two with dinner may have its advantages but I’ve learned to put the bottle away early. It takes practice to discover what time works best (I stop drinking by 7:30 or 8 pm if I’m going to bed around 10.) Notice I didn’t say go to sleep because that can be illusive with alcohol still buzzing through your system. Also, wine and food can disturb sleep up in other ways. You may fall asleep but wake once the alcohol has been digested and have a hard time getting back to sleep. I sure hate rolling around for hours in the middle of the night because I had a last cocktail with friends after 9 pm.
Drink water frequently
“The secret to pollution is dilution,” a friend has reminded me more than once. She insists on drinking a cup of water between every glass of wine. It does help, I’ve found, although you might have to use the bathroom more frequently during the night. I’m good with that trade off.
What food trip strategies have you developed in your travels?