Eat Your Heart Out!

 

IMG_1323One of the highlights of traveling home is, and has always been, gorging on grub, as my travels took me to, through, and around restaurants I loved. So, here’s a brief culinary summary of my 2 week visit home. Hope you all enjoy – visually – my gastronomical exploits…

It all started on the South African Airways plane. My veggie food was pretty yummy, but these mini Tangueray bottles took the entire ride over the top. I have to say that gin & tonic on a plane pairs well with the entire ride.

Then in the great state of New Jersey, an amazing medley of home cooked meals, American processed treats, awesome restaurants and food gluttony occurred. I’m sure, for those of you who live in the U.S. full time, Chips Ahoy cookies with M&Ms in them is nothing to write home about. But, when you live in Africa… I think you get the point. In short, as per below, you can see that I partook in South African wine, Mexican Fish Tacos and beer (only right to honor what should be a world holiday – Cinco de Mayo) at 2 different establishments (the Above Restaurant in South Orange and Red Cadillac in Union), and the best pizza in the whole damn state! There were also (unphotographed) home cooked meals of fried fish, cornbread, collard greens and sweet potato pie made by my grandma, and spaghetti and salmon made my mom. The thought of them will keep me homesick for months.

 

Then, the travels went north(ish) to New York City – the city so bad they named it twice. I popped into the city for a dinner that consisted solely of Key Lime Pie from Bubba Gump Shrimp, but then I had a morning meet up with a professor and mentor that I love dearly. We ended up heading over to the City Kitchen in Midtown, where I had a pancake breakfast at Whitman’s (sadly with Kraft syrup instead of God’s gift to breakfast – Grade A Maple) and fought off the impulse to try every variety of donut produced by Dough. It was tough to resist hibiscus donuts, but my thighs thanked me. And, I had a home cooked Jewish breakfast of bagels with lox and egg frittata with family friends, as well as a boozy brunch at yet another Mexican restaurant, Agave (unphotographed).

Last but not least I headed south to our nation’s capital. With so much political stankness in the air, it was great to find something apolitical to enjoy in the DMV.

I had lunch with a friend at Founding Farmers near Farragut West, where we proceeded to spend $22 a glass on King Estate Pinot Noir from Oregon, which the Vivino app says costs about $24.80 per bottle.  Yea, total rip off. But the food was decent and the restaurant is well located… its greatest highlight.

There was an entire ice cream experiment at Cold Stone Creamery, which ended with my stomach and my tongue rejoicing in perfect harmony. And  I had yet another delicious order of fish tacos at District Taco in Dunn Loring – yummy. Oh, a regular trip fave, was Ginger Salmon at a Vietnamese restaurant in Pentagon City, Saigon Saigon. My stomach is growling just thinking about all these yummy reunions, as well as two trips to Red Lobster with friends (unphotographed) and frequent visits to Starbucks for coffee drinks with non-dairy milk – oh, so rare here on the continent.

All told, while I love the food, what I miss most about being home is the people. These delish meals were a backdrop to meet ups, family gatherings, mentoring and catch up sessions that were long overdue. In just 2 weeks, I ate fish tacos at three different places and not a single loved one judged me for it. That’s what foodie reunions are all about!

 

Sleep with Confidence

Jodhpur - Water Habitat Retreat View

When I was in Jodhpur last month, I ended up staying in a resort hotel that just so happened to have a last-minute room available.  I tried to book at the Taj and the Oberoi, and I even tried a local Haveli.  But they were booked up and my flights were already paid for, so I had to scrounge up something and fast! So with little more than the promise of a clean bed and a good ranking on http://www.tripadvisor.com, I reserved a 3 night stay in the Water Habitat Retreat. And whoa, what a treat! This got me thinking about some of my most pleasant, surprise room stays around the world. When you travel, your room is your castle. Here are just four unsung heroes I recommend with confidence:

As the NGO expansion of a Maharaja’s summer home, the Water Habitat Retreat is a 28 room boutique hotel that offers vistas from Jodhpur’s Marwar desert.  Just about 20 minutes from the city center, this hotel is truly an oasis of stunning man-made lakes, hill-top temples, and quiet serenity. The rooms do not have TVs, but I was given a USB MBlaze to get internet reception free of charge.  What’s the catch? Well, the hotel is built aside a water catchment plant and reservoir.  The Aravalli hills are known for desert and drought, but in this NGO run hotel 70% of the hotel booking costs go directly to water harvesting. So, this nice hideaway also doubles as an opportunity for philanthropy. Hard to top that.

When a friend came to India shortly after I first arrived, we scrambled to find a hotel in Goa. We combed http://www.tripadvisor.com for a reasonably priced guesthouse near Candolim or Sinquerim beach. We tried to book to the #1 ranked Bougainvillea Goa, but they were full. They offered a room in their sister guest house just a 3 minute walk away. For $30 USD a night, we booked at Victoria Village Guest House. The room was clean and the owners were very sweet. The wife came to the door carrying her pudgy cheeked doll of a daughter and the husband told us about his sister’s restaurant down the road – which was not a tourist trap! Just a five-minute walk away from the Fort Aguada Taj hotel, I can’t imagine why anyone would choose NOT to stay at Victoria Village.

Not all surprises are cheap. And in San Francisco, you can bet that any good surprise costs a premium. But, a few years back I booked 3 nights at the Orchard Hotel and never once regretted it. I especially appreciated it when I got so sick that I couldn’t leave the hotel on the night before I was set to depart. I still remember the fish stew I ordered from room service, and I have yet to try fish stew that competes. The cleaning crew came multiple times a day and only when they knew we were out of the hotel – so no annoying knocks in the morning. Well worth the spend, if I’m ever back in San Fran I’ll be trying to relive my fish stew dream.

Germany Valley

One of my very favorite places in all of the U.S. is Germany Valley, West Virginia. Trying to unplug from Washington, D.C. life, I searched for a fall foliage locale that wouldn’t break the bank. While once on a stay in the Appalachian-Cabins in Seneca Rocks, I drove a ways and discovered the Germany Valley cabins. I decided that the next year, I would have to come back and stay in one. I had to book almost a year in advance to ensure I had an October weekend, but it was well worth it. Some of my fondest memories with my best friends and their kids were had right there in those hills. These cabins are a hidden gem, well worth the 5 hour drive from DC.

Here are a few other lodging options worth checking out:

Jaipur, India

New Delhi, India

Udaipur, India

Bangkok, Thailand

Chiang Mai, Thailand