Advertisement

Illustration by By Dianka Pyzhova/Shutterstock

Illustration by By Dianka Pyzhova/Shutterstock

The outpouring of grief around Anthony Bourdain’s death in June was a reminder of just how far our collective obsession with food and travel has come.

Advertisement

The “Bourdain effect,” as many have come to call it, changed the way people traveled, putting culinary experiences at the forefront of their itineraries and encouraging people to understand and appreciate culture through shared meals.

As Erik Wolf, president of the World Food Travel Association, told Travel Weekly after Bourdain’s death, his “television shows seeded the idea of food travel for many who had never considered the notion before.”

Few people will ever experience the culinary adventures that Bourdain did, but many people would say they aspire to them. And as the following articles by Travel Weekly staff demonstrate, suppliers and destinations get this. Whether it’s cruise ships offering the culinary trends that people seek on land, destinations mapping out the best sidewalk food stalls or the overall surge in food awareness leading to a demand for more healthful options everywhere — even at 40,000 feet in the air — there has never been a better time to eat on the road.

Advertisement

The latest culinary hot spot? Authentic, eclectic Taiwan

The fried pork ribs at Golden Formosa in Taipei, which has been awarded a Michelin star. The fried pork ribs at Golden Formosa in Taipei, which has been awarded a Michelin star.

The fried pork ribs at Golden Formosa in Taipei, which has been awarded a Michelin star. Photo by Eric Moya

The fried pork ribs at Golden Formosa in Taipei, which has been awarded a Michelin star. Photo by Eric Moya

Few accolades in the world of gastronomy carry the prestige of the Michelin star, and this year, several restaurants in Taiwan are basking in the glow of this coveted designation on the heels of the first Michelin Guide for Taiwan’s capital, Taipei.

My press trip last month, sponsored by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau, showcased several aspects of Taiwanese cuisine, which draws heavily from the island’s Chinese heritage — particularly the traditions of Fujian province, just across the Taiwan Strait — but also incorporates Japanese, European and other influences.

Despite its Francophone name, Le Palais isn’t a French restaurant, but instead offers high-end interpretations of Cantonese cuisine. The flagship restaurant of Taipei’s Palais de Chine hotel, Le Palais was hailed by Michelin as offering “truly outstanding” takes on dishes such as crispy roast duck, and it earned three stars this year for its efforts.

The duck was certainly one of the highlights of our group’s dinner there, which also included noodles with roast pork. That takeout staple is reduced to its essence at Le Palais, with comparatively few veggies versus its Western counterpart and its delicately seasoned pork lacking the bright red hue of the char siu often found within a white cardboard carton back home.

And for chef Matt Chen, that’s the point: no fillers, just painstaking preparation and top ingredients.

Taipei’s Golden Formosa restaurant also earned Michelin recognition thanks to its traditional offerings. According to chef Eric Chen, the restaurant received its star largely on the strength of classic Taiwanese fare such as its fried pork ribs, a secret family recipe that Chen prepares in isolation daily.

The ribs’ deep-fried coating remained crisp despite going untouched for several agonizing minutes while we took photos. (Instagram, what hast thou wrought?) I suspect even the pickiest carnivore would love these, and an order can be had for about $8, a veritable bargain of culinary excellence.

However, our culinary experiences in Taiwan went beyond traditional Chinese ingredients and flavors. At the 27th Taiwan Culinary Exhibition in Taipei, for example, an entire pavilion was devoted to halal cuisine, drawing curious attendees with stalls offering samples of shawarma, Turkish-style ice cream and other Islam-friendly eats.

Also illustrative of the increasing diversity of the country’s culinary scene is the tourism board’s new 48-page guide to vegetarian restaurants. The guide (available at https://eng
.taiwan.net.tw/m1.aspx?sNo=0016590) uses map-style icons to indicate whether a given restaurant offers vegetarian and/or vegan options.

During his opening remarks at the culinary expo, Chen Chien-jen, Taiwan’s vice president, encouraged visitors to go beyond the island’s acclaimed restaurants and explore the eateries of its “dark alleys.”

Our itinerary didn’t allot time for visits to Taiwan’s famed night markets, but on our last night, a colleague and I were able to fit in a stop at Liuhe Night Market in the city of Kaohsiung. I had visited several night markets in Taipei years ago and found Liuhe easier to navigate than most of those. It’s basically one straight, wide street, in contrast to the intimidatingly labyrinthine layout of some markets.

As I handed a vendor the equivalent of a couple of bucks for a Taiwanese-style sausage, I thought about the vice president’s remarks, and amid the market’s dim glow on an overcast night, I experienced a final bright spot of Taiwan’s culinary scene.

Advertisement

Barbecue on the high seas? Now we’re cooking!

Brisket and sides at the Pig & Anchor on the Carnival Horizon. Photo by Tom Stieghorst Brisket and sides at the Pig & Anchor on the Carnival Horizon. Photo by Tom Stieghorst

Brisket and sides at the Pig & Anchor on the Carnival Horizon. Photo by Tom Stieghorst

Brisket and sides at the Pig & Anchor on the Carnival Horizon. Photo by Tom Stieghorst

No one picks a cruise based solely on the barbecue, but if they did, they’d have some good choices.

Within the broad umbrella of barbecue, Carnival Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line offer different experiences.

I had the chance to try the options at both lines over the past few months, as each debuted a new concept on a newbuild. I liked one better than the other, which we’ll get to in a minute, but first let’s meet the contenders.

Carnival’s Pig & Anchor sounds oddly British for a decidedly American culinary concept. That may be a nod to the pub aspect of the dining spot. Carnival has uniquely combined its barbecue shack on the Carnival Horizon with the brewery that it introduced on the Carnival Vista.

Four fresh-brewed beers are available to wash down the barbecue offerings, which range from pork butt and smoked beef brisket, chicken pieces and andouille sausage, all available with a choice of four sauces.

Sides at the Pig & Anchor include traditional favorites like baked beans, mac and cheese, coleslaw, collard greens and potato salad.

Now that’s the lunch menu. Lunch and dinner are different deals at the Pig & Anchor (formally Guy’s Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que and Smokehouse, which takes almost as long to say as the meats do to smoke. The “Guy” is Guy Fieri, who curates the barbecue experience on Carnival vessels.)

Lunch is included (i.e., free) and is served cafeteria-style from an open-air kitchen out on deck. There’s no cover for guests, so if it is raining, patrons have to dodge the raindrops to order and collect their food. But they can duck inside once they have a tray and eat in the bar area, and there are tables outside for fair weather.

Dinner (5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.) has a different menu, featuring more ambitious offerings such as baby back ribs and prime rib. Appetizers include Trash Can Nachos and Dragon Chili Cheese Fries, reflecting the tastes of road-food maven Fieri.

Pricing is a la carte, ranging from $6 for a Pig & Anchor Melt to $18 for a pound of Prime Time Prime Rib.

Fieri’s trademark Flavortown is spelled out in bulb lights above the very inviting Pig & Anchor bar. There is also a small stage for live entertainment, and there could theoretically be dancing, although there’s not tons of room.

Norwegian’s concept, Q Texas Smokehouse, has some of the same food but a different vibe.

Q uses the space that on other Breakaway-class vessels is used for the dinner theater, so tables are arrayed in a semicircle surrounding a stage, which features country music and dancing after dinner (6 p.m. to 9 p.m.).

Norwegian did a nice job combining some country decor with a more contemporary look, as in the wagon wheel light fixtures that don’t look at all rustic. The star of the menu is the Pit Master Platter ($24.99), which features a quarter pound each of brisket, spareribs, sausage and smoked chicken. Sides are coleslaw, potato salad, beans and jalapeno-cheese cornbread.

Too much? A serving of pulled pork with the same sides is $12.99.

Carnival has been serving barbecue at sea longer than Norwegian, and it shows. I liked the flavors and presentation better at the Pig & Anchor than at Q. The best thing I had at the Pig & Anchor was the beef brisket, which was fall-apart tender and really complemented the beers, especially the darker ones. The can’t-miss item at Q, I thought, was the mouth-watering jalapeno-cheese cornbread.

I think both concepts can only improve. They were decent, but neither stood up to my land-side favorites in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, much less to the barbecue meccas of North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Kansas City.

While there are limitations on cruise ships in terms of being able to cook with open flames and the use of smokers, I still hope that, just like barbecue, with the proper seasoning and patience, these restaurants will become truly spectacular with time. words.

Advertisement

Retracing steps and memorable meals in Guadalajara, Mexico

A torta ahogada at one of the seven Tortas Tono locations in Guadalajara, Mexico. TW Photo by Eric Moya A torta ahogada at one of the seven Tortas Tono locations in Guadalajara, Mexico. TW Photo by Eric Moya

A torta ahogada at one of the seven Tortas Tono locations in Guadalajara, Mexico. Photo by Eric Moya

A torta ahogada at one of the seven Tortas Tono locations in Guadalajara, Mexico. Photo by Eric Moya

“What’s for dinner?” I wondered, ice-cold Pacifico in hand, as I gazed across the plaza of Guadalajara’s Templo Expiatorio, the neo-Gothic church basking in the magic-hour glow of dusk.

It wasn’t an unusual question for me to ponder on a Monday evening, but answering it was going to be tougher than usual. It was the last night of my press trip to the capital of Mexico’s Jalisco state, where I’d lived as an expat in 2005 and 2006, and I had about 12 years’ worth of cravings to catch up on.

Not that the previous days were devoid of culinary highlights. Throughout the trip, sponsored by Guadalajara’s tourism board, our hosts kept our group well fed as they showcased both the classic and contemporary sides of the city’s food scene.

The first morning started strong, with a sampling of Guadalajara’s signature torta ahogada, touted as a hangover cure. Although I didn’t need such a remedy that morning, the spicy pork sandwich hit the spot nonetheless.

At Tortas Tono, which has seven locations in the greater Guadalajara area, guests can assemble their own sandwich from a selection of sauces and garnishes — a nice option, since I usually prefer mine with less sauce than the traditional “drowned sandwich” presentation.

The next night, we had dinner at Alcalde, headed by award-winning chef Paco Ruano. With multicolored orbs overhead providing subdued lighting for the restaurant’s chic-yet-whimsical decor, we were served a superbly prepared, yet reassuringly homey roast suckling pig with mole sauce along with sophisticated, inventive cocktails containing top-shelf mescal and tequila.

A couple of days later I’d be on my own, having extended my stay to take more photos and revisit old haunts. For both of those reasons I ended up at Coyote Rojo, a second-floor bar across from the Expiatorio, weighing my dinner-time dilemma over a couple of cold ones and snapping a few sunset pics with my SLR.

In the plaza below, vendors had begun setting up their food carts, frying up churros and grilling corn on the cob. So the food carts were one option; I recalled one vendor made great tamales, and I wondered if she was still in business.

I was tempted to return to La Chata, where I’d had lunch hours before and which I’d frequented back in the day. It was as busy as ever, with the kitchen staff efficiently plating Mexican comfort food for the steady stream of diners.

I had made quick work of my chicken with mole poblano: a bone-in leg quarter with the skin, which was a welcome change from the boneless, skinless chicken breast that stateside Mexican restaurants often serve.
But I decided to end the night as I had ended so many nights before, at Taqueria La Flor de Sahuayo, its familiar trompo rotisserie beckoning passersby with the tantalizing scent of charcoal-roasted pork.

I ordered two al pastor and two chorizo tacos, as I would’ve done a dozen years before.

Dinner was served, with a side order of nostalgia.

Advertisement

‘Wellness cuisine’
nourishes and satisfies

The kale and avocado salad topped with crispy quinoa at the Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown. Photo by Johanna Jainchill The kale and avocado salad topped with crispy quinoa at the Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown. Photo by Johanna Jainchill

The kale and avocado salad topped with crispy quinoa at the Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown. Photo by Johanna Jainchill

The kale and avocado salad topped with crispy quinoa at the Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown. Photo by Johanna Jainchill

It was a sticky, 95-degree August day in Manhattan when I set out for the perfect antidote: the spa at the Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown.

I was on a quest to sample a few versions of hotel “wellness cuisine,” curious as to what that proliferating phrase actually meant in practice, especially since “wellness” seems poised to join “boutique” and other catch-all words that seem to have lost their real meaning.

What I found, not unexpectedly, are that the menus invariably include juice and smoothie varieties, options that lean heavily toward vegetables, whole grains and fish and mostly eschew red meat, pork and dairy. But what really puts the items in the wellness category is often what’s not on the menu description.

The executive chef of the 2-year-old Four Seasons, Shaun Acosta, just launched a separate “wellness menu” of items that can be ordered either in-room or at the spa.

Spa-goers can enjoy the cuisine on the terrace overlooking the Woolworth Building or in the spa’s relaxation room, which is where I sat for my tasting, feeling very relaxed among purple crystals and a meditative soundtrack.

I loved the texture that the crispy quinoa gave to the kale and avocado salad — the most popular item on the wellness menu, by far — and couldn’t get enough of the yellowfin tuna poke, well-balanced with a drizzling of sesame oil. The kitchen sent out a side of homemade hummus accompanied by heirloom carrots instead of traditional pita or crackers.

“Frequent travelers need something healthier than someone on vacation might. The most important thing for us is a wide variety of options.”
– Executive chef Matthew Garelick, Park Hyatt

The meal was preceded by a sampling of two of the five juice blends on the menu, with names like Fiber, Immune and Power.

The Four Seasons describes its wellness options as being “rich with vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and nutrients that aid the body’s functionality and promotes overall health,” but Acosta said the choices go beyond that.

“The biggest factor for me is avoiding processed foods, refined sugars and having a calorie-deficit approach to eating,” he said.

“Obviously,” Acosta added, “foods rich in vitamins, antioxidants and minerals are important, but my main focus is to provide a menu focused on fresh, unprocessed ingredients that taste great, look great and make you feel great.”

Some wellness items were already being offered on the hotel’s in-room dining menu, but the new wellness menu puts all such offerings in one place, which spa director Tara Cruz said simplifies the process for spa guests looking for healthy options.

Cruz added that people have been requesting healthful menu items more often, and having one menu that consolidated them has made spa dining even more popular, especially among groups.

I also made a wellness cuisine reservation at the Spa Nalai, at the Park Hyatt New York, in the spa’s glass-enclosed lounge offering 25th-floor views of midtown.

There is no set wellness menu at the Nalai, but there is a juice program and some menu items that are classified as promoting wellness, such as the very popular and absolutely delicious coconut chia seed pudding. It was topped with fresh and dried figs, raw apple, blueberries and toasted coconut, and I found that a splash of balsamic vinegar took it to the next level in the chia pudding category.

The hotel also recently introduced a tea program in the spa in partnership with Ikaati teas.

Executive chef Matthew Garelick said there is more demand for wellness options, and the hotel is adding items to its menus. What puts an item such as the chia pudding in the wellness category, he said, is that it is high in fiber and protein from the chia and packed with antioxidants from the berries. The healthful, plant-based fats in the coconut milk make it satisfying.

Garelick said that at the Park Hyatt New York, support for increasing the wellness options comes from the top, in the form of the property’s general manager, Peter Roth, who is also Hyatt’s area vice president. Every day, Roth has the kitchen prepare him a custom, raw-vegetable smoothie of beets, celery, blackberries, flax, chia and almonds. I tried it. If health had a taste, that would be it.

“He swears by it, and we are considering bringing a version of it to the regular menu, as well,” Garelick said.

He added that the breakfast menu is one place that will soon have more healthful options, including avocado toast, acai pudding and the Middle Eastern tomato and egg dish shakshuka.

The idea is to offer balance.

More health-conscious people and “frequent travelers need something healthier than someone on vacation might,” he said. “The most important thing for us is a wide variety of options.”

For now, the hotel is used to customizing meals based on individual ideas of wellness, whether it’s gluten-free, vegan, egg-free, etc.
“We can cater to anyone’s dietary needs,” Garelick said.

Advertisement

Qantas cooks up program to reduce jet lag on long-haul flights

This rotisserie chicken salad with seeds and grains is heavy with tryptophan, which can help induce sleep on a long-haul flight. Photo by Robby Silk This rotisserie chicken salad with seeds and grains is heavy with tryptophan, which can help induce sleep on a long-haul flight. Photo by Robby Silk

This rotisserie chicken salad with seeds and grains is heavy with tryptophan, which can help induce sleep on a long-haul flight. Photo by Robby Silk

This rotisserie chicken salad with seeds and grains is heavy with tryptophan, which can help induce sleep on a long-haul flight. Photo by Robby Silk

On a Sunday afternoon this past June, I sat inside Sydney’s Rockpool Bar and Grill, dining on an eclectic, tapas-style sampling of dishes developed by the restaurant’s renowned owner, Neil Perry.

Among the choices were yellowfin tuna tataki with preserved cabbage and horseradish cream and wood fire-grilled rotisserie chicken salad with seeds and grains, the latter of which I particular appreciated for its fresh, healthful flavor.

"The key is ‘taking the science of nutrition and turning it into fabulously delicious dishes."
—Stephen Simpson, Perkins Centre

Other options included a Greek spanakopita pie made with Australian native greens and beef with bearnaise sauce.

This meal, however, wasn’t just a social affair. In addition to being a restaurateur, Perry is the creative director of food and beverage for Australia’s Qantas Airways, which partnered with the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre on a novel project that the airline hopes will improve customer service. Both parties also hope it will yield new knowledge about how to best counteract jet lag on long-haul air travel.

As such, a portion of the menu items that day either mimicked or had common elements with menu choices Qantas is offering on its recently launched route between Perth, Australia, and London, the longest route the airline flies.

During the meal, Perkins Centre academic director Stephen Simpson said a key goal of the partnership is “taking the science of nutrition as it relates to your body clock and turning it into fabulously delicious dishes.”

Already, Qantas is using principles known to science to alleviate the effects of jet lag on the 17-hour Perth-London route, which crosses seven time zones. For example, the airline discretely alters the lighting on the flight to encourage both wakefulness and sleep at the appropriate times. It also waits longer than usual at the beginning of the flight to start food service in order to wean passengers toward the time zone they’ll encounter in London.

“We like to keep people awake for four to six hours,” said Helen Gray, Qantas’ head of food and beverage.

Still, it’s in menu development that Qantas and Perkins could prove most groundbreaking.

Many of the dishes incorporate proteins with high levels of tryptophan accompanied by carbohydrates, a combination that increases levels of the hormones melatonin and serotonin, both known to promote sleep about two to three hours after eating.

Proteins, including turkey, chicken, beef and fish, can all be high in tryptophan. Cheese is another good option, as are various seeds and grains. Hence, Perry’s decision at the lunch to make the chicken salad with seeds and grains, which has been served on Qantas flights.

Of course, practically any airline will serve some sort of beef, chicken or fish as part of a long-haul menu. But not all proteins are created equal when it comes to sleep-inducing characteristics, Simpson said. Beef, for example, needs to be grass-fed to meet that criterion.

Along with eating the right things, avoiding problematic food is also important to good sleep, Perry said. Eating too much acid-inducing, spicy food can be problematic. But Qantas doesn’t plan to take such options away from its flyers. To wit, this fall’s business-class London-Perth menu includes a spiced lamb dish.

Still, the efforts Qantas and Perkins are making related to handling jet lag are more than mere window dressing.

In March, the partners did a feasibility study by fitting 20 Perth-London passengers with wearables that recorded in-flight physical activity, including how much they slept, how much they walked and how their posture changed. Subjects also filled out questionnaires before and after the flight relating to their personal habits and flight experience.

The test sample was too small for scientists to draw firm conclusions, but it suggested that people who are more organized and regimented in their normal life are most likely to experience minimal jet lag, Simpson said.

In addition, on a scale of one to eight, the subjects reported an average jet lag of two. The Perkins scientists are now designing a more comprehensive 100-person study that will be conducted across a wider range of Qantas routes. Recruitment will take about a year, Simpson said.

Ultimately, the study should shed light on a variety of subjects, such as if a particular aircraft type like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is better than others when it comes to jet lag and how tuna compares with Chilean sea bass.

“What we would like,” Gray said, “is for our customers to be better informed about the decisions they are making so they can do better with health and wellness going forward.”

Advertisement
Advertisement