My niece Kristel and daughter Sarah are planning a day trip to Chicago. Their plans include canal boat rides, glass bottom skyscraper observation decks, a train ride in and out. But what excited me most was when I overheard them planning was their discussion of the food for the trip. We’re not talking taking a picnic lunch along, but what food trucks, carts and restaurants to consider, try or delete from the list.
I am the family’s vacation planner. And after we’ve democratically decided where to go and each person has created a list of “must sees/must do”, I get to dig into all the details of the trip – transportation, accommodations, sightseeing, friends and family and the food. I love planning our family vacations and particularly love planning places to eat.
Like the Chicago day trip planners, I’m always asking people I know about where to eat, what’s good and particularly, who in the city of visit is using local produce, fruits and meat. Many of these family trips include at least one farmer’s market visit if not several. We not only learn so much, but get more refined ideas of places to eat. I love finding those often over-looked gems, just before they become popular or when in their infancy and the cook is still trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
If it’s not busy, we’ll ask the chef to make us a family style meal, giving the cook a per person dollar amount, asking them to go crazy. The good news is that we don’t have any particular food allergies and there aren’t too many things we won’t eat (really, there are very few things we won’t try – including deep fried cicadas at a potluck farm dinner). When the kitchen staff consents to such an arrangement, we are never disappointed. And when it doesn’t work, we order off the menu, letting the wait staff help us with selections.
In our family roadtrips, we’ve tried every unusual thing on a menu (well, unusual for us), from varied okra preparations (I’m the only one still willing to try okra) to grits de jour and crazy meat combinations (love the unusual sausages and pit bbq, not too keen on braised chicken feet). The eating establishments range from roadside shacks with bbq pits in the back (best brisket in a tent-city style set up in the middle of Austin, Texas manufacturing district) to elaborate full-wall glassed white tablecloth restaurants overlooking waterfalls and mountains. Never fast food or chain restaurants.
Food as part of a trip allows us to try new flavors, new dishes and get a feel for the local appetites, as well as locally grown, from vegetables to beer and spirits. We also are able to better put together the geography of a place with the local food offered, another piece in the learning while you travel puzzle.
The rewards for this kind of food travel are well worth the effort. But be forewarned, it is an effort. Bypassing the easy junk food enroute takes time, patience, persistence and a few PB&J sandwiches when the next food find is another 20 minutes down the road.