Since I am currently on vacation at our family cottage in MI, I got to thinking about foods that are the essence of a place.
When we come here, from MN, we often “go over the top”, meaning we drive over the U.P., across the Mackinac bridge, and down. The food that you MUST have if you are going to that region, is 1)fudge. 2)cherries. 3)pasties. (Important note: Pasty rhymes with nasty, NOT with hasty. Otherwise you have something that teenage girls gigglingly wear to create chestal illusions.) Pasties are an amazing thing with meat, potatoes, rutabagas (which I make it a policy to never eat, EXCEPT in pasties), and various other things, all wrapped in a pastry crust. Scrumptious!
And then there’s Duluth, MN. If you’re in Duluth, you go out to the little fish stand on the end of Canal Point Park–the one that’s shaped like a ship–and you get their deep-fried walleye, which is a fish that Duluth almost owns. Except–I’m just remembering that I had some of the best walleye ever at the North Peak Brewing Company in Traverse City, MI a few years ago. It was breaded with a home-brewed beer batter that was heavenly.
A sad thing that I miss when I’m here at the cottage: there used to be a Cajun restaurant here in this teeny little village. It was run by a couple from New Orleans–and who knows how they ended up HERE–and they had the most incredible food. I always ordered the Cajun boil, which involved a huge pot of smoked sausage, potateos, corn, crawfish, shrimp, and crab legs, dumped out in front of me on the table. I’d have a bowl of butter, a hammer for cracking the crab, and a roll of paper towels. No other utensils. It was seriously fun food. I try to make a Cajun boil at home at least once a summer. It requires guests who are into eating with their hands, and into sitting and talking and eating for a long time.
Some other places that have been quintessential food experiences:
Arturo’s, in Joshua Tree, CA–burritos as big as your head.
Sunday morning brunch at either the Wawona Hotel or the Ahwahnee Hotel, in Yosemite.
Amanda’s Fonda, in Colorado Springs.
Gianna’s Italian Restaurant, in Oakhurst, CA–now defunct.
El Cid, a Mexican dive in Oakhurst, and also in Fresno.
Le Croissant French Bakery in Fresno.
The Hong Kong Inn, Grand Rapids, MI.
hot chocolate near the bonfire, at the outdoor ice skating rink in Yosemite Valley.
crusty bread, soft white local cheese, and a bottle of vino, on the beach in Malta.
Roast rabbit at a little courtyard restaurant in Mdina, Malta.
Fresh-off-the-boat-choose-your-own-slice swordfish in Mjarr, Malta
Nocciola (hazelnut) gelatto in Sliema, Malta
Marinated mussels at a trattoria in Rome
Open-air grilled fajitas at some dive in Santa Ana, Mexico
Chef Hoppe’s in Morro Bay, CA
eating sourdough french bread on Pier 39 in San Francisco
Well, I could go on. My idea of vacation is to eat my way through a place. My memories of places I’ve been always include “and we ate this, sitting there, and then had some of that.” The food defines the experience–makes it not just a memory of things we saw, but of things we touched and tasted and smelled; and of conversations we had while we ate.