I think with any travel, it is about the experience that is "out of the norm" that we remember the most. It is that chance to "be a local", to venture on the path that is not traveled by the tourists and experience the places that locals hold on to and don't share. And this article is to talk about some of ours but also to create a conversation, a clearinghouse for all of us to share those experiences.
Top of mind, our 5 most memorable lunch experiences were:
Tahiti - we had a sailboat with a skipper and a chef to prepare our meals. After going into an island port to replenish supplies, the chef grabbed Kathy's hand and lead her through a series of pathways to arrive at a fishing market for locals. There, the locals sold "fish on a line". And at $2, we had enough fish for a ceviche starter, sashimi, and a grilled main course. Probably, the chef does this with every client but lunch was prepared on the beach of a deserted WW2 island, blowing palm trees, turquoise seas, Darwinism birds, mats to sit on, nothing else. Unplugged from the world, Kathy in pearls, knowing that we were the only ones in the world in this moment, very special.
Amalfi coast - How can anyone not love the Amalfi coast? The cliffs, the Mediterranean Sea, the terrifying highway, the lemons, the cuisine, the lifestyle of southern Italy. We stayed in a small village along the coast and to get to our hotel, we had to walk up the hill, through the ripening lemon trees - Absolute heaven. But walking down for lunch was absolute heaven also. On the sea, with a minimal number of tables, that was far too small for the tourist trade was a restaurant that served pasta with a lemon vodka sauce. OMG, we have spent a lifetime trying to duplicate their recipe! Pasta, grilled fish, espresso, limoncello, maybe another, why do they have to tell us to leave. It's only been 3 hours. They saw us again, every day for a week, for the rest of our trip.
Brussels - Living in Brussels gave us a very unique opportunity to splurge in both 3-star Michelin cuisine and food trucks. The Belgians were always proud to deliver high quality food regardless of price points. And for us, it was about balance. When we lived over there, I became the "go to" person to entertain visiting American executives because most of them dreaded the 3-hour plus dinners. But as a young ladder climber of a major corporation, I relished the opportunity! However my favorite culinary experience was on Saturdays, when Kathy and I would head to Place St Catherine, the fish monger area of town, for moules and frites (mussels and fries). Served in kettles, the moules were prepared in so many spiced liquids that every visit was unique. Coupled with a baguette for dipping and 2 bottles of Alsatian wine, lt was hard to envision life much better. And again, off the beaten path where English was never heard, paradise.
Iceland - All we ever heard about Iceland were their hot dogs. Bill Clinton, on his visit to Reykjavik, stopped at a hot dog stand and ever since then, the stand has become famous. And their claim to fame is that they are principally made from organic lamb bits, in addition to pork and beef. Well, Kathy and I had a guide that lived in a small fishing village on the western coast of Iceland. No one goes there, even if you are lost. It is a town of 800 people and it is all about the sea. Except, the convenience store, which serves as town hall. It was there, surrounded by locals that Kathy and I had our hot dog experience. Clearly with all the village eyes upon us, we acted like it was a culinary delight. But underneath our breath, it was “really?” at $7 a dog, we were expecting “heaven”, not a hot dog.
The Belgian Ardennes - The Ardennes are located in the south east section of Belgium. It is a region of extensive forests, rough terrain, rolling hills, and picturesque little villages. Kathy and I were out exploring the area and knew of an inn with a 2-star Michelin restaurant that was open for lunch. Consistent with its name, Hidden Mill, was an old mill located in a deserted road with no signage, which made us wonder if we took the right path. However, once we arrived, the property was stunning. They sat us alone in the garden, with the rarely seen Belgian sunshine on our faces, and we savored their 5-course tasting menu. And then it happened… I experienced my first food orgasm. Not the Sally meets Harry bang on the table, moan out loud type of display, but, enough said. It was 30 years ago but I can still visualize and taste that fish dish. The flavors were so fantastic that I would take a bite, set down my fork and rest. I was hoping that the meal would never end as it made the universe perfectly align. It was only six bites of fish but I think it took me twenty minutes to savor it. I was in that trance. That is, until Kathy ruined it, “Michael, don’t you think your fish is getting cold?”