When we travel, we love to plan out where we are going to eat. We spend as much time putting together our culinary adventures as we spend putting together the itinerary. Plugging in a search like “where to eat in XYZ city” will pull up thousands of results. At times is can be a bit overwhelming and hard to narrow down where to eat with so many suggestions and so many reviews.
Some of our favorite sites to visit when planning where we will eat at are Yelp, Eater, TripAdvisor, and of course fellow bloggers (bloggers have the best info). We read the reviews, look at the menus, search up images. I personally like looking at the images, it gives a much broader idea of what to expect. Typically, during our culinary planning, my phone starts blowing-up from texts from my husband, sending me links to multiple restaurants. I have to gently remind him that we only have so many days on our trips, that we cannot eat everywhere or we would be spending 12 hours a day eating.
We want to experience the countries culinary culture as part of seeing and learning about the place we are visiting. However, much information often feels like it’s leading to over planning, and that often times we lose out on the spontaneity of discovering local eats, like a road side stand or whole in the wall restaurant providing the best local culinary experience during our trip…
Lately, we have scaled back on our over-planning of restaurants and have chosen instead to simply stop at what looks good. Bringing back the spontaneity of just stopping at a random restaurant, be it a hole-in-the-wall, road-side stand, or even a gas station has brought us some of the most memorable meals while traveling.
Spontaneous Stops for Meals While Traveling
When we visited Guatemala with the family, we stayed overnight at Tikal before heading to Belize for a couple of days. The day we left Guatamala, we drove through Flores area of Guatemala. During the drive, we asked the driver if he could stop at a road-side stand where we could get a tortilla or something local to try. He pulled into a truck stop where a woman was outside making burritos.
She was offering vegetarian and chicken burritos. We ordered a chicken burrito and she asked if we wanted her homemade salsa picante (hot sauce) on it. It was the salsa picante that made the entire burrito. The hot of the chiles, combined with right amount of acid and carrots for a little sweet, was perfect. I wanted to bottle it up and take home gallons of the salsa picante. Everyone in our family tried the burritos and agreed they were one of the best we had. What made it so memorable was the moment: pulling over to the side of the road, an indigenous woman with a small stand with homemade tortillas, chicken, and marinated vegetables. Magic emerged from her ingredients stored in plastic containers and bags. It was a successful, impromptu road-side street food.
I learned prior to going on a quick visit to Iceland that the country is famous for its hot dogs, which are made from a blend of lamb and beef. This foodstuff is among many others, like fermented shark, which I did not plan to try. I found it odd that hot dogs are their go-to fast food item–not sure why I found it odd, I just did. While I am not usually a huge fan of hotdogs, but figured I would Iceland’s a try.
When we arrived in Iceland, we rented a car and drove from the Blue Lagoon (our first stop) towards the town of Vik, located on the Golden Circle. Along the way, we started getting hungry. While driving along an almost deserted road, we approached the town of Selfoss, which is also famous for its waterfall. Famished and travelling on a budge, we noticed a sign for a hot dog stand and pulled in to try our first Icelandic hotdog.
The stand was called Pylsuvagninn. There was a small area to order and stand to eat. Our youngest got a plain hotdog with some mustard while the rest of us got a deep-fried hotdog with Doritos, peppers, a sweet garlic sauce and cheese. It probably was the best damn hot dog I have ever had. It was so good that I dream about going back to Iceland just for this hotdog (I’ll sneak in some travel as well). We did try the famous hotdog stand in Rekjavik, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, but I found Pylsuvagninn much better.
Boone, North Carolina
Boone was a great travel adventure as there was a lot of outdoor adventures for our family. We did rock-climbing, white water rafting, zip-lining, and a lot of hiking. On our first full day in Boone, NC, we went for a long hike around Linville Falls. After a morning filled with walking, we were hungry and pulled into the first place we found, a gas station with convenience store and a barbeque stand.
The Western part of North Carolina does a Piedmont-style barbeque. They use pork shoulder with a wet dip (a sauce) consisting of vinegar, tomatoes, and red pepper flakes. The end result is a sweet barbeque with a hint of heat . We tried the local barbeque with the local soda, Cheerwine, an overly sweet cherry soda. For dessert, we introduced our kids to Moonpies. For those who’ve spent their entire lives way up North, the Moonpie is a graham cookie cake, with marshmallow filling in the middle covered in chocolate. Although it’s not from North Carolina, it’s not a Southern treat we tend to find infrequently in our home state of Maryland.
We rented a car and drove North on the Pan-American highway from Panama City to the picturesque El Valle de Anton, a valley in the mountains. We left the city, crossed the Panama Canal, and about a half hour later, we were hungry. We spied a sign and, intrigued, we stopped at a roadside eatery called El Rancho Interiorano for comida tipica, or authentic Panamanian food. The restaurant was an open-air, with large wooden tables that overlooked the traffic of the highway. Typical for Panama, it was a counter-service, cafeteria-style, restaurant. We grabbed our trays and made our way down the line.
We pointed out our choices, starting with rice and beans as the first options, followed by different types of protein. There was Panamanian Ropa Vieja (shredded beef stew), tamales, and chicken. We also tried Sancocho, which is a light chicken soup made with corn, potatoes, yucca, some herbs and a variety of chicken options. They offered the local dish of patacones–smashed, thin plantains that are then deep-fried resulting in a crispy outer area and softer center. Also offered were platanos, sweet fried plantains. All the meats were seasoned with wonderful Caribbean spice. We watched as our kids devoured about four helpings along with their rice and beans, then went on our way.
Along many of our drives in Cambodia, we noticed bamboo stands on wheels selling what looked like maple syrup candy. We stopped by one. To our surprise they were candy, not maple syrup, but palm sugar treats. Very similar in consistency. Very sweet, crunchy, and just dissolves after a couple bites. It was a bit too sweet for me, but the kids enjoyed them.
If It Looks Good, Stop and Try!
Travel offers an opportunity to try new adventures, taste new foods, and immerse yourself in a new cultures. Sometimes over planning takes away from the spontaneity of new experiences. If something looks good, stop and try it, and don’t even Google it. Sometimes the surprise is as big a delight as the food!
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