Most travel itineraries are full of museum trips and visits to famous landmarks. Days are packed with sightseeing adventures, becoming a race to see as much of a city as possible in a few days time. For Ernie Bright and his fiancĂ©e, Mari Ani Camchong of Altamonte Springs, food tours and restaurant reservations are on their must-see list.
As young as 13, Bright began to join his friend on trips to visit his father in Switzerland, giving him the opportunity to sample some of Switzerland, France and Italyâ€™s best dishes. Camchong jumped right in when the two began dating, tasting local delicacies together in Ecuador and sharing a romantic dinner at a temple in Bali that they reserved just for the two of them.
â€śWe seek out mom and pop or small business, something that has a lot of emotional connection to it because itâ€™s an underdog story and you route for their success,â€ť Bright says. â€śIn between that stuff weâ€™re looking for unique experiences.â€ť
Out of the Ordinary Eats
Being exposed to cultural cuisine at a young age, Bright has never been a picky eater. Thatâ€™s why it is so easy for him to try even the strangest dishes during his travels.
â€śIf there is a cuisine that is taboo or a little bit different weâ€™ll seek that out,â€ť he says. â€śIâ€™ve done quite a few crazy things.â€ť Like choosing a cobra at the Le Mat snake village in Vietnam and eating the entire thing from head to tail, along with a shot of rice wine that held the snakeâ€™s heart. Dishes included mini spring rolls stuffed with snake meat, crispy snakeskin, rice made with snake broth and ground, fried snake bones.
He has also tried cuy, or guinea pig, a delicacy in Ecuador. Although Americans are used to keeping guinea pigs as pets, Bright says that when itâ€™s properly prepared it tastes similar to the familiar American pig. Cuy is roasted on a stick and cooked over coal with cumin, salt and pepper and is served with typical South American type sides like corn and rice and a traditional spicy salsa called aji.
â€śYou can tell a lot about the culture through the food,â€ť he says. â€śIf you get closer to the food and closer to the source it makes the experience that much more enjoyable.â€ť
Barbeque is a favorite food for the couple both locally and in their travels, so it was appropriate for them to try their hand at a tour through the most famous barbeque joints in Texas. They visited Smittyâ€™s Market and Kreuz Market in Lockhart and ventured to Luling City Market just outside of Austin, sampling a slice of brisket, two ribs and a side at each location. Trying a small portion of each item allowed them to try more restaurants without getting too full and decide which place made it the best.
For Bright it was Luling City Market. â€śI think I had my bbq nirvana epiphany when I ate there. I donâ€™t know what they do but itâ€™s incredible,â€ť he says. â€śI think thatâ€™s why we love food travel, itâ€™s that weâ€™re always chasing after that last magical moment. Once you find something that you feel like youâ€™ve never experienced something like that before, thatâ€™s the moment weâ€™re chasing.â€ť
One of the best foodie experiences Bright ever had was with a group of friends in Yountville, California at The French Laundry, a restaurant where a reservation is coveted by those lucky enough to get one. He only had a five-day window to attempt to reserve a table, and after dialing 100 times, he managed to secure his spot.
The group dressed in their finest dinner jackets and enjoyed course after course of gourmet plates in a meal that lasted three and a half hours. Much like synchronized swimming, each dish was delivered with care, placed in front of each diner precisely at the same moment. The dish was then explained fully by the wait staff before the first bite. Owner Thomas Keller even played a part in their memorable evening, as they could see him interacting with the staff, tasting dishes and discussing menu items, making sure each dish was just right.
Planning Makes Perfect
Finding these magical moments takes time and a lot of research. Bright, the avid planner for the couple, begins with online food and travel forums, and gets inspiration from Yelp.com, food bloggers, and personal recommendations from friends. He uses a color-coded calendar and keeps a list of all the restaurants they want to try to squeeze in. Once food planning is out of the way, they can then decide what to do between meals.
â€śThe path will be optimized for the specific food destination. I will look at a map and pin all the restaurants Iâ€™ve selected, and I can plan the day that way,â€ť Bright says. He likes to plan breakfast around local farmerâ€™s markets, and lunch is usually on the larger side. This allows for a later dinner â€“ usually between 7:30 and 8 â€“ and more time for sightseeing.
Whether traveling with friends or a significant other, Bright says having an adventurous companion is important and compatibility is key. And he has it with his fiancĂ©e. â€śErnie would try anything; thatâ€™s something I loved about him,â€ť she says. â€śMari Ani is so willing to try and put herself out there as well,â€ť he adds. For this couple, their tasty travels will last a lifetime.