This week we are extremely excited to be Chewing the Fat with a truly inspiring couple, the lovely duo behind Never Ending Voyage!
Erin McNeaney and Simon Fairbairn are a digital nomad couple who sold everything they owned and left the UK in March 2010 to travel the world forever. They write about their slow travels around the world, the tastiest vegetarian eats, and the ups and downs of life as digital nomads at Never Ending Voyage, and create iOS apps that make your travels easier at VoyageTravelApps.com.
In this installment, Erin & Simon hold nothing back as they reveal their best tips on how to get the most culinary bang for your buck when traveling, what’s currently in their fridge, what they really think about tofu, and so much more!
We’re a big fan of “foodcations”—on more than one occasion we’ve taken trips motivated solely by the desire to eat our way through our destination. Of all the places you have visited in your travels, if you were limited to only eating the food from one country, which place would you choose and why?
Ah, eating holidays are our favourite kind too! If we had to choose just one country it’d be Italy which has been the location of our best eating holidays. It’s one of the most vegetarian friendly countries (despite Italians loving their meat) and we love how delicious even the simplest things are—even a bowl of plain lettuce tastes superb when dressed with some heavenly olive oil bought from a nearby farm.
Of course Italy also has the best pizza, gelato, pasta, and coffee in the world and meals out are reasonably priced for the quality. We’re always impressed by the Italian people’s passion for food and the creative use of even the humblest ingredients such as the way Tuscans utilise stale bread to make delicious salads (panzanella) and soups (pappa al pomodoro and ribollita).
And the flipside: of all the places you’ve visited, which country had your least favorite food? Why was that and were you surprised?
Probably Cuba. We’d heard that the food was bad so we were prepared and minimised the awfulness by eating in our casas particulares (homestays) as home cooked food is better than in restaurants. The food wasn’t terrible but it was really dull with plain rice and flavourless vegetables including lots of carbs—root vegetables like yuca, potato and malanga could all feature in the same meal. We saw chiles on the vegetable carts but unfortunately they never made it into our meals.
What’s the most exotic/adventurous edible you’ve sampled and what did you think about it?
As vegetarians we miss out on the most adventurous eats so it would probably be a gelatinous substance called konnyaku (known in English as devil’s tongue) that we tried in Japan. We had no idea what it was at the time and later discovered that the jelly-like substance is made from the root of the tuberous plant konjac and fashioned into different colours and shapes. It doesn’t have much flavour but is valued for its texture, which we found rather strange.
Many travelers mention succumbing to McDonald’s or other fastfood cravings while on the road… what is the guilty pleasure food that you indulge in when traveling?
Pizza, and when we’re most in need of comfort food we’ll even go to Pizza Hut or Dominoes. It’s not good pizza but sometimes you just need the familiarity.
Sometimes you don’t know a good thing until it’s gone! If there were one food from back home that you could eat RIGHT NOW, what would it be?
Extra mature cheddar. We didn’t realise how good English cheese was until we left and it’s one of the things we miss the most.
If you knew we were coming to visit you in your hometown, what would be the one food you would make sure we tried?
It’s got to be a takeaway bag of thick cut chips with lots of salt and vinegar from the chippy.
As you have now been traveling the world for several years, we know that you keep a close eye on your travel budget (and have even recently launched an app, Trail Wallet, to help other travelers do exactly that). Are there certain foods or dining experiences that you happily break the budget and splurge for? Do you have any tips that you can share about ways to eat economically while traveling the world?
We are pretty much always willing to blow our budget for food 🙂 In particular, as it is often difficult to find good vegetarian food we always jump at the chance to visit a gourmet vegetarian restaurant. Many vegetarian restaurants around the world still think vegetarian food needs to be ultra healthy and flavourless but we’ve found some amazing creative meat-free restaurants in San Francisco, London, Kyoto, Buenos Aires, and Lima.
Our tips for eating on a budget are to try the street food, eat your main meal at lunch rather than dinner as there are often good deals, and self cater from local markets. We think if food is important to you that you shouldn’t get too hung up on your budget and end up missing out on local eating experiences.
You’ve written quite extensively on your site about your preference for traveling slow and staying in apartments—with a kitchen at your disposal, how much home cooking do you do? Is there a certain kind of cuisine you cook most frequently, or do you try to adapt to the local style? What do you consider staples that every kitchen must have and if we looked in your fridge right now, what would we find?
Having access to a kitchen is one of the main reasons we love renting apartments as eating out all the time gets tiring. When we have an apartment we usually cook most of the time and maybe eat out 2-3 times a week. We love to take cooking classes when we first arrive and then adapt our cooking to the country, so in Italy we’ll take advantage of the excellent fresh pasta and in Thailand we’ll pick up rice noodles and tofu at the market. We’re in Mexico at the moment and cook Mexican food most of the time—having access to fresh corn tortillas from the tortilleria and the amazing avocados makes such a difference.
Kitchen staples depend on the country but would probably include oil, salt, spices (chile powder and cumin are our most common), rice, pasta, beans and lentils. In our fridge right now we have eggs, tortillas, leftover beans and guacamole, cheese, peppers, onions, chiles, courgette, a fresh batch of homemade oatmeal and raisin cookies, and an amazing seven chile salsa from the organic farmer’s market.
You two are passionate vegetarians and have written food guides for several of your favorite cities. Have you ever felt that not eating meat limits the extent to which you can experience the local culture because there are certain dishes you cannot eat or locals do not understand your dietary restrictions? Which country/part of the world would you says is the most veggie friendly? Which one is the least?
Being vegetarian does limit us and it is a shame when we can’t try local dishes as there aren’t meat-free alternatives. In most of the world people don’t understand the concept of vegetarianism but we can usually make ourselves understood by learning to say “we don’t eat meat, fish or chicken” in the local language.
The most vegetarian friendly countries we’ve visited are India, Sri Lanka, Italy, and Jordan, and Mexico isn’t bad either. The best cities with lots of vegetarian restaurants are San Francisco, Chiang Mai, Thailand, Kyoto, Japan, Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Ghent, Belgium. The least veggie friendly region we’ve visited is South America especially Bolivia and Colombia.
Coming from North America, we’re used to tofu being pretty bland & boring, so we’ve been blown away by how delicious it can be when prepared with care, as it often is in Asia. What’s your opinion on tofu and what’s the best way you’ve seen it used? Any other creative meat substitutes encountered in your travels that deserve a shout-out?
We weren’t huge fans of tofu either and rarely eat it outside of Asia. As you said they really prepare it well there, and it’s something everyone eats, not just vegetarians. Japan in particular makes tofu an art form with restaurants specialising in creating incredible, beautiful tofu dishes.
We are actually not fans of meat substitutes as we think vegetarian food is best when vegetables and pulses are used creatively on their own rather than trying to substitute meat in a meal.
A big thank you to Erin & Simon for Chewing the Fat with us! We can’t wait to make it to Italy and are positively drooling at the prospect now… stale bread has never sounded so delicious! 😉
Like what you read here and want to be featured in a future installment of Chewing the Fat? Great! We’re always looking for new people to dish about dining with! You don’t have to be a long-term traveler, or even have your own blog to participate; all you need is a healthy appetite and an appreciation for food. Contact Us letting us know that you’re interested in taking part in this series, and we’ll get back to you with all the information you need to get started.