In my mind, the only thing better than meeting up with people who love to travel is meeting up with people who love to travel AND who love to eat. While in Cambodia, we had the chance to sit down to dinner with with the wonderful Maddie and Paul who blog over at Two for the Road and, well, not to be melodramatic, but it was a bit like uniting with kindred spirits. The conversation never stopped and no one gave anyone weird judgmental looks when, despite copious amounts of food, we all decided that yes a little dessert would be in order. We had so much fun at dinner that we made plans for the next day and did it all over again.
If you haven’t been following their journey (shame on you!), Maddie and Paul are a 30-something couple who hail from North Yorkshire in the UK. They rented their house, sold a ton of stuff and saved like crazy to enable them to journey around the world. Starting in June 2012 their trip was supposed to entail a 13-month journey through North America, Oceania and South East Asia. Twelve months in and firmly in the grips of travel fever they extended their trip to 18 months so they could gallivant around South America and have just recently returned back to the UK. They love to eat and find some of the greatest experiences in new countries to be food based.
Needless to say, I am well chuffed (to steal a bit of M&P’s parlance!) to feature these two in this week’s installment of Chewing the Fat! As you’ll see from the length of their answers, these are two enthusiastic food lovers who took a huge bite out of the world during their trip. Read on as we talk about where to find the world’s best burger, whether the bad rap British food has received is undeserved, the beauty of American breakfasts, and so much more!
We’re big fans 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?
It would be Thailand, without a doubt. We’re fairly adventurous eaters but after spending long periods of time in certain countries it pains us to admit we’ve gotten a bit bored on occasion. Thailand is the only place that we’ve managed to continuously taste something different every day and be constantly wowed. The variety in flavour and incredibly fresh ingredients is what makes it great, the simplicity is incredible and we’re often amazed at what can be created with one wok and a gas burner. The street food is the best in the world in our opinion and there is no greater joy than Thai “tapas” at a night market.
And the flipside: of all the places you’ve visited, which country had your least favorite food? Why was that and were you surprised?
Much like yourselves it was the Philippines, in complete contrast to how much we loved the country itself! We got lucky at Sagada in Luzon finding a wonderful restaurant that did delicious hikers stews and homemade yoghurt and pancakes—we were so relieved as the traditional dishes we’d been privy to were not great. It seemed that most foods were either entirely uninspiring or incredibly weird and not in a good way. Deep fried pig intestines or duck foetus, anyone?
What’s the most exotic/adventurous edible you’ve sampled and what did you think about it?
Paul has been the one who has sampled the most interesting food. He had Kangaroo when we were in Australia, which is fairly exotic as we don’t have many of those hopping around where we come from! In Cambodia he had a mixed grill consisting of chicken, pork, snake, frog and crocodile. Finally in Peru he ate a whole roasted guinea pig which was very salty and had the consistency of Peking duck.
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?
Some days you just need greasy fast food! Our terrible habit at the moment is craving burgers and fries when we’re stuck in airports either early morning or late at night. Burger King completely outdoes McDonalds in our humble opinion; they really do make better burgers!
Sometimes you don’t know a good thing until it’s gone! During your travels, what was the one food from back home that you found yourselves craving the most?
Maddie: Before we visited Laos it would have been bread. I have an obsession with anything bread based and after a few months in Asia I was seriously craving a sandwich. The French invasion of Laos definitely left one positive outcome in that their baking skills are now legendary. For the longest while I was in dire need of mashed potatoes and this strangely morphed into a fixation with Christmas dinner! Mmmm, turkey and stuffing.
Paul: Once we hit Asia, I started seriously craving Fish and Chips, British style. We did eat a fair amount of delicious fish and chips both in Canada and New Zealand but that was months ago! I don’t think I’ve ever gone that long without before. In North America I was really craving British bacon. I have to say that the bacon we had in Canada and the United States tasted like crispy cardboard, whereas in the UK it’s less like jerky and much more succulent.
If you knew we were coming to visit you in your hometown, what would be the one food you would make sure we tried?
Maddie: I’m originally from the far north of England, a city called Newcastle. We have some odd food stuffs but the absolute best is a ham and peas pudding stottie. To translate, you take a slice of delicious thick cut roast ham, add a paste which is similar to lentil soup but cold and firmer and place it in a very flat bread roll the size of a dinner plate. Yum!
Paul: Yorkshire Pudding, a native dish from my home county. Kind of like a pancake batter, you whip up eggs, flour, milk and a dash of salt. Heat a small amount of oil in each section of a muffin pan until smoking. Add the batter and watch the puddings rise high and crispy in a hot oven! Extremely tasty and traditionally served with gravy and sausages.
Prior to leaving on your big trip, the two of you were settled in the north of England. The cynics amongst us would likely assume that the two of you were either fleeing the weather or the food of your homeland, so set the record straight: does the UK truly deserve its standing as the punching bag of the culinary world, or is that outdated thinking? If you only had one dish to convince a skeptic that there is such a thing as good British grub, what would you serve them?
Definitely the weather, not the food. We both feel that it is a really outdated concept that you cannot get good food in the UK. We might be famous for some of the more stodgy dishes of the world but the thing to remember about the UK is that it is a melting pot for so many different cultures that what we now eat has evolved to suit the population. We have some world-renowned chefs and fantastic restaurants; in the last 20 years the food scene in the UK has improved drastically.
If we only had one dish to demonstrate this it would a modern day roast dinner. This would include rare roast beef, mashed potato, rosemary and garlic roast potatoes, roasted root vegetables, swede and carrot mash, Yorkshire pudding, red wine and onion gravy and a dash of horseradish. All served with a glass of red or a nice pint.
On your travels, you’ve visited the United States, and some rather off-the-beaten-path parts of it at that (Roswell, New Mexico, anyone?). What did you think of the American food scene? What were its best and worst aspects, and in your minds, how does it compare to that of England?
For us, as much as we love the UK we’ve come to realise that the American food scene is better and this is in no small part down to the quality of the fresh produce. Something we noticed in our 3 months in the U.S was the great quality of food in supermarkets which we just don’t have in the UK. A common misconception about the U.S is that everyone eats huge portions of mainly fast food. Whilst this does exist to some extent we would say that the majority of people who we met and interacted with are just as conscious about their health as anywhere else in the world.
One of the best aspects of the food scene is definitely variety but consistent quality; from the most lowly diner to the fanciest restaurant you will generally get a good meal and due to the huge number of different cultures you can literally find food from any corner of the globe. For a visitor from Europe the food is incredibly good value for money: we ate out twice a day and were constantly under-budget. On the flipside we have a love/hate relationship with free refills—you are always tempted to drink way more soda and coffee than you should which can’t be a good thing.
Based on what you sampled, what are some of the foods that you now consider to be quintessentially American?
Great breakfasts are quintessentially American. Anything from a fruit salad to how to make granola interesting through to pancakes, maple syrup, biscuits, waffles, sourdough toast, home fries etc. Breakfast can be a genuine occasion, which is something we don’t do at home. Lastly, Australians may not be happy with this, but Texans do bbq like no one else!
You shared with us that you are currently on the quest for the perfect burger. Tony would (and does!) argue that the best burgers will only be found in the U.S. and even goes so far as to say that no other country (with the possible exception of Canada) knows how to make a decent one. What’s your take on this? In your opinion, what are the qualities of a top notch burger? What are some of the highlights and lowlights of your quest thus far (and where did you experience them)?
In our opinion Tony is almost right and is correct that the best burgers are found in the US. However, you are facing stiff competition from our Kiwi friends in New Zealand. We had no idea that they were so big on their burgers until we got there, but man they sure know how to make a good one. The key to a kiwi burger is not necessarily the best patty in the world, it is what they do with toppings that counts. Huge amounts of salads, coleslaw, different cheeses and—bizarrely—beetroot make a heck of a good burger, throw an egg in for good measure and you have a pretty much nailed it.
The best burger we have ever eaten is still the fabled Breakfast Burger from a dive joint in Roswell, New Mexico. This epic creation consists of a succulent beef patty topped with crispy bacon bits, grilled onions, swiss cheese, a fried egg and an amazing dash of honey and Dijon dressing all served with a side of sweet potato fries.
As chain burgers go Five Guys is head and shoulders above the competition and we can certainly see why Barack Obama counts himself as one of their customers. If its good enough for Mr. President it’s good enough for us! At the other end of the scale Wendy’s served us possibly the worst burger in the history of burgers in Asheville, North Carolina. We vowed never to set foot in there again after eating what can only be described as a leather handbag between two dry pieces of cardboard.
Qualities for a top burger: really good quality beef with very little added to it—don’t dilute the flavour! A very fresh bread roll that is toasted on the grill. Creativity with toppings and a good relish, mustard or other sauce.
You wrote a post on your blog about how travel has been the best diet you’ve ever been on, even though as travelers we spend far more time dining out than in, which is normally thought as quite unhealthy. To what extent do you think your current diet has contributed to your weight loss and improved health, and what are your best tips for for travelers who love to eat but don’t want to pack on the pounds?
It has been the universally practiced combination of diet and exercise. We had virtually no exercise routine at home and we spent the first 8 months of the trip hiking which really made us much stronger and fitter. We were still eating quite a bit but the pounds kept coming off.
When we were in Asia weight just fell of and we were finding that we weren’t as hungry. This is probably due to the heat, we spent 6 months in temperatures no lower than 30 degrees Celsius and you spend your time mostly thirsty. The food in Asia was great for our health as we were eating so many fresh vegetables and very little else.
If you’re someone with a strict exercise regime at home make sure to keep doing at least some exercise on the road otherwise the inevitable will happen. Don’t treat it as one big holiday where you gorge every day, try and stick to 3 proper meals.
Bonus question: qualify it if you must—Gordon Ramsey or Jamie Oliver?
Jamie Oliver hands down, he’s Maddie’s favourite chef. His food is quite often really simple and easy to make but absolutely delicious and he’s done some fantastic things for the UK in terms of food health and education. Our nation’s children now receive really great school meals because of Jamie. Gordon is too arrogant, his books are difficult to follow and they haven’t produced the best results for us!
Cheers to Paul & Maddie for your incredibly detailed answers to our questions. I hope that finally seeing this interview posted is a nice little capper to your trip now that you are settling back into life in England. You’d better believe we’ll be stopping in when we make it to your fair isle so that you can take us round for all your favorite pub grub. If I do say so myself, I make a mean Yorkie pud, but the ham & peas pudding stottie… well, we’ll just have to wait and see! 🙂
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.