Travel

tarte01.jpgWhen I told friends I was going to spend four weeks in St. Tropez last summer, more than one of my foodie friends told me I must try the Tarte Tropezienne—which was described to me as a giant brioche filled to the heavens with a creamy vanilla custard. This sounded like a dream come true. As I child I loved pudding—homemade butterscotch pudding, or bread pudding, or crème brulee, were the best—but mostly we ate packaged pudding, the Jell-O Brand. I liked vanilla and my brother, ten months older, liked chocolate, and my father told us that as toddlers we would sit facing each other in twin highchairs and smear our respective puddings all over our faces, smiling in ecstasy. 

So naturally, finding and sampling this so-called Tarte Tropezienne went to the top of my “list of things to do” while I visited St. Tropez. That’s what one does when one travels to France—you get obsessed with pastries. And wine. And bread. And olives. And cheese. Plus, we New Yorkers tend to become obsessed with finding “the best” (primarily so that we can go back and tell our friends at dinner parties that we found “the best” goat cheese or the best rosemary-and-olive fogasse or the best early-season figs. 

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mexican-bus.jpg The woman at the desk has never heard of that bus station before. It's on East 7th and Shady Lane, in the shady part of town.

I arrive at ten o'clock. The woman at the counter tells me the 10:15 ticket I bought online doesn't take me where I'm trying to get.

So she puts me on the 9:30. Which doesn't show up until 10:45.

This was the second leg of a mythic bus ride. I'd scheduled this route in January 2007. I was going to fly from New York to Austin. Bus from Austin to Monterrey. Monterrey to Central Mexico. My flight was canceled because Austin was frozen.

I gave myself a high-five for following through, three years later. I took a sip of water.

Earlier, hotel security accused me of shoplifting. I had elaborately stolen a bottle of water, M&M cookies, and a package of Fig Newtons. Then the mook realized the hotel didn't sell those products.

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dumplingstea.jpgWe cut through the sprawling, meticulously manicured park amidst the morning haze, humidity and blare of cicadas and car horns. By 11am we had reached the stark wrought iron and glass doors to Grandmother’s towering apartment complex, a node of Shanghai’s stupefying development. We took off our shoes in the narrow halogen lit hallway outside her 12th story apartment and stepped into plastic slippers waiting at the door. The warm smell of an active kitchen beckoned. The dining table was set with teacups and chopsticks. We were asked to take our seats.

Since we had arrived in Shanghai as the guests of our dear friend Lynn, Noam and I had been trying to navigate the customs and culture of the city by way of its incredible cuisine. Lynn’s grandmother pressed in universal grandmotherly persistence to discover the favorite food of us two foreign Jews. We responded with an immediate and unanimous call for dumplings, or gyoza. And so here we were, the privileged guests of a personalized dumpling brunch.

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parispeaches.jpgLucky for me, every few years I go to Antibes, France with my family. When that happens I feel compelled to photograph almost everything I eat, before I eat it. There are two reasons for this ritual: One, French food is so gorgeous it's just begging to be photographed. Two, photographing it is almost my way of saying grace for and being mindful of the bounty of food (and, trust me, it's bountiful) I'm about to consume. Food is fleeting. The photos are forever.

For the last two trips I've posted these collections on Facebook and have received a really positive response. It sometimes amazes me how much pleasure people take in looking at photographs of food they can't taste, but I suppose that goes hand-in-hand with people who love TV shows about food they also can't taste (see: The Food Network). 

1. When I arrived in Antibes, my mother had picked up some peaches and strawberries at the daily open-air market in  Antibes. Those strawberries were some of the sweetest I'd ever tasted, and after that the purchase and immediate consumption of them became a daily ritual.

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rio-sidewalk.jpg“We’re sliding smack dab into the inevitably expensive tourist trap,” you say as the taxi driver curses and swerves through the gridlocked traffic of Ipanema Beach’s main drag Avenida Vieira Souto (with its famously geometric-patterned sidewalks) and onto the narrow traffic-choked streets of the city.

Your destination was suggested by our hotel’s concierge whom you had asked for a suggestion for authentic Brazilian food. You were hoping for a cozy hole-in-the-wall filled with smoke, grumpy locals and slow waiters.

The restaurant, Porcão – which you immediately translated to Poor Cow – was just the opposite of that. Poor Cow was all you feared, expensive and a tourist trap (adding to the blah decor was a wall-size TV playing a silent futbol match), exactly like those places that have popped up all over major U.S. cities where frantic waiters bring huge stumps of grilled meat to your table, where they slice off chunks in perpetuity until you feel as if you’ve ingested a small cow. But you were hungry and jet lagged and needed to get out of the hotel or you would have gone right to sleep only to wake up in the middle of the night, hungry and jet lagged. You felt like a bad tourist, but the outing served its purpose and besides, you have something special to look forward the next day – Cook In Rio – a one-day cooking class at some lady’s house in Copacabana that you had found online. An authentic Brazilian experience was promised and this time you are not disappointed.

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