How do you take your coffee? Flickr user LadyExpat posted this lovely setup from Chiang Mai, Thailand. Coffee is a thing beloved around the world and served differently everywhere. Turkey may be famous for its dense and tiny cups of coffee, but tulip-shaped glasses of tea and ready made Nescafe are more popular with locals and the muddy stuff is served more as digestif. In Italy, don’t even think of ordering a milky coffee past breakfast or your waiter will warn you of getting a stomachache. In Argentina, I looked forward to sweet media lunes each morning with my cafe con leche.
Meet Johanna Kolodny. She’s a forager. Which is something like a hunter-gatherer, minus the grunts, fear of fire, loin cloth, and cave paintings. I met Johanna in the Press Lounge, which sits atop the Ink 48 Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. Johanna spends her days finding ingredients for the lounge as well as for the ground floor Print Restaurant.
It’s not every day you ask someone what they do they can say with a straight face: I’m a forager. Then again, these are heady times for the dining landscape in the United States (and elsewhere in the world). As competition grows to be the most locavore friendly and use sustainable farm-to-table ingredients, some restaurants are stepping it up by having on-staff foragers in the house.
Over a cocktail (made with some ingredients that she foraged) in the Press Lounge, as the lights of Manhattan twinkled below us, I asked Johanna more about her intriguing food-industry job.
Johanna Kolodny: People don’t believe it’s my day job. Also, I’m not combing the beaches for seaweed and the forest floor for nuts and mushrooms.
Gadling: So then what exactly do you do?
JK: I scour the farmers markets as well as farm and food producers for the best possible ingredients for the restaurant here. I’m really more of a “gatherer” than a forager–but that’s the title they gave me here. I’m at the Union Square farmers market every day it’s open, for example.
Gadling: I see. So do other foragers–those people who really do comb the beaches and forests–resent that your title is “forager”?
JK: [Laughs] Not yet. There’s a certain set of foragers who prefer what they do to be called “wild crafting.”
Gadling: That sounds like a way of describing getting risqué on Etsy. As a forager, what is your biggest challenge?
JK: Getting people to eat some of the less-common things that I find. Like certain types of fish you don’t see on menus everyday. A while back I found great golden tilefish and amberjack but, sadly, they didn’t sell when we put them on the menu. The other challenge is getting the chef to consider some of these “new” ingredients as well.
Gadling: What did you want to be when you grew up (And don’t even say “forager”)?
JK: I was always interested in food, travel and culture, but I didn’t know how to parlay that into a career. Then, in my last year of college, I took a class called “Russian Food & Culture” I realized I could study food and follow my interests.
Gadling: What do foragers talk about when they get together?
JK: Like a lot of people in the same field, we bitch together a lot. And, of course, we talk about things that we find.
Gadling: Is there a Michael Jordan of the foraging world?
KB: There’s a woman in California named Kerry Clasby is who great. She travels up and down the state and hits as many as 300 farms. She finds amazing stuff.
If you’re planning a food-centric vacation, chances are that where you’re dining is as or more important than where you’re staying and how you’re getting there. Plan to book these hard-to-nab restaurant reservations far, far in advance – and be prepared to shell out as much for the meal as you might pay for a night in a four-star hotel. Of course, the food-gasms should be worth the price.
There are hard-to-score reservations and there are restaurants so in-demand that they actually take memberships. This legendary New York Italian joint offers yearly buy-ins for qualified regulars. If you’re looking for an easier way in, try the Vegas outpost.
The Waverly Inn
Chances are, if you’re not a personal friend of Graydon Carter, you’re not getting in. The Vanity Fair editor’s restaurant is a hotspot any night of the week, drawing crowds of well-heeled socialites, media types and Wall Street-ers alike. Suggested tactic? Befriend, befriend, befriend … or go early and hope for a seat at the bar.
There’s one table per night at this Kennett Square restaurant, and one seating. Reservations for this tasting menu open a year in advance, and once they’re gone, they’re gone. You make the reservation and are responsible for filling the table. Your best chance? Wait a year OR hope for a cancellation, posted on their website.
Thomas Keller’s famed Napa area restaurant has long been a food lover’s must-visit. If you’re dying to get into this notoriously hard-to-reserve restaurant, try several months in advance. Hotel partnerships, high-level Amex cards and friends in the media are known to be easier ways in. Stay luxe, and ask the concierge for help.
[Image of The French Laundry via flickr user pvsbond]
It may be a simple Italian joint, but it’s hot hot hot. This Mario Batali eatery draws celebrity and political power hitters alike. To get in, reserve early – or know someone.
This tiny six-seat eatery by Jose Andres has long been a DC hotspot. Two seatings Tuesday through Saturday and the small size make a table here hard enough to get. Reservations are released a month in advance, so try promptly one month out.
This three-star Chicago restaurant is famous for its deconstructed takes on classics. Try early and often – it’s nearly always booked.
Your mother told you to never skip breakfast. That also holds true for when you travel, for it is the morning meal that prepares you for your days of museum hopping and temple touring, zip-lining and mountain biking, market haggling and people watching.
Simpler than lunch or dinner, breakfast is less prone to culinary innovation and more likely to be an honest representation of its country’s culture and native foods. Sure, boxed cereals are available in every corner of the globe and eggs tend to be a breakfast staple the world over. But have you ever thought to start your day with ceviche, olives, or a bowl of piping hot noodles?
We here at Gadling are dedicated to providing you with travel inspiration and what’s a better motivator than seeing some of the breakfasts you can expect to wake up to? Enjoy this gallery of breakfasts around the world and tell us in the comments below about a breakfast that made your travels special.
Photo by Flickr user Pocket Cultures
When my wife and I went to the Horn of Africa last year for our Ethiopia road trip, we were eagerly looking forward to a culinary journey. We weren’t disappointed. Ethiopian food is one of our favorites and of course they make it better there than anywhere else!
While it came as no surprise that the food and coffee were wonderful, the cuisine in the Horn of Africa turned out to be more varied and nuanced that we expected. The two countries I’ve been to in the region, Ethiopia and Somaliland, have been connected to the global trade routes for millennia. Their national cuisines have absorbed influences from India, the Arab world, and most recently Italy.
Ethiopians love meat, especially beef and chicken. One popular dish is kitfo–raw, freshly slaughtered beef served up with various fiery sauces. I have to admit I was worried about eating this but I came through OK. Chicken is considered a luxury meat and is more expensive than beef. One Ethiopian friend was surprised to hear that in the West chicken is generally cheaper than beef.
Ethiopian booze is pretty good too. Tej is a delicious honey wine and tella is a barley beer. They also make several brands of lager and one of stout.
I’ve also spent time in the Somali region of Ethiopia and Somaliland. Living in arid lowlands rather than green and mountainous highlands, the Somalis have a very different cuisine than the Ethiopians. A surprising staple of Somali cooking is pasta. Actually on second thought it isn’t so surprising. The former Somalia was an Italian colony for a few decades. Italian food is popular in Eritrea and Ethiopia as well and makes for a refreshing change from local cuisine. Some Somalis are still pastoral nomads, moving through the arid countryside with their herds of camels and goats much like their ancestors did centuries ago. Pasta is a perfect food for nomads–compact, lightweight, nutritious, and easy to prepare.
The only downside to eating pasta in the Somali region is that Somalis, like most Africans, eat with their hand. I made quite a fool of myself trying to eat spaghetti with my hand!
%Gallery-136247%Goat is a popular meat in the Somali region and is served in a variety of ways. I love a good goat and have eaten it in a dozen countries. It’s tricky to cook, though, and can easily be overdone and end up stringy and flavorless. Good goat, however, is one of the best meats around. For some expert opinion, check out Laurel Miller’s fun post on the cultural aspects of eating goat.
While goat is the main meat for Somalis, what they really like is camel. These ships of the desert are expensive, so camel meat is usually reserved for special occasions like weddings. Wealthy, urban professionals eat it fairly regularly, though. At the Hadhwanaag Restaurant and Hotel in Hargeisa, capital of Somaliland, expert chefs slow-cook goat and camel in clay ovens that look much like tandoori ovens. The meat comes out deliciously tender and fragrant. Lunch at the Hadhwanaag was easily one of my top five meals in Africa.
Oh, and don’t forget Somali tea! A mixture of black tea, spices, and camel’s milk, it’s almost identical to Indian chai. The perfect pick-me-up after a long day seeing Somaliland’s painted caves or looking for your next edible ride at the camel market.
The Horn of Africa has an unfair reputation for warfare and famine. This is because it only gets on the news when something bad happens there. It makes a great adventure travel destination, though, and the determined traveler will find fascinating sights, friendly people, and great food. With any luck I’ll be back there in 2012!