In this Globavore Interview, Daniela Petrova, author of DanielasTravels.com, tells us how she travels with a dietary restriction. She gives great eating advice for New York (want more? Here’s my NYC advice) and around the world. Her full bio and social media links are after Q.20.
1. Who are you and how does food play into your travels?
I’m a woman, traveler, writer, New Yorker, Bulgarian immigrant, arts lover, gourmet with a dietary restriction (I can’t eat starch because of an autoimmune disorder) and nature aficionado, to name a few (not in order of importance). One of the things I love about travel is experiencing a different culture, and food is a large part of the culture. I enjoy discovering new dishes and flavors but, to be honest, I just like to eat well and I tend to spoil myself even more when on the road.
2. You’re at your favourite eatery with three companions (fictional, living or dead). Where (and when!) are you, and who are you with?
I have so many favorite eateries in New York but the one I frequent the most, because of its location across from Lincoln Center, is Boulud Sud. I’m sitting with Beethoven, Hemingway, and Einstein, each of us perusing the menu. We’re here after a concert, so it’s late—at least 10 pm—and we’re starving. What to order? Soupe de poisson for Beethoven who loved soup and always chose fish over meat. Gambas al ajillo for Hemingway loved French food and wine, especially oysters, shrimp and fish. Salade tropézienne with artichoke, fennel and celery for Einstein, who was apparently what today we’d call a foodie, loved Italian cuisine and became a vegetarian in the last year of his life. I opt for the octopus à la plancha with Marcona almonds and arugula. And these are just the starters!
3. What are your favourite foods?
Before I was diagnosed with my autoimmune disorder and I had to cut out all starch, I loved crepes with wild strawberry jam or Nutella, croissants and pizza.
Now that I am on the no-starch diet (similar to Paleo), I adore chocolate (from simple chocolate bars to flourless chocolate cake and mousse). I love seafood, lamb, and greens in any form and shape. And berries — blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. I often eat them with plain yogurt — an old Bulgarian trick.
4. Is there anything that you’d never eat? What is it and why?
I grew up in Bulgaria during Communism. In the cafeteria in college, they served sheep’s head (the whole thing, eyes and all). One of my favorite dishes is tongue fried in butter. Clearly, I’m not squeamish about eating weird things.
But unless I am miraculously cured of my disease, I would never knowingly touch any starchy foods, no matter how much I’d like to. I’ve never been good at keeping diets, but the fear of pain is a powerful motivator. Also, I don’t eat anything artificial or chemically engineered.
5. What do you crave but can’t get whilst on the road? How do you satisfy the craving?
The biggest problem I run into when traveling is finding fresh greens. I always carry nuts and chocolate and non-starchy protein bars, but there is no way to stock up on greens. I’m forced to frequent mostly Western restaurants, which takes away part of the fun and experience of the local cuisine, but I always find at least a couple of places where I can eat. I ask the concierge in my hotel to write me a note in the native language with all the things I cannot eat, so that I can present it in restaurants.
6. What food are you embarrassed to admit you like to eat?
I already told you about eating tongue, so I guess, I don’t embarrass easily.
7. What / where do you dream of eating, but haven’t yet had the pleasure?
I’d love to have a picnic on the moon.
8. Strangest meal?
The strangest meal perhaps was in Sydney when I got attacked in the middle of my lunch. Read more about it on DanielasTravels.
But in terms of a one-of-a-kind meal, that would be a dinner I had in Nairobi, Kenya. I spent three weeks in a remote village in Kenya, helping build a school. The food consisted mostly of bread, potatoes and rice (that was before I had to go on the no-starch diet). At the end of the trip, I was so starved for meat that the first thing I did in Nairobi was to go to the famous game meat restaurant, The Carnivore. They serve all kinds of exotic meat, charcoal grilled and carved at your table, as much as you can eat. I tried crocodile and ostrich but couldn’t bring myself to eat zebra.
Ed.’s note: Yah, I don’t think I could eat zebra either … though I have eaten oryx, and they are very pretty (and delicious!).
9. Ever had food poisoning while traveling? Any advice to share?
I’ve been lucky so far. I always drink bottled water and avoid uncooked veggies in certain parts of the world where that’s a problem. But you can get food poisoning at home so that’s not a reason not to travel.
10. Have you fallen so much in love with a foreign dish that you learned to make it at home? What’s the story?
I love an Afghan dish with lamb, spinach, yogurt and pine nuts that I make regularly.
11. What’d the first thing you eat after returning home from a long trip?
Yogurt. I love yogurt and I can’t always find it abroad or, if I do, it’s not the kind I like.
12. Favourite foreign ingredient you wish your home supermarket carried?
I live in New York. There are so many ethnic restaurants and shops, especially in Queens and the Bronx. My apartment is right next to a Whole Foods. They carry Bulgarian Feta cheese and Bulgarian yogurt so I don’t have to travel far. I buy my favorite Middle Eastern dessert, halva, in the international foods store, Kashkaval.
13. Country / city where you’ve found the best food? Details please so we can check it out too!
14. Country / city where you’ve found the worst? What made it so awful?
I’ve always managed to find good food.
15. What are your favourite markets for a) eating b) finding unusual things and c) for photography?
a) Union Square Market in New York on Saturday; b) and c) any market around the world.
16. If money were no object, where (and what) would you eat?
I’d love to go on a trip around the world, sampling the best restaurants in cities and eating home cooked meals in villages.
17. Do you have any food regrets?
That I can’t eat starch.
18. If you could invent any ice cream flavour, what would it be? (yes, I am looking for ideas to add to my ice cream repertoire!)
Why mess with perfection—chocolate ice cream is the best! And the healthiest (after all chocolate is an antioxidant).
19. What do you love and hate about food writing (yours and/or in general)?
I love and hate that it makes me hungry. I don’t understand the people who watch food shows at the gym.
20. You’re having surgery tomorrow and there’s a reasonable chance you’ll lose your ability to taste (oh the horrors!). What would you choose as, essentially, your last meal?
That’s too painful to even think about. I’d say a meal at Daniel (assuming the surgery takes place in New York). Dining there is an experience, a culinary journey that’s not limited even by my dietary restrictions.
Daniela Petrova is a New York-based freelance writer who writes about travel, food, art, relationships, and health. She grew up in Communist Bulgaria and credits her insatiable curiosity about the world to her childhood behind the Iron Curtain. Keep up with her adventures on her blog, Daniela’s Travels, or follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @DanielasTravels.