Rebecca Holland in Bangkok; photo via Rebecca Holland
Who are you and how does food play into your travels?My name is Rebecca Holland and I’m a food and travel writer based in Chicago. Food is a huge part of my travels, not only because I love eating, but also because I’ve found it’s a great way to learn a lot about a place. Culture, tradition, and history are all tied into food. Sharing a meal with strangers is also a really intimate experience, and some of my favorite travel memories are over meals with new friends. I’m a big fan of markets and street food too, and a local market is usually one of my first stops on any trip.
You’re at your favourite eatery with three companions (fictional, living or dead). Where (and when!) are you, and who are you with? This is such a hard question! I’m either at this hole-in-the-wall Yemeni restaurant in Irbid, Jordan with my friend Brianna (best friend and constant travel partner), President Obama (why not?), and my brother Robert. Or I’m in Rome at Gallo Brillo with Livia, Micaela, and Emilio, three of my closest friends from my time living there. Ed.’s note: willing to share directions to your Yemeni hole-in-the-wall? :-)
Deliciousness from Afghanistan; photo by Rebecca Holland
What are your favourite foods?Pasta, falafel, and almost any Afghan food.
Is there anything that you’d never eat? What is it and why?Whale – I was recently in Iceland and learned so much about the horrors of commercial whaling.
What do you crave but can’t get whilst on the road? How do you satisfy the craving?Wisconsin cheese curds! Unfortunately, the craving can’t be satisfied until I’m home, deep-fried cheese in hand, preferably with a Spotted Cow. Ed.’s note: ummmm… what’s a Spotted Cow?
What food are you embarrassed to admit you like to eat?I’ve been thinking about this for ten minutes and cannot think of anything. I like all foods and am not ashamed to admit it. ☺
What / where do you dream of eating, but haven’t yet had the pleasure? Two places — India! Street food heaven. And Alinia in Chicago, but you need to make reservations months in advance and even though I live here I haven’t gotten around to doing it yet.
Strangest meal?My friends and I made Thanksgiving dinner in Jordan once, but we couldn’t find all of the traditional Thanksgiving ingredients in the grocery store, so we ended up having sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, popcorn, hummus, broccoli, and pumpkin pie.
Ever had food poisoning while traveling? Any advice to share?Yes. Ugh. It is the worst. Try not to drink the water or eat water-heavy vegetables like tomatoes or lettuce while in countries not known for water cleanliness, and always have ciproflaxin on hand for longer trips. But once you have it, there’s not much you can do. Just try to stay hydrated and hope for the best! Lots of bread the following day usually helps too.
Have you fallen so much in love with a foreign dish that you learned to make it at home? What’s the story?I am in love with mantu, Afghan beef dumplings with the most amazing yogurt sauce. I’ve tried to make it, but haven’t perfected it yet. I also fell in love with cacio e pepe when I lived in Rome, but that one is much easier to make at home.
What’d the first thing you eat after returning home from a long trip?American coffee. Preferably a giant size you can’t get outside of the US. Then Portillo’s if I’m in Chicago, or cheese curds if I’m in Wisconsin (guilty pleasures!).
Favourite foreign ingredient you wish your home supermarket carried?Sicilian blood oranges. Ed.’s note: mmmmm, are these different than regular blood oranges? Do they have that slight raspberry note to them?
Pasta at Rome’s Gallo Brillo; photo by Rebecca Holland
Country / city where you’ve found the best food? Details please so we can check it out too!Beirut has the best Middle Eastern food by far. I love the floating markets in Thailand and the wide variety of street food and sweets, and Hong Kong is a great food city. But I think Rome is the best. My favorite restaurants are Gallo Brillo, Flavio al Velavevodetto, and Pizzeria L’Archetto.
Country / city where you’ve found the worst? What made it so awful?I had a hard time finding good food in Beijing, but I think that’s because I was only there for a few days and in a pretty touristy area. People always say China has great food, but I was put off by it and ended up eating a lot of white rice. I think I need to go back and try again. Ed.’s note: Agreed (oh, except for the duck cooked in duck’s blood and chili I had in Hunan!). I think the problem in China is that so much of the food is prepared for the masses and served buffet or banquet style, and sometimes toned down / westernized for foreigners … I’d love to go with someone who speaks and reads Mandarin and order just a few dishes off the menu at a tiny restaurant.
What are your favourite markets for a) eating b) finding unusual things and c) for photography?The floating markets in Thailand are my favorite for eating, especially the stands where you can watch people catch your fish and grill it right there. I also love the markets in Rome for fresh bread, fruit, cheese, casks of wine, buckets of flowers, and everything else that makes people fall in love with Italy. The night market in Hanoi has been my favorite so far for photography–so many colors!
Market in Fez, Morocco; photo by Rebecca Holland
If money were no object, where (and what) would you eat?Chicago has so many amazing restaurants, so I would start here and eat at all of them, then go to New York and do the same, then probably make my way through the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. From there, I’d spend a year visiting markets around the world and eating my way through them. This actually sounds amazing… If only money were no object!
Do you have any food regrets?My dad is a fantastic cook, and I wish I would have paid more attention and learned more from him when I lived at home and had easy access to his cooking secrets and recipe collection.
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!) Hmmm… I’m not very inventive, but my favorites are strawberry (with huge chunks of strawberries in it) and coffee, so maybe I’d just blend them together.
What do you love and hate about food writing (yours and/or in general)?It’s so hard to not be cliché! And I use the word ‘delicious’ way too often. In general, I hate listicles or anything that talks about 10 restaurants in one place. I prefer longer, more thoughtful articles about specific experiences.
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?Such a terrifying question – is there even a reason to live anymore? I think I would go with a large buffet of Indian or Afghan food because it would include such a variety of flavors.