THE BLOG
04/26/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Ascendance of Quinoa and Other Tasty Tales from the Road

The world is now safe for quinoa (keen-wah). Just back from a trip to the UK and France, I can confirm that our friends in Western Europe have adopted this Peruvian grain and vegan staple with open arms, perhaps in the same way they took to corn when settlers were introduced to it by Native Americans. Though it is doubtful quinoa will reach the unparalleled ubiquity of corn. The UK is particularly mad for corn. Though they don't go as far as hanging dried ears of it on their doors, they do put it in tuna fish salad, baked potatoes and other unexpected places. But let's face it, no matter how you dress it up, quinoa is no corn.

I may be temporarily moving back to London for a project, so I like to know what's new to eat over there, but really it's just part of a bigger preoccupation with the things I look forward to eating when I travel internationally. I'm not talking about Michelin-starred restaurants, or under the radar family owned places. My tastes are quirkier. My trip went like this:

After dropping off my bags in London, I proceed immediately to a newsagent, where I find an array of "flapjacks" with a diverse choice of toppings. These are not pancakes, but a granola-ish bar made of oats (good), vegetable fat (medium), and "inverted sugar syrup", which Wikipedia warns me is 1.3 times sweeter than sucrose (very, very bad.) Calorie count: 500. They are phenomenally delicious and I don't know why they've never been brought over here, though I've never seen an English person actually eat one. I buy the one with "yoghurt-flavoured" topping, which is a hard-to-place flavor, other than that it tastes like something white. Flapjacks weigh about a pound each, so you don't want to go filling your suitcase with too many.

I stop for lunch at Pret-a-Manger - a great, fresh, fast food place which has a few outposts in New York - for the crayfish and avocado salad. I used to think crayfish was a poor man's lobster, a junk fish - we had them in a muddy stream at the end of the road where I grew up. I've never seen them in any store or on any menu in America (at least up North). But they are tasty indeed, and the English love and respect them.

Over to the Marks and Spencer Food Hall for the Country Vegetable Soup, which I store in my friend's fridge. I eat it later, cold (and out of the carton). It tastes creamier this way, fattier. I love fat. I discovered my version of the soup during an uncharacteristically warm summer in London.

In Paris, I concentrate on consuming things I don't normally eat: butter, bread, bread, butter. Yes, I am an embarrassing American who asks for butter (the French only use it on their morning tartine). A trip is not complete without a stop at Angelina for their African chocolat chaud, the best hot chocolate that exists on earth. I dare anyone to find better. An added benefit is that it gets you high. Following my giddy energy surge, I spin around the Tuileries a while, then experience a plunge that forces me back to my hotel for a nap. I awaken with a sugar hangover and cranky temper that lasts the rest of the day.

In an effort to improve my mood, I have a crepe on the street, filled with crème de marron (chestnut). The French are wild for chestnuts, but you can't give them away here. I only eat half the crepe and throw the rest away. That's sometimes how I eat fattening stuff --- enjoy a little, then throw it in the nearest garbage can. People look at me funny, but it's an effective, if wasteful, weight control technique. Admittedly, I'm a little odd when it comes to food.

I arrive back in New York, satiated, jeans a little tighter, but nothing a few days' quinoa and willpower won't cure.

What are your traveling food fetishes (or foods you can't leave home without)?

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