Several months ago I had the pleasure of spending the morning at the SLS Hotel in Los Angeles listening to several innovative chefs and speakers discuss food. One of the speakers was Michael Stern, the author of Roadfood, who shared humorous stories about his search for great meals while “on the road.” He reflected on the difference between fine dining and dining on local fare, and encouraged the audience to embrace all the small diners, stands, and dives where the ambiance may be lacking, but the food more than makes up for it. Don’t trade taste for a tablecloth. Michael Stern urged us to look for “regional experiences” when travelling, and to try dishes that the city or town is known for. Lobster in Maine, Deep Dish Pizza in Chicago, Mexican Food in Los Angeles, and BBQ in Texas. For some of us that may mean kosher Fried Chicken in Atlanta, vegetarian Dim Sum in NY’s Chinatown, and…. BBQ in Texas…. (where I am spending this weekend.)
In order to do that, you have to be willing to expand your horizons and be open to experience food prepared by people who have been eating and serving those dishes for generations. Food that may be unfamiliar, strange, and different from what you are used to. Allow yourself to have a gastronomic adventure and, who knows, you may just discover that you love cilantro after all.
Here were some of Michael Stern’s tips for hunting out places on the road where you may end up having a memorable meal. Look for police cars or truckers parked outside a restaurant. Use your nose and follow something that smells good till you get to the source. (A close friend of my father’s, who lived in Paris, once told me the same thing) Think about where you are! Do you really want to eat Mexican food in Connecticut?? Be open, leave your judgement and your prejudices at the door, and enjoy!
Grace’s Nopal Salad (Cactus Paddle Salad)
1 pound Nopales (cactus) cooked and sliced (these can be bought pre-prepared in Los Angeles)
1 whole fresh tomato, chopped
2 green onions, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lime, juiced
1 -2 finely chopped Serrano chilis
1/4 tsp dried oregano
3 Tbs olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
Put nopales in a bowl and add green onion and chopped tomato. Whisk together remaining ingredients and pour over cactus. Serves 4-6.