Hungry for the tastes of travel . . .

More than the rush of excitement that greets us when we near a port, more than the thrill of sitting in a winged torpedo on the tarmac waiting for clearance, more than a sunrise on the horizon that signals another day in another place — what surpasses all of that, in my mind, is the variety of food that traveling allows us to experience.

The colors and flavors of foreign treats — whether a great meal, an after dinner “digestif,” or a perfect little chocolate on the pillow — these are the pieces of the travel experience that are hard to duplicate at home. The thrill of a new taste in an unfamiliar place is hard to describe. If you’re traveling close to home, it’s really no different. Keep your eyes open for the unexpected — we have discovered some of the best food in the unlikeliest of places — sublime fried catfish at a general store in back road Arkansas, for instance, an unforgettable steak dinner at an aging saloon in Ingomar, Montana, for instance, and the best fried green tomatoes ever at a ramshackle marina in the Florida Keys.

And, one lucky summer, an absolutely wonderful lobster roll at, believe it or not, a McDonald’s in a small Maine village. The only thing better than the taste was the price!

Traveling lifts us out of our ordinary existence into a realm of wonder that we want to repeat again and again. The cities, the food, the people, the monuments and the history, the natural beauty of different locales, the promise that no matter how many times we return to the same place, each experience will be different — that’s why we travel.

But, when we travel, the simple acts of sampling unique foods and sharing distinctive experiences with fellow travelers and with strangers destined to become newfound friends is an immense pleasure. Yes, we enjoy visiting renowned restaurants and seeking out special taste treats from unique cultures. “Peasant food,” however, the everyday fare of real people in diverse destinations, is what truly draws us, as do street fairs, farmers markets, food trucks. and Ma and Pa eateries.

People, of course, are always a part of the best food experiences, whether we’re ordering something from a food cart or a market stall, or struggling to make sense of a menu in a foreign language. We have perfected the art of pointing with a questioning expression — it always works! Being just a bit unsure of what it is we have ordered is truly part of the fun. And we have found locals typically quick to help translate and interpret.

Another aspect of the fun, for me at least, is my attempt to recreate some of the dishes we have enjoyed on our journeys once we return home. On a trip through Portugal in 2019, I was enamored of that country’s tomato soup in all its regional variations. I discovered an infinite variety of great tomato-based broth during our three weeks there. From the coasts to the cork forests, and from north to south, Soup de Tomate is a Portuguese staple on nearly every menu. It can be a hearty, filling stew with sausage and beans or a richly-flavored broth topped with poached eggs.

Other versions range from a nicely-spicy dish of seafood and rice to a simple, creamed tomato puree served as a starter course for a family dinner. Made with fresh, flavorful tomatoes, the various tomato soups were always tasty, filling and uniquely satisfying. Accompanied by crusty bread, cheese and olives, those meals were often “write home about” memorable. I asked for recipes whenever it was possible, and I am still trying to decide which is my personal favorite!

Global versions of “fast food” have their own kind of appeal — not the golden arches sameness or “choose your own filling” sandwich shops that Americans seem to favor — but the traditional, quick and easy street foods that sustain busy people throughout the world. One can get a slice of pizza, an empanada, a taco, a burrito, an egg roll, or a gyro in great cities around the globe; roasted corn, hot roasted chestnuts or fries with unique dipping sauces in European capitals and isolated villages. Ice cream, gelato and fruit smoothies are staples at casual stands and walk-up windows in warm climates, and open-face sandwiches and pastries are almost magically available from a world-class airport to an isolated beach along the Mediterranean. Food is a universal need, as well as a treat that brings people together to experience the joys of life.

So, I hope to lure you into the habit of sampling local fare wherever you may roam. It takes little effort to seek out distinctive food experiences, whether you’re in a world capital, visiting a charming small town, or traveling a country lane. Usually, these delightful destinations have no neon signs. Instead, a hand-written menu on a chalkboard may offer the only clue to treasures that lie within. Put aside the guidebooks and pay little heed to online reviews.

Peek through the windows of a diner, or step inside a tiny bistro. If seats are full, and people are smiling, join the crowd. On a road trip, we often pull into the parking lot of a local diner filled with local pickups and a smattering of 18-wheelers. Eagerly embrace your personal spirit of adventure, and you’ll likely reap the rewards of good, wholesome food served with a smile.

In the same way, wherever you may live, pay special attention to the push-cart vendors, the food trucks and the out-of-the-way lunch counters and snack bars. You may not always be delighted. There’s no guarantee.

But, if nothing else, you’re likely to have great stories to tell. And the best travel souvenirs, by far, are the stories you can repeat over and over again.

Pizza — the ultimate comfort food?

My January/February issue of Food Network magazine arrived recently. Looking at the cover, I had to smile. Prominently displayed in mouthwatering color is a pizza with what appears to be some distinctly non-traditional toppings. I was eager to sit down with this new issue and explore ideas presented by some of my favorite television chefs.

And as I did just that on a chilly day when it was prudent to stay indoors, I was reminded of the pizzas I have ordered and consumed in faraway places . . . Here are some of my favorites from the previous few years of sampling good food in unique places! Pizza does indeed seem to have universal appeal!

Pizza, whether shared with friends, prepared at home, or ordered by the slice as a quick snack, always seems appropriate. The fact that it’s so versatile — and so varied — is a large part of its appeal. No matter how you enjoy your pizza, at home or abroad, with a soda, a glass of wine or a beer, chances are good that others will share your opinion and be willing to join you for a slice of goodness.

Because it’s still impossible to take to the skies, the seas or the highways across the globe, the next best thing — for me and for many others this year — has been to spend time in the kitchen, savoring new taste treats inspired by our globetrotting of the past. That has taken me, at least, on some unexpected journeys — recalling previous trips and wonderful food experiences — as well as into past times when life was at least as difficult as it is today and good food was hard to come by. I have become captivated by some of the dog-eared recipes in my grandmother’s recipe box.

More about those in coming days — It has been an insightful few weeks, and I’m eager to share some thoughts.

I realize how lucky I am to be alive today, in these times, as hard as it has been to be at home and not on the road during this pandemic. There’s a reason I chose to write about good food and far away places. Cooking and travel are both art forms in their individual ways. Each brings joy.

One of the travel realities that continues to surprise me is that it’s possible to find pizza on a menu almost anywhere on the globe. The “pandemic hours” that I spent organizing photos and notes of my travels have confirmed that good pizza is not confined by geography or defined by a particular culture, that the love of pizza transcends borders, and that it can be both a satisfying “street food” consumed on the run and a full meal elegantly presented. Or anything in between! Also, almost anything can become a pizza topping! From the delightfully simple basil and mozzarella-topped classic in a tiny Neapolitan trattoria to an oversize and overloaded game day pizza delivered direct to my doorstep, pizza is a beloved tradition, and a treat that only seems to gain favor with each passing year.

One shouldn’t miss the classic Pizza Margherita when visiting Naples! But there are many other pizza choices in other places. On our European trip in late 2019, we enjoyed pizza several times in distinctive locations, from a seaside restaurant with a stunning view of the Adriatic to a cozy small-town eatery tucked into a centuries-old building in Pula, Croatia. Pizza is a staple at airports across the globe, and during this summer’s pandemic shutdown, a required motel stay in Texas brought us “no contact” pizza delivery from a local take-out-only chain pizza parlor. It was our only option, and we were happy to have it!

I also found among my photos a shot of the familiar Domino’s sign in Barcelona, with a crowd of people awaiting their own orders, testimony to pizza’s universality!

Dessert pizzas have also become popular, and they are definitely worth a try. In addition, I have discovered how much fun it can be to make pizza at home; not only is it a great way to introduce kitchen skills to younger children, but there is nothing quite like the sense of accomplishment that comes from creating a hot and satisfying meal out of leftovers and “refrigerator finds!”

No matter how you slice it, it’s entirely possible to enjoy pizza wherever you may roam. By the way, the magazine photo that attracted my attention was of a non-traditional Brussels Sprouts Pizza Carbonara by Chef Ina Garten. Instead of red sauce, it features a white Bechamel sauce, ricotta cheese, Italian pancetta and thinly-sliced Brussels sprouts. Here’s the recipe. It’s one I’m going to have to try.