's shrimp rolls.
Travel brings on a whole new slew of addictions. For example, it wasn't until I arrived in Louisville a few weeks ago that I discovered the lethal Chaiberg. This diddy is churned out by a small local coffee shop just down the street from the hotel I'm living in while I work on this new TV show. It's like a blended chai tea frappe whipped so fine and crystallized, every single sip breaks my heart. I don't know if I will ever taste anything that good again. Except for the achingly soft upside-down cupcake at the nearby Pie and Ice Cream House. Imagine a buttery, billowy cupcake flipped upside down and dunked all the way down into a huge vat of chocolate. Killer beyond belief.
And then there's that amazing vegan restaurant I just discovered this last trip out to Los Angeles. The sparkling-clean Veggie Grill has the most delicious meat imitations I have ever discovered. Crispy fried chicken fingers and a carne asada sandwich that truly put the real deal to shame. Why can't there be something like that in Chicago? Or maybe there is? And, guaranteed whoever busts out the first Chaiberg in Chitown will have some major lines going gangbusters out the door.
Then, there's the tiny mom-n-pop Vietnamese hideaway just off I-65 South on the way to Nashville that could slip right into the tangle of restaurants along Argyle. Who'd ever know that a speck of a restaurant in South Louisville could whip out such delicate crab rangoon? Or such delightful goi cuon with lettuce wraps? They had a spicy tofu noodle concoction that had my eyes pouring tears and my nose running like a waterfall. I thank my lucky stars every day for frosty cold Sapporo. Seriously, never underestimate the south.
The reason I bring up food with travel is because for me, food is the experience that shapes the whole dang journey. It's literally the reason to travel. Hell, even when I get back from a big trip abroad (or in the US), I immediately gravitate to a slew of ethnic finds in Chicago. No silly cheeseburger or puny hot dog for me. Take a few weeks ago for instance. I had to fly into Chicago from LA to pick up my truck to drive to Kentucky and on the way I stopped at my bank. Well, right next door is a Vietnamese grocery store with a side restaurant, Dong Ky. Being the always starving girl that I am, I swished right in and proceeded to order up half the menu, with my pal Lisa bringing up the rear, of course.
Ten minutes later we were digging into puffy shrimp rolls, chubby little crab sticks, a sopping bowl of fresh fish ball pho, and a pile of crispy tofu eggrolls. I watched the chick at the table to my left slurp down an avocado milkshake made just like the one I get addicted to every time I go to Indonesia. What slays me is that I could have walked into the attached grocer and bought food that bounded its way across thousands of miles of oceans, probably just a day before. It blows my mind how connected, yet disjointed, the world really is.
After loading up on enough Asian food to feed a small army, we hit the road and were in Louisville five hours later. Before sunset, we were chomping on falafel pitas and hummus from a new Mediterranean restaurant just off the freeway. Again, the beauty of foodie globalization slaps me in the face.
This is the very reason I adore the city of Chicago so much. The most incredible food is right around every single corner. But, here's what I'm slowly realizing. The rest of the US has some pretty good eats too. If you know where to look. Skip the standards, scamper down the back roads and go for the hole in the walls. The ones with a feisty nana sporting a bandana cooking up a storm in the back. Those are the kind of joints that are bound to knock your socks off and keep you on the move, always scoping out the next great plate of food.
THE FINAL RAVE: Though the avocado shake looked like it would quench my thirst, you most definitely have to traipse to Indonesia to get the real goods. The bright green, chocolate-laced shake will blow your mind!
KEEP IT GOING:
TRY IT: Veggie Grill
These guys have scarily perfected imitation meat. I'm just waiting on the breaking headline of "Veggie Grill FOOLED the world with its alleged fake meat." Evil roar.
DRINK IT: Heine Brothers
If you make it to Louisville, please, please, please stop into this popular fair-trade java outpost and try a Chaiberg. Life will never be the same.
DO IT: Make an upside-down cupcake
It can't be that hard. Bake cupcake. Melt chocolate. Dip cupcake. Eat.
GET CRAZY WITH IT: Indonesia
Go to the island of Lombok, just off the coast of Bali. Enter any restaurant and order up an avocado milkshake. Prepare to wipe sloppy drool off your stunned lips.