For me, half the fun in traveling is the different kinds of food I get to try out during my trip. During the times of year when we would normally be on vacation, there are just some foods from my previous travels that I find myself craving not just because of how good they taste, but the experience associated with each food. Here are 10 foods I can’t wait to eat when it’s safe to travel again – and the experiences that made them special.
Wisconsin is a very special place for me; I spent many childhood vacations there visiting my cousin, uncle, and aunt, so to me, America’s Dairyland is like another home to me. On one visit my uncle took all of us to this restaurant one day for breakfast, and it did not disappoint. With plenty of gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan options, The Pancake Cafe is the place to go for a hearty weekend breakfast or brunch. As the name suggests, while it’s known for its excellent pancakes, their Belgian waffles are what I fell in love with during my visit. With a crispy texture and a rich, full-bodied, crave-worthy flavor, you won’t be disappointed when you order them.
2. Mackinac Island Fudge, Mackinac Island, MI
One of my favorite vacations has to be my trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. My father and I ate a lot of good food when we visited the UP, as locals call it, but one of the most iconic foods has to be Mackinac Island fudge. Watching the fudge-making process is half of the fun; seeing liquid chocolate and caramel be swirled on a bench top is an incredibly satisfying and drool-worthy experience and was one of the highlights of our visit to Mackinac Island. There are many places that sell fudge on Mackinac Island and in the UP, but Murdick’s Fudge, in my opinion, is the place to go to get warm, freshly made fudge with quality ingredients. Pair this with cheesy popcorn and your afternoon snacks for the rest of your road trip will be set.
3. Tomato Pie, various locations, Philadelphia, PA
When I visited the University of Pennsylvania, I ate some of the best food I have ever eaten on a road trip. Of note was some tomato pie and cannolis that had been catered. Tomato pie can be thought of as a breadier pizza without the bubbly, cheesy topping. This may sound odd or off-putting to some, but it allows the tomato sauce to shine. A few shakes of parmesan before serving can take this dish to the next level. But what’s even better about tomato pie is that it is an inherently shareable food that is designed for large-group settings. I will never forget the lovely conversations we prospective students had over our pie about our lives in different parts of the United States and the world, our hopes and dreams, and our inspirations that brought us to where we were then. Tomato pie, like other communal foods, has the immense power to foster shared connection, and that experience is what makes me love it even more.
There are so many places to get tomato pie in the Philadelphia area, but look no further because we have a list of all the best spots!
I’ve eaten a lot of good Mexican food during my travels, but La Palapa is special for me because of the memories I’ve made there with my family. Maryland is also a place close to my heart – it’s a state that my great-uncle and great-aunt have called home for decades, and for someone whose late grandparents lived an ocean away, each visit was the closest thing I had to visiting my grandparents. Every visit to Ellicott City brings back happy memories of family, sumptuous home-cooked meals, and conversations with my great-uncle and aunt about their youth.
Order the black bean soup and Chile Relleno at La Palapa – you’ll be happy you did.
This old-school Italian-American joint on Mackinac Island is the best place to refuel after a long day of hiking – their menu is simple but incredibly delicious. During a trip to the UP, after a long day exploring the natural beauty on the island, my father and I shared a small traditional pie topped with caramelized onions, and this was possibly the best pizza I have ever had. The crust was flavorful, the tomato sauce was rich and sharp, the cheese was creamy and salty, and the caramelized onions provided a sweetness that balanced each bite.
6. Chinese food, Sault Ste. Marie, MI and Gettysburg, PA
There are times where, after a long day of exploring and sightseeing, all you want is a meal that is a big belly hug. Our trips to Sault Sainte-Marie, MI and Gettysburg, PA were two of those times. Both cities have a rugged beauty about them, Sault Ste. Marie because of its locks and industrial heritage, and Gettysburg because of its rich Civil War history. As someone who loves history, I highly recommend visiting both cities to learn more about the important role they played in the formation of modern America. After a long day of hiking and learning, my father and I were craving something spicy and comforting to eat. When it comes to vegetarian and vegan comfort foods, though we are adventurous eaters, we usually opt for one of three cuisines: Indian, Chinese, or Italian cuisine.
I’ve eaten a lot of good Chinese and Chinese-American food across my travels, but two places stand out in particular from these two vacations – Indo-China Garden in Sault Sainte-Marie, MI and Chinatown Kitchen in Gettysburg, PA. We ran into both places almost on a whim, and they did not disappoint. If you’re in either area and craving spice, these are the places to go! Try the Princess Tofu at Indo-China Garden or the Szechuan-Style Tofu from Chinatown Kitchen; both are a mouthwatering way to get your spice fix.
7. Mysore Bonda, Central Tiffin Room (Shri Sagar), Bangalore, India
I remember the first time I was brought to Central Tiffin Room when I was visiting my mother’s friends in the city where she grew up, Bangalore. Bangalore is known as a hip, diverse, and modern metropolis with an excellent food scene, but if you’re looking for places that serve good food and foster good conversation, it’s the longstanding establishments that truly shine here. When we sat down, plates of pillowy and spicy fritters with spicy chutney were set down before us. I was hooked. You can find this dish at many South Indian restaurants in the US, but if you want to try to make it at home, check out this recipe.
8. Cheese curds, various locations throughout Wisconsin and the northern United States
The first time I ate cheese curds was at a holiday party in Wisconsin – and it was love at first sight. I simply couldn’t stop eating them, much to our family friends’ amusement and my parents’ well-meaning concern. Squeaky and salty when eaten raw, cheese curds have a tendency to melt beautifully when heated, so eating them is an incredibly comforting and euphoric experience. I’ve seen my local supermarket in Ohio sell cheese curds, but the best cheese curds, in my opinion, are in Wisconsin or any predominantly dairy-producing state, and we always try to bring some back each time we visit America’s Dairyland. Rather than choosing a particular brand or store to purchase these from, we opt to buy cheese curds from local dairies with the most recent production date, as the freshest cheese curds have the best texture and taste. I usually like to stir cheese curds into baked pastas or use them as sandwich fillings, but the best way to eat cheese curds in my opinion is the classic game day way – battered, deep-fried, and served with marinara sauce on the side. Looking for the best place to purchase cheese curds in Wisconsin? Check this list out.
Indian pizza? This sentence might sound perplexing to you; I was just as confused when my cousins in Michigan told me about it. Though it sounds odd at first, this Indian-Italian-American fusion dish works beautifully. I had a chance to try Curry On Crust’s Paneer Tikka Pizza when I was visiting the area, and it did not disappoint. The flavors and textures of the soft, squidgy paneer, the creamy, melty mozzarella, and the tangy, full bodied tikka sauce paired harmoniously and created a uniquely pleasant pizza-eating experience. If you’re in the Canton area, I highly recommend this pizzeria; you’ll be surprised at how well Indian and Italian flavors can work together.
And, last but not least…
10. Traditional South Indian home cooking, various locations
Nothing can compare to the good home cooking I’ve tasted during my stays with family or friends. When food is prepared with love, it always tastes better. To this day, if anyone asks me to name the best food I’ve ever eaten throughout my entire life, I would have to say my mom’s, my late grandma’s, and my aunts’ cooking. South Indian home cooking, in particular, is very diverse in terms of flavor profiles, and this diversity isn’t necessarily captured in typical Indian restaurant fare. That said, public interest in regional Indian cuisine is rising, so hopefully, we will see more of this regional home cooking take center stage in the Indian restaurant scene in the US. I’m not one to give advice, but my number one piece of advice when traveling would be to embrace the experience of a home-cooked meal whenever you get the chance, no matter what cuisine – and don’t forget to thank your host!
Happy travels, and happy eating!