I have been on a Harry Potter binge for a while now. I am reading the series because I’m embarrassed when I tell my friends I haven’t read them yet. In between books, I started reading The Nasty Bits: Usable Trim, Scraps, and Bones by celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, a welcome break from witchcraft and wizardry.
I whizzed through his compilation of articles and essays chronicling his treks around the around the globe learning about unique cultures from the locals themselves and eating dish after dish of something new and unexpected, all served on a platter with a side of the author’s brutal honesty. I had watched Bourdain’s Travel Channel show No Reservations before and was always a fan of his blunt passion for travel, new people, and the food but after reading his book, I have this revived interest in the show and have a stack of never watched episodes piling up on my DVR waiting for me to devour.
More than just a hungry appetite for discovering other parts of the world and their distinct recipes, the shows and articles remind me just how important a certain dish or drink is to a traveler on the road. Whether I’m standing at a wooden table with friends and snacking on a plate of patata bravas and washing it down with some sangria in Madrid or diving into a gargantuan crêpe drenched in nutella and banana while standing on the rain-soaked streets of Paris at night – the food and my surroundings connect to me the culture, to the place in such a way that I have a mental snapshot that stays with me forever. Years later, co-workers, friends, or family can mention Madrid or Paris and those delicious moments spent with good travel buddies are what come to mind and mean the most to me.
So when Bourdain mentions settling into “the all-important institution, the pub” with a Guinness which “in a clean pint glass of correct temperature is God’s Own Beverage” I can’t help but remember just how good a pub in London really is. I remember my last weekend in the city before I set off to travel, meeting with my co-worker and friend Szilvia for some good-bye drinks at a pub called The Holly Bush in Hampstead Heath. It was a pub hidden among residences up a steep hill and to the right down a narrow side street and a place I would never have known about had it not been for my friend. We sat in the black leather corner booth for hours only getting up to refill our pints and while talking about our jobs, friends, loves, and new ventures it was also the perfect spot to people watch. The place wasn’t too crowded and not too dead so there was enough traffic to hear the boots and heels click on the dark wooden floors and the dim lighting matched the mellow mood of the men and women just having a good time. I used to think going out to the bars by the beach in L.A. with my college friends was a thing of beauty and that I couldn’t possibly have more fun but a pub in England surpasses all that by a landslide. There is an ease and a comfort that I feel in a pub that I simply cannot feel anywhere else, especially when I can enjoy it with friends.
I remember a pub in a tiny town called Doolan along the southern coast of Ireland. This place was literally in the middle of nowhere. The town had one road and my hostel, which rested across from a herd of sheep, was only a two-minute walk to the pub. As soon as I walked through the door, it felt like home. The tables were all set for dinner in all three adjoining rooms and I ordered beef stew and on my 8th day in Ireland, my customary pint of Guinness. On my first day in Dublin, I couldn’t even finish a pint of the dark goodness and on my last day it became second nature to me. I sat and ate with new friends from Australia, New Zealand and Canada and only did the chatter in the place simmer when a guitar player started playing by the fire in one of the rooms. Pretty soon, no matter where you were in the pub, no matter if you could see her or not, a singer started to accompany the guitar and finally everyone was completely silent save for this one woman’s voice singing a traditional Irish hymn. It doesn’t get much better than that – downing a hearty meal of stew and Guinness while listening to music and chatting with friends in the middle of the Irish countryside and I remembered all of that simply from Bourdain’s recounting of his love affair with a pint in a pub. There were many more places I visited, meals I consumed, and memories I made so there undoubtedly will be more stories to tell in this space – more food for thought.