When we go on vacation, we not only get a break from our jobs, chores and home-life, but also have the opportunity to break our routines in eating. While enjoying a change of scenery we hopefully find several new food items run across our plate.
This weekend I had the opportunity to get away for a couple of days and I got to thinking about all of the different foods we eat when away from home.
I think the travel sparks our sense of adventure when it comes to eating. Often, when having conversations with people about unusual or nontraditional foods, they say they ate that once on vacation.
Even if you are only visiting family on vacation, it’s usually a chance to enjoy some old favorites. I know when I travel back to Houston the list of restaurants I want to visit while there is almost as long as the friends I want to see.
Last weekend, while in Houston, I didn’t even get to one of my favorite restaurants, but did try a few new ones that had some very good food. At one Mexican place I had shrimp empanadas, at a German place I had braised pork shank with dumplings and apple horseradish and in Galveston a South of the Border shrimp cocktail.
Even the wedding I attended offered something different on the buffet with Plantain Crusted Chicken with a Mango Salsa.
But before you get to your destination there’s road trip food to think about. I remember the things my mother would pack in the food bag when we took our summer trek to Florida to visit my grandfather. There was peanut butter, Ritz crackers, bologna or cheese and ketchup sandwiches, Vienna sausages, cheese in a can and chocolate chip cookies — all fitting into the no refrigeration category. In the 1970s, coolers didn’t do as good of a job keeping things cool as they do today.
All of these things were in the bag for our lunchtime stop — not for snacking. Instead, we would stop for lunch at a rest would stop to eat at a picnic table and stretch our legs.
Nowadays, there aren’t as many rest stops, but more fast food and convenience stores that tempt everyone to exit the freeway.
If a packed lunch wasn’t on hand, I would prefer to find some local roadside favorites such as the Big Texan Steak Ranch on Route 66 or The Red Ram Saloon off Interstate 70 in Georgetown, Colorado. Places such as that offer memorable roadside eating experiences.
I also remember the countless seafood places we ate at along Interstate 10 on the way to Florida. Knowing we would stop to eat some good seafood, made that long car ride somewhat tolerable. You knew that after 10 hours of sitting next to a bratty sister you would at least get a nice dinner and not just a McDonald’s cheeseburger.
On Sunday, as we returned from Houston I start to get a cold sweat as we approached the freeway exit in Madisonville for Buc-ee’s. The ramp was actually backed up with 20 or so cars trying to turn into the parking lot. And there were throngs of people coming in and out of the sliding doors like a herd of cattle carrying their 44-ounce sodas and bags of beaver nuggets. I even saw a family gathered in the parking lot eating baskets of chicken fingers on the trunk of their car.
Is that what families do now?
Maybe it’s not much better than stopping for a bologna sandwich at a rest stop, but I think it’s the surplus of soda that bothered me the most.
I realize it’s a better value to buy the bigger size, but is it really necessary? We were never allowed to consume that much soda because it meant we’d have to stop again even sooner. At that rate, the vacation would be over before we even got to our destination.
I still like to think of vacation — even if it is just a weekend to Houston — as a chance to try new things — especially in the food category. That new restaurant or fun place you stopped to eat at along the highway could be one of the most memorable souvenirs of your trip. (And beef jerky from Buc-ee’s doesn’t count.)
So, the next time you’re traveling and feel the urge to pull into the golden arches drive-thru for French fries and a Coke, carryon a little further and see if you can find someplace different to eat. After all, that’s one of the reasons we go on vacation — to experience a change of scenery.