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around the world in 80 dishes
part one
by maigen thomas (@Maigen)
6.26.09
pop culture

"So, you spend all your downtime reading?" The captain asked.

I thought for a moment. "I wouldn't say ALL of it, no."

I had just passed a novel to another flight attendant on the crew van taking us to the airport after a thirteen hour layover in Vegas, and her surprised reaction was "You just bought this yesterday! You're finished already?"

I read fast. And this book wasn't exactly a chore to get through. I read it in less than a day, yes, and retained most of it (which wasn't terribly important and I'm sure I'll forget all but the basic details in the next week or two) and I was through with it. The captain's question provoked a quick rundown of how my time is allotted, though.

Say it's a typical 30 day month. I would honestly say that I average 8 hours of sleep a day. Some days it's only four. Some days it's twelve. It averages out. That makes 240 hours of sleep a month. I only work 110 hours a month. You might think I could say that I sleep twice as much as I work (and to an extent, that's true), but those 110 hours of paid time are only counting the time between the airplane doors closing and when they open again. When all is said and done, there are quite a few more hours that I'm not getting paid for, but that I'm not On My Own Time.

Nevertheless, I truly don't work quite like other people. Layovers are nice, especially when they're long - I get to sleep as long as I want and then do what I want until it's time to be picked up again. During this time and any other time that is My Own, I - as mentioned previously - sleep, read, shop, spend time with friends, drink and - my other favourite - EAT.

The inspiration for this column comes from the fact that in the last year I've tagged an additional 16 countries and eaten quite a lot of great food. I should probably start a food blog, but really, that requires effort. My editor can attest that I have enough trouble getting my monthly columns in on time.

One of my most recent favourite food experiences, quite frankly, surprised the hell out of me. Who'd have thought that I could have the best Country Fried Chicken - with peppercorn gravy - OF MY LIFE in Accra, Ghana at Tropicana Taverna, a restaurant that doesn't even have an address. An out of the way hole in the wall with interesting photography for decor that's run by the Serbian ex-Hungarian-Ambassador-to-Ghana. Did I mention it's in Ghana? It's a third-world country in Africa where the most I thought I'd walk away with were questionable mosquito bites.

I had to actually remind myself to have manners and keep my face more than three inches from the plate. It was stunningly good, and the fries tasted as if they'd been dipped in melted butter and then fried. I'd recommend the place to anyone going to Accra, but then...I wouldn't exactly recommend going to Accra. And seriously, it's impossible to find. We stopped at a local police station to ask directions and they couldn't even tell us where the road was. Which is, in retrospect, probably a good thing.

Some time before my trip to Africa, I had several awesome layovers in Vegas. There are thousands of places to eat in Vegas, many of them owned or run by famous chefs - places you'd really look forward to eating. One memorable layover, though, I went to none of those places. I had some utterly satisfying 3am Steak and Eggs at the dumpy little restaurant in the Sahara.

I had gotten called out on my reserve days to fly a late trip to Las Vegas. The flight had been delayed because we didn't have a pilot and the flight attendants that were originally scheduled had been rerouted elsewhere. Lucky me. Turned out it wasn't going to be too bad: one leg to Vegas, eleven hour layover, deadhead back. (sidenote: I love deadheading! It's where we get paid for flying on the plane, but we don't have to do any work.) I had already packed my suitcase for my trip to Vancouver since we'd be getting back to JFK so late the next day, I'd just hop on a plane right back to SLC and head up to YVR. Didn't quite work out that way, because the flight got even MORE delayed and we weren't due back to JFK until 11pm. Hmm.

I called scheduling when we landed in Vegas and asked if I could deviate and go off on my own (I still get paid. I love that.) to Vancouver. It was 2am in Las Vegas at that time. I got my approval and booked myself on the 6am flight to SLC, with a 10:40am connection to YVR. That done, I realized I needed to be at the airport no later than 5:15am. Checking my watch, I realized there'd be no rest for the wicked. Oh well. I headed in to get some sustenance and was pleasantly surprised by how good my steak and eggs were - the Sahara, after all, is not exactly known for its food. They have a 'Child Size' Burrito. It's something like ten pounds. Literally child size. And if you can eat the entire thing, it's free. I didn't attempt to eat it.

Best part of the evening? My steak and eggs were only $4.99. Ridiculous!

Speaking of Vancouver, one of my absolute favourite restaurants lives at the corner of Burrard and Davie in Downtown Vancouver. Bin 941 is a sexy, delicious Tapas Parlour and Wine Bar. I have eaten there many a time and I think I've tried nearly everything (that isn't shellfish) on the menu. They change their wines seasonally and they're incomparably top notch. The menu is eclectic and simple. What tops my list of favourite dishes is the Cinnamon and Chili Rubbed Flank Steak with Maple Chipotle Glaze. I've tried to replicate it at home and I think I've nearly succeeded. There is absolutely nothing on the menu I wouldn't try (so long as I don't have an allergy, damn shellfish), and I love the tiny space and too-loud music. Mmmm. I need to schedule a trip to Vancouver next month...

And since I mentioned great wines, I have to bring up Purple in Seattle - there's so much wine in this place, I can't even think of a pun. There's a rotating floor-to-ceiling wine 'rack' that circles the entire interior of the round bar in the center of a gorgeous space - it's a bit overwhelming, and you can't possibly ever try all the wines they offer.

The dinner menu is only slightly smaller than the wine menu (and I may be exaggerating here, but only by a little) and features my favourite food: cheese! There is an extensive list of cheeses, and they change fairly often. I have absolutely no idea what I had, but I know that I only didn't like one of them. I warn you now, it's probably a good idea to stay far, far away from the "Oddball" cheeses.

After helping my two companions devour six different types of cheese on Purple's house made crackers (seriously, house made crackers. I must learn how to do this), I had an impeccably cooked medium filet and two different glasses of Bordeaux. Then I discovered what instantly became (and stayed) my all-time favourite vodka: Hangar One Mandarin Blossom. If you haven't tried it, go find it. It's worth every penny.

After spending someone else's fortune in a posh wine bar in Seattle, I got to treat a friend to pitchers of Guinness at one of my other highly-recommended places on a layover. Brewvies is a Cinema Pub in Salt Lake City playing first-run movies, serving excellent pub food and cheap beer. They also have pool. If they had a Ms. Pacman machine, I'd move in. The chicken tenders were - and I'm not just blowing smoke up your skirt - some of the best I've ever had, and the nachos are (pardon the pun) top notch. Or should I say 'top nach'?

Monday nights are the best - Classic movies and food specials. I can watch Blues Brothers with a $12 pitcher of Guinness and a plate of Chicken Tenders, follow it up with a few rounds of pool and then stumble my way across the parking lot to the layover hotel. Either this place is great or I'm a cheap date.

...

I'm not sure I want to ponder that.

On that note, I end this first installment of Around the World in 80 Dishes, because I have to get ready for a London layover tomorrow night. No plans for fish and chips (because the best ones I've had were in Shannon, Ireland), but I'm sure I'll find something worthy of writing about!


ABOUT MAIGEN THOMAS

Maigen is simple. is smart. is wholesome. is skeevy. is spicy. is delicate. is better. is purer. is 100% more awesome than yesterday. She';s traveling the world and writing about her experiences with life, love, yoga, food, travel and people. Mostly people. Because they';re funny. hear more of her random thoughts @maigen on twitter.

more about maigen thomas

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