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What dish says "I'm on vacation!" for you?

Rick Steves tells us that he has regular spots he frequents when he's doing his round of updates that make him feel he has returned, and he also asks guests on the radio show what they get to eat when they first come home as a welcome meal.

What dish do you get that tells you you're on vacation (finally!)?

I have never, literally never, made a seafood bisque at home, so I know that if I've got a bowl of lobster bisque in front of me, it's not an everyday situation. Normally, I have a strong opinion about not combining fish and dairy, of not mixing the mountains with the sea as they say in Italian cooking, but there are exceptions to even strongly held rules, and for me the main exception is clam chowder.

Rich cream sauces more generally are a way that I signal to myself that it's time for an indulgence, that the workaday is behind me, for a little while at least. How's 'bout you?

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2291 posts

Not really food, but beer. I'm not much of a drinker at home-a 6-pack can last me months, but I love trying local brews while I'm away. For our upcoming trip to England in September, we've a booked a few rooms in Pubs/Inns. And I've just come across a microbrewery in Glasgow for our Scotland trip in June that has a beer infused with chocolate and marshmallow. The name escapes me at the moment, but it's these unique concoctions that I rarely seek out at home but enjoy on the road.

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1556 posts

I’ll be in Mexico this Saturday and will have my first Margarita in two years. I like Cadillac Margaritas and I find them to be much better there than here in the states.

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3259 posts

Depends on where in the worldI am. We love trying out the local foods and drinks. That might be the stereotypic fish and chips and ale in an English pub, a Cassoulet with a hearty wine in Gascony, or chicken and rice with a beer from a hawker center in Singapore. Something of that place, and not what we can easily get at home.

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1885 posts

@Diane, in the movie Matador Pierce Brosnan says almost exactly that sitting in the bar at the hotel designed by Ricardo Legorreta for the 1968 Olympics. If you are in the Polanco stop in and order one of those!

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844 posts

Ice cream. My husband loves ice cream, so we stop at least once a day. We even joke about the gelato budget. So whether it’s called gelato, eis, helado, sladoled, etc. it means vacation time! So far the best (and cheapest) has been in Slovenia.

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164 posts

I enjoy airline food also, not so much for the food, but for the ingenuous packaging.
Antipasto makes me think of vacation. It's our favorite summer dish and reminds us of many memorable meals in Southern Italy. And if we have escargot I know that I'm not in Indiana. Also, when we travel my husband will focus on one local speciality and order it at every restaurant we frequent. Then he tries to recreate it at home. His Pasta Amatriciana (Rome) and Pasta Faggioli (Naples) could compete with Italian restauranteurs.

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5842 posts

Anything I really can't get here, but is relatively common where I am. So along the Mediterranean, a basket of small fried anchovies or fish, further North, Duck. Great cheeses, easy "exotic" snacks cheap from the grocery store, ordering something from the menu that I "think" I know what it is...but not really; or taking a dare and ordering the strangest thing on the menu.

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1000 posts

I have always loathed olives. They taste like awful medicine to me. But somehow, sitting in a little cafe in Cinque Terre in 2013, they tasted SO GOOD. They brought this dish with these teeny tiny marinated olives and it was like some new food I'd never tasted before. I still hate the black ones, but the little green ones - yum. I still rarely eat olives at home (but I do put them in my vermut, which transports me to Madrid every time). So for me, I think it's not a matter of only having certain food on vacation, but discovering foods while on vacation that I later have at home and remind me so specifically of a time and place. Magic.

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930 posts

For me it's getting pesto pasta in Northern Italy, it really is wonderful and it just doesn't taste the same in the USA.

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85 posts

Gin and tonic- always my cocktail of choice on international flights.

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2705 posts

The actual food or drink depends on where I am, I try to eat the local specialty early in my visit to kind of get in the mood of the place.

But sitting in an outdoor terrace with a view of…something I don’t have at home is the constant. It could be a beautifully scenic view of a mountain, or of a picturesque square. Or it could be in a gritty ally-like street with vespas zipping by and graffiti everywhere (hello, Naples!). The point is outside and distinctive. That’s how I signal vacation!

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4978 posts

Andrew beat me to it: wine with lunch. Oh, and a glass of wine in the airport on the way to wherever it is we're going.

Allan, we also like trying local brews, and have as a result expanded our taste for beer and cider.

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923 posts

A ‘Porridge of the Gods’ from a branch of Leon means I’m in London and thus in transit somewhere….

Ian

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7681 posts

Linguine con Vongole, the best. It's always better in Italy.

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4446 posts

It’s fun to read everyone’s answers!

The dish that says we’re finally on vacation is pizza. It can be a delicious or a crummy pizza, but it’s become tradition that our first dinner in Europe is celebrating over a pizza. When we have jet lag, that first dinner is just to acclimate. As Mira mentioned, it’s the wonderful outdoor ambiance that signals we’re there…and the fact that the waiter is not going to stop by our table every five minutes asking us, “How’s your meal?”

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795 posts

Haggis! Joking, kind of. I had a modified haggis once which I liked quite a bit. And a Dorito covered hot dog in Iceland that was awesome. Basically, anything that is representative of the region's food and/or food that I would never try at home.

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1885 posts

I'm also not an olive fan, so celeste's mention of yummy little green ones has me holding out the small hope that there's an exception to my no-olives rule out there as well. Live and learn!

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418 posts

Ireland/Scotland - fish and chips with beer
Germany - weinerschnitzel or Turkish doner kebab (in Berlin)
Spain - Spanish tortilla, tapas
Italy - gelato, pasta, fresh mozzarella, Tuscan roast pork, and anything with rabbit. The only times I've eaten rabbit was in Italy and it was so good...

Fun question!

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103 posts

Good topic!
Claudia. you beat me to it. Our #1 choice all around. Pre covid we mostly choose to fly into London directly from SFO, spend at least a few days and then branch out to wherever. Arrival in afternoon, jump on the tube, check into our hotel in Earls Court area and make a beeline to the V and A museum cafe. Fruit scones, clotted cream, jam and Earl Grey. Ahh! Now the vacation has really started! Dinner is Middle Eastern or take away from Pret if we are too full from the scones or too tired .

If we are flying into Italy (which we did last October and other times) of course it is a beeline for gelato and then later after walking around, has to be pizza for first night dinner.

David: Consolation prize for airline food. It does mean vacation for sure. Only like it in context of its meaning (Trip!) Out of context it would not appeal to me at all. It gives me a chuckle sometimes admitting I enjoyed it.😁

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220 posts

Another vote (in all seriousness ;) that airline food says, “I’m on vacation now.” That and whatever complimentary wine comes with … so far it’s a toss up between Air New Zealand and Austrian Airlines, although leaning more towards Air NZ … wonder what TAP will be like in a few short weeks … tantalizing to consider (I’m so overdue for international travel).

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4978 posts

Not "I'm on vacation," but... A few years ago Stan and I took the 21 Day Best of Europe. The last part of the trip the bus travels from Switzerland into France. Shortly after we crossed to border, our guide (Dimitri) said, "OK, we're stopping for lunch." The stop was at an open air shopping center, the kind that has become popular in the States again. Dimi pointed out several places to eat, but said " I'm eating at Flunch. It's similar to a cafeteria, with a number of types of food." Well, that looked better than the other choices so we went in. I found it very confusing. There were a number of stations, hot food, salads, soups... I went to the station that was (more or less) appetizers or hors d'oeurvres, and chose duck paté, bread, cheeses, and vegetables. The first bite I took of the duck paté I had to take a breath. "Oh, yes!," I thought, "we're definitely in France!" It was amazing, at a mall type food court cafeteria. Vive la France!

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369 posts

There’s no one dish, but two that are memorable to me are cacio e pepe in Rome and prosciutto and melon in Italy and Provence.

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278 posts

Currywurst and a nice cold lager under a chestnut tree. We have started a few trips in Germany so this came to mind. Also, croissants and delicious cappuccinos.

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8388 posts

Not food but drink: a well-made spritz outside on a restaurant or cafe terrace.

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1885 posts

I'm not surprised that most often it's the setting that is as important or even more important than the dish.

So what do we learn from these reflections?

Does getting into vacation mode require a geographic move, like the liminal experience of sitting in an airplane seat, or settling in a beach chair, or plunking down on a sidewalk café table? Some of those on the same plane, the same beach, the same the same café, are not on vacation - away - but in their routines. The intoxicating effect of the special drink isn't just because of the sourcing of the ingredients, is it?

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492 posts

It really depends, obviously, on where I'm at. But off the top of my head, and since I have another trip to the UK coming up, I'd say a full English breakfast is something I really only do when in England and one of the things I look forward to eating most once there. When I'm placing that order for, then seeing at my table, then digging in to that full English breakfast I know I'm finally on vacation.

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2291 posts

The intoxicating effect of the special drink isn't just because of the
sourcing of the ingredients, is it?

For me, food and drink is the least important part of a trip, but it is part of the experiences that I value. The beer in a pub in Bath was adequate, but it was the first time I'd encountered a place where dogs were welcome inside. I've never met a dog I didn't want to pat and so I spent more time patting the dogs than enjoying the beer.

In Rome, we sat at tables so close together that you couldn't help getting to know your neighbour. I'm not the outgoing type, but my wife is, and suddenly everybody near us were her best friends. All of them tourists, but from all over the world. I still smile when I remember a conversation with a guy who was from Poland, currently living in Hong Kong but said the best Chinese food he'd ever had was in Chicago.

In both cases, food and drink was secondary to the experience of just being there.

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Caviar
Gelato
Drinking red wine during the daytime!

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A cocktail at the airport before my flight!

And yes, wine in the middle of a workday :).

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931 posts

Pastries! It's one of the best parts of vacation - searching out local pastry shops and trying some delectable treats that you won't get at home. Adding in a good cup of coffee or tea just tops it off.

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3799 posts

This one might sound strange... But to me, it's bad fast food and/or bad coffee at a highway rest stop! The sign that I'm leaving behind my Parisian bubble of artisan coffee roasters and hip burger joints.
Airline food is in a similar category, but I do have it in a work context every once in a while, so it is not the same. And train food is definitely "work-related".

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305 posts

Great topic! These responses both bring back happy memories, and also give me a list of things to try on future travels!😊

For me, it is a Nutella crepe from a street vendor in Paris, and nougat from small shops in France and Italy.

Seeing beautiful displays of fresh foods in open air markets, and simply enjoying a meal outdoors also equals a true sense of vacation for me. We’ve tried to make it a point to eat outdoors even more in our own yard as a result, to extend that vacation feeling. There aren’t many outdoor dining options around us.

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It's 4:00 AM and I wake up in London with my stomach telling me it's lunch time. I can't go back to sleep. The very kind Indian woman who owns our hotel knows her clientele. She has left a welcome basket in the room, with bananas, mangoes, butter cookies, crisps, and granola bars. I start to devour the mango first then the butter cookies. Yay, we made it across the pond.

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have never, literally never, made a seafood bisque at home

Same thing! Seafood is a marker of "vacation" for me

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I don’t know about “dishes” because there are too many to name but my vacation cocktail is an Aperol Spritz. Unless I’m in Mexico in which case it’s a margarita

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901 posts

Not a specific dish, but having dessert or something sweet daily means I'm in vacation mode.

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Italy - spaghetti carbonara, gelato, fresh food with in season ingredients.
England-afternoon tea.
France - pastry.
Anywhere-breakfast buffet.