Ok, deciding where to spend our annual leave and our cash is still a nice problem to have and to complain would be to take a very first world, privileged, problem and petulantly believe that this in some way is something to stress about. But it does make us think about a couple of things. Why is it so difficult for the gourmand traveller to decide on a destination? And, why are we more than happy to spend all our money on food and travel, instead of investing in things like, say, a pension or a property – those things that society tell you are really quite important.
Well the first question is easy enough to answer; there are just too many great food destinations around the world and to leave any of them out is difficult. If we go to New York we get to revisit Eleven Madison Park, maybe take in a lunch in at Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin, David Chang’s places have been on our must-do list for a while, we could check out the developing scene happening in Brooklyn, not forgetting to grab a great burger. But if we go to NYC, we might have to leave out London, a city with a list of restaurants we need to visit that just continues to grow. A trip to an Italian coastal town, eating some spaghetti vongole while watching the boats come and go is definitely in order – the amazing memories of last year’s trip to the island of Ischia are calling us back. Singapore’s hawker centres, with its mix of Asian cuisines, are always a personal favourite and hard to resist. It has been four years since we fell in love with the chaos and noise of Hanoi’s old quarter and the taste of an authentic pho. What about a fish amok in the tragic, yet inspiring city of Phnom Penh? A real curry in a beach shack in Thailand, a country we have travelled to many times, is always tempting.
And these are just places we have been before! Sadly we have never been to Japan, but we must go soon – it bothers us that we haven’t been there yet. And then there is Peru. A bit difficult and expensive to get to, Lima, now one of the world’s gastronomic hotspots, but no doubt it would be worth it. Eastern Europe has an interesting and burgeoning culinary landscape that we are yet to explore, so another one for our unrealistic and ever growing bucket list.
We are really quite fickle too. We decide on the destination, pick the hotel, the restaurants, only to change our mind completely within hours. This year we had decided to spend a week in Sestri Levante on the Italian west coast. We were excited about it, looking forward to it, but then we watched a show about San Sebastian, a city we are absolutely besotted with, and it was the lure of a simple anchovy and olive pintxo and the meltingly beautiful cocochas (hake throat), these simple but amazing bites of food, that made us ditch our Italian plans and settle for a week in the Basque country. We still haven't booked this yet so this plan might change any minute.
Our next holiday is going to be a good one though and this is one we actually booked before we could change our minds. Starting in Cologne to eat at Vendome, we then travel down through eastern France and eventually end up in Barcelona. A holiday that will combine our passion for food with our love of wine, the aim is to come home with a much greater knowledge of both. A few days in beautiful Alsacian town of Colmar , a region we don’t know much about, will allow us to sample some local French-Germanic delights such as choucroute or tarte flambée and glug down some Gewürztraminer or Riesling. Dijon next and day trips to the likes of Beaune gives us the chance explore the vineyards of Burgundy. On to Lyon and a meal at Paul Bocuse, surely a rite of passage for every gastronomic enthusiast. All this before heading to Barcelona, because, well who doesn't love Barcelona. We will be returning to Albert Adria’s Bodega 1900 and Tickets and spending mornings shopping in the Boqueria Market.
So there is a plethora of reasons to spend all our hard-earned money on food and travel. But would we be better off spending it on what are, supposedly, more sensible things. The answer, for us at least, is absolutely not. For us life is about experiences, not possessions. It is about enjoying ourselves with the knowledge that you only get one life and when it’s over, it’s over. There are no do-overs.
We don’t own a property. We currently rent a small one-bedroom apartment in south Dublin. Let us be clear, the reason we don’t own a property is not because we don’t want to, it is just because we prefer to spend our cash on enjoying ourselves. If we had saved for a deposit over the last few years we would not have had the amazing holidays, the unforgettable meals, and the blissful experiences that we feel very lucky to have had. But people don’t care about this. No, instead we get asked a lot about when we are going to buy a house. “Are you looking?” seems to be a common greeting for us now, replacing the conventional “how are you?”. We have even been asked, despite being together for 13 years, and living together for 11, when are we going to settle down. To say this gets a little bit irritating is an understatement. What is the obsession with owning property in Ireland anyway? Maybe it's a hangover from the time when Irish people were under the thumb of British landlords and owning a property was much needed security or maybe it is because of the lack of decent rental laws in Ireland. Whatever the reason, there surely must be, for us at least, more to life.
We could, like some are willing to do, buy more affordable house by moving out to the country and commuting in and out of Dublin each day. Sure, we might have to sit in traffic on a motorway, or on a packed train (if the driver bothered showing up), to and from work each day, but this just gives us more time to think about our three bed semi. Oh, it doesn't matter that our new house is in a place we have no interest in living as by the time we get home we would be so tired from the commute we would just go straight to bed. And think of the money we would save not eating out very often as the nearest decent restaurant is fifty miles away. Each to their own, but this appeals to us around as much as a barb wire enema.
A pension on the other hand is something that might be in our interest to get organised. Simply because it might ensure a delicious retirement. It would be quite disappointing to finally get out of the rat race only to not have enough money to enjoy ourselves. Wouldn't it be nice to retire to the south of France? Maybe a place near a decent, yet affordable, winery and a great little brasserie down the road. Yes, a pension might be a very good idea indeed. Note to selves…. organise a pension!
We feel privileged to have such a passion in our lives. Our happiest memories are with a knife and fork, or chopsticks, in hand or traversing a foreign bustling food market. The first time we tasted real Thai food; indulgent potato dauphinoise in a bistro in Bordeaux; an unforgettable multi course tasting in Noma, Arzak, Osteria Francescana, Eleven Madison Park; the wonder of The Fat Duck; the simple brilliance of Koffmans; a crepe from a street stall in Paris; the pintxos bars in San Sebastian; tapas at the boqueria market. These are just a few of the brilliant memories and times that food has given off in the last few years.
Food has also been there for us in bad times, helping us deal with everyday stresses and picking us up after a bad day or week in work. Not long ago we travelled to Copenhagen just hours after receiving some terrible news about the health of a family member. We considered not going at all, but figured this would not help anything. So we went, sure that it would prove to be impossible to get much, if any, pleasure from it. We woke up on our first morning, after a night of broken sleep, and with little else on our mind we sulked around a cold and rainy Copenhagen. We arrived at Noma for lunch and for the next 3 hours we were transported away from our troubles, taken in by the amazing food and intoxicating atmosphere. It was the best meal of our lives and for this brief time we were happy and content. We left and soon after we returned the reality, but our spirits had been uplifted and we fully appreciated the power that food has to bring joy to our lives and help us get through bad times.
For us there is no possession, no house, no nice car, that could go close to bringing us the same experiences that food has. Sure, it would be better for our wallets if this love was for, say, books or bird watching, but ours is for food and travel. We will always try to explore the world, to eat the best food we can afford and experience as much as we can. So if tomorrow, we are walking along the pavement and, in typical Acme style, an anvil or piano falls from a window above, our last thought will be that we enjoyed the ride as best we could.