A native New Yorker, Alia Akkam recently moved to Budapest, where she continues to write about food, travel, drink, and design. Her work has appeared in outlets such as Vogue.com, Architectural Digest.com, Playboy, and Wine Enthusiast.
Living in Budapest, I am just a 75-minute flight away from Montenegro. I know little about this Balkan nation once part of the former Yugoslavia other than its purported beauty. Come, the articles tempt, to savor the Adriatic Sea from the beaches of medieval Budva, wander the cobbled lanes of the UNESCO-designated Kotor, and succumb to nature at Lake Skadar and Lovcen National Park.
I’ve always had old-soul predilections. As a kid, instead of frolicking in the park, I preferred watching The Lawrence Welk Show and Murder, She Wrote with my grandparents. As a teenager, I hummed Perry Como songs as frequently as those from Pearl Jam’s Ten. I sought out Shredded Wheat, not Cocoa Puffs, for breakfast.
Bowls of honey-roasted peanuts and popcorn kernels tumbling out of brown paper bags were once standard-issue bar snacks — welcome but generic placeholders until dinner reservations two hours later. Now they run the gamut from okonomiyaki (savory Japanese pancakes) to pimento buns, often standing in for a casual, graze-fueled supper. Hotel boîtes are especially astute at showcasing cocktails’ gustatory sidekicks.
Unwinding in a hotel bar might be an act of comfortable convenience. If you are a weary traveler, it is surely the shortest distance from your drink to your bed. If you are lucky, you will find yourself ensconced at the likes of Dandelyan at the Mondrian on London’s South Bank, or Sable Kitchen & Bar at the Hotel Palomar in Chicago, where well-made drinks served amid swanky surroundings promise memorable imbibing experiences for locals and itinerant interlopers.
The hotel bar is a magical place where anonymous locals and transient travelers congregate; where it’s acceptable, and perhaps expected, that the person who just ordered a Negroni is a solo traveler who will devote the next hour to reading 1984 in peace; and where forbidden dalliances are more inclined to erupt with the knowledge that a freestanding bathtub awaits just upstairs.
I recently spent a week in France with a friend of mine. We had a grand time laughing, gorging on croissants, and knocking back Champagne — forging such pleasant memories amid exceptional settings are, of course, why people choose to travel together. But I am just as content to navigate a foreign locale solo. In fact, I prefer it. On this sojourn, like any other where I am in the company of others, there were moments I yearned for solitude.
My first trip to Israel yields numerous culinary highlights, but it’s wandering through the markets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, each one bristling with distinctly charming character, which leaves me most captivated. And it is Carmel Market, or Shuk Ha-Carmel, with its sensorial barrage of shouts for straight-from-the-oven rugelach, wafting scents of garlic, and richly hued vegetables on display, I find especially soulful.
In recent years, inventive vegan cuisine from around the world has helped shed an off-putting reputation restricted to ingredients like tofu and revolving around words such as bland. Perhaps nowhere is that more apparent than in Tel Aviv, a city synonymous with both a hummus- and falafel-centric street food culture and an impressive global culinary scene.
The borough depicted in Brooklyn, one of this year’s Oscar contenders for Best Picture, is a nostalgic, blue-collar departure from today’s posh condos flaunting shiny granite kitchens. While 21st-century Brooklyn remains proudly anchored to its deep ethnic roots, it is no longer defined by middle-class families savoring carefree afternoons on brownstone stoops or parish dances (leading, many immigrant women hoped, to a potential suitor).
Laden with stress, speech tweaks, and endless shaking of strangers’ hands, the campaign trail is a precarious one. But as private planes shuttle presidential hopefuls around the U.S., there’s one thing, besides the myriad caffeine breaks, these anxious candidates can surely relish in between forced smiles and canned responses: eating. Crossing the country in search of much-needed votes, there’s no better way to connect with locals than through food.
The surge of amorousness come Valentine’s Day and the accompanying pressure to celebrate the holiday with an over-the-top bouquet and a fancy dinner reservation can be overbearing. Yet there’s no need to fret if impromptu tulips weren’t delivered or you couldn’t snag a table at that swish new French-Vietnamese restaurant. It’s far more fun to settle in for the night with low-cost bubbly, a casserole in the oven, and a flick.
The anything-goes potluck dinner, those democratic shindigs where each guest comes armed with a homemade dish, is great fun to attend. After all, how often does one get to pile a plate high with a mélange of discordant items like vegetable lasagna, quiche Lorraine, and Cajun-spiced chicken fingers? But these convivial smorgasbords are also rife with risk, because what if no one has the good sense to make green beans, and there are three platters of chocolate chip cookies?
Bubbles are basically always appropriate, whether savored as an aperitif before a five-course blowout at a mahogany-walled bistro or at home alongside kung pao chicken takeout. But the effervescent stuff is especially fitting on Valentine’s Day. Really, is there anything like the sound of a cork popping to heighten the holiday’s starry-eyed pursuits?
Lucky patrons who order a petite-sized cup of bittersweet espresso might joyfully discover it is served alongside a gratis sphere of buttery shortbread or disc of dark chocolate, perhaps. Others will be confounded upon spotting a thin swath of lemon peel on the saucer. What, exactly, is one meant to do with this colorful component? Folklore dictates that the lemon should be rubbed on the cup’s lip before first sip. But why, you ask?