We just got back from ten days in Jamaica, another epic vacation. We stay at two different all-inclusive resorts - one in Negril, and one in Jamaica. Both have their specialties in terms of activities and sights to enjoy, and we like to make the most of our time away to have new experiences. Of course, being foodies we like to sample the local food and drink as well, but this is not considered a foodie-focused trip. With most of the meals being buffet style, we focus instead on choosing what we think we will enjoy most. When people find out Martin is a chef and I am a Sommelier, they always ask how we like the food, in that tone that intimates we must think it is disappointing at best. This column is about how you can set yourself up for success like we do to make the most of any meal experience.
Let's face it - we go on holiday to relax and get away from the stress of everyday life. Eating should not be stressful. I say don't worry about the diet so much on holiday - it's OK to treat yourself a bit. But if you want or need to be strict, then take a positive attitude about it. Usually it will mean you are eating fresh local seasonal ingredients to stay healthy, and they are some of the most intense flavours you can enjoy at any meal. If the meal is from a buffet, take a smaller size plate to limit your total consumption. Eat slowly; it will give your body time to register that you have eaten and you won't feel like going back for more quite so much. If you want to try each course, wait a bit in between trips.
Buffets are all about trying lots of items but we have a tendency to over-achieve, and mix too many flavours. If you want to mix a bunch of stuff on one plate be aware that the curry sauce will likely run into the green salad if you put them on the same plate. You can try to be an architect and plan out your placement but it's much better to just get a few plates with less on them. Make as many trips as you wish; walking helps you burn a few calories anyway!
Sticking to local ingredients is always a good philosophy, in my book, as my regular readers know all too well. Martin once had a heated discussion when we were on holidays in Cancun with a fellow who complained about the beef. He said, "Do you see any cows near here on the beach? Have you noticed how many fishermen we see? You might want to order the fish tonight". Even if the beef is prepared well (and it often isn't when that is not a regular meal for locals), it won't be as fresh as the seafood if you're staying on an island.
Like they say, "While in Rome..." If you go to France stick to French cuisine, they are the best at it. Yes in France there are sushi restaurants and yes they also have burgers and pizza... but why not stick to what they do best and eat French cuisine. Most holiday resorts are trying to appeal to the wide variety of tourists they get every year so they create Italian restaurants, and Japanese and Thai and French but in reality what the cooks in those resorts know best is local food... So while in Jamaica eat Jamaican dishes and you may be surprised to find out it's actually really good.
Stepping outside your comfort zone to try new things doesn't mean you have to throw caution to the wind. If you are someone who usually doesn't stomach spicy food well, for example, don't dig into the Jamaican Jerk Pork with gusto or you're liable to blow the top of your head off with the heat from the Scotch bonnet peppers. Just because you can eat salsa at home doesn't mean you can handle the local stuff from a street vendor in Mexico - taste a tiny amount first, or ask someone else you know how hot something is to them - the locals are used to it so they might say it's not hot! We like spice, and we're fortunate enough to not be allergic to anything, but we have had times with friends when their meal was ruined because they were caught by surprise. (And if you get something that's hot in your mouth, remember that more beer won't help - have a glass of milk or a dollop of sour cream to calm your taste buds.)
In closing, here's a note on the drinking end of things ... make sure you can remember your holiday and make it to dinner by having at least an occasional glass of water in between the cocktails. I know it's all liquid but alcohol is not hydrating. The water balances out the dehydration effect and makes you a bit full, slowing your consumption just a bit. Don't worry, you'll still have plenty of liquid courage left to dance on the piano or at the side of the pool if you like :)