“Travel is the antidote to fear,” says Afar Editor-In-Chief Julia Cosgrove with Miyagi-like clarity. “When you get out of your comfort zone and go somewhere unfamiliar that might be a little scary for whatever reason, you will have a transformative experience. You will learn, and grow.” We had just finished talking about her love of unpasteurized French cheese when she dropped this little nugget of wisdom that you would expect from the head of the country’s freshest travel glossy. With Fantasy Travel Week here, we asked the San Francisco-based editor for her top food-travel destinations, as well as her choice food souvenirs. Cheese, of course, has a place in her carry-on. And she travels carry-on only. Of course.
We’re doing a week of fantasy food travel and I wanted to interview an expert. Someone who really has a finger on the pulse for 2013. That’s you!
I think you guys go against the grain a lot. First up, what’s on your personal travel calendar this year?
I’m doing a lot in the next couple of months. I’ll be in L.A., the British Virgin Islands and Sydney, Australia for our next Afar experiences event in early May.
Why is Australia such a cool food destination?
I think it’s an easy place to be because everyone speaks English. The influence of Southeast Asia is also present there.
Give us three or four big travel cities to visit, with food on the brain, in 2013…
We’re about to publish Afar’s non-listy list of where to go in 2013 [laughs] and Sri Lanka is at the top of it. [Edit: Here’s the entire list]. We have a great story on Colombo — some friends of mine just went there with three generations of their family looking for Jewish cooking there. Chile is another one. There are so many different experiences that you can have there — in Santiago, in the Atacama Desert, in Patagonia.
What about in the United States?
In the issue we are closing right now, we have a domestic specials section on the Mid-Atlantic. Philadelphia has Federal Donuts. The Roosevelt and Pasture in Richmond, Virginia and Union Market in D.C. It’s kind of nice to be hitting that part of the country that is overlooked. I haven’t spent a lot of time in the South, but am dying to make a trip to Nashville and to Charleston.
Let’s talk about five years from now. What are some places that might not be there yet, but you are hoping may be more developed down the road…
A lot of people are going back to Thailand for second or third trips, where they are focusing on one particular region and really digging into the food — or some aspect of the local culture. I was always a big proponent of Mexico City. I haven’t been there in about seven years. Two people in our office did big foodie pilgrimages there. Other places that are on our radar are Colombia, Latvia and Estonia. I know everybody is going to be talking more and more about Brazil. There is already such a thriving scene in São Paolo, but as the country gears up for both the World Cup and the Summer Olympics, we are just going to be hearing more and more.
Is there an airline that you absolutely love flying?
I just went to Bali in early December and flew Cathay Pacific. I was blown away by the service, the food onboard, really everything about it.
Is there a food that you will travel specifically for?
Any cheese [laughs]. I’m one of those women who has the dream of leaving it all behind and making my own cheese in Marin County or France. I love époisses and La Tur. There’s a great cheese – I think it is made in Wisconsin – called Rush Creek, that’s wrapped in birch bark and is farmy, salty goodness.
Have you made pilgrimages anywhere for cheese?
I spent a lot of time in Paris and the outskirts. I could spend hours in cheese shops in the 7th Arrondissement.
Let’s talk about food souvenirs that you have brought back from trips. Anything cool?
There is more about liking to look at it rather than enjoying it. A beautiful tea from Istanbul. I was at the Spice Bazaar and bought these tea balls that bloom when you put them in hot water. Other things I sneak in: Saffron wherever I go and salt. I just brought back some Balinese sea salt.
Let’s talk about your favorite cocktail, beer or wine experience traveling in the last six months or so.
They have all been in San Francisco, to be honest. I will say that the Martinez at Rich Table is the best cocktail I had in 2012.
Do you make it out to New York?
I do. I am there about once every four to six weeks or so. I actually have so many cocktails to bring up — Pouring Ribbons in New York — I had a gathering of eclectic New York friends there in November.
That’s my favorite new spot in New York.
I love the design and the branding.
Final tips on traveling to eat very great food?
Go to the high-end restaurants, eat on the street, go to the markets — try and do it all so that you can really experience what the comprehensive food life is like in a place. I also love buying cookbooks in foreign countries. I am sort of obsessed with American regional cookbooks from the 1940s and 50s. I think it gives you such insight into a culture and what they were eating then and what they are eating now. I just got Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem book — based on the beautiful photos that friends have taken of the food there on Instagram [laughs].
Israel and Turkey are two big food destinations now.
Yes. I was in Turkey a year and a half ago for a friend’s wedding and you barely scratch the surface with a week in Istanbul. It’s the kind of place you just want to stay and live in for six weeks, because there are just so many layers and the food is just amazing. All of the old Ottoman cuisine is just phenomenal.
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