Last week saw Dirt Candy chef Amanda Cohen’s most recent trip: a mile-long move from the East Village to the Lower East Side, where she reopened her beloved vegetarian destination in much bigger digs. The vegetable-focused menu will still reflect some of Cohen’s Asian inclinations (she lived in Hong Kong for two years), but more than half of the items were inspired by the Yucatán, where she recently spent two weeks gaining steam for dishes like Brussels-sprout tacos and carrot waffles with mole sauce. “When you spend enough time somewhere, it does start to infiltrate how you think,” she says.
Take, for example, the aforementioned tacos, which Cohen laces with a Yucatán spice paste called recado — an idea that dawned on her post-travels. “I was like, ‘Now I know exactly what I can put on this dish to make it taste delicious.’” Beyond incorporating Latin flavors, Cohen had another requirement for the new space: windows. “We knew we had to find a space with windows so we could see the world going on around us,” she explains. We learn here that when Cohen isn’t seeing the world through her restaurant, she’s experiencing it firsthand — through goblets of G&T, passport fails and suitcases of candy.
Where are you planning to travel in 2015?
I think I’m going to Ireland for a couple of days for a symposium in Galway. I’ll get to see a very good friend who lives there. There might be an Australia trip on the horizon, too.
If you could travel anywhere and had infinite resources, where would you go in 2015?
I’d love to go back to Japan, Hong Kong or Thailand. Actually, I’d like to go anywhere that’s not the restaurant!
What airlines do you prefer to fly?
I’m from Canada, so I spend a lot of time going back and forth between Toronto and New York. I like my Air Canada and Porter — Porter is a great airline. I also had a really good trip on Virgin Airlines to London last year.
What about hotels?
I like smaller, more intimate hotels that have a personality.
What are you favorite cities for food?
Tokyo, Hong Kong, Bangkok, London, Paris and Toronto. Toronto is starting to have a really good scene.
London sometimes gets a bad rap for its food — what made your experience a good one?
I had a great meal at HKK, which is Hakkasan’s new restaurant. There’s also a vegetarian restaurant there called Vanilla Black where I had a terrific meal. They’re sort of like us — they’re a vegetarian spot, but every kind of diner goes.
Where are you longing to go to try the local cuisine?
I’ve never been to Vietnam, and I would love to get there. I’m drawn to Asian flavors — I like fresh, bright flavors with a little spice, which I think they’re very good at. I have an opportunity to go to Korea and do a temple cuisine tour, and I’m dying to go to the Korean Buddhist temples.
Is there a food you have traveled over 1,000 miles for?
I have gone to Rome for the fried artichokes — it was a must.
What’s your best travel advice?
I always tell myself, “I’m going to have a good time, but I don’t have to have the best time.” Everything doesn’t have to be perfect. In the end, it’s the trip as a whole that makes it worth it, not a certain meal or a certain tourist site. I’ve traveled enough where I’ve been like, “I can’t wait to see this monument,” only to find it covered in scaffolding. And that becomes a part of the adventure. I really do believe it’s all an adventure, whether or not it’s what you had planned.
Best food-related souvenir that you have ever brought back?
Whenever I go back to Canada, London or Ireland, it’s the same: I really like English candy. I’m obsessed with these chocolate bars called Moro. My friend from Ireland either sends them to me or brings them to me, or I stock up when I go. It’s embarrassing to be an adult and have a suitcase full of chocolate.
Any favorite drinks from your travels?
My favorite cocktail, and one that we’ve put on the menu as a tribute, is a gin and tonic from Spain. It seems to be the national cocktail there, and it comes in a giant goblet. It’s the same drink, but somehow it tastes better.
Worst travel nightmare story?
I’ve had so many. Years ago, I was in Sri Lanka and got dysentery. I had to spend three days in the hospital. The city got shut down because of riots, and the person I was traveling with left, so I was stuck in the city and unable to fly out for a day or two. By accident, she took my passport, and I couldn’t actually leave the hotel for a week until FedEx could finally deliver it.
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