Journeys are defined by the side trips

Most Americans capture their personal universe on smartphones. Parents who bear witness to their prodigies taking one for the team or putting one in the goal. Fluffy or spot with an adorable head tilt. Dashing sunsets. Or even a snap of where they parked the car. Just in case clarity escapes by the time they return.

The need to remember and the need to share.

Stuffed boneless wings from Amarin Thai

Stuffed boneless wings from Amarin Thai in San Jose, CA

Foodies, a nation without borders, layer in one more photo category. Like some kind of passport stamp, these culinary explorers catalog meals with every mile traveled. They hop from country to country through through the hole-in-the-walls, the gas stations and the food trucks at the edge of town.

When they travel, they take a side journey through the restaurants they visit.

It takes only a little research or listening to a local to uncover gems. It only takes a little imagination to visit Asia and taste her secrets. Even if your zip code signals Alabama.

The family-owned Amarin Thai raises expectations with their stuffed boneless wings. Chefs pack more chicken meat into the cavity before wrapping up and breading with panko. Into the fryer, then onto a bed of lettuce where it meets up with a sweet sauce studded with cucumber, red onion and peanut shards. The wings are so large, cooks cut vent holes to evacuate the heat.

Paradise on a plate.

a view from Sala Thai kitchen

a view of the kitchen at Sala Thai 2, Freemont California

Find yourself in Herndon, VA? Maybe between flights at the Dulles Airport? 5 minutes down the freeway and into the world of Nongrak Dak and her restaurant haven named Thai Basil. Her cooking language is that of Southern Thai. Try Khanom Bueng Yuan, a rice crepe filled with pork, chicken, and veggies. The dish nearly glows with curry.

Crepe with veggies from Thai Basil

Crepe with veggies from Thai Basil in Chantilly, VA

Not far from the downtown entrance ramp to Interstate 59 in Houston TX sits Mai’s. A hideaway for those with a taste for Vietnamese cuisine. Order Tom Rang Muoi, also known as Salt Toast Shrimp. Tender samples from the Gulf are floured before their date with the fryer. Stir-fried peppers and onions blanket the finished product.

What takes fried shrimp to the next level is the ramekin of lime juice seasoned with fresh black pepper. A quick dip into spicy tang provides snap, crackle and pop. No offence, Rice Krispies.

Salt Toast Shrimp from Mai's Kitchen

Salt Toast Shrimp from Mai’s in Houston, TX

The masters of sushi play with tradition when they experiment with beef. Take for example the Texas Cowboy roll from Toyko in Austin. Cucumber sticks, avocado and steamed asparagus center this sushi roll. Minced green onion float on top. The sauce is one part beef broth, one part tomato juice. The combination is both strange and familiar.

Texas Cowboy roll from Tokyo, a Japanese restaurant

Texas Cowboy roll from Tokyo, a Japanese restaurant in Austin, TX

Take up the challenge. Drive past that chain restaurant on your next trip. Ignore the familiar. Open up a browser. Talk to the front desk. Ask them where they’d spend their birthday. Then make a reservation.

See the other side of the world through the lens of the dishes they prepare for us here.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. – Mark Twain

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