Category Archives: Food

Travel Food Humor

6 foods that help airline passengers retain armrest space

As airline passengers know, one of the biggest annoyances when flying is having to fight for armrest space. But a simple solution, says Bob Payne, Director of Olfactory Experiences for the International Air Transport Association, is for passengers to bring aboard meals and snacks so odoriferous that passengers in the adjoining seats will be more than willing to give up as much elbow room as possible.

“While a small number of passengers [all now on the Terrorist Watchlist] have complained, we are finding that claiming the arm rests by olfactory means is far more benign than the barbed wire, electric-shock devices, and sharpened pencils through the back of the hand that some passengers have employed,” said Payne.

The most effective olfactory space-makers tend to be exotic food items such as Durian, an Asian fruit that is banned from many of that regions airlines, fermented fish, such as Swedish surstromming and Norwegian lutefisk, and fermented bean dishes, including Japanese natto and Korean doenjang, all of which have been described as possessing the aroma of Third World sewage systems on the occasions when they are working even less effectively than usual.

Yet while the exotics can be difficult to get hold of for U.S. and European flights (Spirit Airlines and Ryanair both offer them for an add-on fee), some excellent alternatives are easily available. Here are six of Payne’s favorites:

Over-ripe Cheese

Among the best are Limburger, which is particularly effective when paired with onions, Epoisses, which is banned from public transport throughout France, and Stinking Bishop, which in Britain is said to have a centuries-long tradition of raising the dead.

Tuna Fish

Any fish will do, but tuna is especially evocative of the sanitary facilities of a Grand Banks trawler.


A nice curry dish heavy on the cumin, coriander, and fenugreek works like a charm for extending your personal space to clear across the aisle and at least two rows in either direction.

Mexican Food

From beans to onions, the ingredients of a suitably malodorous burrito can drive even the most territorial fellow passenger flat up against the window.

Certain Vegetables

Cooked broccoli, cabbage, and asparagus, especially if packed in an insulated container that keeps them warm, exude a smell that says “”What’s it to ya?” To really insure some real estate, ask a flight attendant if he or she will reheat them for you. They won’t, but the possibility will have other passengers begging that the oxygen masks be dropped.

Carbonated Beverages

The stealth fighter of the armrest wars, carbonated beverages cause bloating and, combined with gas-producing foods like Mexican fare and the above-mentioned veggies, create a cone of flatulence that will keep other passengers at a respectful distance all the way into the arrival terminal.

Along with his responsibilities at the IATA, humor writer Bob Payne blogs forTupperware Brands, which he claims sponsored this post.

BigStock Photo

Former cannibals trying to develop tourism misunderstand “finger food”

An indigenous tribe once known for cannibalism but now trying to join the global mainstream by developing its own tourism product apologized today to a group of travel bloggers for a misunderstanding over the phrase “finger food.”

“They had no intention of causing mental anguish among their guests, and certainly had no idea that something as common in their culture as skewered digits would create such a culinary outcry, ” said a tribe spokesman, adding that according to tribal custom giving somebody the finger is considered a great honor.

The travel bloggers, who were on a press trip, and thus assumed to be less willing than most to criticize a free meal, said that despite their efforts to overcome a feeling of uneasiness, concerns had been growing ever since they received a press kit in which the tribe’s new marketing slogan was revealed to be “Host ‘Em, Toast ‘Em, Roast ‘Em.”

“Still, some of us were already tweeting ‘Finger-licking good,’ when we realized that among the yams, taro, and crayfish there actually were fingers,” said one of the bloggers, Bob Payne, of, the site that has been offering accurate travel news and advice since before Columbus landed at Plymouth rock. “It was almost as disgusting as some of the stuff you see on “The Food Network.”

“Well intentioned or not, commenting on the meal would have been too much, even for an online audience,” said Payne. “And of course we had no choice but to cancel the tribe’s dinner offer, which they said would feature “Foot-longs.”

There has been no word on where the finger food originated.  But late yesterday it was reported that a tribe in a neighboring village were gathering weapons and flooding the local beauty saloons with requests for face paint, as if in preparation for war.

In Dominican Republic, beer wears a wedding dress


When traveling, one of the pleasures of trying to translate local expressions into English is that the results sometimes turn otherwise ordinary words into poetry.  For instance, in Costa Rica (and some other Spanish-speaking countries) palomita, a word for popcorn, translates literally as “little doves,” which may be the most romantic way ever of describing popped kernels. And in the Dominican Republic, la Bandera not only means “the flag,” as travel writer Bob Payne discovered on a recent trip to Puerto Plata while on assignment for Endless Vacation magazine,  but also describes a dish of chicken, rice and beans, because it is served so pervasively that it is as much a national symbol as the Dominican flag.

Payne’s favorite new expression, though, and one he will from now on bring up whenever the beauty of language is discussed, especially if the discussion takes place over beers, is “con la vestida de novia.” It’s what the Dominicans say when you want your beer ice cold, as you almost always do in hot countries, and it translates into English as “With the wedding dress,” a reference, as Payne points out in his Endless Vacation story, to the bottle’s frosty coating.

Travel humor writer Bob Payne, who writes in tandem about destination weddings and beer more often than you might think, is the editor in chief of, a travel blog that has been sharing accurate travel news and advice since before Columbus landed at Plymouth Rock. His Endless Vacation piece in the Winter 2012 issue.

Among other places to read about Payne’s travels in the Dominican Republic are his on-location look at kite boarding for  Endless Vacation and in the September/October 2003 Islands magazine.

As breakfasts shrink, B&B’s may have to call themselves Bed & Bananas

With a continued weak economy forcing B&B’s to put less and less on the breakfast table, some consumer groups are beginning to argue that these small inns should have to identify themselves by a name that more accurately reflects what they are offering.

“It could be Bed & Banana, Bed & Bagel, Bed & Bowl of Cereal, or, based on what we’ve been seeing more and more of, Bed & Boot Out the Door,” said one advocate, Bob Payne, of the Coalition for Something More than Juice and a Roll. “We just don’t think B&B owners have the right to call it something it’s not, any more than airlines have the right to call something leg room when clearly it isn’t.”

Payne said his group is in no way anti-B&B and has in fact been working closely with B&B owners, sticking with suggestions for alternative names that would not require B&B owners to order new stationery.

“And we are working with them in other ways, too,” Payne said. “For instance we’ve acknowledged the importance of Mom & Pop operations by showing owners how they can better profit in these difficult times by cutting out free night stays, or even discounts, for their parents.”

In related news, the Bacon Council of America and the Association of  Burrito Makers have both indicated they think the B&B idea might have merit.

How do you know if a restaurant serves tipic food?

You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, especially now that so many books are delivered electronically, which means they don’t actually have covers. But when looking for typical food in a foreign country, you can judge a restaurant by the sign out front.  Here’s an example of how it works in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon:

The grammatical correctness and lack of misspellings suggests the proprietors of this restaurant know too much about English to be truly well versed in the local cuisine. Look for owners who probably spent time in Britain or the U.S., and look elsewhere for an authentic meal.






A non-standard word order (to the English ear) and a word that, while understandable, may not appear in any language, is a step in the right direction, especially if there are no photos of the food posted out front.







Promising a local experience in the language of the country is a very positive sign, although the fact that they have to label it typical at all might give you some pause for thought. This does require the ability to recognize the word for food in the local language – or that a group of tables with place-setting on them signify a restaurant.





The real find, of course, is a restaurant with no sign out front, just a hand-written menu taped to the window – even if one of the menu items appears to be a hamburger.









Which brings us to what in just about everywhere in the world, is the most typical food of all.


On Martinique, even pregnant persons prefer peppers

This is condensed from the first story I wrote for Bon Appetit magazine, in February 1994. It was the beginning of a long, pleasant, relationship with the magazine’s editor,  Barbara Fairchild, which ended only when she discovered, as she was bound to, that I didn’t really know which fork to use,  collected McDonald’s place mats in foreign languages,  and had lived in an apartment for six weeks before realizing the stove wasn’t hooked up.

On the Caribbean island of Martinique, at a table so close to the sand that I can plainly see what fashionable French women are not wearing to the beach this year, I judge the crabes farcis (stuffed crab) I am starting lunch with to be too peppery. But in the interest of fairness, I solicit a second opinion, from my cab driver, who is dining with me. “Good,” she says, “But not enough pepper.”

The driver, Bernadette Ductiel, who is five months pregnant with her fifth child, has signed on as my guide to help orientate me during the first part of the week I plan to spend on Martinique. Her quick, sure judgment about the crabs makes me begin to suspect something that by the end of the week I will be convinced of.

Martinique is an island where, in the finest French tradition, people love to talk about food even more than they love to talk about politics. And if there is one thing they agree on it is that to eat food the way it is meant to be eaten on Martinique, you can’t forget the pepper, by which they mean hot pepper.

“Oh goodness no,” said a local epicure I accidentally tripped over a few days later as he napped in the shade of a red, yellow, and blue fishing boat pulled up on the beach at Anses-d’Arlets. “It’s no good without the pepper.”

The food of Martinique is Creole, sometimes with a touch of Indian, but prepared with a mastery that only an island steeped in French culture could bring to the table. Typical of Martinique fare are accras, fritters made with fish, or, occasionally, vegetables. Everywhere I went they were offered to me, usually accompanied “to open your appetite,” by the traditional island drink, ti-punch, which consists of one part sugar cane syrup to four parts white rum. And after enough accras were offered to me I concluded that there is as much an art to eating them as there is to making them.

The art of eating accras is being able to judge, by experience, the exact instant at which to pop one whole into your mouth and bite down on it slowly until the hard crust collapses into the softer center, letting the flavor and just the right amount of heat flow together into your mouth and — if you’ve mastered the art — your soul. And if, as will happen, the accras are so big that you risk bringing attention to yourself by attempting to eat them in one bite, don’t become unduly concerned. The fault is not with your manners, but with the chef’s method.

Not that I spent the entire week thinking only about accras. I also gave a lot of thought to rum.

My thoughts about rum began after lunch at a restaurant located on a mountainside overlooking what’s left of Saint-Pierre, the one-time-capital of Martinique whose population of 30,000 was wiped out in less than three minutes early one morning in 1902 when Mount Pelee erupted. In order to temper the meal’s spices I followed them with a banana flambee and a glass of straight rum. The rum was  rhum vieux, old rum, dark gold in color and having a flavor reminiscent of fine brandy.

I thought about that rum (warm pleasant, glowing, thoughts) as we headed north from Saint-Pierre, toward Grand Riviere, where my plan had been to open up my appetite for future meals by walking for a mile or so along the coastal footpath that is one of Martinique’s 31 officially marked hiking trails. But considering Bernadette’s condition, and not wanting to run the risk of a pregnant woman outpacing me, I opted instead for a visit to the Museum of Rum.

The museum is on the east side of Martinique in the town of Sainte-Marie. It is run by the Plantations Saint James distillery, largest of the 14 distilleries that remain in operation from the more than 200 whose crumbling brick chimneys, ancient, rusting machinery, and witches-brew-like cauldrons can still be seen all over the island.

“The good rum comes from cane grown in the good, volcanic, soil,” said a  museum guide who took me on a brief tour that ended in the tasting room. I suppose he should know. The original Saint James distillery, located near Saint-Pierre, disappeared beneath the good volcanic soil of Mount Pelee during the 1902 eruption.

Between them, St. James and its chief rival, La Mauny, account for a majority of the rum produced on Martinique. Yet when I talked with some people who considered themselves to be rum experts (three aging sugar cane cutters I fell into conversation with in La Savane, the main square and park in the heart of Martinique’s capital city, Fort-de-France) they said that in order to meet demand St. James and La Mauny seemed to rush the process a bit. The cane cutters all agreed that for people who truly appreciate the taste of rum the smaller distilleries produced a more satisfying product. What they couldn’t agree on was which small distillery produced the most satisfying.

Which gave a focus to my remaining days on Martinique. I would attempt to discover for myself the most satisfying rum.

My quest was aided immensely by the fact that most distilleries, no matter how small, encourage visitors and reward them with a degustation gratuite, a free tasting. Wandering off from the guided tour at one distillery and admiring with a nod of my head the efficiency with which a worker was turning some valves, I even got a taste of “baby rum,” fresh out of the still, clear as spring water, and so potent that just one sip was enough to make me agree wholeheartedly with the observation of the grinning worker: “The baby rum, it kicks the hardest.”

Along the way, I dined at some of the more than 150 restaurants on the island, discovering that among my favorite dishes were calalou, a soup made with vegetables, herbs, salted pork and sea crabs, and blaff, similar to court-bouillon except that the fish is poached in a white sauce.

“Blaff?” answered a woman I was sharing a bench with on the ferry that ran to Fort-de-France. “You put your water on the fire. You put in all your seasonings. Then when your water starts boiling you put in your fish. The fish makes a sound — blaff.”

I never did find the island’s single most satisfying rum. Despite my diligence, and the willingness of many people to assist me in my quest by offering their own opinions, I could only narrow it down to my favorite four. They were Bally, Clement, Favorite, and J.M. To make a final judgment will require further research.

I did come away from my visit convinced of one thing, though. I realized it when, just before departing, I stopped for lunch at a non-descript place near the airport that obviously catered to tourists. Their red snapper fillet was good, I thought, but it needed more pepper.