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The Vacation Variable

Traveling can serve as a great reminder that there is so much more to life than militantly sticking to a clean eating regimen, or obsessively minding the numbers on the bathroom scale.

Tiffany Duncan
May 28, 2018

I have to admit something. I’ve undone all the work I’ve done up to this point — meaning I’ve gained back the 8-10 pounds I worked so hard to lose since Jan. 1, 2018. For two weeks in May my husband and I were in London and then Scotland, and from pub to pizza, gelato to gin, croissant to cappuccino, we giddily welcomed it all. If we hadn’t averaged about 8 miles walking a day, my clothes quite literally would not fit anymore.

But the thing is, I do not care one bit. When it comes to vacation — especially a trip you’ve been dreaming about taking since childhood — I personally think that watching what you eat is a solid no. How else are you supposed to taste the atmosphere of a city? You can learn so much about a place and its people and culture from delving into the local fare.

The metro population of London is estimated to be right around 10 million, and within that number hundreds of countries, cultures, and people groups are represented.

Religious and political turmoil ripped Europe apart in the 1500s, and because England sat on an island slightly set apart from the trouble raging across the rest of the continent, refugees from all over came to seek reprieve and safety there. Then in the 1600s London’s thriving trade industry, sparked largely by the British East India Company, attracted merchants from all over the world. From Pakistan to Paris, Moscow to Morocco, the layers of international culture that refugees, immigrants, ex pats, business men/women, adventure seekers, runaways, and longtime resident families have brought to London ever since is both dizzying and electrifying.

Simply choosing what to eat in London is a burden in and of itself. First, there are the outdoor food markets, like Covent Garden nestled in London’s glittering West End, or Borough Market in Southwark, across the London Bridge.

With food roots all the way back to the 12th century, Borough Market is an in-your-face feast for not only the mouth but also the eyes, ears, and nose. It’s 100 percent overwhelming, but of course in the best way possible. Just upon walking in you are greeted with the sounds of an espresso machine steaming hot lattes, Indian dosas frying up fresh on a griddle, macarons of all colors, giant chocolate croissants and jam filled pastries, cheeses of all shapes and sizes (and pungencies!), ribbons of pastel gelatos, roasting coffee, and dense blocks of fudge of all kinds.

And the smells! Oh, the smells of everything from sausages sizzling, to garlic Greek dishes, to spicy hot Asian noodles tossed in huge woks, and fragrant spices like saffron and cumin scenting the air. It was simply impossible to choose one dish, so we got four different foods from four different vendors (now you begin to see how I gained back the weight!).

Summer berry cupcakes piled with thick creamy icing from Peggy Porschen Cakes were too good to pass up.
Summer berry cupcakes piled with thick creamy icing from Peggy Porschen Cakes were too good to pass up.

Besides the markets, the sheer number of eateries, bistros, cafes, patisseries, pubs, gelaterias, and restaurants of all origins — Indian, Greek, North African, French, Ethiopian, Malaysian, Korean, Pakistani, Italian, Irish, Traditional English — that line the sidewalks and alleyways present a never-ending maze of gastronomical wonder. Restaurant windows are thrown open to the let in the sounds of the streets and sidewalks; groups of people squeeze around tiny patio tables laden with bread and thick butter and bottles of ruby red wine shot through with light from the setting sun; tiny bistro interiors that, looking in from the street, glow softly with low lighting and candles on the tables; and laughing crowds just off work spill out onto the sidewalks of pubs with names like Lamb and Flag, The White Swan, or Crown and Anchor.

It is all an amazing, overwhelming wonder to behold.

Traveling can serve as a great reminder that there is so much more to life than militantly sticking to a clean eating regimen, or obsessively minding the numbers on the bathroom scale. It’s easy to forget that food and the simple act of sharing a great meal with others has been the gateway to connection and the deepening of relationships for millennia. I experienced this time and time again with my husband during our travels.

The first night in London we clinked pints of English beer over burgers piled high with bacon and onion rings in a snug Belgravia pub that Helena Bonham Carter is rumored to frequent. Another night we sat on the second floor of a cozy, intimate cafe next to a large picture window overlooking narrow neighborhood streets below with passersby strolling along on evening walks. We also spent some time navigating the famous food halls within Harrods department store in Knightsbridge, sampling various charcuteries and hazelnut macarons out of gleaming gold cases.

One night we slipped into a tiny Greek restaurant in South Kensington with small plates stacked so high on multi-tiered stands that we could hardly see one another across the table. Another night we ate dishes of deeply flavored and spiced tika masala and biryani rice so outrageously good we declared it the best Indian food we’d ever had. And still yet another night we shared a cheese board and drank fizzy gin and tonics while looking out over the bay of Oban, with fishing boats and barges making their lazy way across the water beneath the long-setting sun of the Scottish Highlands.

In the midst of all that there were also the pink croissants and pink cappuccinos of Elan Café near Buckingham Palace; summer berry cupcakes piled with thick creamy icing from Peggy Porschen Cakes, favored bakery for weddings among London’s elite; fresh fried sprinkle doughnuts while wondering through Notting Hill’s infamous Portobello Road Market; cellophane wrapped “sugar mice” — a favorite British childhood sweet — tied up with silky ribbon from the glamorous Fortnum & Mason department store in bustling Piccadilly; and getting to taste a 20-year-aged cask strength Scotch straight from the barrel at the Oban Distillery.

Quite simply speaking, food is a gateway to memories, to remembering the sights, smells, sounds, vibe and culture of a place. It’s also a gateway to deepening relationships with those around you through shared once-in-a-lifetime experiences. It will be a long time before sitting with my husband in a tiny Italian bistro right outside of Kensington Gardens is not at the forefront of my memories, or when we ate ice cream cones from a bright pink little creamery called the Pokey Hat, right alongside the Scottish sea.

There are certain times when food is more important than the gaining of some extra pounds. Those times include adventuring to far-away places, either by yourself (because don’t let anyone tell you favorite memories cannot be made without any other company but your own), or with a spouse, family, friends, or even strangers you meet along the way.

Now I have no delusions that I created a lot of work for myself to do while I was gone, but I’m ready to double down and shed some pounds after the trip of a lifetime.

Instagram handle: rightyes_rightno_918
Blog handle: rightyesrightno918.com

Utilizing as many free and cheap resources as she can find in the 918 area, routinely forsaking her fitness comfort zone to discover effective workouts, and cooking more intentionally from home, Duncan is publicly documenting her progress in each issue as she works to lose 30 pounds in 2018.