Let the alligators come to you

And, Portland, they're on the way
By LINDSAY STERLING  |  January 14, 2009

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BRING IT ON: Hey world, this is what Lindsay looks like. She's looking for you — go find her!

Turn on the TV and Anthony Bourdain is halfway around the world describing some delectable morsel he's unabashedly eating in front of you. He's telling you what it tastes like because somewhere in his big head he knows YOU'RE NOT EATING IT. Oh yeah, he must have to remind himself, my audience is sitting in front of the TV in Podunksville, eating Pringles or reheated McNuggets. I better tell them what this fresh-caught urchin tastes like, swimming in the world's best olive oil, scooped up with this great bread. I better tell them what it feels like with this Greek sun on my face in this seaside village... It's not just Bourdain. Open up any travel publication and writers are telling you what a wonderful time they have just had. You should come! they sing. (That the trip costs $10,000 usually goes unwritten.) Well, I know I'm not springing to see a hidden enclave of culture in Mongolia this year, and frankly, I don't think most of you are either. If you're lucky, you're going on one vacation, and that's to see your cousin get married in Nebraska.

"Where to Stay, Where to Eat." I must have seen that sidebar 3845 times in my adult life, and used it zero. And just when you think you're reading a completely different subject, say, Women's Health at the gym, BAM! There's "Where to Stay, Where to Eat" again, just in case you decide to piggyback on the author's lovely trip hunting alligators in Louisiana. (The paddling worked her upper arms.) You might just cry out from the Stairmaster: Everybody gets to go alligator hunting but me! I don't know whom I feel more jilted by, the faceless demographic of people who see a travel spread and say, Oh, doesn't this look nice and book it including all fifteen restaurants, or the writers who get assigned an expense account to test out world vacations to ensure that 0.0001% of their readers get the most out of their impossibly robust travel budgets.

I don't want to be a complainer, so here's my solution. In a nutshell: the world is already coming to us, so let's just pay closer attention! People are smuggling Venezuelan cheese to Portland Jetport in their suitcases! In a yellow corner store across from Maine Med, mashed yuca is being turned into fried magic that even picky American five-year-olds gobble up like hot dogs. A dental hygienist in South Portland is making Croatian cookies for a church function this month. World food is upon us right here, people!

The trick to eating that urchin, Lebanese sesame goo, Croatian cookies, or sweet golden plantain biscuits is this. When you hear a foreign language or accent anywhere: the gym, the fish market, the dentist, the coffee shop, be brave and quick (like a Band-Aid) and just ask where the foreigner is from. Where are you from? works well. And then, Do you like to cook? If they do, would they mind teaching you how to make their favorite food from their homeland? Before you know it, you're having date candies and Turkish coffee, making a new friend, and lifting out of the doldrums of everyday life. Seriously. I've been doing it for a while now, and I suggest you give it a shot. As for me, I'll be back next month with recipes, know-how, and cultural background on Dominican bollos de yuca, a fried meat-filled snack that's crispy outside and soft inside.

Lindsay Sterling can be reached at lindsay@lindsaysterling.com.

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