The No-Restaurant Vacation

Back in the day – that is, before we had kids – we took our vacation eats very seriously. We’d start booking tables within minutes of reserving our flights. We’d procure a copy of a magical thing called “The Zagat Guide,” and we’d begin plotting our sight-seeing itinerary around the places that served the most authentic migas/coffee/minestrone/cassoulet/lobster rolls/etc. From a cultural perspective, maybe not the best way to approach a new city, but from a food perspective? God, it was fun. Once, in the late 90s, after booking a trip to San Francisco, we set an alarm for the exact minute The French Laundry started taking reservations for the one night we’d be traveling through Napa — and after a muzak-filled hour on the line, we landed a two-top for 7:30 and high-fived like two bros who had scored tickets to the champagne room at the Super Bowl.

We are still fixated on food when we travel, but these days our energy is directed more toward the cooking part. Why? Because we had kids, and like most parents, we found it far less stressful to cook in our rental kitchen than sweat through fancy dinners in restaurants with Michelin stars—and nowhere to stash the Snap-N-Go. Because we came to dread that particular brand of disappointment one feels from dropping too much money on those epic meals, only to see them rejected for being “too squishy.” And because eating out prevents us from experiencing the thing we love best about travel: finding great markets and specialty shops and discovering ingredients we can’t get at home.

So many moments on our Vacation Memory Highlight Reel center on all of us sitting down in some new distant place, eating a meal we’ve made, using ingredients we’ve found, from a recipe we’ve grabbed in the Local Cuisine section of a bookstore. Cooking where we are with what we find connects us to a place in a different way, like performing in a show instead of watching it.

In Alaska, it was making gravlax and scraping roe from the skein of a salmon that was delivered to us by a dude in a boat; in New Mexico, it was sitting on the patio in the morning, hummingbirds circling, and dumping Hatch chiles and Cotija on our eggs; in Paris, it was enjoying the simplest dinner of white wine, mustardy potatoes, and beautiful little Toulouse sausages that we spotted at the Marché Saint-Germain; and on Block Island, it was steaming the lobsters we bought at the dock where the ferry came in.

We picked up a couple of one-and-a-half-pounders and stretched them into dinner for four by tossing with cucumbers, tomatoes, and whatever else we found at the front-yard farmstands around the island. (Heed this travel rule: Never drive by a farmers’ market without stopping.) It’s not that we never go out to dinner on vacation. We usually do one big meal out, but we make sure to ask the waiter where he buys his fish so we can go there first thing the next morning.

This is our “Providers” column for the May 2015 issue of Bon Appetit (The Travel Issue). For tons of awesome vacation ideas, pick up a copy on the newsstand, or, better yet, subscribe.  Head over to BA for the Block Island Lobster Salad recipe, which, by the way, can also be made with shrimp. Salad photo credit: Alex Lau for Bon Appetit. Road Sign photo credit: Randy Harris for Bon Appetit.

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The Prestigious School

My youngest daughter just wrote a poem for school, and it was about our annual summer road trips to see family. She wrote about the food we make at home and pack in a cooler to have along the way. It made me so happy to know that good food made at home is such a huge part of her memory bank. I agree with you that eating an excellent meal out can be memorable, but so can preparing excellent food at home!

Dani Elis

The best part about visiting new places is creating memories with the foods that you eat then recreating it at home and filling your home with the memories again… i love it!

Renee P.

Yes! We learned about this through necessity- taking kids to a restaurant (especially one we’re not familiar with) doesn’t rank high on our list of favorite things! We started seeking out condos or rental homes or at the very least some sort of suites hotel with a little bit of kitchen space. What a big difference in enjoyment and price! We’ve saved so much by eating in! So worth it. We do need to get better about seeking unique local ingredients; we’ll just need to travel more…!

Charlie Cook

I love this idea! My parents-in-law rented all of us an apartment in Barcelona and we loved spending time all together in the mornings and evenings at our new ‘home’. My nephew was 10 months old at the time and that sealed the deal; it was wonderful to have 6 adults watching the little guy. My brother in law is a chef so we took full advantage of the boquerias and had a Catalonian feast one evening. What a great memory! I’m sure we’ll do this for our future family vacations – Charlie


yes! when we are in charleston, we live on boiled peanuts and roasted oysters on whatever rental patio or deck we have. On cape cod, it’s steamed lobsters turned into lobster rolls in the backyard. we love b/c we can pick a house that allows us to cook like locals.


“Cooking where we are with what we find connects us to a place in a different way, like performing in a show instead of watching it.” I couldn’t agree more! Getting fresh ingredients from the local market and making a meal together is the way to go on family vacations 🙂