Portion sizes are very large its a good idea to share and there is no stigma with sharing. At many of the restaurants in the US you many find that ordering a starter is enough for you. Look out for early bird dinner specials and lunch specials. For special restaurants you want to visit make sure you book well in advance and go for lunch, it can be ½ the price of dinner often the same meal. If your visiting an unknown city try to avoid touristy area for a more genuine experience of the destination, for example don’t go eat at Fisherman’s Wharf but take the California line streetcar up to Polk street and visit Swan Oyster Depot instead you can find Swan Oyster Depot at 1517 Polk street.
Now what do I bring back from the US? I go to Trader Joes to collect their Umami powder and Everything But The Bagel Sesame mix - the umami powder is dried mushrooms blitzed to a powder and salt added -
great to add to any vegetable combination from sauté to soups and I love the sesame mix on a slice of avocado or even a poached egg.
Costco is a membership bulk supermarket which has fantastically cheap deals. Bring back the following from any supermarket, get Reynold’s Wrap, parchment (baking) paper and Kraft One Minute Tapioca, lasts forever, and a couple of tablespoons to fresh peaches and it is a wonderful thickener in fruit pies.
Top tip, stand at the bar for your coffee as the moment you sit down you pay extra. For dinner or lunch avoid places with multilingual menus, go to a side or back street. In France, look for le menu du jour as these inexpensive menus are delicious and several courses and include tax and service charge.
Rule of thumb, always go where the restaurants are busy.
In Italy in small bistros it's ok to look at the food presented on the table before sitting and ordering. In Greece you can go into the kitchen and lift the lids on the pots on the stoves before ordering.
Food products to bring home, of course you can buy olive oil, balsamic vinegar and parmesan cheese however I bring back Illy Coffee and my favourite dried herbs and dried herb salts. These intense dried herbs are fabulous in a vegetable stir fry, Ragu, pasta dishes, and everything from
scrambled eggs, quiche and casseroles - even drizzle oil over cut up vegetables and then sprinkle with herbs and toast in oven.
You know you are going to get great sushi & sashimi in Japan, however if you want to try a local take on the humble McDonalds, make sure you try an “Ebi” (Shrimp) burger this is only available in japan. Similar to a Fillet of Fish, only with a shrimp patty.
Even a cup of coffee and toasted ham and cheese sandwich from Blue Bottle coffee (although originally from San Francisco) is delicious and affordable in Japan,
My Favorite top tip is to avoid the expensive hotel breakfast go the local convenience store (7/11, Lawsons, Family Mart) they are everywhere and have cheap and tasty food options it’s not like your local dairy, try a rice ball called Onigiri which have these marvelous fillings of fish, meat or vegetables. They even have lots of hot food options as well. Family Mart's fried chicken is famous in Japan. Another option is Yoshinoya they are a chain all though out Japan and they have authentic Japanese breakfasts that are great value.
Or you could try the famous thick Japanese pancakes, think souffle crossed with pancakes. My favourite place is called Happy Pancakes.
For Gifts to take home you have to go to Don Quixote, this place has it all. “Donky” as it is called by the locals are multistory hyper-markets so tightly packed with product that you have to squeeze through the isles sideways if someone is coming the other way. They have everything you can think of, and is a great place to get those strange and wonderful version of Kit Kat. Tried the cough medicine flavoured Kit Kat anyone?
Top secret product to bring home from Japan, and I have become completely obsessed with this, its called Shicihimi Togarashi this can be brought at a supermarket but for an authentic version go to Yagenbori they have been making this 7 spice powder since 1625 but don’t worry fresh stock is available. It’s a wonderful mixture of peppers, orange peel, poppy seeds and hemp seeds. Absolutely delicious on rice, avocado, salad, however my favourite is the poached egg. If you cant wait to try this before your next tip to Japan you can purchase a generic Shicihimi Togarashi from Japan Mart at various locations in Auckland and you can purchase online.