This Wonderful Little Place … California

Belfast-born travel writer ANNA HART found exceptional Mexican eggs in BIG SUR


I believe in eating what I’m given. I wish I was one of those people who finds cooking relaxing, but I don’t, so I keep things simple at home and consider dining out a real treat. When I do cook, I’ll use heaps of vegetables and make sure all my meat and dairy is ethically sourced, but when I travel, I just eat what I get. I think it’s important to be flexible and appreciative when it comes to food. When I’m back in Belfast visiting family, I make a pilgrimage to Maud’s for Poor Bear ice cream, and it tastes just as good as it did when I was a child.

Don’t be fooled by the fact that I write for Grazia, Stylist and Vogue; I will eat anything. I’ve scoffed fried cockroaches at night markets in Laos (they’re essentially crispy vessels for flavouring, like, well, potato crisps), sucked snails in France and I adore durian, Southeast Asia’s stinkiest and most controversial fruit. But the grossest thing I ever did was knock back the Sourtoe Cocktail at the Downtown Hotel’s trucker’s tavern in Dawson City, Yukon, close to the Canadian Arctic Circle. It’s a cocktail with a preserved human toe in it. You don’t actually consume the toe – it goes back into the jar, and into every single Sourtoe Cocktail. Then you’re a member of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club for life.

Eating on the road is one of my greatest pleasures. I take train picnics very seriously, and I’m a simple soul who really enjoys the over-seasoned smorgasbord of an economy class in-flight meal tray. That said, I’ll always pack a bag of almonds, a few Tribe energy bars, some sachets of miso soup and herbal teabags for making coldwater infusions in my Black + Blum water bottle. I don’t want to be caught short and forced to spend €7 on a crap sandwich.

I travel alone quite a bit so I’m used to dining solo. In my job, I do so much talking and engaging that honestly, it’s a treat. But as a naturally shy person, I didn’t always feel like this, and there were times when I felt so awkward I’d slouch and miserably stab at my phone throughout. Now I ban my phone when I dine out alone, and focus on the food, chat to the staff, open myself up to adventure. Certain cities and destinations lend themselves more to solo dining, though. New York has a brilliant at-bar dining scene, Spanish cities like Seville and Barcelona do bar tapas, Austin has food trucks across the city, London offers covered street food spaces like Dinerama, and Singapore has the best hawker centres in Southeast Asia.

Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn

Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn, just of the Pacific Coast Highway in California, is my favourite place to eat. Arriving at Deetjens is like stepping back into a 1970s folk album, a rustic roadhouse under the redwoods. There’s no wifi or any of the trappings of the 21st century, the staff have worked there forever, and the rabbit warren of dining rooms are tiny, crooked and decorated with battered antiques and family photographs on the wooden walls. Go for breakfast and order the huevos rancheoros, probably the best rendition of the classic Mexican farmhand breakfast I’ve ever had. My boyfriend and I veered in for breakfast on a road trip between LA and San Francisco, heading north in search of big trees.

Departures: A Guide to Letting Go, One Adventure at a Time by Anna Hart (€18.95, Little, Brown) is out now.

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