Food Travel

Q&A: Jenn Garcia-Alonso, Co-Founder of The Purple Passport

July 10, 2012

The latest in our series of travel/food-blogger Q&As takes us to Abu Dhabi,
home base for Jenn Garcia-Alonso, co-founder of The Purple Passport (ThePurplePassport.com). Jenn travels far and wide to create “best of the best” urban travel guides for various cities around the globe, which always, of course, involves a healthy dose of local food. See her EYW profile here.

Jenn Garcia-Alonso of the Purple Passport

Tell us a little about your site, and what inspired you to start it.
The Purple Passport (www.thepurplepassport.com) is a web-based collection of chic, one-stop-shop guides to experiencing the world’s cities in style. The inspiration for the site came from my own travels with my best friend, Emily C. Brands; we have been traveling internationally together for more than a decade, with purple-colored passport covers in tow. After amassing a wealth of knowledge about the best of the best across the globe, we realized there was no resource out there that adequately served travelers like us: cosmopolitan urban explorers who love visiting the chicest places as well as the local gems.

So we created The Purple Passport as a user-friendly series of guides for the complete range of urban travel needs, from researching a trip start to finish to creating an itinerary shared with travel companions. In keeping with our founding spirit, we personally visit every single spot that we review. We don’t take any form of compensation for covering a venue on our site, so our recommendations are completely unbiased.

In a nutshell, why do you travel?
I still remember my first trip to Beijing when I was 16 years old, a time when China was not yet open to mass tourism. I was astounded by how the culture, the architecture, and, of course, the food were unlike anything I had come across in my previous travels; it opened my mind to a whole different set of possibilities for how people live, work, and eat. Since then, I have always looked to travel to provide fresh perspectives on the world and to put a new lens on my own culture and life. And as an added bonus, travel is just plain fun!

What’s your dining philosophy on the road?
For me, eating is a very important piece of any trip, and I aim to mix it up. I like to visit the destination’s most famous and iconic high-end restaurants as well as local spots for typical favorites. For example, on a recent trip to Paris, I indulged at both Michelin-starred Taillevent and Marais street legend L’As du Fallafel; in Beijing, I had duck at Made in China in the luxe Grand Hyatt and also at the more locally favored Da Dong Roast Duck. You just never know whether your best taste will come from a gourmet kitchen or a simple street stall.

Hummus in Abu Dhabi

Where are you now, and what’s the best (local) thing to eat there?
I have been living in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, for more than three years. Before landing here, I had never been to the Middle East and hadn’t had much exposure to the cuisine. But now I love it! The relatively young Abu Dhabi is built on a sparse desert, so much of the “local” cuisine is adapted from neighboring countries. My favorite Abu Dhabi eats include the amazing hummus (with extra olive oil, parsley, and red pepper added on top for flavor), as well as the chicken shawarmas (tender chicken with garlic mayonnaise, french fries, and just a bit of lettuce and tomato wrapped in a pita-like bread) that are sold out of Lebanese and other regional eateries throughout the city.

What’s your favorite city (or cities) for food, and why?
There are so many fantastic food cities around the world. I’m a huge fan of various Asian cuisines, and I never get tired of dim sum in Hong Kong, chili crab in Singapore, or shabu-shabu in Tokyo. But if I had to choose one favorite, I would have to go with New York City. I love that there are so many options of delicious global cuisine at so many different price points right at your fingertips. New York has truly adopted the world’s food as its own. As we say in our New York City Guide, “It's a town where you don’t just go out for Chinese, Spanish, African, or Italian food—you go out expressly for Sichuan, Basque, Senegalese, or Sardinian.”

As New Yorkers we agree we are spoiled with food options here! What about your hometown? If you have friends traveling there, what iconic foods do you insist they eat?
I have lived in a bunch of places, but I grew up largely outside New York City, so I consider it my home. While lots of non-native food experiences have become quintessentially New York, others are more homegrown. For a local flavor, I send friends for New York-style pizza at Lombardi’s, burgers and frozen custard at Shake Shack, New York-style bagels at Daniel’s Bagels, and pretzels from a street vendor for good measure.

Xiao long bao in Shanghai

We agree with all of those NYC choices! Got any secrets for finding good food in a new destination?
I always do lots of reading (and asking around if I’m lucky enough to have friends who have experience in the given destination) before hitting the ground, so I go well prepared. I come out of my research with a “must try” list of both restaurants and dishes. The “must try” restaurants are easy to hit; it’s as simple as making a reservation if required. But the “must try” foods require a bit more work. I always ask locals for the right spots to sample the best patatas bravas (in Madrid, the answer is Las Bravas), xiao long bao (for this Shanghainese favorite, the answer may surprisingly be Taipei export DinTaiFung), or chocolat chaud (in Paris, the answer is Angelina). And when in doubt, I follow the lines—a crowd at a restaurant or food stand is generally a great sign that deliciousness lies ahead. For those wanting to know more about my secret spots in some of the world’s most exciting cities, here’s a tip: I share them all on The Purple Passport!

All photos courtesy The Purple Passport

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