I had to spend some time in Dayton hotels last week after a break-in at my home and serious injury to my dog. I rarely travel since the TSA has adopted its intrusive tactics, so I don’t stay in hotels all that often. I have fond memories of travel from when I was younger—or at least, some of them are fond—the ones that don’t involve sitting and staring out a car window for days on end as our parents tested our limits of boredom by driving from one end of the country to the other with virtually no breaks. Or listening to both of my siblings yell that the other one touched their side of the seat. A lot of our vacations were spent at family-type motels, which were really little more than a reasonably comfortable room to sleep in.
Sometimes, though, we stayed someplace really nice. A nice hotel can be a vacation all by itself. On the fun trips to my favorite elegant hotel, my parents left us kids in the hotel room while they went to dinner and dancing together downstairs. We got to order room service, which I have loved ever since. Room service feels so luxurious to me. Back then, it meant that a crisply attired room service waiter would arrive with a heated cart and pull the dinners we had ordered out of a special oven built into the cart. He would set up a table for us in our room, complete with tablecloth and napkins folded into a fleur de lys shape, and place each dish on it for us. He was very proper and polite, often even seating us at the table and placing our napkins in our laps. Then as soon as he left, all mayhem broke loose. We ate our dinner, jumped on the beds, ran around the room chasing each other, played games, and finally just as our parents returned from dinner, piled into bed.
On most trips we did not eat expensive fare, but when we went to this hotel, we were allowed to order special dishes. Dinners at that hotel were so memorable that I can still evoke the taste of them today. In my teen years, perfectly chilled vichysoisse garnished with freshly snipped chives, succulent broiled lamb chops that were still sizzling and trimmed with paper frills, and cherries jubilee were my favorite menu items. I still think of that vichysoisse. I’ve never had any like it anywhere else. It was slightly thick and tasted fresh and homemade.
Contrast these memories with the meals I had in hotels recently. Although these meals were admittedly less expensive than at that more elegant hotel long ago, I couldn’t help noticing the vast difference in quality. My first order included a salad and a turkey sandwich. The former was wilted and tasteless with handfuls of dried-out Parmesan cheese thrown on top, and the latter was made of processed turkey on a processed white bun. The next time I tried a Panini that featured chicken, feta, and Kalamata olives—three things I love dearly and eat often. The sandwich was incredibly salty, the chicken was processed, and the sandwich had a strange and unpleasant odor that I could not place.
Meals like these could turn me into a curmudgeonly food critic. Although the idea for these dishes was fine, the execution was terrible because low-grade ingredients were used. Had they used real turkey for the first sandwich and real chicken for the second, it would have been a huge improvement. The omelet I had for breakfast the next day was somewhat better, but not much. It was a cheese omelet with the cheese still not melted on top. And on top of these disappointments, I missed my raw food. I finally realized that if I added a few raw items to my meals they would be a lot more satisfying.
By the third day, I had wised up. I ordered breakfast instead of lunch or dinner and opted for plain scrambled eggs and whole wheat toast—and then for my meals the rest of the day I went to a nearby grocery store for yogurt, organic fruit, and organic almond butter. They had some absolutely delicious organic apples—large, crisp, and juicy—and some lovely bananas. They didn’t have the yogurt I like—Fage—but I found a brand that was pretty good. I was really craving salad, but I didn’t have anything to soak the greens in so I skipped it. I felt better just having some raw food.
When you have to stay at a hotel in an emergency like I did, there’s no time to plan what you’ll be eating, or even what you’ll be wearing. (Yeah, I did look the worst; my belated apologies to everyone who met me). If you have the time to do a little planning, though, you can enjoy the benefits of some raw foods along with the fun of trying some of the hotel’s dishes. Here are some ideas to tuck away for your next stay:
1. Choose a hotel that you know up front has good food. Some hotels are known for their cuisine, and some you may be familiar with because you’ve been a guest there before. The food is as important to me as the room is, and if it is for you too, choose accordingly.
2. Make use of the in-room refrigerator. If your room has a refrigerator, it means you can buy the raw foods you really like and keep them chilled instead of buying meals that are a compromise.
3. Bring or buy some raw treats. Fresh fruit, homemade raw applesauce, yogurt, home-grown tomatoes, hummus, and nuts are great snacks. If you have a dehydrator at home, add some dehydrated zucchini chips, kale chips, or other dried raw snacks.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for changes. Although room service is not always accommodating, if you ask for changes in a menu item in the dining room they will often try to meet your requests. You can usually substitute a small salad for French fries, for example. If you see any dish on the menu made with raw fruits or vegetables, you know they have those items available in their kitchen and might be willing to serve them to you in place of some cooked side dish. A fruit dish served flaming or cooked can just as easily be served raw. Instead of bananas foster, dripping with butter and brown sugar, you can just have the banana if you want.
5. Add your own raw foods to the hotel’s dishes. There’s no reason you can’t order a simple hotel meal and jazz it up with your own raw foods. One of my favorite dishes to order out is a salad with grilled chicken on top. If any of the hotels I stayed in had offered it, I would have ordered one. If your hotel serves this, you can add a sliced fresh homegrown tomato on the side and a fresh peach or other fruit for dessert. If you order a sandwich, again you can add a sliced fresh tomato (not the cardboard-tasting kind they will probably serve you) and a sliced red onion. Instead of chips or fries, ask for a small salad and specify that you want some fresh chopped vegetables on top—whatever kind they have that you like. Even avocado might be available.
When you’re staying at a hotel, it’s usually to relax and enjoy yourself. Have some dishes that are special, but don’t hesitate to improve them with raw food if you want. As my memories of room service at the elegant hotel demonstrate, sometimes the food is among the most memorable experiences of a vacation—the ones you’ll remember many years later. Make it count by including the raw foods you like along with the rest.