I rarely buy souvenirs when I travel, though I always come back with a few pounds of excess baggage. Mostly this is because I've never met a dessert that I didn't like. I blame my mother for this – a woman who once went to Manhattan and made it her unofficial duty to rid the island of cake. Now that I live in New York myself, sometimes I text her pictures ("You missed one"), and then buy it, just to honour her. Actually, the dessert thing is out of control. My body is constantly changing, like volcanic Hawaii. I can point at parts of it and say, for example: Churros in Mexico City; bread pudding in London; ovocne knedliky in Prague. My chin is a wonderland of bon bons.
Partly this is the result of professional courtesy. Whenever I begin to doubt whether I should, in fact, eat that slice of that Sachertorte in Vienna, I remind myself that this is a job, that I cannot give serious recommendations to you, Dear Reader, without having first consumed every sweet thing on the face of the earth.
Besides, I have also found there are other benefits beyond the endorphin rush. Seeking out dessert in travel can lead to delicious cultural encounters. For example, I recently wrote a story about pie in America. The story was pitched at the high concept level – "pie embodies the American dream" – but really, let's be honest, I just wanted an excuse to talk to strangers about pastry, my great love.
To report this story I travelled to Pie Town, a teensy highway settlement in the middle of New Mexico. In a roadhouse named the Pie-O-Neer, I met "the Pie Lady of Pie Town," a friendly woman who scratched her face with the handle end of a mixing spoon. She slid a piece of apple and chilli pie across the counter, and then proceeded to tell me about a brutal murder that had just happened down the road, causing black helicopters to circle overhead as they searched for the fugitive. The Pie Lady said she had a shotgun tucked away, with the first chamber blank and the second loaded to kill. We would be safe in the Pie-O-Neer – safe with all of the pies.
Would that have happened if I'd gone looking for a hamburger? Doubtful.
THREE TIPS FOR JUST DESSERTS
* To find the best version of a regional dessert – gelato in Rome, for instance – forget advertisements and guidebooks and ask a local for advice. Homemade is usually best.
* There are no calories in travel. Make that your mantra. Besides, all that physical movement across the world cancels everything out anyway.
* There are often characters behind the creation. Ask who made it. Use dessert to open a conversation.