Lost Girl of the Week: Lea Marino

Lost Girl of the Week — By on October 26, 2011 at 6:00 am

Lea Marino is a 20-something in love with food and social media.  She has found the best way to experience the world, is through taste. When the money is available, she’s always down for travel and wants to go on a cross-country road trip and hit up all the continents (Antarctica excluded) before she turns 30. She works at a startup, Bizzy, that lets her pursue her food passions with its restaurant recommendations. In her spare time, she tweets about macaroni and cheese.


I’m not sure how I’ll ever be able to repay my parents. From a young age, they afforded me opportunities to travel that would change my outlook on life, myself, and other cultures.

I rode an elephant in Thailand. I learned that diapers aren’t the norm in Mainland China. I tried to imagine what home floor plans were like before Mount Vesuvius shattered Pompeii. My mother and I pretended we were Marie Antoinette, searching for simplicity at her rural estate in Versailles. I discovered that casinos in Macau aren’t as exciting as the ones in Las Vegas or Atlantic City. I chased away pigeons in St. Mark’s Square. And I quickly discovered that while German food is tasty, I couldn’t eat it five days in a row.

I know I’m the person I’ve become today because of these experiences and many more, but, excitingly, it’s the food experiences I have while traveling that make the lasting impression.

In fact, right before I started writing this, I ate in a hole-in-the-wall Cantonese restaurant in Chinatown. I live in New York City and my apartment is a short walk away. Dim Sum on the weekend, hunts for the perfect egg custard tart late at night (apparently I’m out of luck after 9:30PM) and the search to re-fill memories of studying abroad in Hong Kong make the high rent prices worth every dime.

These authentic Chinatown places scare some unfamiliar with the culture. In Hong Kong, it was the norm to share a table with others not in your party. In fact, I once shared a four-person booth – not a table – with two ladies at a small noodle restaurant in Central. These two ladies sat in the inside, across from one another, while my friend and I sat on the outside. It felt bizarre, but in a city with more people than I can sometimes imagine possible, I knew every bit of space was valuable and privacy wasn’t a necessity.

It wasn’t just the proximity limits that piqued my interest while in China. I was once handed plastic gloves to eat a tuna fish sandwich (ever notice that the Chinese don’t eat with their bare hands?). I experimented with dropping chicken blood into hot pot while sitting on low stools in a small town I couldn’t place on a map. I ate the best hand-pulled noodles in a random shop outside the Shenzhen bus station. I saw scorpions in a kiddie pool ready to be taken home and grilled. Discovered that small crabs can be fried, chip-like. Best of all, I was thrilled to have a soup dumpling before ever stepping foot in Joe’s Shanghai. Oh yeah, there was also that one time I pulled a small caterpillar out of street cart noodle soup and kept eating. That was something I wouldn’t have done before spending time in China.

Before Hong Kong and China though, it was Italy. I now know a restaurant is legit when they make a true pesto, Liguria-style. If the pesto doesn’t have green beans and small potatoes, you’re missing out. Cinque Terre is also home to delicious “cozze ripiene,” or stuffed mussels. Risotto just isn’t the same until you try some with octopus ink in Milan. And, being of Southern Italian decent, I was unaware of the potentials of cannellini beans in pasta.

I could keep going on about authentic pad thai with dried shrimp in Thailand; out-of-this-world chicken, rice and taro cooked in bamboo stems in China; Tender brisket in Austin, TX; and sourdough bread in San Francisco, but I think you’re just as hungry reading this as I was while writing it.

What else can I say? Nothing beats traveling in all its gourmand glory. Mangiamo!

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  • sima says:

    I had no idea what a gourmand you are…the experiences with food that you’ve had…no idea! I loved reading this, Lea.

  • Lea M. says:

    Thanks, Sima! I started writing the post and all the experiences that came to mind were food based. Figured that was the perfect angle for me. Happy to share more experiences with you any time.

  • Theresa says:

    Great piece Lea…. I tweeted in on my travel tweeter account. Keep it up. Theresa