The pandemic might be ongoing, but with lockdown-easing on the horizon, many of us are thinking of embracing the classic road trip. It’s far too easy to get swept up in today’s fast-paced world, and a road trip offers the opportunity to experience slow travel once again. But perhaps the greatest benefit is all the delicious food to be eaten along the way. Surprisingly, some of the best road food can be found at… gas stations. Forget about stale jerky and withered hot dogs, some gas stations around the world have become serious culinary contenders. Here's a roundup of some places worth filling up at around the world.
Eataly x Autogrill, Emilia-Romagna, Italy
Photo by: Courtesy of Eataly
Autogrill, the iconic Autostrade stop-off in Italy, are a feature of the county’s intercity landscape. Their post-war, optimistic architecture was a symbol of a booming society, where Italians travelled from region to region and the motorcar became an affordable feature of modern mobility. Things have changed in Italy, and while the socio-political landscape has shifted, the physical one is still dotted with the marvellous modern structures that changed the way people eat on the road. Today, a partnership between Autogrill and Eataly sees a roadside rest stop of 1,702 m2 on two levels, with the ground floor dedicated to exploring flavours, and the 1st floor offering three table-service restaurants seating 350. Just outside Modena, Emilia-Romagna, a region known for its agricultural produce and its cuisine, there is the chance to explore a dizzying array of typical Italian delicacies.
Hamburguesa de cerdo – Havana, Cuba
In a country completely controlled by its government, Cuba is home to some industrious (and brave) citizens who dare to hawk their culinary wares on the street, avoiding the long arm of the state. On just about every corner, there is someone selling mangoes and green coconuts, sweet pastries, and savoury platters of classics like ropa vieja and handheld breakfasts like huevo sandwiches. Occasionally, stumbling upon one of the island’s ramshackle gas stations turns up gastronomic gold. Just around the corner from La Floridita (a bar made famous by author Ernest Hemingway) is a tiny gas station that on its best days looks abandoned. It is so nondescript that it literally has no name. Yet, every Havana resident knows that the postage stamp-sized lot is “Hamburger Man” territory. That’s right—even the proprietor of the pushcart food stand has no name, but his sole specialty is well-known. The reputation of his hamburger - a thick round of juicy ground pork topped with a pineapple ring or cream cheese and marmalade - precedes him. This burger may sound strange (and it is, in the best way), but it’s a filling, unique snack to enjoy from the backseat of one of Cuba’s chauffeur-driven classic cars.
Buc-ee's: pickled quail eggs – Texas, USA
Photo by: Lee Leblanc
It’s true that everything is bigger in Texas, including its gas stations. The Lone Star State is home to Buc-ee's, a 39-store chain of gargantuan filling stations outfitted with some of the world’s most unique convenience stores. The New Braunfels location boasts a global record as the largest convenience store in the world, at a whopping 66,335 square feet (or roughly 6,162 square meters). There are aisles several miles long teeming with shelves stocked with every food item imaginable. Prepared food counters are overflowing with everything from barbecue to sliced roast beef. Though Buc-ee's meal offerings are enticing, its true magic is found in the snack aisles where some truly unique eats are practically begging for road trip glory. The pickled quail eggs have amassed a cult following — the small jars of tiny, brined eggs typically sell out quickly. Pickled eggs — pickled anything, really — aren't exactly an olfactory delight. Your car mates might resent you a bit for bringing along such a pungent snack, but biting into one of these delicate little orbs makes drawing the ire of your fellow passengers worth it.
Q8: pizzaguet salami – Brusselsesteenweg, Belgium
Chances are, if you’ve ever gotten petrol in Belgium, it came from Q8. The popular global chain of filling stations is known for its selection of grab-and-go snacks — and one in particular. The pizzaguet salami is comparable to the French bread pizzas that were all the rage in the United States in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but this iteration is a tad different from its American counterpart. This version starts with a sturdy demi-baguette foundation and is slathered in a savoury tomato sauce and topped with large rounds of salami and cheese. The whole thing then spends a few minutes under a broiler to get the charred, toasty goodness that makes any pizza worthwhile. The compact pizza is the ideal road trip snack thanks to its one-handed portability and, at less than 4€, it frees up your meal budget. More money to spend on fries at a local frituur for dinner, perhaps?
Takoyaki – Tokyo, Japan
One thing you need to know about Japan is that, while it is a country of centuries-old traditions, it is also one of inventiveness, and in no other place does that spirit reveal itself than on the plate. Yes, even at an unassuming little convenience store, Japanese food continues to delight. Imagine waking up in the wee hours of the morning, running late for a flight absolutely ravenous (guilty) and discovering the only place to grab a quick bite is the local MiniStop.The 5,000-plus store chain is ubiquitous throughout Japan and Korea and has become more of an intentional destination than a last resort. One of its best bites is known as takoyaki, a sleeper hit of a snack that is best described as a fried wheat flour croquette filled with minced octopus, bits of tempura, scallions, and pickled ginger. It is typically accompanied by a sauce that can be likened to Worcestershire sauce and mayonnaise—an ideal road trip nibble.
Photo by: iStock
Tiropita – Thessaloniki, Greece
In Greek mythology, Mount Olympus is believed to be the home of the gods and ruled by Zeus. Now the famed mountain abuts a service station, but surely Dionysus would approve of the fare, which is fit for a deity. Pans of feta-studded spanikopita, dolmades, and loukoumades drizzled in honey are standouts, but it’s the cheese pie that will set your toga aflutter. Tiropita, a savoury phyllo dough pie stuffed with feta, is sold in foúrnos (bakeries) all over Greece and is a common street snack. Tiropita is one of the road trip eats that is best eaten straight from the oven, as you will want to fully appreciate the oozy goodness of the melted cheese and crispy pastry.
Photo by: Tanya Bakogiannis
Rudy’s Real Texas Bar-B-Q - Texas, USA
Texans take their BBQ very seriously indeed, it is therefore a testament to the quality of fare on offer at Rudy’s that their Texan BBQ remains so popular after more than a century in operation. Located just north of San Antonio, at the edge of the Texas Hill Country, sits the small community of Leon Springs where the original Rudy’s roadside pit stop was set up. Today, there are branches all over the state and with their pits burning only oak wood, along with their special dry spice and secret sauce, the brisket keeps people coming back, again and again. This BBQ is worth a trip on its own, never mind stopping off on a longer journey.
Gloucester Services - UK
On the M5 motorway, between Bristol and Gloucester, lies Gloucester Services, an independently run motorway services that serves as a welcome break from the faceless franchises propping up tired motorists on busy routes around the country. Opened by a farming couple in 1972, the lofty, beamed space houses both a farm shop and kitchen. Hungry motorists can refuel on homemade dishes made with locally sourced ingredients, as well as topping up on groceries. The on-site farm shop specialises in cheese and handmade produce from small and independent local businesses, and includes a butchers’ counter, where fans can pick up local old spot Gloucester sausages, or local lamb and free-range chicken for the weekend. There’s even a fishmonger, where locals can pick up the daily catch.
Gasoline Grill - Copenhagen, Denmark
In the city of culinary excellence and invention, it’s only fitting that a city centre service station serves the best burger in town. At the original Gasoline Grill, located inside an operational gas station at Landgreven in Copenhagen, whether you're going for a burger on foot or four wheels, it's something of a destination. It’s here that owner Klaus Wittrup plays out his ode to the US burger, after falling in love with them when studying abroad and encouraging his fellow countrymen to do the same back home. The patties are made fresh daily with meat ground on-site, they are griddled to perfection and served inside a freshly baked potato bun. A simple selection of four different burgers concentrates on quality, and comes complete with Gasoline sauce, served with crinkle-cut chips and washed down with a milkshake. To avoid disappointment, re-fuel early.
Most travellers agree that the best food is often found in the most unexpected places, and sampling some of it is one of the best ways to learn about not only the cultural but the culinary influences of a place. It’s no exaggeration to say some of the best road trips begin with a single bite.