December 3, 2009
What started for us as a mild obsession with food has morphed into a personal philosophy, a truism by which we weigh each new destination. If a people are happy eating, if they enjoy a variety of different flavors and techniques in their national cooking traditions, then very likely they themselves are also welcoming – with a full stomach and a warm heart they invite you to partake.
Traveling the way we do, living for eating, does make us miss out on some things. What may not show, is that we spend close to 60% of our day checking out restaurants, asking locals for advice, and cruising the web looking for tips. And eating! We’re never going hungry, as Jen pointed out. We sometimes choose our food hunts over cultural outings to museums, or scouting for that perfect postcard shot of our current worldwide stop. We might splurge most of our daily budget on a crazy food hunch or travel stall to stall snacking till bursting, and then spend the rest of the day walking it off.
But this form of travel presents many special surprises, and often gives us access to places far off the beaten path, and definitely outside the pages of the guidebook. It feels like inventing a new way to see the world, one that is constantly changing, adapting and spreading through word-of-mouth, no pun intended.
If you’re traveling for “authenticity,” the “It” trend among backpackers, then you can’t get much more entrenched than showing up in the doorway of an unmarked restaurant in some back alley — it’s absolutely spilling with patrons and not an English menu in sight. We learn languages, we make friends, we watch chefs chop and cook all while pinching ourselves for being so lucky to have these experiences.
Have you ever walked by a little closet of a restaurant and watched the cook perform some acrobatic feat when no one was watching? Tossing a pizza, flipping a pan of food or separating pasta into noodles by hand is an art of love that is unnecessary to the flavor but good for the soul. Look at the food culture where you are: Are there a lot of street stalls? Do locals grab cold wrapped sandwiches while sprinting to the subway or linger over dishes and drinks? Almost the most important question, is their market filled with raw food or dominated by prepackaged microwaveables?
We’ve been happiest, without fail, in the places where people are proud of their food, and just love to eat. It’s a social thing. As much as we loved Amsterdam, for instance, it didn’t quite have that magic element of happy socializing that is present in Andalusia. No, we don’t need to stuff our face to be happy, but sharing delicious food, and the atmosphere a happy dinner can bring is unique, and it can say so much about a culture we’re just learning about.
Food isn’t just sustenance, fuel for the fire… it’s a key to connecting with exotic cultures, foreign faces and habits. Spices and cooking styles didn’t just manifest suddenly abroad, they came through trade, or by way of wars and empires. The nuts on your plate, or the rich buttery sauce it’s all in can hint at a history lesson you ought to be remembering. Living to eat may not be what your doctor wants to hear about, but it’s a pretty rock solid travel strategy for getting a crash course in culture.
They’re Living to Eat in:
Mexico Endless street eating, endless variety of homemade salsas, and lunch in someone’s living room
Peru 1000s of dishes make up their culinary traditions, with wide-ranging influences like China and Africa
Spain The country of Tapas: dishes made to share
Greece The Islands are carefully keeping cultural traditions alive for the city dwellers
Bavaria Giant communal tables that bring big eaters together over artery clogging love.
*China Again, street eating on a massive scale, family-style dinners and hundreds of dishes unique to each Province.
* Hopefully Asia will continue to give us food for thought. Our appetites are whet!
In a few weeks we’ll share some tips with how to make wise decisions while exploring the world of food, finding PCF (Perfect Cheap Food) and most importantly, how to stay healthy. So far we’ve only been down once, all while on the road for 8 months in 20 countries — we think we’re doing something right.
Share a Slice
Leave a comment. Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *