Forks and Jets

The true story of a couple or amateur foodie travelogues going around the world

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Philosophy 101: You are what you eat

December 3, 2009

14 Comments

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.


Ta-Da! Your fish sandwich in Istanbul, Turkey


You bring it, we grill it at the Fish Market in Fethiye, Turkey

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.


A treat of a dinner at Villa Rica in Veracruz, Mexico

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.


Bodega Santa Cruz in Seville, Spain

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.


Shack on the beach, Canoa Quebrada, Brazil


Stopping for alleyway tea in Istanbul, Turkey

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?


At Pescados Capitales in Lima, Peru

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.


Japanese Food Fair in Sao Paulo, Brazil


Djemma Al ‘Fna Night Market in Marrakech, Morocco

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


Tacos on the Street in Izamal, Mexico

Peru 1000s of dishes make up their culinary traditions, with wide-ranging influences like China and Africa


OMG Tapas!

Spain The country of Tapas: dishes made to share

Greece The Islands are carefully keeping cultural traditions alive for the city dwellers


Waiting for dinnertime on Paros, Greece

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.

Comments

  1. Jen Laceda says:
    December 3, 2009

    Amen to that! Amen!! You guys rock! And for people who have sampled a wide variety of foods worldwide, how do you stay so damn svelte?!

    Looking forward to more posts. Definitely.

    Reply

    • Team Rees says:
      December 3, 2009

      As to staying slim… hmm… We started out with a good blank slate, but since we’ve left it’s been up and down. We always read about backpackers who come home 10lbs lighter, and let’s just say that that won’t be us.
      After Greece, we were hit with so much Eastern European food, there was no fighting the bulge! It didn’t let up much in the UK, aside from the costs keeping us thinking twice about munching.
      In Asia we’ve been walking a lot. I think that’s really all we’re able to do regularly. It seems to be working well enough, but I’d hate to have a cholesterol check first thing upon arriving at home!

      So glad you liked this post. We’ve been thinking on this subject for months now… We’re looking forward to starting this conversation, to say the least.

      Reply

  2. Amy @ The Q Family says:
    December 3, 2009

    That’s my kind of traveling too. :)

    And I’m sure you won’t be disappointed in Asia. We are notorious for food fanatic. We can drive for hours just to go eat at that obscure shack with no name but only by words of mouth.

    I can’t wait to hear more about your experience in Asia. Seeing that you are now in Hong Kong… Ah…. Food.. Food… and Food.. I think the only problem you will have is to decide what and where to eat or how to fit it all in for 3-5 meals we eat per day. :)

    Reply

    • Team Rees says:
      December 3, 2009

      We feel thankful everyday that our love of food has opened up so many adventures to us. Even more so, we’re thankful for people everywhere, around the world, sharing their traditions and customs.
      I believe we’ve been extremely lucky living in CA, and especially in SF and LA. Many, many of the dishes we’re trying abroad are favorites back home, or at least style of cooking we’ve been exposed to. But to be able to make cultural and social connections with locals because of it is something we never expected! We criticize our guidebooks constantly, but that’s given us a lot of fuel to try to find a way of traveling that works for us. For years we’ve been attempting to find some way of channeling our love of food, and this is simply the most rewarding and beyond-expectation dream-come-true. And then to find a community to share it with — literally, I could tear up. Thank you.

      Asia is delivering, big time! Sad that we’re so backlogged on forksandjets.com and not blogging real-time. China was stellar, with HK bookending both sides (which was a very interesting before and after, might I add). We’re eating like kings over here! I cannot agree with you more that there simply aren’t enough (rational) meal in the day! Our devotion to the Sichuan province is total.

      Reply

  3. Legal Nomads says:
    December 3, 2009

    I agree with Amy: Asia will provide you with an incredible array of food options, especially in China where there are hundreds of ways to say “broil” in Mandarin – food is so important to their life and culture. I look forward to your writeups and pictures as you eat your way through a new continent!

    -Jodi

    Reply

    • Team Rees says:
      December 3, 2009

      Thanks Jodi! Exploring in Asia has been an adventure — the culture of eating is so broad and far-reaching. We love the endless street stalls, the sweet potato carts and bizarre sweets. We expected to be overwhelmed with choices here, but this is just absurd!
      Stay patient with us while we attempt to get the blog up to date, we’re hoping our Asia posts will be the same blockbusters for you as they are for us. Thanks again for the support!

      Reply

  4. Shawn says:
    December 3, 2009

    Your photo skills are obviously finely tuned to capture the restaurant and eating experience, because you’re doing an awesome job of it. Out of nowhere I am suddenly ravenous. Thanks for that :)

    I love eating, and experiencing new restaurants and dishes, but as a picky eater I often shy away from trying new places. When you’re either finicky, or have special dietary needs, there is a lot more at risk when walking into some foreign hole in the wall and trying your luck. So in a way, for us special needs eaters, an article like this is a double edged butter knife. It’s great vicariously seeing the gorgeous dishes and places you try, yet it’s sad to know that trying to recreate that experience on our own may not play out as well.

    Keep up the great work!

    Reply

    • Team Rees says:
      December 3, 2009

      Glad you brought that up… we weren’t always so keen on wandering in to the unmarked storefront down the dark alley ourselves. You should have seen us in our first city: Mexico City! We were scared to leave the hotel at night, much less try the stall-munchies.
      As we go along, we’ve been perfecting our art of making calculated guesses and taking well-researched risks. In fact, we’re writing a post about it which will show up in the next few weeks. I hope we can share some secrets and tips which will make tailoring “adventure eating” easier for everyone. And sometimes, despite all our best efforts, the big food feat we were attempting backfires and finds us sitting before a bowl of entrails that don’t smell so good. But maybe the atmosphere and a cold beer can make up for some of it, and we can give ourselves a good pat on the back for trying.

      Thank you so much for the support Shawn, we’re so glad so many folks out there want to share these experiences.

      Reply

  5. Audrey says:
    December 3, 2009

    Awesome piece! I couldn’t agree more with the idea of forgoing a visit to a museum for hours at the food market or seeking out where the street stalls come out at night.

    People joke with us that we’re obsessed with food, but it’s more that we find food is one of the best ways to learn about a culture and connect with its people. Everyone has to eat to survive and asking locals about their cuisine usually leads to other conversations about politics, life, family, business and everything else. And, usually our favorite countries are places with a food culture where people are proud to talk about and share their cuisines.

    Reply

    • Team Rees says:
      December 3, 2009

      Our thoughts exactly. And glad to know we’re not the only ones going with our guts out there.
      Being invited to share a table, and conversations like you described, with people from a foreign culture has been an honor, and has taught us more about the world we live in than we’d even hoped. Sometimes it almost feels like cheating, because it’s such a fun and easy topic.

      “And, usually our favorite countries are places with a food culture where people are proud to talk about and share their cuisines.”

      Couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Thanks Audrey.

      Reply

  6. Lori says:
    December 3, 2009

    Such a great post! Local food is our number one priority when traveling too. We often get a lead on a restaurant or type of food and we’ll spend the significant part of a day seeking it out, finding others along the way.

    We just got back from an extended trip around SE Asia and the food was outstanding, as were the people cooking it. It took us a while to find all the hawkers in Singapore, but it was well worth it. My favorite experience was the Sup Tulang from Haji Kadir in the Golden Mile food center. Yes, we were following Anthony Bourdain’s trail. :) Hope you are enjoying your travels around there!

    Reply

    • Team Rees says:
      December 3, 2009

      Thanks for the support Lori, we were hoping this post would bring in a good haul of eater tips 😉

      We are currently knee deep in hawker centers here in Singapore! How can be possibly eat everything in the few days we have!? Will check on the Golden Mile Food Center for sure!

      Reply

  7. Gillian says:
    December 4, 2009

    Our favorite food so far is definitely India. The dishes may sound the same from place to place but there are small regional differences that we love finding. Can’t wait for SE Asia – I have heard nothing but good about food there. Also can’t wait for your post on how you find all these amazing places!! Glad to hear that you, too, are sometimes hesitant and anxious to try something new…you always sound so fearless!! Cheers, Gillian

    Reply

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