One of my favourite parts about travelling is the ability to try new foods that are specific to the region I’m visiting. Food and culture are uniquely intertwined with one another. Trying new dishes from a country you’re visiting allows you to get a real flavour for what it’s like to live there, no pun intended. Various ingredients, dishes and seasonings are passed down through food which contributes to the culture of a country. Introducing your taste buds to new delicacies is a surefire way to better understand the history and traditions of the country you’re visiting. For example, throughout various regions in Italy you will notice that although pasta is made throughout the country, each area has their own particular twist based on what’s local to that region. While visiting Tuscany you will find wild boar used in their sauces and pappardelle pasta versus penne or spaghetti. Since wild boar are common to the area, generations upon generations have been incorporating this into their cuisine.
Trying local food will not only help you to expand your palette but also teach you about native species and plants. More often than not, local dishes and cuisine are based on what is readily available to inhabitants of the area. Going back centuries, cuisine was based on what was close and local to the region. Dishes have since evolved from increased travel, trade and fusion but there’s a lot to learn from very traditional food that is usually derived from what exists locally.
In many Asian countries where rice fields thrive and span across the land, rice-based soups and noodles can be found in plenty. While visiting Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam in Southeast Asia, I had the opportunity to try a variety of local dishes that used rice or rice noodles as their base. From pho made with chicken broth and rice noodles, to stir fried rice with tofu and vegetables, I felt like I was tasting a bit of the culture with every bite. I also noticed that foods which I would consider as “lunch or dinner” meals were often eaten first thing in the morning. Growing up in Canada and eating North American breakfast items such as cereal, eggs, toast and bacon, I found it a shock to see local Vietnamese restaurants and hostels offering pho soup for breakfast! However, I easily adopted to the soup in the morning and came around to seeing the benefits of starting your day with a warming bowl of broth and noodles.
When backpacking through South America I was able to try a variety of new meats and delicacies that I’d never been exposed to before in Canada. In Peru, I tried a taste of llama, in Brazil I ate farofa (seasoned breadcrumbs) on beef skewers and in Argentina I stayed on an Estancia (horse farm) and sat down to an asado (mixed meat barbeque) with my host family. Each and every food experience was unique to the area I was visiting and I felt a real sense of the culture from every dish. Eating and enjoying typical local meals is one of the best ways to get a sense of what it’s like to live there.
I find it interesting to see how our own biases are often challenged or exposed when visiting a new country and travelling around the world. Food can most definitely help you to see the world from a new perspective and gain an understanding or appreciation for what you are able to eat and find at the grocery on a daily basis. Trying a new food can also show or be seen as a sign of respect for the culture you’re being introduced to. Though it may be out of your comfort zone, in my experience, I’ve found that opening up to people through food is a great way to bond and learn about one another. So, during your next travel adventure with WorkingAbroad look out for new food opportunities because you never know where your taste buds will take you to.
Article by WorkingAbroad Blog Writer Emma Pietropaolo