Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Food is Culture

I was just talking with a friend of mine who is planning a trip to Prague. They have booked an apartment and I am very jealous. This means they get to shop the local markets and grocery stores and cook with local ingredients. You see my ideal trip involves partaking of the local food traditions. Food is culture. It is the bases for what makes up any society. Anyone can see the sites. Actually, you can see the sites of any destination by looking at pictures in a book or online but you can only taste the local tastes by being there (or maybe by preparing them yourself at home but we'll get to that).

When you travel and you book a place to stay that has a kitchen you are really immersing yourself in the culture even if it is just across the state or provincial line. Shop like the locals, cook like the locals. Now that is an experience. You can still go see the sites, I know, I know, you are there, might as well see the sites. But really experiencing the place you are visiting - that means understanding the local ingredients, talking to the local vendors to learn what they sell and how it is prepared. Now that is traveling! And you'll find most people are only too happy to boast about their local fare, food customs and traditions.

The last time I was in Sweden I was looking at a menu in Swedish. After years of regular travel to Sweden I could get by with a Swedish menu (they do have them in English at almost all the restaurants so don't worry). There was a word that stumped me so I asked the waitress what it was in English. She didn't know what it was called in English but she could tell me what it was like. She looked around to see if anyone was listening or watching. She then leaned in close and said "I don't know how you say in English but they look like sperm". I immediately knew she meant the word was bean sprouts. I don't know which was funnier, that the waitress had made a sperm to sprout analogy or that I immediately knew what she meant. Either way, immersing yourself in the food culture is big fun!

You can even take a culinary getaway. There are a lot of cooking schools in some of the most popular travel destinations these days. Italy, France, Spain, California, Mexico and the list goes on. All of these places now have culinary vacations you can book. Typically you cook and/or shop in the morning, for the midday meal and then tour around in the afternoon. Do your research. This is a wonderful way to really see the world!

On the other hand, not the one doing the traveling? The best souvenir I get is a cookbook full of local favorites from anywhere my family or friends travel. I just got one from our Austrian guests who came to dinner a few weeks back. I consider this an excellent gift for any foodie. I love going through the pages of authentic recipes and look forward to trying them out. You can even order books online from various cultures and travel the world without leaving home or relying on gifts from thoughtful friends and relatives! It's an inexpensive getaway you can create at home. This Austrian book I got was put out by the Committee for the Preservation of the Culinary Heritage of Austria so it is an excellent authentic take on Austrian food culture. Try to get books that are put out by government or heritage groups, they are really trying to give a clear picture of the real food culture.

Happy Travels!

No comments: