Imagine a local market, or mercado, in Spain. You’re navigating among a sea of vendors in an open-air, but shaded venue. Coffee stays in the air as you pass by the stink of cheeses, the strong and salty aroma of seafood, stalls serving freshly-squeezed fruit juice, and the most vivid vegetables you’ve ever laid eyes on. Top it off with a central bar serving up Spanish lager, olives, and tapas. Quite simply, Spain would not be Spain without its food. It’s engraved in its culture. The same can surely be said for practically any country or destination. Food and culture go hand in hand, and it’s pivotal to the travel experience.
We learn from other food cultures
From the native crops to the climate, we can learn a lot about a country from its cuisine. Take Vietnam, for example. Cooking and eating are important daily rituals in Vietnam. The Vietnamese thrive for a balanced life, and its food showcases that. That’s why you’ll find fish, rice, and local vegetables in nearly every meal of the day. With balanced textures, flavors, and colors, Vietnamese food is considered one of the healthiest cuisines. Even if the day is busy, meals are enjoyed slowly and in good company.
Plus, when we think of street food, we typically don’t think of them being healthy. However, that’s not the case with Vietnamese street food. You get things like the country’s famous rice noodle soup Pho, Vietnamese sandwiches known as Bánh mì, and fresh sea snails. Even if a local is in a hurry and just grabbing something quickly, there’s still balance.
Some countries are highly associated with their cuisine… think Italy or Japan. People know to try pasta and pizza in Italy or sushi and ramen in Japan; it’s part of the travel experience. But the same passion for food might not be applied when visiting countries with less world-famous cuisine. Let’s talk travel styles.
Depending on your travel style, you might think of food as secondary. First are the enticing monuments, attractions, and experiences. Second are the local cuisine, restaurants, and cafes. But the thing is, we all love to eat, right? Food is essential. It’s nourishing and diverse. It’s the universal language, bringing people together. Surely we should all be traveling by tastebud, so its worth taking the time and energy to find the best places to eat.
How we find good eats
The meal-selecting process is a travel experience in itself. We’ll admit that it takes time to scour down the perfect meal. Despite the plethora of information online, we prefer to head to the source directly. We do love websites like TripAdvisor and Yelp, but they have their limitations. Things move quickly in the restaurant industry, and the internet can’t always keep up.
So, here’s what you can do as a hungry foodie heading to a new (or familiar) place. Dabble in some online research, and reach out to any locals you know and ask about any great new restaurants. That’s pretty much all you can do until you touch down at your destination. From there, curious walks and conversations are key. Walk around and look at different restaurants, and chat with a friendly local or employee at your accommodation. This is the beauty of traveling slowly with your tastebuds front and center.
Great food brings us together!
Once upon a time, one of our founders was on an inspection trip to Croatia. She was exploring a historic harbor when she encountered a local fisherman. He was sitting by the sun-drenched dock when she asked him if he knew of any good seafood restaurants. It turns out he had his own. She and a couple of her colleagues followed him down to a tiny, hole-in-the-wall restaurant. He prepared the food using ingredients he caught himself along with local flavors and a very specific set of cooking techniques. Needless to say, the food was phenomenal, the team had an amazing time together, and the fisherman’s restaurant was added to future tours in Croatia. This beautifully showcases how food brings people together.
You never know what hidden gem you might stumble upon when you let your curiosity take over. Not only will you make new connections, whether that’s meeting locals or discovering your new favorite food, but you’ll also learn more about the uniqueness of each culture when you dabble in its cuisine.