Culinary travel has grown rapidly in popularity in recent years and I’ve jumped wholeheartedly on the bandwagon. Have you?
I’ve always loved food. At home, I do the things that every foodie does. I cook elaborate five-course meals for our friends, I watch Top Chef and dream of another life in which I might have become a chef, and I regularly attend food and wine festivals.
However, it wasn’t until about five years ago that I took my eating habit on the road. Until then, I had no idea the limitless benefits I would gain from traveling for food. I can assure you, now that this very important lesson has been learned, no matter where our adventures take us, food is a central part of the trip.
Why Travel for Food
As I said, it was about five years ago – coincidentally around the time my husband and I started traveling together – when I finally combined my love for travel and food. We were becoming interested in wine tourism and we’d heard good things about the Stellenbosch region of South Africa.
1. Food Travel Awakens the Senses
You’re wondering how food can be powerful, right? It’s simple. Eating utilizes all five senses. Not only do we taste our food, we also touch it, smell it, devour it with our eyes and listen to it sizzle in the pan. We’re in a heightened state of being whenever we interact with food, so it stands to reason that intentionally experiencing food while you’re traveling will increase the intensity of the memories you build.
2. Food Takes you Back to Your Travels
Have you ever noticed how even the faint aroma of something you ate on a vacation instantly takes you back to the moment you experienced it. Tasting an Argentinian Malbec transports me to a tasting room in Mendoza. The smell of galangal and lime instantly brings to mind the Thai cooking class we took in Chiang Mai.
Even the sight of choclo (really large corn) gets me excited for the intense flavors of Peruvian food. Just ask my husband – “big corn”, as I call it, elicits an unreasonable amount of excitement from me.
3. Food is Powerful
You see, food is powerful. It has the ability to shape your journey and define your memories. Food is also an essential part of life and community. It’s what makes us who we are as a people.
Without it there is no authentic travel experience. It’s the times we congregate around a dinner table with newly formed friends, get invited to lunch with a local family or take time for a picnic in a vineyard that we remember the most.
Not necessarily because of the food itself – although if it’s good that’s an added bonus – but because those are the moments when the best memories are made.
4. Good Food is Worth It
I read a lot of blog posts and travel articles about how to save money on food while traveling and how to avoid street food so as not to get sick. It makes me sad to think of all the amazing things I would have missed out on in a country if I had taken that advice.
I seriously question whether you can experience the real, authentic side of a culture without experiencing the food. After all, what is Thailand without a plate of Pad Thai, China without Dim Sum, Canada without poutine, Mexico without street tacos?
I’m exaggerating a little, but you get the point.
5. Food Becomes a Part of Travel, Even When You Least Expect It
We do still take trips that have no immediately apparent food focus – like to Turkey – where we went because we wanted to check out Istanbul and the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia. But even those trips ended up expanding our global palette and introducing us to things we would never have experienced without the power of food.
We went on one of our favorite food tours in Istanbul, and even did some wine tasting in ancient wine caves in Cappadocia.
6. All Food is Amazing
Indulging in Michelin-starred restaurants, veering off the beaten path to where they make the best-fried noodles, immersing yourself in an authentic cooking school in Tuscany, or even accepting a dare to eat a deep-fried cricket from a market in Cambodia – these are the things vibrant memories are made of. And if you don’t seek out food, you’ll miss out on an entire aspect of the journey.
Ever since that first trip to South Africa, we have been intentionally choosing destinations based on our desire to find new culinary hotspots. We choose destinations to expand our knowledge and appreciation for not only the history and architecture of a country but the food that the culture was built on. Doing so has had a great impact on our travels.
While researching the area, we found that many of the wineries also had world-class restaurants and it became clear that we would be missing half the experience if we didn’t explore the burgeoning food scene. So we made reservations at top restaurants with wine-pairing menus, and experienced foods we’d never tried before, like wild game and ostrich.
We learned about popular grape varietals like Pinotage – the pillar of South Africa wine – and how today’s modern cuisine in South Africa developed with the influence of many different cultures. I came away from that trip with a new-found appreciation for the power of food.
South African Food
As is the case with many countries around the world, South African cuisine is a conglomeration of many different subcultures. If we only went to South Africa to see elephants (which are pretty fantastic – don’t get me wrong), we wouldn’t have learned so much about the vast and dynamic culture of the country through the food. Sure, we could have opened a textbook and read of the history that brought all of these cultures together, but then we wouldn’t have experienced it firsthand and taken home all of those priceless memories.
Food Makes Travel Better
Now that I’ve sufficiently plied you with drool-worthy photos of food from around the world, can’t we agree that intentionally adding food to your travels will greatly enrich your experience?
If you’re a foodie like me, just knowing that we aren’t limited to the restaurants and gourmet food markets of our own cities is reason enough for me to get excited about traveling. There’s a world full of incredible foods beckoning to be eaten and they are just a plane ride or road trip away.
And if you’re not a foodie — well, you still have to eat, right? So why not eat a little, learn a little and take home the leftovers?
What is your favorite food travel memory? Do you have a favorite country you like to travel to specifically for the food?