The fact that culture and food are intertwined is well known. Each nation or region has its own way of expressing individuality through the culinary arts. No matter if you’re traveling and enjoying traditional dishes from your tourist destination, or if you’re trying to cook a foreign dish in the comfort of your home, you’ll get to connect with its history.
I’ll give you 6 ideas on how to explore culture through food, no matter where you are.
1. Traditional food
Especially if you’re traveling to foreign countries you might have to give up on your diet. You don’t have to eat a lot of the same dish, but experiencing as many dishes as possible is the best way to get an idea of the general cuisine of another culture. Eat a little bit of everything, various types of soups, even traditional sweets and drinks.
Every culture has healthier options, even vegetarian dishes if that’s your choice. Keep an open mind when it comes to dishes that sound weird to you. For example, Romanian tripe soup is made with beef stomach, but it ends up being a favorite to many that try it.
Exotic Asian food is another part of the international cuisine that some Americans might be reluctant to try, but if you want to immerse yourself in the local culture, you might want to try a tiny bite and realize it is not nearly as bad as you thought.
2. Eat homemade food
When you’re visiting another country, eating with the locals is the best way in which you can experience their culture through food. Restaurants are great, yes, but many times recipes are modified and don’t always have the authentic taste.
For those Americans whose ancestry plays a role in discovering themselves, the saying “what we eat is what we are” is appropriate because food is an easy way to connect and to give them a sense of place and tradition. Food is a way in which, in many countries, communities come together in celebration, during festivals, religious holidays, family reunions, and special events. Joining such a community day and enjoying the local cuisine will bring you closer to their heart.
3. History of food
Food is a national heritage that’s passed down from generation to generation, which during times of colonization and immigration it was brought to new lands by the people. American cuisine has influences from various cultures, especially European ones. Every time you visit a new country, try to look for similarities between the culinary dishes you are familiar with and the traditional ones you’re trying out for the first time. You might be surprised by what you discover when paying attention to the food while you’re eating it.
Not just the taste, the spices, and the visual aspect of the food are important, but also the placement and the way it’s served and how it’s eaten. If you have a chance, try to join a family of locals during the cooking process and observe it. Culinary traditions don’t reflect a culture just through the food itself, but also through everything related to it.
For example, Japan’s culinary culture is so old and it has been preserved so well, that it was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list.
In Africa, a simple family will cook its food outdoors and even the utensils and dishes are personal to their culture and there’s no better way to experience it than by joining in.
4. Different types of food cultures
When you visit a certain country be mindful of the fact that traditions and cultures when it comes to food, and not only, differ from region to region. Just like a country might have different dialects of one language, it might have different recipes that represent the same basic dish, and it can greatly differ in taste, the way that it’s cooked, or it can have different names depending on the region.
Let’s take for example the beautiful country of India. Because it is so big and so diverse, each region has its own traditions. Kashmir region is well known for having an abundance of spices that are at the base of every local food, while in Punjab, people prefer to use dairy products in their traditional recipes.
5. Home cooking
Most of us are fascinated by another country, and we might not always have the chance to travel to that specific place. But thankfully, we can still enjoy the food. The best way to obtain an authentic taste is to learn from someone that lives there. It’s a good thing we have social media, and we can connect with people all over the world. Authentic taste means it has to be genuine and cooked in the same way.
If you’re a traveling enthusiast you can join cooking classes in the countries you visit and take the secrets and the recipes home on your return. That way you can learn how it’s done in person and you can share the food experience with those around you, educating them in the traditions and culinary history of the world.
6. Culinary tours
More and more tourist agencies now offer food adventures and tours in different parts of the world. What’s amazing about this, is that you don’t really have to do your own research. Gourmands can now learn the history, symbolism, and processes through which the traditional food is cooked.
These tours are led by expert guides and you will even learn cooking secrets and techniques. Some of them will even include dining with locals, shopping for ingredients in traditional markets, even trying street food, or seeing the whole process of obtaining ingredients on organic farms and using them to cook the food with the farmers.
No matter how you explore culture through food, you will look past the idea that food is just a means of survival and you’ll start to connect with the history, beliefs, and values of a nation.