Culinary Tourism – How We can be Mindful
When traveling to another country or place, we often come across some very different and interesting foods. Sometimes, we can feel quite outside our comfort zone. What if I eat it wrong? Am I supposed to mix this together? Do I use my hands or fork? We’ve come across this with our travelers and wanted to share some tips for trying new foods and how to remain respectful and courteous to your host’s culture.
1. Do things their way. Your “knowledge” of their traditions are general and (may typically be stereotypical). There are so many levels of culture. What you know may be different from their general culture, their region, or subculture (i.e. the southern city of Guangzhou’s eating habits are going to be much different than of the northern regions like Beijing).
2. Ask questions. If you don’t know, ask! It is okay if you ask your host questions like “Which dish is your favorite?”, “How do you and your family eat this; What techniques do you use?”
3. If a disparity occurs (i.e. lack of vegan options) don’t force the issue. Instead, learn from it, expanding your knowledge of that culture and their foods. Never push for how a food should be made if you are not aware of its cultural background or significance. This is also a good moment to be grateful for the food provided to you, whether it’s out of your comfort zone or not.
On your Trip:
Research the country/city’s agriculture and food production. A simple google search can get you to the mainstream food options in the country, but ask your tour guide or host detailed questions like “Do factory farms exist here?” “Is anything over-harvested or overfished?”. The answers can give you a much better understanding of the place’s food production.
Eat at local restaurants. On our trips, we make a point to try authentic local cuisines. To ensure that we are learning and treating locals with respect, we also take classes with organizations within the community such as our dumpling-making class in China and a pasta-cooking session in Italy. Not only does this help support local small businesses, but it builds stronger connections. Plus, it’s super fun!
Stick to your important diet restrictions. If you’re lactose intolerant, stay away from milk. If you’re allergic to peanuts, stay away from peanuts! Ask the host if you need more clarification, but it’s not rude to deny authentic natillas if you medically can’t have dairy.
- If you want to eat healthy while traveling, take notice of where the source of food comes from. In America, most of our foods are processed which heavily contributes to our country’s obesity rate. However, in most countries, especially in developing nations, most foods are locally and organically grown – which is why they often have the best, freshest fruits and vegetables.
The very diet culture that we have in the West can demonstrate the disparity of food security in the world. Instead of thinking about “What can’t I eat?”, impoverished and local residents around the world are thinking, “What’s available for me to eat?”. The fact that you have the ability to choose what to limit yourself actively demonstrates the privilege you have with food security.
“I think when you travel as much as I have you — I don’t want to say I’m more humble, but I think you become aware of how other people live, how hard their lives are, how big the world is,” – Anthony Bourdain
Whether you are venturing out to a traditional noodle house in the San Gabriel Valley, or flying overseas to a foreign country, sampling new foods and learning about the traditional way to eat those foods are all part of the adventure. Remain observant, ask questions, and get ready to enjoy some of the best meals of your life.