Lately I’ve been craving Asam Laksa. That spicy, sour, fishy tamarindy combination takes me straight back to Southeast Asia and I dream of eating it in Penang one day. Food is powerful. It is fully ingrained in our memories of a place. It makes connections. When we take the time, it can teach us about the history, economics and culture of a place. While not the only way, it’s our favorite way to begin to get to know a new culture.
It’s been almost two years since the launch of our Food for Thought series, and we’re still always excited to meet travelers who share a passion for discovering something new about the places they visit through food. We all eat, but exploring a place through food history and traditions, making friends shopping at local markets or taking a cooking class using local ingredients offer great insights we might not otherwise discover. The Food for Thought series runs on occasional Fridays, so get in touch if you are a traveler who like to share your perspectives. We’d love to hear them! This time, we had the chance to chat with Trisha from P.S. I’m On My Way. We love her tip on seeking out local grandmas as a technique for understanding local cuisine!
Trisha is one of those people who left their comfortable life to travel the world. She worked in the fashion industry in the Philippines and Italy. Later on she realised that it’s not for her so she left her job, sold all her things and went to Africa. In 2013, she travelled Latin America and never left. She sustains her travels by teaching English, blogging and online jobs. She loves cooking, eating, football, hot sauce and coffee. Her favourite cities in the world are Barcelona and Buenos Aires.
Food for Thought
The underlying idea of the “Food for Thought” series is that to truly experience a culture you must taste it. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
Yes, and this actually fits my idea/way of traveling. I travel not for the sights but to be able to understand how a culture eats, cooks and sleeps. Staying with local families was one of the best ways to do it. In a span of three months, I found myself fluently speaking Spanish when I lived with a Colombian family; I learned how to cook asado through an Argentine family in Patagonia. There are a lot of things that you will learn when traveling slow, and let me tell you that the experiences are powerful and fundamental.
Now I am no longer in a rush. I don’t plan to visit every country in the world. I am happy with my way of traveling because it makes me culturally rich.
What food do you identify with “home?” Does it reflect something about your own culture or upbringing? Do you crave it while you’re away?
The famous Filipino adobo: meat marinated in vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, topped with potatoes. My grandmother used to cook this a lot but believe it or not, I only learned how to cook it when we had a cultural night in Peru! In one house, I lived with 5 different nationalities in Peru and every month, each housemate should prepare and explain a dish from their country. When my turn came, I didn’t know what to prepare so I Skype-called my Chef friend and ask him to teach me how to cook adobo. Luckily, it ended up really well and my friends liked it! In fact, they loved it! Since then, it is a ritual for me to cook it every Sunday. 😉
How has travel affected the way you think about food?
Food used to be the thing you need to eat when you are hungry — to make you full. Now, food is more of an experience for me. It’s not just about filling my stomach but it’s about the culture that goes with it: how it was cooked and presented now play an important role. I always want to know.
Do you have a technique to try and understand local cuisine? (ie: Attending cooking classes or food tours? Hunting the best street food?)
My technique is learning from local families. When I want to change the way I travel (aside from volunteering and house-sitting), I look for families who will adopt me for a month. I am very particular with my request: I always need to stay with someone living with their grandmother. I think Grandmas cook really good and they are very generous with their recipes! All the dishes I know are from Colombian, Uruguayan, Argentine, Dutch and Spanish grandmas!
Tell us about a memorable meal that was so special it is forever ingrained in your memory. Where was it and what set it apart? What was served, and who shared it with you?
It was in a city in Morocco called Essaouira. I met with some Couchsurfers who didn’t want to eat out so they decided to cook at their home. They cooked tajine in a triangular clay-pot and what attracted me the most about the dish is not the taste but how they cooked it. They were just simply tossing/layering the ingredients on the pot and voila — we had a very good meal that night! We also ate with the right hand, as the Muslims will do. We shared one big pot of tajine and finished it in minutes!
What food have you tried in your travels that some might find shocking or surprising? Would you eat it again?
I think nothing tops my experience from eating something from my own country: balut. Balut is a fertilised duck egg (embryo) that is eaten in a shell. Not all Filipinos eat this but it took me 20 years before finally trying it. It’s really delicious but the texture is surprisingly gross. I think this is why a lot of people avoid it. The texture is really something!
And just for fun, if you had to choose one country’s cuisine to eat for the rest of your life what would it be?
Burgers. I don’t know why but I just love burgers!!! I can eat it for the rest of my life!