Some think of eating as just a means to survive, while others think of food as one of the great pleasures in life. We are fortunate, and the latter is the school we subscribe to. Regardless of how you view it, food tends to bring people together. For us, sharing a meal has broken down barriers and formed new friendships even when language is a challenge. There are so many things you can learn about a culture just by tasting the flavors of its cuisine. In the Food for Thought series we chat with like-minded travelers to get their take on food and its influences on us as we travel. This week, we caught up with Laura from An American Abroad. Like us, Laura opts for slow travel. She likes to spend enough time in a place to really get to know it, shopping in local markets or grocery stores, making friends, learning new recipes, maybe some of the local language. She has had the fortune to reside in some great foodie countries, including her current home, S. Korea where she works as a teacher. Just reading some of her posts makes our mouths water for the wonderful flavors of Korean BBQ!
Laura Bronner is an American girl addicted to life abroad. After graduating from college she set off on what was meant to be a year of travel. That was four years ago. Since then she has lived in New Zealand, Australia and now calls South Korea home. You can follow along with her experiences on her blog An American Abroad, or catch up with her on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.
Food for Thought
An 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?
I completely agree. For me, traveling and gaining understanding of a place is very intertwined with the food. One of the main reasons I travel is to try new foods and treat my taste buds to something totally different.
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?
I think simple meals like macaroni and cheese or spaghetti bolognese will always remind me of home. They are the meals I ate often growing up and I cook one of them whenever I’m feeling a little bit homesick. They are the kind of hearty comfort foods that are easy to make but can pack a real punch of flavor.
How has travel affected the way you think about food?
I think about it more! I have always loved food and trying new things, but travel has made me much more adventurous. I have learned about different flavor combinations and cuisines through my travels which has lead to me being infinitely curious about trying more. I am a girl possessed when it comes to trip planning. I like to look up what the local dishes are for each area so that I make sure to have it while I’m there. I’m never worried that I might miss a sight, but I am always concerned that I might miss my next best meal.
Do you have a technique to try and understand local cuisine? (ie: Attending cooking classes or food tours? Hunting the best street food?)
I try to do as much research as I can on what the local dishes are so that I can keep an eye out for them. I love to take cooking classes, but if I don’t have time I just head to as many markets as I can to sample lots of street food.
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?
That’s such a tough question. I have had so many memorable meals in Korea alone, never mind elsewhere. The one that springs to mind is a Korean barbeque meal I had recently. A Korean friend invited my boyfriend and I out to a new restaurant that had opened in our city. We waited for almost half an hour to get a seat, it was so busy. When we sat down they immediately brought over all of the side dishes that you usually get at Korean Barbeque, but this time they whacked it straight on the flat top grill that covered most of our table. Then came the meat, cut up and lining the grill in all of it’s beautiful shades of pink. Then the onions, mushrooms and eggs. The server set it all on fire, immediately proclaiming it time to eat. I sat with my boyfriend and our good friend Ji Young, and we talked for hours, until all of the food was gone. We ordered rice to be cooked in the remaining oils and put that into our already full bellies. I left the restaurant feeling grateful for not only such an amazing meal, but having been in such good company. It’s not one I’ll soon forget.
What food have you tried in your travels that some might find shocking or surprising? Would you eat it again?
I recently tried Sannakji (raw octopus) here in Korea. They take a fresh, young octopus out of the tank and cut him up while he’s still alive. When they bring the pieces to the table they’re still moving. When you put it in your mouth to eat it wriggles and suctions to your cheeks and tongue. It’s actually quite tasty – very light and fresh. I would definitely eat it again.
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?
I think I have to go with British. Meat pies, beef stew, potatoes, thick meaty gravy, Yorkshire pudding, breakfast fry-ups, Sunday roasts, fish and chips with mushy peas and curry sauce, rhubarb pie with hot custard and curry (it’s the national dish after all!). That’s the sort of food I could see myself eating for the rest of my life without growing tired of it.