Food is one of the ties that bind. Through a country or region’s foods, we make meaningful connections that we might never otherwise. Sharing a meal is a sure way to break down barriers quickly. Better yet, learning how to make a traditional dish, and working with local ingredients teaches us something important about the culture and history of a place. Through our Food for Thought series, we hope to learn more about other travelers’ journeys, and the role food plays. A new interview will be published each Friday for the duration of the series. This week we had the opportunity to chat with Chanel from CulturalXplorer. Her site touches on everything from where to stay and what to do to to photo essays and a great food section, of course. Join Chanel on her quest to find the best restaurants, food tours and street food around the world.
Chanel is the New York City-based travel blogger at CulturalXplorer.com. Through her writing, she shares stories about culture, food, and off-the-beaten path experiences from her travels. When she is not running with bulls in Spain, getting tattooed in Cambodia, or eating poisonous blowfish in Japan, she enjoys exploring her hometown, brushing up on her photography, and educating children.
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?
I completely agree that a big part of any culture is the food. I am constantly writing about the different foods that I eat in the different places that I travel to because I feel that in order to fully experience any place, you must eat the food. Not only does food fill your stomach, but it can also fill your heart, connect people, and create lasting memories.
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?
When I think of the food from home, I think about some of the foods that I was raised on and the holidays and events that brought my family together. During Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, and family reunions, we would eat traditional Southern foods such as collard greens, candied yams, black-eyed peas, chicken, okra, red rice, cornbread, and potato salad. These foods are very traditional in the African-American community and are often referred to as ‘soul food’.
In all honesty, these days I only really have the chance to eat soul food during holidays and special events. Because I only have a chance to eat it once in a while, I do not crave it very often. When I am traveling I am generally very focused on devouring all of the different foods that the country I am in has to offer.
How has travel affected the way you think about food?
I have always loved food but travel has definitely opened up my eyes to different kinds of foods around the world. Recently I have been writing a lot of ‘Eating My Way Through…’ posts to share what I ate in a particular destination. I always try the local cuisine and share it wherever I am in the world.
Do you have a technique to try and understand local cuisine? (ie: Attending cooking classes or food tours? Hunting the best street food?)
I would not say that I have a special technique per say other than reading up on what the local cuisine is and making sure that I try it when I am visiting a country. I have recently started getting more into food tours and classes during my travels so that I can learn about the food and history of an area, although I don’t take them in every city that I visit. I have found that the tours and classes that I have taken have made me really have a deeper appreciation for the food of the particular country I am traveling to.
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?
One of my favorite meals to this day was at a tiny restaurant named Cal Pep in Barcelona. I remember reading up on it and telling myself that I needed to go there before I left the city. Cal Pep is quite a popular place to visit in Barcelona’s culinary scene and it is only open for a couple of hours each day, so you have to make sure to time your visit right. I arrived 30 minutes before they opened and waited on line as advised by some of the information I read. I was lucky enough to grab one of the few bar-styled seats that were available upon entering while those who were a couple of people behind me had to continue to wait online until someone got up from their seat, allowing them to be seated. Even though it was way out of my travel budget (and more than I spend at home for a meal), it was something I could never forget. I did not get to choose what I was served; I was only able to tell the chefs that I wanted fish. Not only was the food amazing, but I also made friends at the bar, chatted with the lively owner, and had an overall good time.
What food have you tried in your travels that some might find shocking or surprising? Would you eat it again?
I have eaten a couple of different ‘unusual’ things during my travels such as poisonous blowfish (Japan), ostrich meat (Taiwan), cow stomach (Italy), and chicken butt (Taiwan). I suppose eating the chicken butt from a street food cart in Taiwan might be the most surprising to people, but it actually was not that bad, a little chewy, but it tasted just like chicken!
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?
That is a difficult question to answer, as I love so many different kinds of cuisines. If I only had the option of choosing one country’s cuisine for the rest of my life, I would go with Korean. Living in Korea for two years made me fall in love with the food, my favorite dish being Dakgalbi (닭갈비). It took a little getting used to the spiciness of Korean food, however now I am addicted, and I even add spices to make other foods that I eat more spicy.