The Food for Thought interview series explores the relationship between food, travel and culture. Most would agree that one great way to open the door to getting to know a new place is through its food. Walking around a new destination and seeing what people are eating on the street, shopping or browsing in a local market or maybe even taking a cooking class are all good ways to jump right in. A region’s traditional dishes are inextricably linked to its history, and tasting those often helps us make links we might miss otherwise. This week we are happy to be chatting with Brenda from Dish Our Town. Whether traveling or at home daydreaming about the next trip, Brenda and her family love to experience new cultures through food. With a base in New York, this family’s blog is a great place to do some daydreaming for yourself! The dishes they write about are always presented with a bit of history and a lovely description of the personal associations they hold.
So the pants still fit, the shirt still fits, and the jacket as sleek as ever. But what didn’t fit was her career in the fashion industry into the body of life. For Brenda, it wasn’t a hard choice to leave what she knew best in the last twenty years and open herself up to the world of food and travel blogging. Outside of her daughter and husband, these two topics are most dear to her and she wanted a vehicle to express that love and passion and to inspire readers to dream and journey along with her. Visit Brenda and her family on Dish Our Town for more food and travel tips.
Food for Thought
The underlying idea of the “Food forThought” series is that to truly experience a culture you must taste it. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
For the optimal travel experience, immersing one’s self in a culture is very important. The old travel adage, “when in Rome…” applies to all towns, in all countries. Nothing speaks to this more powerfully than embracing the food from a specific culture. Food embodies a history of a people.
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?
There is a dish called, Lo Mein Hong Kong Style. It’s a thin noodle stewed, seasoned with oil and oyster sauce. Then it’s topped with scallions and choice of protein. The classic protein choice is a pork and shrimp wonton. Imagine a dry version of wonton noodle soup. I am of Chinese descent, so yes noodle dishes like these reflect my culture; but home to me is being with my daughter and husband and my husband has had this one specific dish in one specific place since he was four, so for us it’s more an upbringing, well more like an homage to his. As for craving it whilst away, I don’t necessarily crave it for the taste but crave it as a semblance of home.
How has travel affected the way you think about food?
I have more respect for it. For many countries, where slow food cooking is not so much a revolution but simply the way it’s done. You appreciate the time, care and effort that is put upon every dish. There is a great deal of pride behind it, no matter how humble a dish.
Do you have a technique to try and understand local cuisine? (ie: Attending cooking classes orfoodtours? Hunting the best street food?)
I study what certain regions are famous for and make it my quest to search it out. Most towns have a Central Market. I like to start there.
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 meal that is forever ingrained in my memory is the first breakfast I had in Barcelona, Spain. It was at La Boqueria (the Central Market) and my husband, daughter and I sat at an eatery stall called, Pinotxo. What set it apart was the service. First and foremost, it was a simple counter but the attention that was given to all the customers and the food they were serving topped many white table cloth restaurants I’ve been to. The energy that surrounded us in the market was also infectious. You were wide awake. There were no cobwebs accepted here. You were part of the action. As if that were not enough, we had chipirones (baby squid) cooked in it’s own ink served with chickpeas paired with cava (sparkling white wine). It was finished off with a cortado (small espresso with steamed milk). All this before 10 am.
What food have you tried in your travels that some might find shocking or surprising? Would you eat it again?
I’ve had all sorts of offal in many countries, that continue to shock many people; but I think that is lessening as more and more people are getting to be more open minded. I of course, would eat any of the many dishes I tried that is offal based. Though I like some more than others, there is not one I would shy away from. My personal favorite is tripe prepared in basically any style.
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?
It would have to be China.