It’s true, “To truly experience a culture, you must taste it.” Often, when we travel, we make meaningful connections through food that we never would otherwise. Through our Food for Thought series, we hope to learn more about other travelers’ journeys, and the important role food plays. A new interview is published each Friday. This week, we are excited to share the perspectives of Scott and Laura, the co-founders of Eat Your World. We love browsing their destination guides, and their food photography is absolutely mouth-watering!
Meet Scott and Laura
Scott Rosen and Laura Siciliano-Rosen founded Eat Your World, a global guide to local food, in late 2011 in order to document and celebrate regional cuisines around the world. To that end, the site identifies and contextualizes destinations’ traditional, indigenous, and locavore dishes/drinks and tells readers exactly where to find them, as well as How to Burn It Off (activity tips) and Where to Stay (hotel suggestions). They want to create a global database of regional foods, but they’re not doing it alone: Eat Your World employs contributing writers and invites its well-traveled users to upload their own local-food photos and stories to the site. Scott and Laura recently launched a new mobile-optimized version of Eat Your World and their seventh eBook destination guide on Kindle–and managed to survive their first year of parenthood. (Yes, their kid loves to eat, too–so far!)
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?
Absolutely agree! This is the reason we founded Eat Your World…for years whenever we traveled, the first thing we sought out in a new place was the local food; it’s an incredible gateway to a culture. What are the traditional dishes? What is sold in the markets? What is the dining culture: late-night eating, slow eating, family-focused, wine-fueled? How do people eat? All of these things educate about a place, just as much as a history book, a museum, a festival, a conversation about current events. It’s worth remembering that food is a common denominator the world over; you don’t need words to share a meal and have an enlightening experience. It’s a powerful thing.
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?
Probably pizza—a reflection of growing up in the strip-mall and boardwalk worlds of New Jersey, as well as where we’ve both lived our entire adult lives, in New York City. You pretty much can’t escape pizza in either place, and it’s usually pretty good. I’d also add red-sauce Italian food to this category, thanks to my Italian-American upbringing and weekly cravings for good pasta. But when we come back from a trip, the thing we crave, and tend to immediately order in, is really good Thai food, which we are fortunate to have in our neighborhood. I guess this is a reflection of where we live now—Queens—and what we love to eat at home when we’re not cooking. Plus Thai cuisine’s incredible flavors are always unlike wherever it is we’re coming from…unless it’s Thailand, of course, but it’s (sadly) been 10 years since we were last there!
How has travel affected the way you think about food?
It’s only made us appreciate it more—and the traveling mind-set has made us more curious about food at home. We moved to our neighborhood in Queens largely for its diversity in both population and cuisine…we have been here for five years now, but we can still literally walk outside and have a small adventure trying a new-to-us dish from, say, Tibet or Bangladesh or Ecuador. The food, in turn, then inspires to travel more. It’s a vicious cycle!
Do you have a technique to try and understand local cuisine? (ie: Attending cooking classes or food tours? Hunting the best street food?)
We have in the past taken cooking classes and food tours, but our technique is mostly to eat as much of it as possible! Of course we also go to markets and talk to everyone we meet about what they grew up eating, what they eat now, and so on. But we do a lot of research for Eat Your World before a trip, so we show up armed with a knowledge base upon which to expand—and a list of foods and drinks we want to find. During our time in a destination, that list shifts a lot as we chat with people and see what’s on menus and in markets. We’re pretty immersed in it the whole time we’re traveling.
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?
There’s this one meal in Barcelona that’s a favorite “food memory” of ours. It was a restaurant called Passadis del Pep, and the food was spectacular—no menu; just a parade of Catalan seafood dishes, and what seemed like bottomless glasses of cava and wine and whiskey. But what sets it apart was the situation: We were dining with people we’d never met before; it was an arranged double-date of sorts from a mutual contact back in New York, and that contact happened to be treating. So there we were, young budget travelers at the time, dining with strangers who, you might imagine, quickly became friends over the course of this elaborate, delicious, boozy meal, and we didn’t have to pay for it. (It was very expensive!) It was an unexpected, giddy taste of the high life, set against the backdrop of Barcelona, one of our favorite cities. It was magic.
What food have you tried in your travels that some might find shocking or surprising? Would you eat it again?
We definitely don’t eat for shock value, but we’ve come across our fair share of weird-to-us local foods—your roasted ants in Colombia and black bird-infused firewater in Vietnam. Those weren’t our favorites, it must be said, but a dish we were surprised to enjoy was Mexico City’s escamoles, or ant larvae, a pre-Hispanic delicacy in Central Mexico. Then again, they were pan-fried in butter and spices, so what’s not to love?
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?
We’d miss Thai and Chinese and Indian food so much, but I think we’d both agree on Italy. Personally, I’d be a fool to think I could live without pasta! Italy would offer a certain level of comfort and familiarity, but still a great deal of newness and diversity through its various regional cuisines. (Don’t make us give up sour curry and Shanghai soup dumplings, though. Please.)