The Food for Thought series explores the intricate relationship between food and culture as seen through the eyes of travelers. As we travel, visiting a local market, sharing a meal, or learning to cook with new ingredients are great ways to get to know a new destination. We forge new relationships, and make new friends based on this basic human need. We all have to eat! This week we meet Yara from the blog Heart of a Vagabond. Yara’s blog reminds readers that different eating habits or beliefs don’t need to hold you back when it comes to travel. With a little flexibility and an open mind, you might find your travels are enhanced as you discover new dishes that broaden your palate. Check out Heart of a Vagabond for some great tips on finding vegan options around the world, as well as articles on eco-tourism and Ayurvedic and other traditional medicines.
Yara’s Heart of a Vagabond is a mindful, sustainable, vegan-friendly travel and lifestyle design blog. As a long-time solo female traveler, Yara Coelho’s coverage is steeped with experience and a depth of knowledge few others can match.
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 totally agree with it. Traditional foods express not only the history of a country, but they’re part of the identity of a culture as a whole. Religion, believes, and other factors shape the identity of foods around the world.
I studied Ayurvedic and Classical Chinese medicines, where food is basically the number one pillar of these holistic medicines. In china a doctor will prescribe certain foods as medicine and integral part of a treatment. There are restaurants specialized in medicinal food.
The Ayurvedic Medicine, has very precise “rules” on matching the foods we eat with out constitutional types to prevent and treat diseases. While in India studying this ancient art, I ate foods recommended for my constitutional type, which helped me overcome a food poison crisis that lasted 20 days.
The concept of food changes so much from culture to culture and includes herbs, spices, roots.
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 was not a “normal” child as far as eating, to be honest with you. Since I was a tiny child I always refused to eat meat, and basically all Portuguese traditional foods contain either meat or fish. So I never had any typical Portuguese food. My mother always made special food for me, mostly vegetable soups.
There are a couple of things I do crave when I’m away. One of them is Portuguese bread soaked in olive oil which is something very Mediterranean. I remember buying a small bottle of olive oil while I was in Thailand, just because I craved it too much. It cost me a little fortune, but it gave me a lot of pleasure.
How has travel affected the way you think about food?
Traveling really broadened the way I eat. It revolutionized everything for me. Being a vegetarian in a country where meat is very present, and vegetarianism was totally unknown back then, I was limited to very little options. When I started traveling, I was finally exposed to so many cultures and food varieties. I found out there are countries that are mostly vegetarian. I tasted flavors, textures and combinations that really changed the way I eat on a daily basis.
I have a rule of trying all vegan based dishes of the countries I visit. Every country has at least one, others can be “veganized”.
Do you have a technique to try and understand local cuisine? (ie: Attending cooking classes or food tours? Hunting the best street food?)
I love visiting local markets! I think that’s something I’ve learned with my father who was a fanatic for international markets. I have fun looking at the different varieties I can’t find back home. I love finding fruits and vegetables I can barely identify, because later on, I can enter a restaurant and order them.
I started taking food tours when I visited Switzerland. My first food tour was a chocolate tour and all my old perceptions of what a good chocolate was changed forever. In Philadelphia I took a food tour through the old Italian market, tasted different foods and olive oils, trying to compare them to the ones I’ve tried in Italy.
I have a couple of food tours booked for my next two trips already I love street food as well, unfortunately Europe doesn’t have a big street food culture. Asia is a paradise for street food lovers like me.
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 were so many memorable meals. One of them was Aloo Paratha, a potato filled bread dish from India. I got so obsessed with it, I ate it for 6 months on a daily basis! I tried the Aloo Parathas from basically all Indian cities and states I crossed and had fun with the little regional variations. Some added onions, some added garlic. Some would be very thick, others make it very thin. When I crossed the border to Nepal I carried my Aloo Paratha obsession with me and noticed how the colder weather of Nepal required a more filling dish with a richer sauce.
My travel mate used to joke about my obsession, but I had other ones, like the Korma curry dish from India. I ate it till I got sick and tired of it.
What food have you tried in your travels that some might find shocking or surprising? Would you eat it again?
Hard to shock someone with a vegan dish, ahahaha.
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?
Hmmm, let’s see. I think I’d stick with the Nepali food. Nepali food combines the best of the Indian food (less spicy, thank god!) with the rich and filling Tibetan foods. I love how rich and delicious Nepali food is and even though I absolutely love Indian food, after 5 months of continuous spicy dishes (while visiting India), Nepal was a well deserved rest.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to find Nepali food easily. I could live on Nepali food forever I guess.