There is an undeniable connection between a culture and its food. Traditions, heritage, language and environment are all ultimately linked to putting food on the table. Food doesn’t just nourish the body. It creates bonds within communities and between individuals. As we travel we are able to eat traditional dishes, learn to cook with ingredients grown in the places we visit, and shop in local markets. In doing so, we build bridges. We gain insight into local culture, and often make new friends in the process! This week’s Food for Thought interview is with Samantha and Yeison from Mytanfeet. While we wish we’d had their in-depth guides to travel and life in Costa Rica before our visit there, we’ve been having a great time following their recent adventures in Asia. As expected, many of these have to do with food (like their interesting trip to the Jalgachi Fish Market in Busan, S. Korea!) Read on to hear more of their perspectives in this week’s interview.
Meet Yeison and Samantha
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! Food is one of the most essential parts of culture, if it wasn’t then every person in the world would be eating the same thing! You can learn so much about a country by eating the food. Our philosophy is how can you truly experience traveling like a local or gain any insight into the life of a local if you don’t eat what they eat? Plus there is always a backstory or history to the dish and it’s more than just eating that allows you to get in touch with a culture. You gain a deeper appreciation for the food when you learn what makes a certain dish so special.
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?
(Samantha) the food I personally identify with home is Taiwanese food because that is what I ate growing up despite being raised in the United States. In my household, we barely ate anything else! No hamburgers, no pizza or anything American (though we did have the occasional Papa Murphy pizza). While I was living in Costa Rica I craved it everyday since there weren’t any good Taiwanese, let alone Asian restaurants in our town. I sorely missed my tofu!
How has travel affected the way you think about food?
It’s made me realize that I’ve only tasted a tiny part of what’s out there and I’ve actually planned our Malaysia trip around food since I heard there were certain places that were world famous for their food. For me, it’s a part of travel that I absolutely don’t want to miss out on. It’s also interesting to see the variations between dishes. Even something so simple as noodle soup can vary greatly between countries. For me, those differences highlight the uniqueness of each country.
Do you have a technique to try and understand local cuisine? (ie: Attending cooking classes or food tours? Hunting the best street food?)
We’re not big on cooking classes although that does sound like fun but we like to find the places where the cab drivers eat. Since cab drivers always have to eat out, they know where to get cheap but good local food. We also like to browse the supermarkets and see what kind of food the locals buy. I especially love browsing the spices aisle to find out what kinds of flavors they use.
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?
During my very first solo trip to Costa Rica to visit Yeison, he found an authentic Taiwanese restaurant in San Jose and took me there as a surprise. It was memorable for me because I was incredibly touched that he took the time to find a place he knew I’d like with food I was familiar with. Even though it was really different for him, he had a great attitude about it, wanting to learn more about the Taiwanese culture and food. That meant a lot to me, especially as it was my first trip there! I don’t exactly remember what we ate and I don’t know the names in English, but it was a vegetarian Taiwanese restaurant that actually had some of my favorite dishes.
What food have you tried in your travels that some might find shocking or surprising? Would you eat it again?
I haven’t tried too many weird foods on our travels but some food that is normal for me may not be normal for others. Growing up I was used to eating chicken feet, pig feet, pig ears, duck tongue and beak, intestines and cartilage. Poor Yeison has had quite a shock so far in Asia since they don’t eat anything like that in Costa Rica.
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?
Oh that is such a hard one! I haven’t found a cuisine I dislike but I think I might have to go with Taiwanese or Japanese. I love Taiwanese food but I could seriously eat sushi every single day!