No matter where you’re from, food and traditions revolving around it are an important part of identity. When we travel, experiencing local cuisine through sharing meals, dining out, or cooking with local ingredients helps us gain insight into local culture. Food is a great way to break down barriers, even when language is a challenge, and helps to quickly make new friends. Each Friday a new interview in the Food for Thought series teaches us more about other travelers’ journeys, and the role food plays. This week we chat with Lauren from Spanish Sabores. While many of the blogs we follow focus on travel itself, and feature many destinations we’ve visited, Spanish Sabores regularly tantalizes us with the (for us) as yet unexplored. Spain has been high on our list of places we’re dying to visit. When we do, we have a long list of must-see, must-do and must-eats thanks to Lauren’s blog. We really appreciate Lauren’s genuine, readable writing style. Her passion for Spanish food and culture always shines! The food photography on Spanish Sabores is always mouthwatering too! We can’t wait to get there and jump right in on a Madrid or Barcelona food tour.
Lauren Aloise is a food and travel blogger at Spanish Sabores and also the founder of Madrid Food Tour and Devour Barcelona Food Tours. She lives in Madrid with her husband Alejandro, and travels as much as possible (when she can’t she settles on a glass of Spanish wine and some tapas!).
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, taste is one of our five senses and is just as important to processing a travel experience as the other four. Additionally, the ingredients of a dish alone can tell you so much about a place’s history. To truly understand why we eat curry in London or why tripe is one of Madrid’s signature dishes, we need to take a look at history. Food can motivate us to learn more about a place.
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 born and raised in a small town in Massachusetts, and despite the fact that Madrid is now home, my comfort foods will always be from New England and interwoven with memories of eating with family. I crave homemade baked goods (my mother is a fantastic baker), garden-fresh tomatoes and zucchini, creamy clam chowder, fried bay scallops and lobster. Nearly everything else (Dad’s homemade chili, Thanksgiving dinner, Tex-Mex) I can recreate here in Madrid with little trouble.
How has travel affected the way you think about food?
Travel makes you realize that nothing is really “delicious” or “disgusting”. There seems to be a palate for nearly every flavor. I’ve also noted how lucky I am to have such choices when it comes to food. Most of the world eats what they have access to and what they can afford. Yet still, food is a funny thing– no matter someone’s budget and the fact that eating is a necessity, people all around the world gain pleasure in preparing food a certain way. And watching them prepare it is an amazing part of traveling.
Do you have a technique to try and understand local cuisine? (ie: Attending cooking classes or food tours? Hunting the best street food?)
I do hours upon hours of research to try to find out what and where locals eat. We are lucky to live in an age of blogging and travel resources, so there is usually great information out there. I’m also very attentive when walking around new destination, always on the lookout for a line to eat somewhere or a really full café or restaurant. Some of my best meals abroad have been places I’ve just stumbled upon. Discovering food tours has been another wonderful way to dive in to local cuisine. I usually take a food tour in every new city I visit, it’s the best way to take in culture, history and cuisine all at once!
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?
Last October I traveled to Poland to meet my Polish extended family. My mother was born there but immigrated to the US as a toddler, and it was her first time back. After a week of many delicious homemade meals, it was our last evening. We were surprised by a feast of our favorites: homemade dumplings, stuffed cabbage, mushroom soup, and an incredible cream puff dessert. And about an hour after dessert, they brought out the sausages! It was an incredible (and enormous) meal, made especially for us, and accompanied by shots of vodka throughout. I’ll never forget the delicious flavors and my family’s hospitality. The work involved in each of the dishes served is painstaking, but it was obvious that they wanted to send us off with something special. Mission accomplished!
What food have you tried in your travels that some might find shocking or surprising? Would you eat it again?
It’s hard to shock people these days, but some things that my 5-year-old niece probably wouldn’t find appetizing are: Madrid’s tripe stew and other organ meats (lamb tripe, pig ears, sweetbreads, and kidney), llama steaks in Argentina, grilled chicken hearts in Massachusetts’ Brazilian community, and sea snails. I’d eat it all again!
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?
This question is so difficult– I’ve never been to Asia and have a feeling that a few months in Thailand would change this answer. But, for now, I’d have to stick with Mediterranean cuisine, either from Spain or Italy. It is a healthy yet hearty cuisine and one that makes me feel good. It’s also delicious!