An old adage says that you don’t really know someone until you walk a mile in their shoes. We believe it is just as true that you don’t really know a place until you eat a plate of its food.
There is so much more to visiting a destination than seeing the sights. We try to immerse ourselves. Staying away from the tourist centers, riding public transportation, seeing day-to-day life, meeting and talking to people, and sampling local delicacies, all provide a better understanding of local life when exploring a new neck of the woods.
WATCH: We found the dumplings (in all their forms) to be delicious in the Czech Republic – and the street food, ohhhh the street food.
Food may be the best way to experience the idiosyncrasies of an area and its culture. The culinary peculiarities of a place usually have roots dating back centuries, and stem from rituals and mores that help to define a people.
WATCH: Sometimes we’re lucky enough to go directly the place of invention, as we did with bouillabaisse in France.
Recipes and dishes get passed down for generations, and reflect traditions that have become an integral part of the society. Often their stories have been woven into the fabric of family celebrations, religious observances and holiday gatherings, and can make a region stand out from the surrounding areas.
WATCH: Veronica orders blindly off of a menu in Austria and ends up with heart and lung stew!
The ingredients usually have a tale to tell too, providing insight into the history of a population, whether from long-held practice or new-found availability. What may strike a visitor as odd is perfectly normal to the locals, like donkey in Sardinia, massive amounts of meat in Argentina featuring parts of a cow you’d never think of eating, or Poutine in Canada.
WATCH: Eating “weird” meat at a parrilla in Buenos Aires
Even though fast food has not permeated Europe down to the village level, in Italy, the epicurean center of the universe, golden arches have popped up alongside some of the ancient ones in urban centers. But traveling a little off the beaten path has the power to overcome that.
WATCH: In Casale Monferrato, Italy, food is considered art
Sadly, in the United States, as our world grows smaller a great deal of the diversity is being homogenized out of our modern lives. We live in a world where we are never very far from the nearest mass produced, packaged value meal. Certainly every exit off of our superhighways is starting to look the same.
Though they are becoming less and less common, real regional restaurants can still be found across America. These authentic eateries serve up specialties outsiders have often never heard of. But just because something seems strange to us, doesn’t mean it can’t be delicious.
WATCH: We were initially introduced to the Gullah People of the Sea Islands of South Carolina via food.
We can’t say that all of these have become new favorites for us, but we certainly can say we are glad we tried them, and felt closer to the places where we did.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com
YOUR TURN: Is food an important part of your travel experience? Do you have a story to share?