Food is a vehicle. Food drives social change and is something that everyone adores in one way or another. In the 1500’s it was the drive for delicious food that sparked the first globalized economy with spices being worth more in its weight than gold. Food is tangible and of course delicious, but for me, it is something much more important than that. It is a lens in which we can understand cultures, peoples and the world. Food is a necessity but it is also an art form, an expression, an obsession. It is the easiest way to explore a different culture, a different world view but at times the hardest thing for people to try, to accept, to understand. It is the perfect link from our vibrant past to our present, passing down traditions, customs and flavors altered and perfected over years, centuries.
How can someone fully explain a place without talking about a cuisine. It is in fact, the living history of a land, a people and of how our world has changed over time. If one looks deeply into a food culture you can see social transformation, the movement of peoples over millennia and the sharing and borrowing of traditions from abroad. How can we understand how the noodle became the national dish of Italy without paying homage to China or the odd fact that a national dish of the United Kingdom is Chicken Tikka Masala, a mashup of Indian and British cultures, tastes and history, creating something unique and awesome?
At this point in my life, half the reason I even get on the plane is to go eat something delicious, to go have some cultural exploration at an unexpected location, to return knowing just a bit more than I knew previously, while at the same time opening up a whole new world of questions and interests. I believe in the power of food, the power of a meal and the importance it has on society. Travel and new food for that matter is one of the most enriching experiences in life. Trying something new or seeing something for the first time brings back the creativity and exploratory feelings in life that we tend to lose in the monotony of everyday life, the doldrums of the daily grind. Don’t you remember how awesome everything is as a kid, the awe and happiness you felt when you found something new to play with or try. That’s what travel is for me. It gets me out of the linear path and takes me to new personal heights of exploration.
I always think back to a hilarious story that my mom and I had on our trip to London in 2012. We had our minds set on going to an Ethiopian Restaurant called Queen of Sheeba somewhere in the northern part of the city. After two buses and a taxi we arrived at the restaurant only to find ourselves not only in the wrong part of London about 45 minutes from where we were trying to go but ironically at a middle eastern restaurant also called Queen of Sheeba. We had two choices, give up and settle up, for our mistakes were too great to overcome, or fight onward, toward delicious lamb stews served on Injera waiting for us an unknown far away location. Luckily, we chose the latter, and had one of the best meals of our life served by some of the nicest people I have ever met on my travels. The owner sat down and chatted with us for a minute, telling us his story, how he wound up in the UK and what Ethiopia means to him. That experience gave me a new found love for the cuisine and culture itself and inspired me to pursue learning about it further. By simply showing up, and trying new things, getting out of my comfort zone a whole world of food and culture became tangible and it opened a new door for my own personal growth. It’s not hard to have these great experiences, it simply takes willpower and imagination.