Food offers us a window into a culture, people and a country. And when you travel through the local food, you can have deeper and more meaningful experiences. When you travel, how do you eat? Do you stay with the comfortable and familiar foods, or do you challenge yourself to try unique and local foods?
When it comes to traveling, most people play it safe. The more exotic the destination, the safer people tend to become with their food choices.
If you have never considered traveling through local food, here are five reasons why you should.
1. You Learn A New Aspect of the Local Culture
Your reasons for traveling are diverse. It may be to see a historical site, or see a magnificent natural wonder. Visiting a place you’ve always dreamed of and ticking it off your bucket list is certainly something to be proud of.
Now that you’ve seen the site, or had that experience, what about gaining a new appreciation of the place through the local food specialties. In Peru for example, Machu Picchu, one of the Seven Wonders of the Word, is visited by close to 1 million people annually. It might even be on your list of places to visit.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Machu Picchu is seeing the Inca Empire and the magnificent temples. How Machu Picchu was built continues to be a puzzling question.
Maca, a local plant that grows in Central Peru, is said to have played a central part in the Inca diet. Growing at about 10,000 feet above sea level, it is the highest altitude crop in the world. Maca is very popular with the Peruvians, and is consumed as a beverage in the mornings.
As the Inca were building Machu Picchu, they are said to have relied on maca for moving the heavy blocks to construct Machu Picchu. The legendary strength of the Inca warriors has also been attributed to eating copious amounts of maca before going into battle.
You can try maca at the local farmers market, San Pedro Market in Cusco or at the famous Surquillo Market in Lima. By traveling through the local food, you get to learn a new aspect of the destination.
2. You Open Up To New Tastes, Flavors and Textures
When was the last time you truly put something new and unusual in your mouth? When did you last taste a new flavor or texture?
Traveling to new destinations is the perfect opportunity to eat something new. When you go local and seek out the regional and authentic dishes, the better your chances are of discovering new tastes, flavors and textures.
Thailand for example is very famous for its delicious curries. You may already be familiar with Thai green, yellow, red or masaman curries. But do you know much about the curry paste, which is the basis for these dishes?
In Thailand, you can visit shop houses that make fresh curry paste on a daily basis. You can see and smell the pungent odors that make up the curry paste. With your curiosity piqued, you can go deeper and take a food tour or a cooking class focused on Thai curries. Through that experience, you discover new herbs and spices, like lemongrass and galangal, and a new appreciation for Thai curries.
Traveling allows you to become more adventurous in your food selections. You find that you discover new foods and also rediscover new ways of cooking foods you used to avoid.
3. Local Food Connects To The Local People
One of the best ways to find the local and authentic dishes on your travels is to ask the locals. But, whom do you ask, and how do you connect locally?
Visiting the local farmers market is a great way to learn about the local food. And when you get there, be curious about the foods and unusual displays. If you see something you’ve never seen before, simply ask the vendor what it is.
If it is a strange looking fruit for example, the vendor will more than likely cut up a slice for you and let you taste it. If it is a vegetable or something that needs to be cooked, simply ask the name of the dish that has that vegetable or ingredient and the best restaurant to try it.
While it takes courage to ask particularly when you don’t speak the same language, the responsive is almost always positive. You will be surprised how people will go out of their way to help. Food fortunately is a universal language that everybody understands. By displaying curiosity, you will find that you can communicate and connect in meaningful and unexpected ways.
4. You Get out of Your Comfort Zone
Stepping out of your comfort zone, means doing things that you don’t feel comfortable with doing. It means getting outside of your comfort levels. When it comes to food, this means finding the courage to taste a foreign-sounding or unusual looking food.
We do the same things and eat the same old way because it’s comfortable. But what do we gain from this? Denis Waitley, author and speaker who has advised Olympians on how to gain a mental edge, says it best, “staying within our comfort zone creates psychological barriers that can lead to real limitations. Because we haven’t done anything dynamic in a long time, we begin to think we can’t.”
Food, especially on our travels, can push us out of our familiar zones. The more comfortable you get with trying new things, like unique foods, the more likely you are to say yes to life’s challenges.
5. You Grow, You Stretch, And You Become Transformed
Taking risks is what helps us grow. Being somewhere new allows you to fully immerse yourself and appreciate the new environment. Starting with the locals, the food, the language, and everything in between.
That first moment when you bite into a good Bánh Xèo (local Vietnamese sizzling pancake) or something you’ve never heard of before – is a remarkable feeling of satisfaction. It is being rewarded with an explosion of flavors when you combine courage and unique ingredients.
Food is powerful and it shapes our experience. Without it, there is no authentic travel experience. By discovering new tastes and flavors, you gain a new appreciation and perspective. You go back home a changed person, a transformed person.
On your next trip, put a twist on the famous quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, “Do one thing every day that scares you” – and instead “At your next destination, eat at least one local food that scares you.”