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Feeding your inner foodie on the road

Submitted by on April 13, 2010 – 9:00 am6 Comments

When Casey wondered whether I would like to write a guest post for Tastestopping, I was very flattered.  Then, I panicked – what on earth do I have to share with Tastestopping readers?  Great writing advice says to “Be yourself” so I decided to write about two of my great passions – travel and food – and how this past year blogging has really made me consider travel in a different light.  Certainly, there was always an emphasis on food in past travels but let’s face it, who doesn’t think “this would make a GREAT post?” on a trip when you’re having a special foodie experience??? 😉

On my blog, I write about my culinary experiences both near and far. I am an avid traveler and everywhere I go, I seek ways in which to immerse myself in the local culture via the food.  In this post I will explore some ways to help you better connect with the local culture through foodie experiences when you are on the road.

One of the easiest and cheapest ways to learn about local food customs is to visit supermarkets. There’s no better reflection of a culture than to look at the way they eat.

Top row (left to right): Cereals in Guatemala, France and Laos. Proving that sugary cereals are not just a Western thing and that the French, whilst giving a nod to nutrition, just can’t help themselves adding what we might consider unhealthy dark chocolate to the humble All Bran.

Middle row: Dairy heaven in France showing the cheese and yoghurt aisles of a local Monoprix. Pre-packaged choucroute garnie, proving that even in the temple of haute cuisine, ready meals have their place!

Bottom row: The British penchant for all things sweet manifests itself in a plethora of Cadbury desserts, whilst their crumpet aisle is nearly longer than their cereal aisle! Meanwhile, Italy is not immune to “junk” food as these “luflee” products show!  Cheezies?   Come ON Italy!!!

Even better than a supermarket is a local fresh produce market. Often these are just one or two mornings a week so make sure you find out which days and plan your activities accordingly. They can be very eye opening!

Top row: Markets in Cassis and Aix en Provence, France.
Middle row: Congealed blood, live frogs and live river eels in Laos.
Bottom row: Late fall at the Ferry Building Farmers’ Market, San Francisco

It might be a lot less chic than an outdoor farmers market but we always make a point of at least poking our noses in the local McDonalds wherever we are. They generally have some local or regional specialty, like in Morocco, where we discovered the McRamadan meal:

or in Guatemala where they have their version of the apple pie – pastel de pina:

For those even more intent on learning all about local cuisine, there are always cooking classes or workshops.

Top left: Working in a home cook’s dream kitchen in the Electrolux Kitchen of the Art Home Atelier atop the Palais de Tokyo in Paris.  Hurry- it’s only there until June when it will move onto Buenos Aires.
Top right: The New Orleans School of Cooking provides both demonstration and hands-on workshops where you can learn all about the history of New Orleans through its food.
Bottom left: Tamarind Restaurant in Luang Prabang, Laos offers one day workshops where you will learn how to make a number of local recipes after a visit to the local market.
Bottom right: If you have been swept along by the current macaron craze, you will appreciate the 4-hour macaron making workshops offered by Le Pavillon Elysée Lenôtre Where better to learn how to perfect these temperamental little puffs than chez les maîtres?

If you travel with a wine-loving husband, you will want to source some wine tastings. On a recent trip to Paris, we were enchanted with the wine and cheese lunch on offer at Ô Chateau. We were transported all over France, through wine and cheese and came away with an awesome cheat sheet!

Apart from reading up about places to cook, eat and drink (make sure you have the necessary guidebooks, like we did recently in Brittany!),

do your research as there are sometimes food-related exhibits in museums, like the Made in Montreal exhibit:

and the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans:

You can really learn a lot about a city through a history of its food and drink, however, I think the most important thing you can do when you are on the road is to eat local specialties. Be adventurous, try something different – chances are you won’t be tasting some of those “only found in….” foods ever again…

Top row: Kitchener buns, Freddo Frogs and Sausage rolls – childhood favourites I got to eat again last summer in Australia!
Middle row: Fruit shakes in Laos, the blenders they are made in and Noodle Soup which was lunch pretty much everyday but never boring because it was so different in each region.
Bottom row: Treats from Maria’s Bakery in Boston’s North End Market, macarons in Lafayette Gourmet (taken before I was asked to put my camera away) and “real deal” buffalo wings at Buffalo’s Anchor Bar.

Something else you can do to prolong your travel experience is to by cookbooks or magazines at your destination so that you can recreate some of the dishes you enjoy on the road at home…

Case in point, I brought home Elle à table from France at Christmas…

(mainly because it had an article about Pierre Hermé and macarons…) and recreated these petits pots à la crème, a classic French dessert.  Having the little pots from various desserts purchased at the supermarket in France helped make the experience very authentic!

Check out some of the ways we’ve brought our vacation home with us below:

Top row: Recreating our Lao cooking class for a Foodbuzz 24,24,24! and making omelette with piments d’Esplette after a vacation in Basque country, France.
Bottom row: Plato típico at Casa Santo Domingo in Antigua, Guatemala and our recreation of this classic Guatemalan dish at home!

So there you have it – my life and travels through food (hmmm, that sounds like a book I would like to read!).  From experiencing food either through eating or making it on the road to learning more about it and then ultimately bringing it home, we try to make the most of our holidays and travel a little every day, through food.

Mardi Michels currently lives in Toronto, Canada, and teaches French to elementary school boys by day.  She is also working towards a PhD in Second Language Education at the University of Toronto and the Food and the Media Certificate at George Brown College.   Mardi has just started contributing to the Food Network Canada blog.  eat. live. travel. write. – nominated for best New Blog at the Foodbuzz Awards in 2009 – chronicles her adventures in the kitchen, both near and far.


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  • Excellent post! I totally totally totally agree with you and I personally love experiencing local food too when I travel. I like the idea of cooking classes & food museums though – I haven’t tried that yet!
    .-= Tiny Urban Kitchen´s last blog ..Joe’s Shanghai =-.

  • Casey says:

    This piece makes me want to pack up and travel the globe. Since my bank account isn’t feeling quite as adventurous, it occurs to me that these wonderful tips would also come in handy for anyone feeling a little landlocked. Why not pick up a cooking class at home or visit a farmer’s market that lies outside your regular route. Almost all of the opportunities that Mardi listed here are available to the non-traveler as well, which might just help your wanderlust and your pocketbook see eye-to-eye for once.

    Thanks for the inspiration, Mardi!

  • Fuji Mama says:

    Fantastic post Mardi! One of the things I love about using these guidelines when traveling, is the fact that I get more out of my travels because I’m SEEING more due to the fact that I’m keeping my eyes open for specific things.
    .-= Fuji Mama´s last blog ..Cranberry Apricot Scones + A Giveaway! =-.

  • Wonderful! I will have to stowaway in your luggage for your next trip. What fantastic destinations you’ve been to – thank you for recording and sharing these glimpses of their food cultures!
    .-= Tracey@TangledNoodle´s last blog ..Eating Your Words 2010: The Winner! =-.

  • I’ve always been interested in the cultural traditions of food, fortunately I live in southern California and have been able to experience many cuisines locally and write about them on my blog. Soon, I’ll be able to travel more (empty nest) with my husband, who is in Paris and sending me photos as I write this, but until then I’ll live vicariously through you! I love what you do and write. Thanks for sharing with us!
    .-= Priscilla – She’s Cookin’´s last blog ..Bucatini with Spinach and Mushrooms =-.

  • Thanks so much for your comments – you are such great readers!!! I am glad I could inspire and that you can live vicariously through my blog posts. But Casey is right – there is so much you can do in your own home town, as Rachael says, you need to keep your eyes open both on the road and at home!

    Cheers everyone! And special thanks to Casey for having me!
    .-= Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite´s last blog ..Daring Cooks April – Brunswick Stew =-.

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