Sunday, May 31, 2009

Traveling, Cooking, and Eating

Four years into my marriage, we moved to Taipei, Taiwan for my husband to study Chinese at the Stanford Program at Taida University. Because we were so very Berkeley, we decided that we would shop and cook for ourselves rather than hire an amah. This was a pretty radical decision in 1970. So I learned to count in Chinese. I learned the names of vegetables. I shopped nearly every day at our neighborhood market. I bought a couple of pirated Chinese cookbooks. I took some cooking classes. In the course of the year I learned a huge amount about Chinese food but the shopping also brought me into the community. Neighborhood grannies would peek in my shopping basket to see what I had bought, ask how much I had paid for my cabbage and offer suggestions on how to prepare it.

When we moved to Kyoto, Japan with our month-old baby, Franz, I did pretty much the same thing. Counting. A couple of cookbooks. Daily shopping. Asking questions of neighbors. And cooking a lot of Japanese food. I also taught Western cooking to some women in my neighborhood, as shown in the photo. They reciprocated by teaching me Japanese cooking. Just great for me.

So I’m going to jump ahead to the near present.

In 2003 I caught the travel bug. It started with the Middle East and went on to Spain and Morroco, southern France, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, Turkey and Greece, Malawi, back to South Africa, Spain, Sweden on and on. And most recently Italy, Iran, Israel, Jordan, and Palestine. An amazing opportunity to see the world and to delve into cultures so different from my own.

Before going on trips, I educate myself about the new place by doing three things: I buy cookbooks (from my favorite used bookstore), read them, and cook some of the special dishes of the region. Good cookbooks tell me so much about the agriculture, immigration patterns and influences, the climate, and the traditions of the country. And then I get to eat their food. Smell it. Taste it. I literally ingest the culture of the new place before I take a step outside this country. When I finally get there, I can look for the dishes I want to try and delight in seeing how closely my dishes approximate the “real” thing.

1 comment:

Hilarie said...

LOVE your blog!
Thank you for the wonderful recipes! But the
"traveling/cooking" really speaks to me!

I love to plan to cook when I travel. I often find Craigslist sublets really inexpensively to have my own place with a kitchen.

I will try recipes at home, too - depending on what I think I'll find in season there, and bring some recipes with me - (for American measurements, etc) Sometimes I'll eat a dish out first, sometimes I'll try it with local ingredients first then eat out to compare.

One of my favorite parts of the food/travel experience is bringing back local tools or ingredients. (Last trip to Florence brought a chest nut knife & roasting pan.) I love working with food tools and remembering the exotic place I found them.

The food is a big part of travelling. I can spend at least as much time planning as what to see while we're there. And sometimes spending a whole vacation day shopping and cooking is as much fun as a day in a museum! And then there are local food events, big festivals you can plan for, and wonderful little serendipitous fairs!