The Art of Culinary Travel by Flora Meadmore: Food is an essential part of daily life. It links people to place to culture, making it more than a means of survival. It marks distinctions between habitats, reflecting local produce and the history of an environment. It becomes both culturally and personally symbolic, as it is inherently intertwined with our social heritage. Taste is shaped in our childhoods, and different combinations of food become meaningful when placed in our individual contexts and backgrounds. Food becomes a lens through which one views him or herself and those around.
Over the past few years, there has been a surge in food-related media and culture. It’s hard to tell where it all began, but as soon as Instagram started a new kind of food-aesthetic revolution, placing more importance on making food look beautiful, everything else seemed to follow quickly. Alongside aesthetics came a surge of picturesque coffee shops, followed by trends in organic products, healthy diets and food festivals.
If there is so much cultural significance and symbolic communication attached to food, should we not be paying more attention to it when we travel? If we claim that travelling is about exploring different cultures, we can’t deny that food plays a key role in communicating meaning. From what we consume, to how it is acquired, to the person who prepares it, to the way it is consumed, all form a type of communication that is rich with meaning.
THE ART OF CULINARY TRAVEL – FOOD TOURISM
Unsurprisingly we’re seeing an increase in food tourism. But what exactly does that mean? Food Tourism or Culinary Tourism, is the act of travelling for the sole purpose of trying local dishes and produce, getting a sense of a city through its diet. Keynote speaker Thomasina Miers, CEO and founder of Wahaca, was herself inspired by the dishes, flavours and food markets of Mexico to start her business. While she didn’t travel to Mexico solely for the food, she soon discovered that it was one of the most enriching experiences.
Not only do you discover new flavours and expand your mind to new things, different possibilities and dishes that you would otherwise never try, it can also take you on a journey through a country’s history. For instance Japanese cuisine has been consistently influenced by China and Korea over the last 2000 years. In the 6th century, when the country officially became Buddhist, it prohibited the eating of meat and fish, until Shinto became more widespread. While Shinto also adopted a taboo on meat, the ban of meat ceased but consumption was still very limited due the lack of production and animal breeding. This gap in the market led to the rise in fish as a significant substitute, which has come to influence Japan’s modern gastronomy, notably sushi.
Culinary travel is all about understanding a culture and place through food. It opens our eyes to the different ways that people perceive food. Food has the ability to tell a story, reflect history, embody a form of art and become a means of communication through its preparation, sharing and ritualization. All this to say, read up on, embrace and taste the food of a place when you travel.