Post by Tummy Tiger
When people hear the word “travel” they always think of exotic places, hot beaches, summer tan, adventures and lots of fun. To me, it is a lot different though. I’ve always been interested in culture, history, and above all – food. Food plays a big role in my everyday life. And to me, it is not only fuel to my body but also a great pleasure to my taste buds, nose, and eyes. So when I started travelling, I thought a lot about, why am I travelling, what am I looking for and what is the best reflection of the people living in those countries? And I realized that everything I want to ever know I can find in cuisine. It sums up everything – history, sociology, anthropology, culture, religion, and habits.
My friends and family say I have a very sensitive taste and smell. So I guess I’m gifted, though it has made me picky too. My family comes from the Baltic region which is the very south of northern Europe. Our history is rich in events and so our culture is infused by many others. There are some truly Latvian specialities left, but most of our cuisine is multicultural. In it, you can sense German, Russian, Polish, Lithuanian, and Swedish characteristics. Now, after being part of the Soviet Union, there are many other dishes that have stayed in our everyday cuisine and those are from Hungary, Georgia, Armenia, Uzbekistan, etc. So I’m common with most of the European characteristics.
Like most people, I have a big passion to see the world. I’ve been to quite a few countries, 10 countries in total and I want to revisit them all. My two favourite places, for now, are Italy where I have been 5 times in total and Canada which I visited last year, and now I crave to see it again as soon as possible.
The first country I have ever been to is Germany. I can’t recall much of it, all I remember is a big rush all the time as it was not so much a leisure trip, but a concert tour with the chorus I was singing in. But what surprised me was the multicultural street food – lots of kebabs, German deli sandwiches with coke and lakritz which I still hate (sorry to you who love it).
The second time in Germany I went to Berlin where I took a bike tour with Berlin Fat Tire Tour guide. She took us for lunch to “Schleusenkrug” where I tried probably the most popular dish – Austrian schnitzel with potatoes and amazing beer.
(Oh yes, by the way, Latvians are famous with beer almost the same as Belgians, for as far as 70 years ago almost every family made their beer at home for most of the people in Latvia were farmers. So we are very picky and strict when trying beers anywhere.)
Berlin was also the first place where I tried Starbucks and.. guys I must say it IS overrated. It was the first and last time for me as their coffee is not that great and you can have great pastries and cookies anywhere in any city for an even lower price.
The third time in Germany I went to Munich and it was not planned at all, it was a spontaneous trip with my mom. We got there in the middle of Octoberfest. I didn’t realize even when seeing all those people dressed up in traditional costumes. I was even bitter saying, it is not Octoberfest time. Well, one of my blondie times as later I laughed hard at myself for being so silly. All the streets, pubs, bars and restaurants were full. We asked advice to TripAdvisor and we chose one place which as later turned out was the most famous pub in all the Munich and we were called lucky to get a table at such busy times (they can have up to 3000 guests!!!). In “Hofbrauhaus” I tried their best beers, ribs, sausages, and whatnot. They first serve You super delicious pretzels so You don’t have to starve while waiting for your ordered meal which once again affirmed excellence of German service. On very busy nights you get seated together with few other companies. I was seated with 5 Italian travellers and Russian woman with her son who both live in Switzerland now.
Of course, as everywhere, a couple of days are not enough to see the whole picture, but enough to have a taste. So it left me still hungry for Germany, but also satisfied my tastebuds and soul for Germany is as hearty, warm, and amazing as its famous cuisine.
Italy is my most visited place for I’ve been there 5 times and not just because. First I fell in love with its rich history, then food. But since food took place, nothing has changed. I’ve been to a few places there, but most of the time I went through Rome. You can’t describe Italian cuisine in a few words. You need tons of books to try to get any understanding. It is out of this world, for it is simple, yet flavourful, beautiful, yet easy to make, rich, yet you still feel light after the meal. Since I visited Italy the first time, I became a pasta lover. And as I’m quite conservative when it comes to variations of classic dishes, I loved how Italians were always fighting for the RIGHT WAY how to do anything in a kitchen.
My favourite place in Italy, for now, is Bologna as it is very authentical, “old” and rich in culture.
I remember going to a cafe for breakfast and my breakfast was served by the owner himself, and it wasn’t – I choose, he serves. No, he did everything while telling me the whats and whys of food. He gave me ingredients to taste, talked to me about people, Bologna, world, travelling, life, food. A bit later two of his friends came in and they bought a glass of wine, yes, in the morning, because why not? And they bought glass for me too. So it was a whole experience I will never forget. Warmest memories. And as I always use air traffic, I can choose what to bring home. And Italy has taught me to always bring food. I know it is impossible when travelling overseas, but in Europe, I can still make it. So I brought home all my favourite foods and extended my vacation in my kitchen with prosciutto, Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino, guanciale (cured pork cheek used in spaghetti alla carbonara) and many other things for another thing I do, I always try to recreate everything I taste in countries I visit.
Just recently I discovered how easy it is to make your own Mozarella and I’m keen to try it as soon as possible.
To me, food is a reflection of a country’s culture, local ingredients, passion, people, how they interact with each other, local agriculture, and traditions. So that is food for me.
What’s your relationship with food and how does it shape/influence your everyday life?
Starbucks is certainly overrated. And the coffee is mostly bitter anyway.
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I live in Canada! What did you see when you were here? I’ve been fortunate to travel lots, too, including Europe and Italy is awesome. I enjoyed your reflections on food while travelling. Will have to keep this in mind on my next trip.
Natalia Ginzburg pointed out that in English you talk of ‘food’ but in Italian you use a verb ‘mangiare’. So recommending a restaurant you’d say it’s a place where ‘si mangia bene’ (you eat well), while in English you say ‘the food’s good’—for her ‘food’ was just the thing on the plate, while for Italians what they talk about (and indeed it is a common topic of conversation) is the experience.
Well, I’m a Type 1 diabetic, so food is important to me. By now (I’ve been diabetic for 22 years) the carb counting thing is second nature. It hasn’t put me off my great love of chocolate, but I’ve learned to appreciate foods with lower carbs too, so if I’m running high I can still find something enjoyable to eat which won’t make my levels worse. I do a lot of baking for my children though, and love making a good curry from scratch. My Nepali friends teach me useful culinary skills too!