Not too long ago, @benton8tor and I were having drinks with friends and chatting about their recent European vacation. They had been to Malta, Italy, and Portugal. “Did you have the Francesinha?’ Benton8tor asks. “No, it looked to filling and not healthy.” Granted all of what they said was true, the Francesinha is a traditional Portuguese sandwich filled with ham, sausage, steak, cheese and then covered with a sauce. So I understand were they are coming from but I thought they’d at least want to try it. Apparently not. They then started singing the praises of Malta, mainly for its array of international restaurants. Again I can appreciate that. Sometimes after being away for a while, I start to crave different foods. This was evident at the end of a trip once in Reims, where I was so craving spice, I decided to forgo the traditional French cuisine and opt for a burrito or in London where Thai food has given me a break from the fried pub food and roast meats. They continued their story capping it off with this doozy, “When we were in Rome, we didn’t eat pasta at all” @benton8tor and I sat in shocked silence. Finally @benton8tor asks “Why not?” They answered, “pasta is too heavy” and so this is where my post begins. When in Rome indeed.
Part of the allure of travel for me is to try to integrate into local culture as much as possible. This can be hard when you want to see the tourist attractions but it is good to go off the beaten path, ask locals for recommendations and try food, drinks, and activities that are part of what it means to live there. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for my friends experience in Rome. Roman food was some of the very best I have ever tasted. We were lucky enough to go on a food tour in the non touristy Prati district. http://foodtourrome.com/ We got to try sumptuous buffalo mozzarella, to the point now, I am not even sure what we but in stores is even cheese. We also tried aged balsamic, fresh bread, cured meats, authentic gelato (they will tell you how to spot imposters) canoli, and the very best, Anthony Bourdain recommended Bonci pizza with a crust so ridiculously good you’d fly back for that alone.https://bonciusa.com/ Not to mention the local wines both white and red, which paired properly completely change the taste. And the amazing pasta both creamy ravioli or pasta with the richest freshest tomato sauce. Even better was the pasta at Caffe Washington near the Termini https://www.caffewashington.com/home-en. To this day I am still in awe of the pasta pomodoro and the carbonara. And it isn’t just Rome, I am forever grateful to try Cassoulet in Carcasonne, Chacroute in Strasboug, Bresse chicken in Bresse, Boeuf Bourginon in Beaune, currywurst in Berlin, Schnitzel in Munich, and even the dread Scotch egg in England. The English cheese more than made up for it though. To me it is important to try the regional specialties. I have had the francesinha, it was heavy but glad I tried it, though I much prefer ed the bifana.Likewise I am glad I tried pollo mole in Mexico and fondue in Switzerland. What I eat while traveling isn’t always what I would eat at home and yes I have had a vegetable induced meltdown sometimes ( I really love them) but almost always I fall in love with a certain dish from a region and I am never sorry I tried it. Even my mother who would eat a turkey sandwich everyday when we travel if I let her, gamely tried the sardine dip on our recent Avignon food tour. She loved it. I loved everything about that tour, especially the semi dried tomatoes that I try to recreate on a weekly basis at home. http://www.avignongourmetours.com/
Its not just the food but also the drink. It is super easy for me in France to drink French wine and I am oh so happy for the opportunity but I have tried cognac in cognac and armagnac as well as my beloved French wine. In Spain, I try Spanish wine or Sherry, Portugal is Portuguese wine or Port and on the Azores, I stuck to the Azorean wine eschewing wine from the mainland. In England I tired to my delight a beautiful sparkling wine and I have been known to drink an ale or 2. In Ireland of course I drank Guinness, In Cuba rum, and in Cameroon a delightful grapefruit pop. Australia I had passionfruit juice as well as the wine. It always introduces me to a new taste where I was especially grateful for in Missouri, San Diego and Switzerland with their delicious wines that I would have otherwise not tried.
Its also the customs that can be important. I have heard multiple stories from friends about the standoffish nature of the countries they visits but more likely they are seeing everything thorough their own lens and cultural norms. Not all greetings are as casual or overtly friendly as North Americas. It is important to research local customs such as greetings, and even tipping. As well When I traveled to Cameroon, I had to invest in some long skirts as was local custom. Knowing to cover your head and shoulders when viewing religious sites is also important. It is less about changing who you are and your values and more about respecting local culture. After all, just ask Ozzy Osborne, apparently relieving yourself against the Alamo is a big no no. I have found that most people want to share their culture with you and if you are visiting their land, why not do the research beforehand so it can be a wonderful experience.
This isn’t meant to shame those who like travel and have the comforts of home but more to urge stepping out of your comfort zone just a bit to try something you might not have otherwise enjoyed. I guarantee you wont be disappointed and if you are, well at least you will have a story.