Cooking and Culture: Why Food is the Clearest Window into Culture

0A9A9458During my recent travels, no matter how rural I went, there were always signs of American influence – both obvious and subtle.  Street signs with English translations, off the beaten path cafes playing US pop radio, or locals wearing American clothing brands; these things were all common.  It is not bad.  And in no way am I writing a sob story on the intrusive nature of western culture.  However, what such an influence does do is make many of the places I visit feel like tourist destinations.

I’ve never quite understood why someone would travel half way around the world and order a cheese-burger for lunch.  Or say they’ve always wanted to experience Bangkok and book a room at the Best Western.  The reason being that even though I am a tourist – or as my ego prefers to be called…a traveler – that doesn’t mean I want to be treated like one.  And too often do you find tourist attractions and accommodations to be little more than piss poor interpretations of American luxuries.  Places where all you do is reminisces the things enjoyed in everyday US life, and imagine ways that would make whatever you are doing more familiar.

0A9A9488Holding this belief casts a bit of a gloomy cloud over many of the places I visit.  At the same time though, it has helped me realize the truest way to experience other cultures.  No matter where I’ve been, or what the purpose of the trip was, there is one specific activity that is now the only one I rely on to feel as though I’ve experienced something authentic.  And that activity is eating.

Food is by far the most integral and protected aspect of any cultures heritage – at least that I’ve ever found.  In most countries, recipe are passed down as treasures.  And the pride a chef takes in their products is truly beautiful.  It’s been difficult, but my most rewarding experiences were those times I’ve stepped off the beaten path and shared with someone a true desire to taste something real. During such experiences you are not just tasting food, you are enjoying history.

0A9A9447In Hvar, Croatia a delicatessen owner had me sample all his meats and cheeses.  The entire time explaining to me how his grandfather had opened the shop I was in.  And with intense passion I was often reminded that what I was tasting was made in Croatia, by his family.  That type of care, love, and passion is something in-replicable.

This may seem a bit elaborate, but I find food to be sacred.  It is the fuel of both body and mind.  Until modern times, you found on your table only what you could either grow or raise.  Though I never experienced such times, historically speaking they were not long ago.  And I believe that an appreciation of food born from such a commitment to it can still be found and enjoyed today.

No matter what walk of life a person is from, there is a unique feeling of belonging and intimacy that can be enjoyed when eating real foods.  And if you have not had such a privilege, I strongly recommend seeking it out.

Best of all, a plane ticket is not necessary to finding an authentic meal – my favorites have been at home.

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– Sepp

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