The rise of foodie culture hasn’t just opened more farm-to-table restaurants or craft beer houses. Foodies are increasingly fulfilling their passion for all things edible by going on tour. According to 2015 data from the World Food Travel Association (yes, such a thing exists) food tourism is a 150 billion dollar industry.
People are clearly willing to travel around the world to fill their bellies1. Today’s culinary tours go beyond the obvious countries like Italy, France and Greece. “Food travelers” (as they’re called) are becoming more adventurous, touring Iceland, Jamaica, Vietnam, and Lebanon.
Whether you head to the next town or the next country, if you travel to experience the food – surprise! You’re a food traveler.
Whether food is the #1 reason you jump on a plane or not, you need to eat when you travel. Food can help you understand a different culture, bring you out of your comfort zone, and teach you new ways to enjoy food.
Use mindful eating techniques, and you can increase your appreciation the food you eat while traveling. Don’t limit yourself, the tips at the end of this post can be put to work so you can maximize enjoyment of food in your home country too.
Why travel for the food?
Food is a part of life, we can’t live without it. It’s also an important – for some, the most important – part of travel. Why are people willing to sit on a plane for 10 hours to try a pasta dish they can get down the street? Because there’s something special about tasting the food in the place of its origin.
Once a food leaves its home and native land, it adapts – a lot like the new kid in school. It tries to fit in and make friends. It ends up leaving behind its “old” self, and becomes a “new” self.
Food travelers are looking for the old school: they’re not interested in Italian food that’s learned how to be Canadian. Authentic food has no influences, no fusion, no adaptation. It’s food that’s comfortable being what it is.
If there is an old school, it’s in the country of a food’s origin. The search for authenticity is why food travelers head to Thailand for Thai food or France for French food.
Get out of your comfort zone
What seems like a normal breakfast to you, is completely different from breakfast on the other side of the world. You leave “normal” behind when you step off a plane. Trying new foods helps you grow, and being comfortable trying new things is a useful skill for any traveler (let alone a food traveler). Destroy your preconceptions, forget about stereotypes, and open your mind to new experiences. You’ll become a more understanding person, and you’ll probably have some interesting stories to tell when you return home too.
The way people enjoy food tells you a lot about the culture you’re visiting. Spooning from the communal plate in Afghanistan, pouring mint tea to cool it in Morocco, or scooping up your meal with your hand in India. The way meals are consumed reflects a culture’s values.
The way people behave when they eat also tells you something. The silent contemplation at a Japanese tea ceremony, or the rowdy gathering of friends for Spanish tapas. Food and travel connect you to how you’re meant to enjoy the food, and how it’s best enjoyed.
Connecting the world through your stomach
Since every human eats, and every culture celebrates food, you’ll be immersing yourself in a cultural experience when you eat while traveling.
Pride of food
Food is like a time machine to preserve an entire country’s culture, and keeps traditions alive. Nationality is tied to the country’s “national dish”, which represents the identity of an entire people (woah). That’s a tall order for little ol’ weiner schnitzel in Austria, or humble goulash in Hungary2.
Reject the food, and you reject the culture. When sampling a national dish in its homeland, be careful what you say. It’s not just food travelers that take food to heart: insulting a national dish is like insulting everyone back to the beginning of time, who made that dish.
Here’s the story from one food critic who wasn’t shy about his opinion, and awoke the ire of entire nations: CNN Travel – Why do people take their food so seriously?
Breaking down barriers
Hunger is universal, and one of the most profoundly generous things we can do as humans is invite another person to share a meal. It doesn’t have to be formal: buying a round of drinks brings people closer (at least makes them friendlier). Going for coffee with a friend isn’t only about getting caffeinated, it’s about the time you share. Lunch dates, weddings, dinner parties, BBQ’s, smorgasbords… These are all ways people connect to each other over food.
Sharing food builds trust, and trust breaks down barriers. The more you’re comfortable with other cultures, the easier travel will be. And you’ll make more hungry friends along the way too.
Mindful eating: a food traveler’s secret weapon
When you’re traveling, your senses are loaded with new sights, sounds, and smells. Food travelers are focused on the sense of taste, and eating mindfully makes for a rich experience with food.
What is mindful eating?
Mindful eating is about enjoying the food in the moment, and truly appreciating it. The idea is to pay attention to eating as you’re doing it.
Don’t be thinking about your next walking tour, how much fun the museum was, who are these people who sat at your table, etc. The most interesting thing you’re doing right now, is whatever you’re doing right now.
When it comes to eating, that means enjoying it to the max and clearing your mind of anything else.
Tips for mindful eating when traveling
You don’t have to make every second of every meal mindful to get the benefits of mindful eating. Especially when you’re traveling, it can be difficult to focus on just one thing. Follow these mindful eating tips on your next food tour.
Take your time
Travel often means meals are crunched up against flights, appointments, or between tours. Eating while traveling can be a rushed – and ultimately unfulfilling – experience.
Set aside time for your meals, and make it part of your vacation, not an afterthought. Enjoying a great meal can be equally as important as a museum, concert, or tour. Plan it the way you would the most important part of your trip so you can relax while eating. That makes it easier to focus on your meal.
Smell the food
Before you even begin to eat, you can enjoy it by engaging your senses. The smell of food can make your mouth water and your stomach growl. Take a deep breath and smell the food (close your eyes for the ultimate experience). Think about the ingredients, where they came from, and imagine what the food will taste like.
The sense of smell is tied to the sense of taste, and when you use both you’ll be tasting the full flavour of your food.
Jamming food down your gullet as fast as you can doesn’t let you enjoy it. To take in the flavours, the texture, and fully appreciate your food, you need to take your time.
As you eat, chew your food 20 times before swallowing. Commit your attention to the food as you eat, and really think about what’s in your mouth. Try to identify all the tastes, and think about how the food makes you feel. Do you feel refreshed? Comfortable? Does the food make you feel warm or cool?
Whether you’re at a restaurant or a street stall, try to give your food some thought before you choose. Was there something you specifically wanted to try on your trip? Did someone else’s meal catch your eye? Does anything appeal to you?
When you choose something you’re interested in, you’re building anticipation. When your food arrives it’s not something you picked randomly, it’s something you’re looking forward to. Focusing on your meal is easier when it’s something you’ve been anticipating, and you’re more likely to treat it like an accomplishment than a necessity.
Consider the source
Like a judge on Iron Chef, think about the origins of your food as you eat it. Your meal involved many people to bring it to your table: the farmer who grew the seeds to vegetables, the driver who got the veggies to market, the seller who sold them to the chef, and the waiter who brought your meal to your table.
Ask where your food came from. Was grown on a nearby farm? Was the fish caught on the local wharf? Was the bread made fresh today?
When you know where your meal comes from it takes on a new significance, and you appreciate it more completely than just for the smell and taste.
Avoid “food crisis” mode
Traveling can be hectic, and in your desire to see and do everything, hunger sometimes takes a back seat to excitement. Sooner or later, hunger gets into the front seat and that’s when it hits you: you want food now.
Enjoying food when you’re ravenous is almost impossible, because your body’s stress is hard to ignore. Mindful eating goes out the window when you’re eating for survival (or when it feels that way).
Try to avoid “food crisis” mode by planning when and where to eat. By making food important, you won’t be tempted to “just go do one more thing” before eating.
Appreciate all food
You won’t always be eating at fine traditional restaurants when you travel. There will be times when you’ll be eating at an airport, a bus station, or even (gasp!) McDonalds.
Mindful eating doesn’t only apply to food “of a certain quality”. You can mindfully eat an airport sandwich as easily as you can authentic chicken vindaloo. There’s no need to limit your enjoyment of food, and the more you practice mindful eating the better you’ll appreciate all food (even if it comes from chain restaurant).
Something everyone in the world has in common: we need to eat to live. When food is involved, breaking down barriers easier. Mixing food and travel expands your comfort zone, helps you make friends, and teaches you tolerance and understanding of other cultures.
Food is necessary for human life, and making food your friend – rather than your enemy – isn’t just healthy: food and travel connect you to the world and enhance your travel experience.
Food travelers are constantly on the search for new (and delicious) tastes. For some it’s eating grasshoppers in Thailand, for others it’s sampling a home-cooked meal in Idaho.
No matter what your level of adventurousness, mindful eating can help you enjoy your food. On your next trip, try some of the mindful eating tips. You’ll appreciate your entire meal: not only the presentation and the aroma, but also the origins and ingredients.
Want to make your travel meaningful? Check out Why You Want Travel to be Meaningful