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Experiment on tour

Don't shy away from trying out local specialities for a fuller travel experience

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Trying extreme snacks may not be everyone's cupof tea, but shunning any novel taste is a shame
GN Focus

Places and foods have deep associations. In some cases, they are linked so strongly as to become synonymous, as with Holland and cheese, Kerala and pepper, Boston and clam chowder or Austria and strudel. The origins of a dish often make it eponymous with a destination: Quiche Lorraine, Neapolitan Pizza, Kakori Kebab, Buffalo Wings, Key Lime Pie or Yorkshire Pudding.

Almost every place has its home-grown favourites and when on holiday, food is essential to the experience — yet, the flavours and charms of local cuisines elude many travellers.

There are folks who lug around home-made food on holidays, settle for the boring comfort of burgers, track down the one restaurant serving their ethnic cuisine and eat there twice a day. There are more intrepid others who will head off in the opposite direction — looking for fresh squid ink pasta, a steaming bowl of Mee Goreng or piping hot dim sums. They are the ones who discover local food like medieval hunter-gatherers, rejecting nothing and trying everything.

Wanting to try everything that hops or croaks in China, and crawls or slithers in Cambodia may not be everyone's cup of tea, but woe on those who have never savoured anything novel, exotic or extraordinary by way of foreign food. Admittedly, one person's weird can be another person's wonderful, but travelling provides opportunities to pander to the palate. And the unknown is more bountiful than the banality of the usual.

For instance, tapas is distinctly unique to the Spanish culture and sampling its many varieties makes a great excuse to visit tapas bars located across the country. Try reacting to a perfect Imam Bayıldı (The Imam Fainted) and recanting history in Turkey; a holy man was said to faint with pleasure when presented with a stuffed eggplant dish. You will know why Okyonomiyaki is Osaka's soul food when you sit at a diner-style counter and watch it being prepared. And Laos' famed Khai Phun is only dried and fried algae dotted with sesame seeds, but unless you bite into it, you are likely to reject its looks.

Priscilla Boniface's book Tasting Tourism: Travelling for Food and Drink examines food and drink tourism — as it is now, and how it is likely to develop — through a cultural lens. Her surmise is that a place's provisions for food and drink can make it a novel tourist attraction, if not, a complete destination by itself.

— After eating exotic and extraordinary foods on her travels through 50 countries, the author, below, claims to have just begun her edible explorations.