Travel is the spice of life; it is crème fraiche on a basic sponge cake; it is the vibrant lipstick on a bare face, it is the statement necklace on a basic black dress, it is the bold stroke on a plain canvas.
We live our daily lives performing various duties, chores and activities. Some we enjoy some we don’t. In any event no matter how exciting our daily jobs and lifestyles are after some time, well they become “daily” or “routine.” The familiarity even though comforting brings with it some vacuous boredom.
Travel jolts us from the quotidian routine and infuses the requisite amount of fervor and excitement to get back into the “routine” upon return.
Upon her return from a world tour, my friend told me that she could not find the food that she is accustomed to in her home country and hence from that aspect it was a little hard for her to travel.
It made me think, what is the point of traveling if you cannot immerse yourself in the culture, the traditions, the food, the style of that country and get a true feel of its soul. When I travel I have a ritual, I visit the grocery store and the pharmacy of the new place. It provides me an opportunity to get a true local feel of the country. I also try to buy at least one small traditional clothing item and incorporate it with my daily wardrobe. It enables me to take a nostalgic trip down memory lane when my life returns back to being “daily.”
When we travel, we all visit the famous sites recommended by Lonely Planet. The key to travel is to diverge from the well-traveled “touristy” path at least once and get a true flavor of the country.
Travel is about exploration and getting out of your comfort element, stepping out of self-imposed parameters and crossing boundaries literally and metaphorically.
If you are in Istanbul, you will of course visit Hagia Sophia as you should, but also take the time to sit in the little cafes and drink umpteen cups of cay with shakkar (tea with sugar). You truly get a feel of the old culture watching the men play board games.
If in China, eat the dumplings from the enormous steamed bamboo baskets.
If going to Italy, do buy at least one sartorial outfit from Via Condotti (no matter how small) to be a part of the most stylish culture in the world.
In Mongolia throw caution to the strong Gobi desert winds, ride a yak and later drink its warm milk! No need to crinkle your nose, it is delicious!!
So, pause your hectic itinerary for a few minutes, take a long breath, inhale and envelope yourself in the essence of the country you visit. You will get more out of it than visiting every miniscule “must see” site written in the travel book.
Street food’s inception is the street. Hence, a busy street is the integral part of street food.
I was mesmerized with street food on my recent visit to China. It gave me a different perspective of street food. I realized street food depicts the soul of a culture. It is a reflection of the community, economy, diet, religious bent and customs of a culture. It feeds the underlying belly of most cosmopolitan cities. It is a watering hole for busy people who value fresh, almost home cooked food, but do not have the time to prepare it at home.
For me street food is a bond that unites the old and new. It is a bridge between old times when big family meals were cooked daily and eaten communally, as opposed to the new times, when grabbing a burger from McDonald’s and eating it in our car is defined as a “meal.”
Street food is a quick meal and adapts to the modern “on the go” meal mold; yet it stays true to the roots of a culture. Street food for most part is healthy, nutritious and fresh with local ingredients used. It provides an opportunity for people to stand around, even if for a few moments, and participate in a communal activity, thereby a throwback to a bygone era of family meals.
When we travel, street food is a must to fully explore the pulse of a culture. China has amazing offerings of street foods, fresh long noodles (a symbol of longevity), an array of meats (yes, a carnivore heaven for the meat lovers), interesting locally grown vegetables, and even sweet glazed fruits on a stick.
All old cultures have some type of street food. Can you possibly forego the Injera in Ethiopia or the Kebabs and fish sandwiches in Turkey? How about the gol gappas and chaat in India brimming with sour tamarind and an array of flavors that simply burst in your mouth creating an amalgamation of sensual delights? What about a bowl of yak milk in Mongolia? Oh, a foodie like me could go on and on.
My suggestion to you is that to fully delve into a culture, to fully touch the vein of a culture, be brave and experience the hidden enchantment of street food. Don’t fear gastrointestinal discomfort–it is only in passing and is far outweighed by the joys of gastronomic delight….Buon appetito!