FOOD FOR THE SOUL: Exploring The Tastes of Different Cultures
Can you imagine life without food? Of course we need food to live, but apart from needing it for survival, we want it and the tantalizing tingles it gives our bodies. Have you ever thought why food is so significant in certain religions and culture all over the world? This is because these cultures are well-known for their peculiar tastes and methods of cooking. From Chinese to Thai, and Italian to Indian, all cultures are associated to a particular style of food and cooking. When food is associated to culture, it symbolizes the evolution of the culture through food. Hence, people of these cultures cherish their food and spices which gives them a unique identity of their own.
Personally, I cannot imagine being confined to food from one culture. So, when I travel I make a point of exploring international cuisine. There are many ways to introduce international food to your palate: From using ingredients from a local market, to taking a cooking class and sampling street food.It is not just what you eat which is interesting, but also how, when, with whom, and why.
On my trip to Thailand, I found that I engaged with the food more than any other trip that I had been on. It would have been easy to stick to what I know, but by challenging myself and my (usually difficult) palate, I knew that there would be many benefits that I could reap. One of my most surprising experiences was eating a fried scorpion on the streets of Bangkok – It was absolutely delicious, and after having conquered a scorpion, I knew I could conquer all the salty, sweet, sour and spicy surprises that Thailand had to offer me. In Thailand, food is the social occasion, and it gives you a reason to celebrate. This is due to the friendly nature of Thai people, and the way food is ordered, prepared, and eaten. All dishes are shared and enjoyed together – the more the merrier – so, eating Thai food presents the opportunity to meet new people. In fact, many Thai people believe that eating alone is bad luck.
Aside from a full, sit-down meal, the Thai culture thrives on snacking. Whether walking through the markets of Chiang Mai, Pai, or Koh Tao, you will find snacks from spring rolls and chicken/beef satay, to fresh fruits and salads. WARNING: Just be aware of the peppers at the end of your satay stick. They are not peppers. They are fresh, HOT chillies, and I learned that the hard way!
The presentation of food in Thailand is very distinct and is among one of the most exquisite in the world. Each plate consists of different colours, and vegetables and fruits are carved into different figures such as animals and flowers. This is usually done by the chef using a simple paring knife and ice water. The Thai tend to make use of western cutlery when preparing and eating their food. All meals are served with a fork, and a large spoon which is used as a knife.
Funnily enough, eating international food wasn’t about just the food, it was so much more. I made connections with local people; met and interacted with other visitors; learn a bit of the language; get great recommendations; and walk amongst the people learning about the history and culture of Thailand. So, I think it goes without saying that exploring different cultures food while travelling (or at home) is one of the best things that you could do for your taste buds, and your soul.