I hate to travel, but… I love trying new food. Most of my life, I have been a picky eater, but for some reason, since I had children, my tastes have changed, and I now I love finding amazing new favorites with each of my travels:
- Cherry Soup and Hortobágyi pancakes in Hungary
- Chicheme in Panama
- Yogurt in Karamay, China
- A hot chocolate flight at Pijalnie Czekolady in Warsaw, Poland
- Cheese and cured meat platters in Spain
- Kelewele (spicy fried plantains) in Ghana
I realize these are not the most adventurous choices, but oh, are they good.
Food also allows insight into culture and globalization. I might have a traditional meal one night and then find myself eating pizza at a Turkish restaurant in Accra, Ghana the next. I always have fun with this when I travel with students who want “authentic” food. I start by asking them what authentic Oklahoma food is. They will often say BBQ, although we could certainly make an argument for fry bread and grape dumplings (traditional food of several American Indian tribes). Then I ask, “Do you eat BBQ for every single meal?” “No, of course not!” they reply. Then I ask, “Where would you take international visitors to eat in Tulsa?”
- Laffa (Middle Eastern cuisine)
- India Palace (Indian cuisine)
- Hideaway Pizza (Italian cuisine)
- Guang Zhou (Chinese cuisine)
- McNellie’s (Irish Pub)
- El Guapo’s (Mexican cuisine)
Okay, okay, we get the point…
But, this question of authentic food also allows for some very interesting discussions about globalization. I had an amazing meal in Boquete, Panama… sausage stuffed mushrooms, pumpkin risotto, a seafood soup, steak, and a luxurious dessert. The owner of the restaurant is a second-generation Italian immigrant. As I looked around at the restaurant patrons, I noticed that none of them appeared to be Panamanian. It turns out that the clientele was almost entirely U.S. and Canadian ex-pats who have retired in Boquete. That’s interesting. Why are these folks relocating to Panama? Well, you have the U.S. connection to Panama through the Panama Canal Zone, an affordable cost of living relative to many U.S. and Canadian cities, and a very low cost of health care relative to the U.S.
One time, students I took to Ghana were frustrated that we were eating at a Chinese restaurant rather than an “authentic” Ghanaian restaurant. I asked them two questions.
Me: Who is eating here?
Students: Mostly Ghanaians.
Me: Then, isn’t this, in fact, an authentic Ghanaian experience?
Me: Did you notice the large Chinese population earlier today when we were in Osu? Why do you think there are so many Chinese people in Ghana?
Students: Blank stares
Me: Well, Let’s start with Hong Kong and Ghana both being under British Rule in the 1940s… moving forward, we can talk about Chinese companies in Ghana and throughout Africa, working in mining, building roads, railroads, hospitals, and other infrastructure, opening retail businesses. Depending on who you ask, these Chinese initiatives provide jobs for local citizens, pollute the environment and poach resources, or are courting a huge capitalist consumer base.
We often hear about how we can learn a lot about a culture by its food. I think that food is also a great entry point to learning about globalization and the fluidity of cultures. I hate to travel, but I love encouraging students to complicate their thinking about “authenticity.” I also love trying new, yummy food.