Traveling expands the mind, body, soul and, most importantly, the palate. A perk of visiting different countries is tasting the different cuisines deeply rooted in that culture. My love for food has only grown stronger while traveling, so here are five unforgettable food adventures that broke me out of my comfort zone and gave me a new appreciation for different culinary cultures around the world.
1. Crabbing in Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Before this adventure on the beautiful beaches of the East Coast United States, I had never caught my own food and eaten it. I had never been fishing, never been hunting, and definitely never been crabbing. Luckily, I have family in Cape Cod, and they showed me how to wade into the cool, salty water, scan for crawling crabs, and scoop them up swiftly with a net.
The U.S. has many East and West Coast hotspots for crabbing, and Cape Cod is one of the best locations. Blue crabs are everywhere during summer, so crabbing is a fun, easy activity for the whole family. I felt so accomplished capturing my very own crabs and cooking them up for dinner, and I will always thank the pristine Cape Cod beaches for this experience.
2. Wine Tasting in Porto, Portugal
While in Porto, I had to sample their famous port wine as it is exclusive to northern Portugal. The grapes grow in the Douro Valley and the wine is stored in the town directly south of Porto, Vila Nova Di Gaia. For a professional tasting experience, I went on a wine tour that opened my eyes to the wonderful culture and history of port wine.
The tour brought us through wine cellars to learn about the process of making and storing the wine, and we visited three different wineries to taste the white, tawny, and ruby red ports. Port wine is incredibly sweet and only meant to be drunk in small quantities after dinner, but I enjoyed indulging in the delicious alcoholic beverage with the guidance of Portuguese sommeliers.
3. Taking a Cooking Class in Thailand
To truly immerse myself in the local food culture, I signed up for a cooking class in the north of Thailand. After a tour of the local market, where straw baskets overflow with colorful vegetables, exotic fruits, and leafy herbs, we began cooking.
Throughout the day, we made cashew nut stir-fry, spicy prawn soup, papaya salad, green curry, sweet Thai tea, and mango with sticky coconut rice. I beamed with happiness as I pounded ginger root, turmeric, black pepper kernels, thick lemongrass, spring onions, and hot green chilies in a stone bowl to create my own homemade curry paste. I loved squeezing butterfly pea flowers in a bowl of water to release a natural blue dye for coloring the coconut sticky rice.
Every dish exploded with color and released incredible aromas. Every ingredient we used was fresh, healthy, and full of flavor. With no processed food in sight, I felt amazing after the cooking class, even though I ate enough to feed an entire family.
4. Walking Food Tour of Sofia, Bulgaria
Every day, a free walking food tour of Sofia, Bulgaria, is available, where a charismatic tour guide brought us to fancy restaurants, underground bakeries, and little cafés to taste some of Bulgaria’s famous dishes. Sofia is not the most popular tourist destination in Europe, so locals happily welcome travelers and love to teach them about Bulgarian culture and lifestyle.
Bulgarians take pride in their yogurt, and some even believe it has healing properties that lead to a long, healthy life. Dairy, in general, makes a frequent appearance in Bulgarian cuisine. For example, some of the dishes we tasted included tarator, which is a chilled, yogurt-based soup with dill and cucumber, and banitsa, which is a flaky pastry filled with crumbly white cheese. We also tried cheese spreads on bread, a fried sugary dough ball, and Bulgarian wine.
5. Making Colada Morada in Ecuador
Visiting Central America or South America during Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a treat. I was staying with locals in the jungle village of Mindo in Ecuador and got to witness some of the local traditions that accompany this holiday. The woman I lived with was an excellent cook, so I watched her make colada morada, a thick, fruity beverage that is served hot or cold.
In a giant pot, she combined pineapple, small oranges called naranjillas, papaya, and countless types of berries. After adding various spices, herbs, green leaves she picked from the jungle outside, black corn flour, and a thick cane sugar called panela, she let all the ingredients boil on the stove.
We sipped the sweet, fruity beverage while eating guaguas de pan, which are sweet bread rolls shaped and decorated like babies. Ecuadorians enjoy this food and drink while remembering their deceased loved ones on Día de los Muertos, and I felt lucky to be a part of this tradition.