Remember taking a slow, deep breath as a burst of flavor slowly swirled through the air and awakened all of your senses? You felt an immediate pang of hunger. You looked around and quickly realized that you were no longer in the land of fast food chains and five-minute frozen dinners.
You had arrived in a food-eaters heaven.
While abroad, there was something unique about being exposed to new foods and dishes. There were spices that aroused your sense of smell and combinations of flavors that had never before touched your tongue.
You knew meals weren’t half-heartedly slapped together with stale bread and processed cheese. Instead, each dish was artfully crafted using the freshest of ingredients. Even the presentation of the dish gave the impression that the cooks were boasting with pride over their exquisitely prepared meal. You knew the plate before you was a work of art.
And even more, you knew your meal was prepared with love.
A Traveler’s Taste
As a traveler, a large part of your experience abroad involved testing different international fares from around the world. From street vendors selling hot chicken pieces on a stick to tiny bistros serving up the most delectable desserts, every traveler revels in the exotic foods available to them.
You may have been a conservative food tester at first. But the longer you traveled, the more adventurous your food encounters became.
Not everything you tried deserved a second taste. Some dishes were less than mediocre. But others brought you to a completely separate realm. With your eyes closed, you savored each small bite that exploded with flavor. You had no idea what you had been missing all these years.
You were determined never to return to your fried chicken wings, frozen dinners and canned soups again.
If you’re concerned that you might slip back into your American mealtime habits, don’t panic just yet. You can still bring some of the local flavor from your international trip back home. By planning an intimate dinner get-to-together, you can share a bit of your time abroad with your friends and family.
Worried about finding all of the appropriate ingredients? Don’t be. If your local grocery store doesn’t stock a certain item, check to see if there is an ethnic grocery store in the area. And, if you can’t find the exact ingredient, use a similar substitute. Cooking is an art, not a science. Experiment a little!
Invite your guests and alert them that you’ll be preparing an international dish. Due to allergies and food sensitivities, it’s always best to at least give everyone a heads-up on the type of meal your planning to fix.
Plus, everyone has to eat…why not add a dash of international flavor? It just might do the following:
Togetherness – Food brings people together. While many families in the U.S. eat on the run, mealtime in other countries is a sacred event. Plates are not cleared in five minutes time. Quite the opposite, actually. Many other cultures use mealtime to sit down as a family and enjoy the dishes before them. Time spent preparing, cooking and serving a meal is appreciated. Use this time to catch up, laugh and simply enjoy the time with others.
Inspire – Food can have a powerful, lasting impact on how people see the world. And, it can even inspire others to travel to certain destinations. If you once tasted a to-die-for crepe, wouldn’t you want to visit France? Or, if you indulged in a peanut chicken Thai dish, perhaps you felt a bit of a pull toward Thailand.
Testing food from different pockets of the world can light a spark. Sometimes all it takes is exposing someone to the taste of a different culture to make them realize that the world offers more than drive-thrus and processed foods.
Cultural Exposure – Did you learn about a certain spice native to an area that enriches a dish’s flavor or a secret local ingredient that thickens the texture of a dessert? Perhaps there are meals only prepared for certain occasions or at certain times of the day. Give your guests a bit of cultural background on the dish you have prepared. Meals may be prepared differently abroad, so let your guests know that it took an hour to clean, peel and slice the vegetables. Your guests will appreciate the effort and get a little cultural lesson in return.
Cooking a meal for others is an excellent way to share a part of your experience abroad with others. You are able to express what you learned about the culture in a format that warrants questions and sparks intriguing conversations. Plus, it helps you deal with the reverse culture shock that you’re likely coping with.
But don’t stop there…make it a tradition. Find a few food connoisseurs or fellow travelers that are interested in stepping outside their normal cooking routines and interested in stirring up some international delights. Arrange dinners once every month. Or, if proximity is an issue, swap recipes online and share your cooking trials and tribulations with one another. Add in a few tidbits about any unique cultural traditions related to the dish.
Have you cooked a meal that you tried abroad? Tell us about it in the comments section below.