Getting the local perspective when you travel

One of the greatest gifts you can receive as a traveler is the gift of hospitality.  The world over we were invited into the homes of locals, sometimes for a coffee, sometimes for a meal and still other times for a safe, warm place to rest.  In fact, spending time with locals played a huge role in our trip around the world.  Locals served as hosts, tour guides, drivers, advisors and more often than not travel companions. The kind of generosity and hospitality we experienced is far and beyond the greatest souvenir we could take home because it was authentic.  It was real.  It was a genuine experience.

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Bowl of Pho.
Photo Credit: Flickr user Michael Pittman

I remember being in Vietnam and getting into Ho Chi Minh City late in the day. We looked all over for a nice place to stay, settling in at a hotel that was modernly furnished in the heart of a tourist zone.  It was inexpensive and couldn’t have been more comfortable, but we walked for what seemed like forever looking for a restaurant that didn’t have a menu in English and tables full of Westerners.  Of course what we found was a small cart with little white stools around it. We had a delicious bowl of Pho, communicating with gestures and broken English with the proprietress.  It was delicious, but more than the food I remember her smile and her gesture for us to sit down.

These experiences happened to us all over the world, but they were more often than not the result of happenstance. Now of course, just a few years later, there are websites like Withlocals and even apps that will help you connect with locals.  From a home cooked meal to a cooking class with someone’s grandma and a local tour on the back of a motorbike exploring the countryside, the possibilities for authentic travel are expanding and that makes me excited to get back to exploring.

I’m looking forward to sharing the world with the twins.  Of going to places and having experiences that will share with them the amazing people and places that make up this world.  We had to wait until we were in our 20s to have those kinds of experiences, but with the opportunities that exist in travel today there’s no reason why they should have to wait.

Let’s just hope the girls master the art of chop sticks soon, I don’t want to see them attempting Pho with their hands!

How Feijoada (Portuguese Bean Stew) Made It Around the World

How many times can we repeat that one of our favorite aspects of travel is sampling new food?  It seems like we aren’t the only ones given the complete obsession in America with global food.  From Anthony Bourdain to the food network, American’s are obsessed with bringing a taste of their vacation or their dream travels home to their dinner table.  We are really no different.  From the unusual ingredients we saw hanging in markets in Asia to the easily recognizable beans and potatoes sitting in baskets across the Americas, we try to incorporate our favorite dishes or ingredients from our travels into our everyday life.

Guidebooks always tell you what the “staple” dish of a place is, but sometimes more interesting than the ingredients is the history of the dish.  Sometimes you can get this from a recipe book, but better yet, get it from actually going to the place where the dish originated.  We love the history of food, for it’s really the history of human exploration. Given that globalization started happening centuries ago, it’s not hard to draw similarities between the dishes of exploration centers like Portugal and far flung ports in Mozambique or Brazil.  Enter one of the best examples of Portugal’s dominance in world exploration- the simple, yet delicious feijoada.

5580426218 b9571435df How Feijoada (Portuguese Bean Stew) Made It Around the World

Feijoada is one of those “traditional” dishes that calls multiple countries, separated by a vast ocean, home.  Originally from Portugal, Feijoada is a bean, beef and pork stew that we saw in Brazil, Mozambique and pretty much anywhere we traveled along a coastline that the Portuguese had explored. The Brazilians in fact, call it their national dish. Why? Well, like so many of the “great” dishes of a culture or region it’s simple, homemade food.  Although you can find it at the best restaurants and although you can find it at any Portugal hotel or restaurant, it’s a dish beloved by many and found in all levels of Portuguese cuisine. There’s nothing pretentious in feijoada, just beans, pork and oh let’s say the most delicious mix of spices you’ve ever had.  Think of it like a Sunday supper meal that stews all day.  The name, feijoada actually comes from the Portguese word for beans – feijao.

5580425880 2e3f92d8f9 How Feijoada (Portuguese Bean Stew) Made It Around the World

 

Although I love anything that has the word “stew” in it, for me the most interesting aspect of feijoada is its long history.  Just as their ancestors did hundreds of years ago, Portuguese families still make this dish, albeit with certain variants for a delicious weekend supper.  Food made at home and meant to be consumed family style is the best, especially for those travelers looking to get a taste of regional flavor and take it home with them.

Maybe on our next trip through the Iberian Peninsula we’ll make a tour of feijoada….who’s with me?

 

Photo Credit: Shared via a creative commons license from flickr user Fotos Gov/Ba.

Eat Your Heart Out in Cyprus

When visiting the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, there are a few foods you won’t want to miss. While Greek influence is strong, Cypriot cuisine has a unique spin on some of the more typical Greek dishes.

Souvlaki is a favorite “fast food” on the island of Cyprus. Skewered lean meat, usually lamb, pork or chicken, is tucked inside a wrap of Cypriot pita bread. Lemon juice, tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley and onion are some of the accompanying condiments. White cabbage and green chili peppers are other common additions, as well as tzatziki dip made from yogurt, cucumber, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and spices. In addition to the regular souvlaki, you can also get it “mixed” with sheftalia, a kind of spiced and minced pork sausage. You might see either version being served street side or as a to-go food from neighborhood restaurants.  Don’t miss it!

Cyprus Cuisine Slovaki1 Eat Your Heart Out in Cyprus

If it’s vegetables you prefer, Cyprus is known for its fresh vegetables including asparagus, artichokes, and elongated Cypriot potatoes. Many meals are complemented with a fresh village salad made from cucumbers, peppers, black olives, onions and tomatoes. It’s often tossed with local olive oil and feta cheese. While this may sound typically Mediterranean, in Cyprus fresh coriander is usually sprinkled on the salad giving it that extra Cypriot touch.

Cyprus also has plenty of delicious desserts that you can’t miss, even if you don’t have much of a sweet tooth!  It’s worthwhile checking out flights to Cyprus when your sweet tooth strikes for some fresh Cypriot baklava.  Baklava is a sweet concoction of finely chopped nuts, usually walnuts and almonds, combined with sugar, cinnamon, honey and lemon juice and wrapped in paper-thin layers of filo pastry. This syrupy nut and cinnamon mixture is a common basis for Cypriot desserts, similarly featured in daktila, a kind of finger shaped pastry.

adventure travel Eat Your Heart Out in Cyprus

Photo Credit: Flickr user Geoff Peters 604

A Traveler’s Taste of Polish Cuisine

Editor’s Note: These Polish dishes sound absolutely delicious.  We may just have to make a trip to Poland soon..

We all know food plays a significant role when traveling the world. If you decide to head to Eastern Europe and spend a few days in Poland, there are certain dishes you might not be familiar with, but you definitely need to try them in order to have a taste of traditional Polish food. Polish cuisine might be considered by many as “heavy” and “stodgy” as most of dishes are made of flour and cereal (pastas, dumplings, noodles), but putting a few pounds on is absolutely worth it! You will discover a fresh taste of sour cream, cottage cheese, mushrooms and Polish sausages and your mouth will start watering when looking at Polish cakes.

A table with Polish food A Travelers Taste of Polish Cuisine

Here are 5 top traditional Polish foods you can’t miss:

1. Soups – Rosó? (Polish Meat Broth)
You can come across many different varieties of rosó?, but the one you should definitely have for your lunch or dinner should be traditional chicken soup, served with homemade thin noodles, fried onion, boiled carrot and parsley. This dish will definitely warm you up in cold days and get you back on your feet when you have a cold! It’s a custom to have it on Sunday.

Chicken soup A Travelers Taste of Polish Cuisine

2. Starters –Polish herring
Polish people love eating pickled herrings for Christmas and Easter. It’s not only tasty and affordable, but also very easy to make it. You can either have your herrings in sour cream or oil with some pickled onion. Traditional Polish herring is slightly salty and sour.

Polish herring in sour cream and tomatoe sauce A Travelers Taste of Polish Cuisine

3. Main course – Polish pierogi
Pierogi (Polish dumplings) are made of unleavened dough and filled with either cottage cheese, cabbage with mushrooms, fruits or meat and vegetables depending on the season and the weather (strawberry and blueberry pierogi are mainly served in summer, cabbage and mushrooms in winter). Pierogi are extremely delicious, but difficult to make. They are boiled first and then baked or fried in order to get crispy texture.  Served with oil, onions and tiny pieces of bacon or sour cream and sugar (fruit ones).

Polish dumplings A Travelers Taste of Polish Cuisine

4. Snacks – Faworki
Faworki are thin and crispy biscuits sprinkled with icing sugar. They are often called “Angel wings” for the sake of their shape of twisted ribbons. Faworki are not very sweet, so it would be a perfect snack choice for anyone. If you want, you can put some strawberry jam or nutella chocolate on top. Faworki are eaten in the period just before Lent, often during Carnival and on Fat Thursday. I used to make them with my mom and  grandmother for Christmas too.

Faworki A Travelers Taste of Polish Cuisine

5. Dessert – Hot szarlotka
Who would resist the temptation of a little piece of amazing Polish apple tart? Nobody, believe me! Especially when it is served with whipped cream or ice cream of your choice. Szarlotka’s crust is very sweet and it is made with butter, looks very sophisticated but is not that hard to make.

Hot szarlotka with ice cream A Travelers Taste of Polish Cuisine

As you can see Poland has a lot to offer in terms of its traditional food. Whether you feel an urge to try something super sweet, sour or salty, Polish cuisine will definitely live up to your expectations.

About the guest author:
Agness is a Polish vagabond who, after graduation, left her comfort zone and set off for a journey of her lifetime to China in 2011. She has been constantly traveling the world since then (slowly, but surely as she says), living like a local for less than $25 a day. She became a photography passionate and adventure blogger sharing her life enthusiasm and travel experience with everyone around. Connect with Agness on Twitter   or Facebook!

Photo Credit: Guest blogger Agness

Eating Vegetarian Abroad

“No Problem, I’m Cooking Chicken”

While I am at home in States, I don’t struggle to find delicious vegetarian food.  Restaurants that cater only to vegetarians are opening across the county, and there are a plethora of veggie friendly cuisines like Thai or Indian, but traveling can be a bit more difficult.

IMGP9798 5142541389 Eating Vegetarian Abroad
My first adventure outside the U.S. as a vegetarian was to Costa Rica.  I hadn’t been a vegetarian for very long, so I was still learning to get creative with vegetarian cuisine, I scraped by on Luna bars I brought from home, mangoes, pineapple, and rice and beans. After a few days of that, lets just say my stomach was not in the best shape, if you catch my drift….it was there and then that I realized that my dream for lifelong travel would be a bit more complicated with my new eating habits.

Over the next few years I experienced a few different reactions when I arrived at a new restaurant or someone’s home and artfully announced in a non-offensive way that I was vegetarian. They ranged from a good hearted, “no problem!”, to utter disgust, to a few people even asking what that means with a face of confusion on why one would not eat meat. My favorite reaction was while visiting a rural home in the Andes. I was greeted with a rather rotund women who responded with a smile and  ‘no hay problema, estoy concinando pollo’ (or not a problem, I am making chicken). Clearly vegetarian meant something different to this women, and I had to further explain that chicken too was off the menu. After some reassurance from me that I in fact am healthy and was perfectly okay eating  the side items, she warmed up to the idea and we had a good time.

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Visiting people’s homes is probably the hardest aspects of traveling as a vegetarian or someone with a special diet.  The last thing you want to do is offend someone, and as you explain your restrictions, you need to respect the hosts culture and values.  I find that being upfront with people, is usually the best way to conquer the issue.  If you are bringing something as a gift, make it something you can eat!   You should always stash something in your bag for later, just in case. In some cases you can skip out on trying a potentially revolting main dish, like I did in Laos,  by simply being vegetarian. Extra bonus!

I like to think a few years on that I have mastered being vegetarian while traveling, that there is no place I can’t go and find food.  While that is true, I’ve learned that the challenges are endless and in some cases that you just need to open your mind, and take a bite — there are new food adventures around every corner.

Read why I became a Vegetarian!