Caviar in Helsinki, Finland

How to Relive Your Trips Through Your Taste Buds: Bon Appetit!

I’m not a great cook. (And I don’t hear anybody rushing to deny that). I am, however, a great eater. And one of the thrills of traveling is the chance to eat new and unusual foods that you’ve never heard of before. That’s why I started to make it a habit to “bring home” some new food ideas from every trip so that now and again I can sit down to a meal or a snack that has me reliving some of my favorite travel moments. I’ve put a few tips together to help you do the same.

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Learning About New Foods While You’re Traveling

The key thing about collecting taste bud memories of your travels is to try everything. Being in a foreign country is no time to let your taste buds get shy. There are many ways to make sure you get to taste plenty of new and different foods, including:

  • Study up first (online or in a guidebook) and have a list of new meals you might find on a restaurant menu
  • Take a random stab at a menu and be surprised with what the waiter brings out (not recommended for vegetarians!)
  • Ask a local to recommend a special dish for you, one that they think is typical for their country or city
  • Visit the supermarket and buy packets of unusual snacks or strange fruit to try
  • Sign up for a meal with a local family — there a bunch of programs like Meeting the French where local people will prepare a typical dinner for you in their own home
  • Attend a cooking class while you’re abroad, if your budget stretches that far (they’re becoming more popular and are sometimes reasonably cheap — especially as you get a meal thrown in)

Closeup of charcoal briquets on grill in Tennessee
Grilling in Tennessee © booleansplit

It’s important to be brave while you’re trying new foods. Some things might taste awful at first, or have a texture that you’re just not used to, but it pays to persevere. For me, the most extreme example of this was in Japan where I sometimes ate objects that even my Japanese hosts couldn’t identify. Sometimes they were pretty awful, but other times they turned out to be delicious.

But before you all go out and try badly-prepared fugu, remember to be sensible.

But before you all go out and try badly-prepared fugu (that Japanese pufferfish that can kill you if you eat the wrong bit), remember to be sensible. Don’t forget the rules of eating in unhygienic spots, like only eating fruit that can be peeled and avoiding salads that were washed in unclean water, and so on. Be brave, but sensible.

Bringing New Foods to Your Old Kitchen Table

Once you find a meal or dish that you like and would like to “take home” as a souvenir, then the tricky part starts. Of course — eating is always the easy part of life! If you want to recreate this food back home, you need to be armed with information.

This might sound easy if you’re in an English-speaking country, but even then, there are plenty of things you shouldn’t take for granted. If a local friend is giving you the recipe, or even if you’ve found something on the internet, then check that you understand what they’re talking about. There are all kinds of problems you might have with a recipe once you get home, including:

  • Converting strange measurements into something you can understand. The metric or imperial system is just the start of it. My German sister-in-law is astounded that half our recipes here in Australia use “cups” and “tablespoons” — she thinks it’s so imprecise and doesn’t have a clue how much that should be!
  • Locating unusual ingredients. First of all, you have to know what it is you’re looking for. A translated name will help a lot, or the local name written down carefully. There will be things that are impossible to find, but these days in many big cities across the world, I actually believe that you can find anything as long as you know where to look. Every big city has hidden grocery stores representing different nationalities and regions and with a bit of hunting, you’ll find not only what you’re after but a treasure trove of other foods to explore.
  • Following the recipe. One of my best Japanese friends kindly wrote out the recipe for okonomiyaki for me before I left Osaka — and she demonstrated it for me as well. I traveled for a while and didn’t get a chance to try to make it again for a year or so, and when I tried to follow her recipe, I was totally bamboozled. A less-than-perfect translation and lack of experience meant I made several okonomiyaki disasters before I created something edible!

Caviar in Helsinki, Finland
Blini Party in Helsinki, Finland © wili_hybrid

Now Sit Down, Eat and Reminisce

This is my favorite bit. I’ve got recipes from all over the world, from places I’ve been and from places I haven’t when my foreign students have taught me, and I love to serve these meals up for my family and friends. And on the other hand, when I travel abroad and stay with foreign friends, I try to create something Australian for them to enjoy, too.

Like I said at the start, I’m no cook. This is not a suggestion just for gourmet kitchen-lovers. Anyone can collect food ideas from around the world on their travels and enjoy them later — just like looking at photos, only much more satisfying for the stomach.

Do you have any favorite dishes or snacks that you’ve learned about on your travels? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

  1. After visiting South America for a few months, my wife and I often make quinoa dishes. The Whole Foods bulk section is a great source for unusual grains. Sometimes we also make arepas.

    In reverse, I try to research the food culture of places I plan to go next. I want to go to Italy soon. So, I have been making polenta, pasta, and gnocchi from scratch. Probably, when I get there, I will discover how poor my cooking is in comparison. However, I think it helps me to appreciate it even more.

  2. Food is the heart of a culture. The ethnic cuisines remain long after citizens of a country deal with changing political systems, migration of its people, or cultural hegemony from another power.

  3. Food and learning about new cuisines and taste combinations is one the highlights of our journey. We love street food and fresh markets – its a great way to learn about a country and culture through its cuisine and relationship with food.

    We have taken cooking courses in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and India. We now are continually on the look-out for Asian grocers to find specialty ingredients to cook Asian at home.

  4. I’m with you, Amanda–not a super chef by any means, but I heartily enjoy recreating dishes I’ve experienced on the road. Korean kimchi stew and Lao laap are two of my most frequent creations.

  5. I really enjoy your posts, Amanda. A lot.

    But it really seems as though you’re the only one posting nowadays. What gives? Where’d everyone go?

  6. In Ghana, I enjoyed kelewele (spicy fried plantains :d), red red (black eyed peas in a tomato sauce), jollof rice and groundnut chicken! When I was living in Berlin in my pre-celiac-and-still-eating-red-meat days, I definitely enjoyed Knödel and Currywurst.

  7. I just found Vagabondish via Twitter–what took me so long?

    Cooking courses are wonderful, especially if you can go shopping for the ingredients with the instructor. Learning not only recipes, but where to shop, how to choose ingredients, how to haggle, etc., makes the experience that much more memorable and “authentic.”

    Thanks, Amanda, from one “great eater” to another! :)

  8. I have never thought of trying to cook the dishes I have tasted during my travels .. it is a great idea even though I dont trust my cooking skills.

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