A baker in Languedoc
Today I received an email from TourCrafters, a full-service tour operator that has just introduced “Gourmet Tours of Italy.” It is a very attractive email in many respects; in particular it makes me hungry.
It makes me hungry for travel — to Italy in particular — but hungry also for genuine Italian food (whatever that might be) and for all the cultural components that dining in Italy suggests.
The travel industry is becoming increasingly diverse — and that’s an understatement. There is every kind of specialized form of travel that you can imagine: horticultural travel; equestrian travel; ecotourism (of course … but caveat emptor in this regard … beware the faux ecotourism packages); paleontological travel; opera travel … the list is endless.
But one of the most popular forms of specialized travel is the culinary or gourmet travel. This makes total sense because food (like language, belief systems, art, music) is a fundamental component of culture … even “high” culture.
I have always liked the expression “We are what we eat.”
I also would like to propose that “We are what others eat.” By this I mean, when we travel our entire frame of reference shifts. It expands, is altered, enhanced, replenished. It’s all about awareness and escaping our ethnocentric predispositions.
And what better way to shake ourselves up culturally than to eat other people’s food.
Now if we are talking France … aucun problème … or Spain … delicioso! Culinary travel in these two cultures is in some respects a sine qua non. You cannot go wrong.
However, do you remember the first time you ate raw fish?
Raw fish! Are you crazy?
It’s also called sushi or sashima. And of course, like pizza, like Thai food, like Indian food, like Mediterranean food, it’s no longer a big deal. In fact, “foreign” culinary experiences are now as common as the “American” Mom and Apple Pie.
But I do remember my first visit to Japan and how much I fell in love with the cuisine; its artistry, its simplicity, its precision, its health benefits. No transfats!
But, I also remember a time when we were being entertained in a traditional Japanese restaurant with a very traditional and authentic Japanese meal. Most of it looked and tasted fantastic. However, there was this big fat snail … raw. I swear it was slithering across my plate. I could not cause my hosts to lose face. (Food and culture go together!).
So I ate it; and I survived. I will never do that again, unless I am invited back.
However to taste once again Japanese culture through salmon sashimi … as Cicero said, “Cultivation to the mind is as necessary as food to the body.
However, not everyone is so lucky …