The discovery of new cuisines is one of the pleasures of travel, and today Lena Tachdjian shares tips to help you recreate the ethnic dishes of your culinary travels in your own home kitchen.
There are so many reasons to pack your bags and travel. Sightseeing, meeting new people and learning about different cultures are just some of the more common ones. While trying different types of foods may not always be at the top of that initial list of reasons, culinary travel can become such an integral and meaningful aspect to a trip overall, especially once you return home.
When you open yourself up to try different cuisines, local staples and spices, it can offer you a rare glimpse into a culture, history or even an entire region. Sometimes it can create an insatiable craving for a specific dish that makes you want to pack up your things and buy a ticket all over again. For the vast majority of people who cannot book trips based on the whims of their taste buds alone, the second best option is to recreate these ethnic dishes as authentically as possible — wherever you may be. There are a few tricks involved in order to do this successfully.
Dissect the Dish
Never rely on memory alone. A local dish can completely question everything you thought you knew about spices, combinations and food in general, and while you may want to live in the moment and enjoy every bite, it’s also the best time to play detective. Some of the flavours involved may of course already be familiar to you. For those that aren’t, ask about them. If you don’t speak the language, talk to a local friend or simply get the name of the dish or the ingredients written down in the local language. You can always find a way to translate them later.
Find Those Specialty Ingredients Before You Leave
Local farmers’ markets are the best way to do this, and where locals do their shopping will be key in finding ingredients you may have never heard of or tasted before. If you have the ingredients or the dish written down in the local language, the farmers’ market will be the best place to find they key aspects, as they will be familiar and common there. Once you find the spices, it will be easier to identify them and be able to find them in your hometown — just be prepared for some hand gesturing if you don’t speak the language!
Learn About the Story Behind the Dish
When a dish becomes a staple, there’s usually good reason for it. During my travels, the recipes that are now near and dear to my heart always had incredible stories behind them, and made me understand that there was a reason for every ingredient involved and sometimes even in the order of preparation. You can have all of the ingredients of a dish but if you don’t understand it, sometimes recreating it at home will always feel like something is missing or just not the same. That “something” could be in the details.
Finding the Community in Your Hometown
If you’ve arrived home with bags upon bags of spices, you may be set for a while. However, if the supplies you bought abroad begin to dwindle to dangerously low amounts, be proactive! Whether they’re Georgian, Portuguese or Moroccan, do some research to find specialty shops in your area. If you find restaurants instead you can ask the staff where they buy their spices from.
Know That There Can Be Many Names for One Spice
While the dish you’re looking to recreate may be from a specific region, the spice in question may be used in many different world cuisines. If you’ve learned what the name is and understood what plant it comes from, you can find very similar — if not exact — substitutes in other specialty shops as well. This is another reason it’s important to understand the dish itself! (Be sure to check out our Spice Box Primers where we profile almost every spice you'll come across in your cooking - including history, names and different culinary uses!)
Adding food to your list of reasons to travel is just as legitimate as any other reason. But consider the fact that as you may begin to miss the sights and the people from your time abroad, you may find yourself missing the dishes as well. Just as you can look at photos to reminisce, you can also recreate the incredibly unique dishes from your travels right in your own kitchen.
Play the detective, understand the dish, and find something familiar in your own hometown so you can at the very least take your taste buds back to relive an unforgettable experience!
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Bringing the Flavours from Abroad Home was written by Lena Tachdjian, a certified nutritionist and freelance writer, focusing on food, travel, culture and more. You can follow her adventures on her nutrition and travel blog The Traveling Chamelian, and on her Facebook and Twitter accounts.