Recently Portuguese travel and food blogger Nelson Carvalheiro published a post on his award winning blog www.nelsoncarvalheiro.com, talking about the chance to win a 16 day food tour of Portugal. Just reading the title made my mouth water, and looking at his amazing food photos made me want to jump on the first flight to Lisbon to sample these delicacies for myself.
Nelson proposes a very interesting question: how is food your main reason for travelling? So first I had to ask myself : is food really my main reason to travel?
Well, during the humble origins of this blog several years ago, when our only objectives were to promote Colombia, try to change the stereotypical perception of the country, and show the world its real wonders, food wasn’t really a topic we thought about much; but then eventually, organically, something started to happen.
We started to realize that some colors and flavors that we took for granted by living in Colombia were quite exotic for many of our readers. Soon, posts about exotic fruits ( lulo, maracuya, guanabana, borojo), street food in the Colombia’s highly distinctive cities, and bizarre combinations like hot chocolate and cheese started to gain a lot of popularity.
We even have an ongoing debate about Colombia’s most iconic food, the arepa: some of us hate them, some of us love them, but everybody has an – often very passionate – opinion and the same was evident with our readers. In my trips throughout the country I met amazing people: like Spanish chef Dani Meronho, AKA “El Cocinero Viajero” who taught me how the apparent lack of creativity in Colombian cuisine was in a large part a result of an old 18th century decree that forbade the use of any ingredient which originated in the conquering nations. Colombia’s cuisine, therefore, has benefitted less from the fusion influences which have shaped the food of other countries on the continent.
Food helped me to understand the history and idiosyncrasies of my adopted country, beyond my initial sense that here we only had “bland” food. In my first year in Colombia I had a very passionate reconciliation with the arepa in the remote Guajira region, we ate fat bottomed ants in Bucaramanga, and slowly began understanding the reasons behind the differences between the regional cuisines: the famous bandeja paisa was originally just a very necessary carb overdose for the hard working coffee workers in Antioquia, whilst the laidback coastal inhabitants naturally preferred to use the ingredients they had close to hand: fish, coconuts and plantain. In the Andean chill of Bogota (known as “the refrigerator” in the rest of the country) people needed to have a variety of hearty and delicious hot soups like Ajiaco, a delicious mixture of corn, chicken, cream, potatoes and avocado.
Through food we rediscover the history and traditions of different regions. And when this blog started to expand; when we left Colombia’s boundaries to explore and show the rest of the world to our readers, our minds and gustative glands had already been opened. From the juicy and very spicy tortas ahogadas in Guadalajara, to the strange Poe Fish of Easter Island; from Arroz Chaufa in Lima, which can teach us more about the history of Chinese immigration in Peru than any book, to a perfectly cooked oxtail stew in Madrid : food is living history, food is culture, food is the best excuse to gather around strangers and share stories.
That’s why – and I just counted them now- we have more than 250 posts related to food, a topic as important as a specific destination or an historical anecdote: because food is also all of those things.
When I think of Portugal, a country I have not visited since I was 14, I can almost taste extra virgin olive oil and fresh tomatoes; I can imagine a plate of exquisitely cooked codfish and immediately connect that image to the role of that fish in the history of colonization; I imagine vineyards, blue sea, white beaches and seafood. And I want to learn: to learn much more about Portugal, not in front of a screen, but at a table covered in wine and food and surrounded by new friends. I can’t imagine a better way to learn about a country.
And that’s how food is indeed one of the main reasons why I travel.