food best way to experience local culture

The Best Way to Learn About Any Local Culture When Traveling

‘Food is the simplest way for me to learn about another culture,’ says Andrew Zimmern, host of the widely popular TV program Bizarre Foods. “Share a meal with folks and it will change your life, as you see what real people are thinking and feeling.”

Uncovering history through food

Bite into the arancini, and you’ll discover that beneath its crisp, golden exterior is a savoury filling of minced meat. Rich in flavours, this Italian dish of stuffed rice balls contains fillings of ragù, mozzarella and peas, is coated over with bread crumbs and deep fried.

arancini

Raise a question about its origin however, and this traditional dish can quickly turn into a topic for debate – particularly among the Sicilians.

In Palermo, arancini is rounded in shape, has a feminine name (arancina), contains rice cooked with saffron and has fillings of white ragù. But in Catania, it takes on the form of a pine cone, has a masculine name (arancino), contains red ragù and has a more saucy filling.

While both versions are equally tasty, each region claims to be have come up with the original recipe.

But we’re leaning towards the Palermitans as creators of the dish. That’s because the original recipe for arancina shouldn’t contain tomato, since it’s a dish known to have a recipe that dates back about 1,000 years.

That’s well before tomatoes were introduced to Italy from South America, creating a dramatic shift and “tomato-isation” of the country’s diverse regional cuisines and recipes.

This is just one example of how food is, and has always been a way into a country’s history and culture. A seemingly simple pasta making class in Rome  can be so much more than a cooking lesson; it’s a tactile experience that gives you a feel (and taste) for a country’s culture.

pasta making class

Same goes for enjoying a truly Roman feast overlooking the Vatican City or tasting the delicious fresh fish caught by a real Venice seaman.

Listening to your host as he carefully explains the origin of each ingredient and shares the best of his knowledge of the food traditions of the Romans or Venetians, you’ll not only uncover new insights, but also develop a newfound appreciation for a dish you’ve eaten innumerable times.

Food sheds light on our values and way of life

The food we eat also tells us a lot about who we are. It sheds light on values that are important to a culture, and reveals the perspectives and way of life of its people.

For the Arabs or Chinese, food is representative of the strong sense of community prevalent among its people. Chinese families dining together do not eat from individual plates, but share their food from communal dishes.

This practice shares similarities to the way in which the Arabs break fast during Ramadan, where servings of traditional items, like tharid and h’riss are shared among all members of the family – who eat using their hands from communal plates.

For the French, food is pleasure; cooking and eating are both activities to be enjoyed, and mealtimes are relaxed, leisurely affairs.

Eating fast, such as grabbing a take out – a common practice in America – isn’t part of the culture.

In Italy, food conveys many things – love, warmth, nutrition, history and pleasure. It’s a contrast from China, where food sometimes becomes a status symbol for one’s wealth and standing in society.

home-made paella lunch

And in Spain, eating and drinking are social affairs; people rub shoulders in cafes, tapas bar hopping is a common way to enjoy the evening and eating with the locals such as lunch over home-made paella are eventful experiences made all the more memorable by the warm Spanish hospitality of your dining companions.

Culture is a reflection of food, and vice versa

But it’s not just about what we eat; the way we eat and how we prepare our food also tells reveals much about our culture.

This sentiment is echoed by Zimmern, who sums up how culture is a reflection of food, and vice versa in an interview with Travel Channel:

“In America, we are extremely wasteful and often ignorant of the world around us. For example, we are the only culture in the world to rip the heads off shrimp and sell them and eat them without. That’s where all the flavor is. So obviously we eat for speed and convenience. Eat shrimp in America and you will learn a lot about us. Eat them in Japan where they trim the tails with a scissors. They arrange them on a plate and serve the heads as a second course to call out their importance. You learn the nature of Shinto and respect in their culture.”

This is true of food cultures all around the world: a typical dinner party in Paris, where well-loved classics like boeuf bourguignon and hachis parmentier are given a modern twist is representative of the city’s vibrant culture and contemporary cooking scene.

And in Singapore – a city with a reputation for being a foodie paradise – lies an incredible hawker food scene; the mind-boggling diversity of stalls and cuisines you’ll find in a single hawker centre is an accurate reflection of the melting pot of cultures found within the cosmopolitan city.

Do you really want to experience a local culture?

Take a break from taking selfies in front of tourist landmarks and start exploring the local cuisine.

Immerse yourself in the local culture by breaking bread with locals.

The Essential Guide To French Dining Etiquette

The Essential Guide To French Dining Etiquette (Or, How To Survive A Dinner In Paris)

“Maybe we should take a bottle of something with us? Prosecco, perhaps?”

I could tell by my French boyfriend’s slightly agape mouth that, no, we would not be taking a bottle of Prosecco (or Italian white wine) to his parents’ dinner party in Paris. This was my first lesson in French dining etiquette: always bring a gift for your host, but never let that gift be a bottle of anything non-French.

The Essential Guide To French Dining Etiquette

Here at BonAppetour, we are all about dining with locals. Of course, this means that you actually need to dine like a local, too – which includes adopting the eating customs of your culturally-different dinner-party host.

Naturally, the French have many interesting customs centred around their cuisine; some of these are common sense, but others only a local would know.

But don’t worry, none of them involve frog legs.

Toast properly

The Essential Guide To French Dining Etiquette

“I’ve heard that only men should refill wine glasses, but I think that may be antiquated,” says Hardly Snarky’s American expat and blogger Anne. Although I don’t think this would sit well with modern-day Parisiennes, it is hardly surprising that drinking wine is no simple affair in France.

Known for their bon vin (or fine wine), the French take great pride in what they serve with their food. In terms of drinking customs, when you’re toasting, always look your toasting partner in the eye, and try not to cross arms with anyone.

A common toast to use is à votre santé (which means “to your health”). This is more commonly shortened to just “santé.”

Take your time

The Essential Guide To French Dining Etiquette

Dining with French locals will never be a quick dinner date. In fact, a survey found that 43% of French people spend over 45 minutes eating lunch each day. This was by far the biggest percentage out of all 14 countries surveyed.

If you are invited to dine in France, make sure you take your time over your food to savour the delicate flavors. It’s only polite to do so!

Watch your “baguettiquette”

The Essential Guide To French Dining Etiquette

When you are literally breaking bread, leave it by the side of your plate, never on top of it. This would be a serious breach of what is known as “baguettiquette.”

And don’t be surprised if your fellow diners clean-up their plate with their remaining hunk of bread.

…and your table manners

The Essential Guide To French Dining Etiquette

Any slip-up in table manners might offend your local host or hostess, so it is always a good idea to be well-versed in French dining etiquette. Here are some good dining habits to keep in mind:

  • Keep your hands on the table at all times
  • Don’t eat until your host says, “Bon appétit!”
  • Always keep the knife in your right hand, and the fork in your left
  • Lay the knife and fork parallel to each other on the right side of the plate once done with the meal

After 5 years of dining with a French family, I have also learned to not touch cheese with my fingers, to not remove the skin from cheeses like brie and camembert, and to not spread foie gras with a knife; rather place a slice onto your bread, and then eat it.

But most of all, I learned to enjoy the delicious dishes of France – and more importantly, the company of my fellow diners.

Over to you

Now that you’re (relatively) well-versed in French dining etiquette, it’s time for you to put it into action at one of BonAppetour’s many home restaurants in Paris. Go ahead, give it a try!

Here's How You Can Enjoy Winter In Canada

How You Can Enjoy Winter In Canada

As in summer, winter offers great adventures. Canada is among the best destinations where it is possible to experience beautiful sceneries, a sense of freedom, and a true escape at the heart of the great Canadian wilderness.

But this country also stands out for its culinary art. So, what are you waiting for?

Discovering the Charlevoix region

Here's How You Can Enjoy Winter In Canada

Many trails in Canada will take you where nature has been kept intact – an escape into the wilderness. To best way to explore the village of Huron-Wendake, the Laurentian Mountains, and the Laurentides Wildlife Reserve, would be to take snowmobile tour in Canada.

Huron-Wendake

This is a village that is rich in history. Get to know more about the aboriginal history, visit the hotel-museum of the First Nations, and take part in woodland walks on snowshoes. Before arriving at the village, you’ll get to walk along the banks of the St. Lawrence River – an opportunity to watch ship traffic – and meet the fishermen who practice ice fishing.

The Laurentides Wildlife Reserve

Located between neighboring rivers and mountains, the track leading to the reserve is quite an exotic natural setting. For those wishing to venture into a wild and preserved area and enjoy a true feeling of freedom, the Laurentides Wildlife Reserve is worth the trip. This step is also the opportunity to enjoy an expedition through authentic sceneries along the Montmorency River and between the Laurentian Mountains.

The more you spend time in the snowy expanses of the Charlevoix region, the more your experience will be rich in discoveries. In addition to wildlife, plants, and traditions, do not forget the country’s gastronomy.

Several typical recipes of the Far North

Here's How You Can Enjoy Winter In Canada

Most of the time, you will have lunch and dinner at hostels, which will expose you to a wide variety of Canadian dishes. The culinary traditions of the country have perpetuated for centuries, and typical dishes come from the influences of different immigrant communities. Don’t miss this opportunity to savor traditional Canadian cuisine!

Among many recipes, you will most certainly enjoy a delicious meal made from wild boar or elk. Generally cooked by the Canadians themselves, this particular meal is served with crispy vegetables. In the east and north coasts, seafood – mainly lobster or blue mussels – are other great options.

If you are in Alberta, bison burgers, steaks and smoked salmon are widespread, and come from cowboy traditions. As for the West Coast, cuisine is similar to that of the Americans.

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5 Traditional Spanish Foods You're Probably Pronouncing Wrongly

5 Traditional Spanish Foods You’re Probably Pronouncing Wrongly

Did you know that there are more people who speak Spanish as their first language than English? In fact, Spanish ranks number two globally with 400 million native speakers (as compared to 360 million English native speakers).

You would think that, coupled with the fact that Spanish food is so popular worldwide, we’d know how to pronounce traditional Spanish dishes properly. However, most people still call what is probably the most well-known Spanish food of all time pah-eh-la. 

That’s paella, by the way. And it’s actually pronounced pa-eh-ya:

Avoid embarrassment when ordering food in Spanish – here are 5 more commonly mispronounced Spanish foods that you should start memorizing, pronto.

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1. Tortilla española

5 Traditional Spanish Foods You're Probably Pronouncing Wrongly

Eggs, potatoes, and onions. It sounds just like a typical omelette, but the tortilla española is actually the national dish of Spain.

The story goes that it was invented when a Spanish military officer, General Thomas Zumalacárregui, stopped by a peasant’s house dying of hunger during a war. The woman only had eggs, onions, and potatoes, but threw them together anyway. Thankfully, the general enjoyed it immensely, and popularized it thereafter.

How to pronounce it: tor-ti-ya ess-pan-yo-la

2. Salmorejo

5 Traditional Spanish Foods You're Probably Pronouncing Wrongly

A cold soup, salmorejo is the lesser well-known cousin of the famous gazpacho. Both, however, are locally recognized as traditional Spanish dishes.

Made with tomatoes, bread, oil, garlic, and vinegar, salmorejo is typically thicker and creamier than gazpacho. The likelihood of pronouncing it is also seems to be far higher.

How to pronounce it: sal-mo-reh-ho

3. Gambas al ajillo

5 Traditional Spanish Foods You're Probably Pronouncing Wrongly

This garlic shrimp dish is a classic Spanish tapa – an appetizer or snack – that can be found in bars all over Spain. It is just as the name describes: fresh shrimp sauteed in lots and lots of glorious olive oil and garlic. Yummy.

How to pronounce it: gahm-bus-al-ah-hee-oh

4. Cochinillo asado

5 Traditional Spanish Foods You're Probably Pronouncing Wrongly

Cochinillo asado – or roast suckling pig – is a treat typically reserved for special occasions. What’s special about it is that the pigs are usually just 4 to 5 weeks, and weigh less than 10 pounds. Because of this, its meat is especially tender and delicious.

How to pronounce it: co-chi-ni-yo ah-sah-doh

5. Croquette

5 Traditional Spanish Foods You're Probably Pronouncing Wrongly

Another dish that can be found in almost any Spanish restaurant or bar, the croqueta is a breadcrumbed roll that contains just about any ingredient possible, from jamon serrano (Spanish dry-cured ham) to gambas (shrimp). Though it is incredibly popular in Spain, it actually originates from France, though the locals have certainly taken it to another level.

How to pronounce it: kroh-keht

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You don’t even need to travel across Spain to try all these dishes – they are all within reach in Barcelona. Specifically, in the houses of our talented local home chefs. Check them out here.

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