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 (minced meat) and cheese, is coated over with bread crumbs and deep fried.


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 ragù and cheese, often without tomatoes. But in Catania, it takes on the form of a cone (said to be inspired by Mount Etna), has a masculine name (arancino), contains ragù with tomato sauce (a really yummy lava).

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

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 new found appreciation for a dish you’ve probably eaten many many 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 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.

For the French, food is pleasure; cooking and eating are both activities to be enjoyed, and mealtimes are relaxed, leisurely affairs. Eating fast and on-the-go, 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 – and the Italians talks about food almost all the time, often with staunch local pride. In fact, Italian scholar Elena Kostioukovitch even wrote a book on it, aptly titled Why Italians Love to Talk About Food. 

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 (slow-cooked beef stew) and hachis parmentier (a dish similar to cottage pie) 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 – there is an incredible hawker food scene; the mind-boggling diversity of stalls and cuisines you’ll find in a single hawker centre is a 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.

A Yummy Jam and Coconut Sponge Recipe

A Yummy Jam and Coconut Sponge Recipe

BakingBar’s owner, David Purdon, shares with us his fantastic recipe to make Jam and coconut sponge (trust us, it’s delicious). We highly reccomend heading over to the BakingBar site, or following them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for top tips and drool-inducing photos of sweet treats. Over to you David!

A Yummy Jam and Coconut Sponge Recipe

This cake can be made in a traditional round cake form or in a loaf tin. I love loaf tin cakes as they slice so neatly and are easy to serve alongside a cup of tea.

The ingredients

175g Butter

175g Caster Sugar

3 Eggs

2tsp Vanilla Extract/Essence

175g NEILL’S® Self Raising Flour

Half a Jar of your favourite Strawberry Jam

100g Desiccated Coconut

The how-to:

1. Preheat oven to 180c.

2. Lightly grease a loaf tin.

3. Cream the butter and sugar together on high speed until light and pale.

4. Beat in the eggs one a time until well combined.

5. Beat in the vanilla extract.

6. Fold in the sieved flour.

7. Pour the cake batter into the prepared loaf tin. Spread out evenly.

8. Bake in the centre of the oven for 40 mins or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.

9. Allow to cool for 15 mins before turning out onto a wire cooling rack.

10. Once cool cover with the strawberry jam ensuring the cake is well covered.

11. Sprinkle the top and sides with the desiccated coconut. Press the coconut lightly against the cake to help it stick. Store in a air tight tin or box.

You’re done!

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Spanish Delicacies to Try in Each Region

Spanish Delicacies to Try in Each Region

Spain is one of Europe’s best holiday destinations, home to a vast array of historical sites, world-class museums, and pristine beaches. Perhaps this mélange of spectacular attractions and activities is what makes Spain holidays such a joy for all visitors. But whether you’re a beach bum relaxing on the golden sand, an art fan perusing the works of Picasso and Míro, or a history buff strolling ancient Roman walls, one thing everyone is certain to enjoy is Spain’s delicious food. Here are just a few dishes that you should be sure to taste on your next Iberian adventure.


It seems like every region in Spain claims Paella as being a local dish, but if you ask those in the know, it is Valencia where this tasty rice based platter first came to fame in the mid-19th Century. The traditional Valencian Paella is made with local white rice, chicken, rabbit, and vegetables. The seafood version is also popular, and includes white rice, scallops, langoustines, calamari, and a mix of others seafood.


One of Catalunya’s famous dishes, Escalivada is found along the central and northern Mediterranean coast of Spain, and is made from a mix of aubergine, bell peppers, olive oil, onions, tomatoes, minced garlic and salt. Escalivada is often served alongside tapas plates, when it is used as a garnish for tuna, anchovies, olives, and coca (Catalunyan flat bread).

Tortilla Española

While we may call it a Spanish omlette in English, the tortilla Española is far from a breakfast dish, and is instead served as a tapa, or occasionally a main course. The dish primarily consists of eggs and potatos, but variations also include onions, peppers and other vegetables. The appearance and consistency is closer to a quiche than an English omelette.

Cocido Madrileño

This dish from the capital, Madrid, provides diners with a seriously hearty meal, and can most closely be related to a stew. Made from a base of chickpeas, the variety of added ingredient include potato, cabbage, carrots, and turnips, as well as pork belly, chorizo, beef shank, and jamon serrano. Don’t be surprised if you see this dish refilled multiple times, as each service must be emptied entirely to keep the mix of ingredients just right.

Polbo á Feira

From the north-western region of Galicia comes the tasty polbo á feira, a perfectly cooked octopus dish that has a consistency akin to the best-cooked al dente pasta. These succulent and curly morsels of tentacle are sprinkled with sea salt and the local pemento picante before being served. The best provinces for tasting polbo á feira are Ourense and Lugo.

So while you may be heading to Spain for a variety of other reasons, you’ll quickly discover that the chorizo, seafood, paella, and tapas dishes make the trip an especially tasty one.

Image credit 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

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Walking with Hawks at Ashford Castle, Ireland

Walking with Hawks at Ashford Castle, Ireland

Aztec is looking at me menacingly and I'm already regretting taking him out for a walk. I'm not particularly good with animals (with the exception of horses), and when Aztec lets out a loud scream, I'm ready to abandon the entire exercise. No, Aztec is not a furry, four-legged thing, but a nearly fully-grown Harris Hawk with giant flapping wings, and a razor sharp beak trained to rip small animals into pieces. 
It is a cold, rainy day as I arrive into the sleepy town of Cong in County Mayo, Ireland. After tramping about the remains of the 13th-century Augustinian Cong Abbey, I head further to the sprawling estate of Ashford Castle. 
Ashford Castle stands on the site of the 13th-century Castle of Cong; parts of the old castle still stand, and have been integrated into the current structure. The castle saw various changes of regimes and owners, and was expanded according to the architectural styles of the day. The current castle has soaring turrets, French chateau elements, Georgian windows, Victorian extensions and the like. Still there’s no denying the grandeur, especially when you drive through the estate and see the castle’s towers peeking through the trees, and then having it loom up ahead suddenly. Ashford Castle, now a luxury hotel, stands on the shore of Lough Corrib, and is surrounded by 350 acres of landscaped gardens and woodlands. 
After a quick rest in my room, I head out in the hotel’s vintage saloon car (whose chauffeur is better dressed than I, complete with a top hat). The rain has mercifully stopped. We drive down the long driveway, past the golf course, and arrive at the Falconry School at Ashford Castle, which is the oldest in the country. 
Falconry (the hunting of wild game with a trained bird of prey) has a long history in Ireland. The earliest reference to it has been made in a 7th-century Irish text. Later with the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in the 12th century, falconry became an established sport amongst the nobility. Since then Ireland has had a reputation for having the best hawks, which have always been a valuable commodity, and were also used as a form of rent payment. 
At the school I meet Ed Coulson, one of the hawk minders and my guide for the day. We begin the tour by saying ‘hello’ to the school’s prized possession – Dingle, a European Eagle Owl who arrived as a baby in 1999 when the school started. Dingle is massive, at least a foot tall, with large amber eyes that stare at you disconcertingly. And he is gorgeous – with black and golden markings, and a white collar – he could proudly star in any of the Harry Potter movies! 
Next we proceed to the ‘bird cages’ – the entire periphery wall is lined with a metal fence, giving the birds plenty of room to fly about, without escaping. There are a few peregrine falcons and several Harris Hawks, with charming names such as Sonora, Swift, Milly, Aztec, Summer, Inca and Wilde. 
Coulson explains that the hawks are taken for a ‘walk’ twice a day, either by one of the trainers or by visitors like me. “Their diet is carefully monitored, and we weigh the hawks before and after the walk, to make sure that they are getting the optimum amount of food”, he elaborates. 
Soon I am introduced to Aztec, a three-year-old male Harris Hawk, whom I will be taking for his evening walk. I wear a thick leather glove on my left hand, which reaches halfway up my forearm. Coulson deposits Aztec on my gloved hand. The bird is on a ‘leash’ attached to his feet, and Coulson instructs me on how to hold it correctly. I expected Aztec to be heavier, but his weight hardly registers. Up close, he is a beautiful bird, with a brownish-black body, chestnut colouring on his ‘shoulders’, and a long dark brown tail, ending in white tips. He is already pecking away at my glove with his large, yellow beak. Then suddenly he lets out a shrill screech and starts flapping his wings – he’s raring to go for his walk. 
We head into the woodland, with Coulson explaining to me how to release Aztec. “Extend your arm fully and sweep it across your body”, he says. He then releases Aztec’s leash, I swing my arm as instructed, and away goes Aztec. It’s a thrill watching him spread out his wings and fly away into the treetops. Coulson opens the little leather bag he’s carrying, picks a small piece of raw chicken and places it in my gloved palm. “Hold your arm straight down by your side and close your fist”, he says as we see Aztec following us in great swoops up amongst the trees. Then I give the signal by raising my arm out front while facing Aztec. He dives down elegantly and comes to rest on my arm, tucking into the chicken in my palm. 
For the next 45 minutes or so, Coulson and I walk further into the woods releasing Aztec periodically and then calling him back for his meal. My earlier apprehension has given way to excitement and a measure of fondness for the bird. My heart leaps with joy every time I hear the now familiar swoosh as Aztec lands on my arm. 
Hands down, the best experience of my trip to Ireland! 

Getting there

Etihad Airways flies from Mumbai and Delhi to Dublin, via Abu Dhabi. The drive from Dublin to Ashford Castle (240 km) can be done in 3 hours. Alternatively, take a train to Galway and then a local bus service to Ashford Castle. 

Where to stay

The rooms at Ashford Castle are sumptuously done up and many of them give sweeping views over the lake.  Alternatively, you can stay at The Lodge at Ashford Castle, a 19th-century country house annexe to the castle, offering a more intimate ambience (and lower prices). 

A 60-minute hawk walk is priced at €80 per person; discounts available for groups. Details at


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