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.


The Right Way to Travel and Eat Your Way Through the World

In a world where travel is made widely accessible, what were once unique, magical experiences are now being increasingly commoditised.

Amidst the clutter of ubiquitous tour itineraries, how does one seek out authentic experiences? And what does it mean to travel right?

Where has the magic of travel experiences gone?

While the advent of new technologies may have made travel accessible to the masses, it has also taken away some of its allure.

Travel experiences are increasingly being commoditised – how many times have you been part of a long, snaking queue of tourists, each attempting to capture the most Instagram-worthy angle of an oft-photographed landmark?

cliche tourist stuff

Each vacationer tries to cram 10 attractions into a four-day itinerary or races against the clock to see widely-known attractions – yet never makes time for authentic, local experiences that are unique to a destination.

That’s not to say that crafting an authentic travel experience for yourself is impossible – but it certainly takes work, and could wind up being a research project in itself.

After all, you’ll be sieving through endless tour operators and itineraries, each promising to deliver an unordinary travel experience – one that offers all of the “best”, “must-sees” and “must-eats” that a place has to offer.

Emerging out of a world of frenetic, cluttered travel experiences is the art of ‘slow travel’ where less is more.

This could mean taking time to unwind and relax, to slowly savour an attraction rather than zoom off on a sightseeing spree, to sit down with strangers for a chat or immerse yourself in the local community.

It’s how you uncover the essence and magic of travel – which lies in taking in the everyday wonders around you, and getting a feel for experiences and interactions you don’t typically get in your everyday life.

Let’s take the example of holiday-making in Paris. While dining out in an upscale Parisian restaurant is an incredible experience, a different kind of fine dining – one that’s held in a 19th century apartment just a skip away from the Champs-Elysées – can be just as memorable. It’s a dinner party, so you’ll be welcomed by your host into her circle of friends, and join in a feast prepared by a local who’s been brought up cooking French classics.

bonappetour magical experiences

The same goes for Rome. While most of the tourists are busy rushing to “top-rated restaurants” they’ve seen in their tourist guides so they can tick off one more item on their “must-do lists”, you can sit down with home-chef Alessandro and enjoy his truly Roman feast overlooking the Vatican City.

At other times when in Singapore, the very best of a city’s cuisine are found in its vibrant street food and hawker stall scene. While impossible queues are the norm at popular stalls – some of which are actually Michelin-rated – a specially curated hawker food tour takes care of the hassle of queueing. Thanks to hosts who stand in line on your behalf, all that you’ll experience of the tour are delectable dishes enjoyed in the company of fellow foodies.

And while food may be the main draw here, it’s other elements coming into play that makes the whole experience unforgettable – like newfound friendships forged over shared meals, getting a local’s insights into traditions you’ve never heard about and taking the time to be in a single place to bask in the warmth and intimacy of deep conversations and heartfelt interactions.

The slow travel, as the world calls it, where people prefer magical experiences over commoditised tourist clichés.

5 Vacation Rentals In Italy That Have Stunning Kitchens

5 Vacation Rentals In Italy That Have Stunning Kitchens

If you’re a foodie who is planning a trip to Italy, you are in for a treat! While it is always a pleasure to experience the delicious cuisine and impeccable hospitality in Italian restaurants, you might find even more delight if you have your own kitchen during your stay.

Each region of Italy has its own specialty dishes that you can try to make in the comfort of your own home. Explore the local farmer’s markets and come home with some beautiful produce that you can use to make your own authentic creation.

Today, we are featuring some vacation rentals with stunning kitchens in five Italian cities. Andiamo a mangiare!

[irp posts=”782″ name=”Here’s Why Your Next Fine Dining Experience Will Probably Be At Home”]

1. Rome

5 Vacation Rentals In Italy That Have Stunning Kitchens

Get spectacular views of the Palatine, Roman Forum, and the Capitol from your rooftop patio in this stunning Roman apartment. It has a fully-stocked, beautiful kitchen where you can live out your culinary dreams, as well as an elegant dining room where you can share your creations with your loved ones.

[irp posts=”771″ name=”7 Non-Touristy Things You Should Definitely Do In Rome”]

2. Amalfi Coast

5 Vacation Rentals In Italy That Have Stunning Kitchens

Stay in Villa Baroque, a sumptuous ten-bedroom retreat in the oldest part of Positano. Enjoy taking dips in the infinity pool with a full view of the sea, or relax in your beautifully-decorated bedroom with high ceilings and frescoes.

Believe it or not, this rental also includes a cook who will make all your meals, which is a great way to learn how to make Italian dishes. You can even request a professional chef who can come to your house and elevate your experience to new levels. Perfetto!

3. Florence

5 Vacation Rentals In Italy That Have Stunning Kitchens

If you’ve ever seen the movie Under The Tuscan Sun and have been dreaming of life in a Tuscan villa ever since, look no further than the Villa Rogai in the tiny village of Romola. You’ll be ten miles away from the center of Florence, yet you’ll feel like you’re a world away.

The villa was built in the late nineteenth century and is decorated with beautiful antique furniture. You can enjoy your meals on the terrace by the pool with a view of the nearby hills. We recommend buying several bottles of local chianti wine to taste, too.

4. Milan

5 Vacation Rentals In Italy That Have Stunning Kitchens

Experience the northern grandeur of Milan in a vacation rental that is as fashionable as the city. This luxury loft sets you up perfectly for exploring the city, and you’ll feel like a local in this small but comfortable space.

Fun tip: take a day trip to stunning Lake Como, and buy some fresh fish to bring back and cook for the evening in your little Euro kitchen.

5. Venice

5 Vacation Rentals In Italy That Have Stunning Kitchens

Plan a trip for you and your nine other friends or family members to the Palazzina Canal, a stunning property in Venice that is right on the water. You’ll have views of the whole city from the windows of your apartment.

The kitchen space is perfect for big cooking productions: you can spread out all of your ingredients on the large island and put people to work – or sit them down at the barstools, and give them samples of whatever you’re making.

A Foodie’s Guide To Christmas In Barcelona

A Foodie’s Guide To Christmas In Barcelona

The Catalan capital is world-famous for its sensational gastronomy. The good news for food-focused travellers visiting during the festive season is that there’s even more to get excited about.

From local specialities that you can only find in Catalonia, to must-eat Spanish Christmas nibbles, here’s what and where you simply need to eat during your time in Barcelona!

[irp posts=”922″ name=”5 Traditional Spanish Foods You’re Probably Pronouncing Wrongly”]


A Foodie's Guide To Christmas In Barcelona turron

You know Christmas is on its way when the Spanish supermarkets start stocking turrón – or torró as the Catalans call it. Made with a sweet nougat from toasted almonds, there are two types of this delicious Spanish treat: hard and crunchy, or soft and chewy.

Try the original version with whole almonds, or try seasonal specials such as marzipan nougat with cinnamon and lemon zest.

Where to eat it: There are lots of fantastic Turrón shops in Barcelona, but my favourite is Sirvent, where they’ve been perfecting their recipes since 1920! They also do great ice-creams!


A Foodie’s Guide To Christmas In Barcelona embotits

Image credit: Flickr

The Catalans are famous throughout Spain for their quality cured meats and sausages, or “embotits” as they call them. And whether it’s “fuet” (Catalan salami), Iberian jamón (A-grade Spanish ham), or spicy chorizo, Christmas is the perfect excuse to sample as much as possible.

Where to eat it: You won’t have to go far to find these meaty treats, but for a selection of extra-special Christmas products be sure to visit the La Botifarreria de Santa Maria.

Escudella i Carn d’Olla

escudella-i-carn-dolla Foodie's Guide To Christmas In Barcelona

Probably the most Catalan Christmas dish of all, this hearty meat and vegetable stew is typically enjoyed on Christmas Eve. Cooked slowly, the broth is rich and delicious, so the Catalans add giant pieces of pasta that look like snail shells called “galets” to absorb and savour the flavour.

Where to eat it: Ask any Barcelona resident who makes the best escudella i carn d’olla and they’ll tell you their grandmother’s name, but you can also enjoy and authentic version at Casa Julia.


Foodie's Guide To Christmas In Barcelona paella

When you think of traditional Spanish cuisine the first thing that normally springs to mind is paella. But what many people don’t realise is that the Spanish only eat paella for special occasions, and Christmas is one of those occasions!

Cooked slowly and spiked with saffron, the rice is mixed with fish, meat and/or shellfish and absorbs the rich flavours – it’s a real treat! Another top tip: the Spanish only eat paella for lunch (not dinner) because they believe it’s too heavy to eat before jumping into bed.

Where to eat it: The locals will tell you that the best paella is a home-cooked paella. Luckily for travellers in Barcelona, you can enjoy an authentic home-cooked paella at BonAppetour host Teresa’s home!


Foodie's Guide To Christmas In Barcelona canelons

Another classic Catalan Christmas tradition, these chunky meat-stuffed pasta tubes are topped with a creamy layer of rich béchamel sauce – very similar to how the French and Italian eat them. A must-eat if you’re in Barcelona during the festive season!

Where to eat it: Pop into Bar del Pla for an authentic taste and wash them down with a  glass or two of local wine.


Foodie's Guide To Christmas In Barcelona cava

Whilst we’re on the topic of wine, Spain is paradise for wine lovers. The region of Catalonia is especially delicious, with a staggering 10 official DOs (Denominació d’Origen), which are regions classified for their finest producers. And though the locals see Christmas as an excellent opportunity to have a jolly good time and drink both red and white wine by the gallon, the star of the season is unquestionably Catalan Cava.

Now, even some of the most dedicated wine lovers have the misconception that Cava is a poor man’s Champagne. But in fact, it’s actually the exact same product made in the exact same way – it’s just that there are laws which state only sparkling wine from the Champagne wine region in France can be labelled as Champagne.

And because Barcelona is only an hour or so away form the Penedès wine region, which produces a staggering 95% of the world’s Cava, you can drink the very best of it at dangerously low prices.

Where to drink it: Everywhere and anywhere that sells wine!

Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate

Foodie's Guide To Christmas In Barcelona chocolate amatlier

Christmas wouldn’t be complete without chocolate, and in Barcelona there are tons of great options to choose from.

Where to eat it: Visit the one of the Farga cafes or shops for a taste of locally-made heaven, or combine chocolate with the city’s iconic Modernist architecture at Casa Amatller, which is a mansion that was home to the wealthy chocolate-making Amatlier family.

Staying in Barcelona till New Year’s Eve (or after)?

Spain is famous for their quirky New Year’s Eve ritual.

Here’s how it goes: at the strike of midnight, everyone eats twelve grapes (in one go!).

It’s believed that if you manage to squeeze the twelve grapes into your mouth, you will have good luck for the rest of the year. Throw in a toast with a glass of Cava to start the new year in style!

Also, you can join in the celebration of Three Kings Days (Epiphany), which is celebrated on the 6th of January in Spain, and is even bigger than Christmas.

Foodie's Guide To Christmas In Barcelona roscon

A special dish called Roscón de Reyes (Kings’ Wreath) is typically eaten to celebrate. It’s a type of milky brioche cake topped with medallions of colourful candied fruits, and piped with marzipan and cream, like edible crowns.

Where to eat it: Grandma probably makes them best, but you can get a special one at Escribà, Barcelona’s most iconic bakery. Christian Escribà says he sells over 3,000 roscóns a day during Christmas!