Strange Cravings: 3 Tips for Cooking and Eating When Traveling (or When You Wish You Were!)

Leanna Johnson
strange-cravings

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Enjoying Indian food with the Wanderful ladies of WITS 2014. Image courtesy of Leanna Johnson.

Have you ever noticed that your palate is like a map? It’s a great way to trace where you’ve been, where you’re from, and how much of your international identity you carry with you, especially for global girls.

When I was a little girl, I experienced the flavours of my mother’s past: the African dishes, the Indian spices, the British traditions. It was in all her cooking, from the cumin in our spaghetti sauce and oxtail stew to the special birthday teas and Christmas puddings.

When I traveled, it was Cajun crawfish etouffee and pecan pie with Grandma in Texas and sadza and muriwo with Grandma in Africa.

It’s hard to re-adjust to normality after travels, visits with family, or moving to a new country. We look for familiar, comfortable anchor points, and what’s more comforting than food? Whether you’re dreaming of far-off lands, fresh off the plane, or just homesick, here are some ways you can find familiar ground with your favorite dishes:

1. Connect through cuisine.

Miss those home-cooked meals? Longing for a taste of food “the way Grandma made it?” So ask!

Make conversations a lifeline, and you’ll enjoy the recipes even more for the stories and memories they come with.

If you are seeking ways to connect with your new culture, connecting through cuisine is an easy way to make new friends. People love sharing knowledge and will often be flattered by your interest. Talk to new acquaintances, co-workers, housemates, or neighbors, or ask around for someone with a knowledge of local cuisine.

2. Explore your sources.

So you have your recipe (or at least a vague idea of what you need). Now for the ingredients. Acquiring them can be as simple as showing up to the local market. Just be sure to take someone who knows what they’re doing, or you might find yourself paying tourist prices!

Finding foreign ingredients at home can be a bit complicated. You might need to seek out farmer’s markets, specialty grocery stores, or family-run stores for culture-specific items. My favourites are Indian groceries because I love the smell of spices, the feel of rice, and of course, my favorite jalebis.

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My friend Claire drinking chai at a Chicago Sikh temple. Image courtesy of Leanna Johnson.

3. Mix it together (with a little help)!

Most of us aren’t professional chefs, and tramping around creation looking for that one Vietnamese market in the middle of nowhere might not be a luxury you have time for. That’s okay!

How about cooking lessons? Learning from a relative, a local, a friend, or a teacher can cut down on the stress of tracking down new ingredients while still giving you a chance to enjoy immersing yourself in the culture.

If you love to cook (like me!), the fun’s in the journey! Don’t be afraid to experiment and make it your own. We global girls are masters of the art of fusion. With so much cultural background to choose from, who says we can’t mix and match? I may have more enthusiasm than skill, but I love putting a new spin on old new dishes! Other people may find it strange, but so what? Curry ‘n chips is a real thing, y’all!

But you don’t have to be connected to a culture to enjoy the cuisine. Another mark of a global girl is her hunger for all things international. As a staunch Korean drama fan, I crave ramyun and juk every time I start a new episode…and I’ve never been there!

And if you’re not the cooking type at ALL, don’t worry about it! Seeking out the best restaurants in unexpected places is an adventure in itself.

So tell me, global girls, how do YOU use food to connect to your identity and culture? Any strange cravings to share?

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Leanna Johnson

Author Leanna Johnson

Blogger Leanna is a freelance journalist with the soul of a gypsy who thinks getting lost is the best way to travel. As an AmeriBrit with relatives in four continents, she grew up on African food, the smell of chai and memories of walking through soggy British fields during a rainstorm. Aside from starting her own business, she hosts her own world music radio show, blogs and works on honing her photo and video skills. Her ambitions include starring in a Bollywood film, meeting the stars of her favorite Korean dramas and (finally) learning how to make jalebis. That, and writing from as many corners of the world as possible

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