People who know me will say that my appetite is poor. I have never been able to finish food when eating out. If it is a three course meal, be sure that I will be full by the time second course is served.
Somehow I was never able to find much pleasure in the act of eating itself till recently much less appreciating it. For me it was a chore despite having foodie friends. But somehow my attitude towards food began to change in the recent past.
My first memory of the time I actually enjoyed food was when I was travelling in Belgium. I had someone with me who loves food and experimenting. I tried the vegan delicacies, those syrupy waffles with strawberries and cream and hot crispy fries. It was a very different experience showed a different dimension of a country’s culture. It was a revelation to me when I realised food was at the heart of it. It started then, my quest to understand a nation’s culture through its food.
So at my next stop, which was Italy, I hogged pasta, pizza, risotto and suppli. Not to mention those aged wines and coffee that I could not seem to get enough of. It was when I was eating and drinking that I came to realise the spirit of Italians. Rather you can only realise it only when you eat and drink that they live for the moment. They appreciate what life throws at them and cherish it. You can actually feel it in the way they prepare food and serve it. That probably sums up the spirit of Italy.
Even after I came back from my trip, I could not help but want to try different cuisines in Chennai, where I live. So whenever possible and as long as my wallet was thick I tried out different cuisine – Japanese, Thai, Italian, Russian, Chinese, Continental and other Asian cuisine. I was rediscovered my love for South Indian sambar and Kerala dishes.
Though we always knew in theory that food varies from one country to another, actually trying them out gives you much more insights about a country and its culture. For example, during my trip to Denmark I got an opportunity to interact with a lot of Danes who explained me why they eat the food they eat. Most common dish Danes eat is meat balls and potatoes. Potatoes are the only form of carbohydrates they get as the weather is too harsh to grow anything else. One of them explained: “The practice of having meatballs and potato started decades ago when there was not much like we have now. Only meat and potatoes were available in plenty.”
Since men had to do a lot of physical work at fields, women at home packed meatballs with mashed potatoes, which will help them sustain their energy levels. That is probably how meatballs and potatoes became an ubiquitous dish in Denmark
There is one other thing Denmark is famous for – the country is known for its desserts. It is not surprising of course, given the huge dairy market there. I stuffed myself with desserts when I was there.
These are the kind of information you learn when you try local food. Being a vegetarian puts a brake on learning a lot of things. Even so it reveals the transition some of these primarily meat eating countries are witnessing.
European countries Belgium and Poland are one of the first to adopt vegan practices for environmental and health reasons. In Ghent, Belgium every Thursday is a vegan day. There are plenty of vegan restaurants in cities of these two countries if you want to grab a bite though the same might not be applicable for villages and smaller towns.
I was able to understand and learn these changes in the food arena only because I was more open (as much as I could). These encounters made me realise that the best way to explore a foreign country is through my stomach. I would say so far it has been a great one barring the fact that it required me putting additional effort in losing all the fat.