Travel on Your Plate

Tip: When travelling, try to attend cooking classes in the places you visit. This will make you experience the local culture much closer and what you learn is yours forever.

Food is in the heart of every culture, it’s part of our identity, it’s a way of living and of interacting with another human being. Cooking is an act of sharing with family, friends, or a stranger. It becomes the crucial element of hospitality and of feeling welcome. It nourishes both your body and soul.

As does travel. Like with cooking, it expands your horizons and outlook on life, cultures and identities. Like with food, it can be shared with others through stories or photos. When you join the two, you get a match made in heaven which will inspire and transform you. If you take every opportunity to experience the culture of a place through food when travelling, you will add another level to the whole experience.  

If you take every opportunity to experience the culture of a place through food when travelling, you will add another level to the whole experience.

An obvious location to start within the context of food and travel is Italy. One far less obvious place to mention is Rarotonga (one of 15 islands in the Cook Islands). The one thing in common? Both places have mouth-watering and inspiring food to offer. It is through food that you experience the bond to a place and its people, and you can bring that feeling home if you attend a cooking class or two.

Inspired by Netflix’s acclaimed Chef’s Table episodes, I decided to go to Italy to taste-travel.

Venice: Relais Agrituristico Ormesani

This is where I experienced an agriturismo for the first time. In Italy, an agriturismo is effectively a farm stay. There are fields with vegetables, fruit trees, farm animals and there is accommodation for guests. The levels of agriturismos vary, with some sporting one or two rooms, while others have full-on accommodation and other amenities like pools and spas.

The best aspect of an agriturismo is that what is presented on your plate is the labour of the farm itself. Meat, milk, cheese, vegetables and fruit – all of this has come from the fields surrounding your accommodation. Remember the days when you knew exactly where your food was coming from? The agriturismo will take you back to those days, but it tastes even better as you can appreciate it more as a grown-up.

While staying here, I had a cooking class in the agriturismo’s own kitchen. The head chef, who was also the nonna of the family that ran it, showed us how she makes gnocchi, pan brioche, costolette agnello (lamb chops) and ragu bolognese. I learned new things and I incorporated these into my home cooking repertoire. In fact, chops prepared this way are always on the menu when we have a BBQ.

Rome: Pastificio Faini

Guided by the knowledgeable and experienced local Chef, Emanuele Faini, who is an expert on home-made pasta, I learnt how to make ravioli and tortellini with spinach and ricotta filling as well as fettuccine, as part of the Pasta Professional Lab Experience. After the class, we had dinner made from our creations, which included a great conversation with the other students and Emanuele. With some delicious wine, it made for a very immersive experience with Italian hospitality.

Lake Como: Agriturismo Tre Terre

Nestled upon the side of the mountain, this agriturismo offers exceptionally beautiful views of Lake Como and the surrounding orchards. In the morning, the fresh berries and other fruit of the farm is picked by the same staff that will later in the day serve you for lunch or dinner. So when the waiter tells you what’s in a dish, you have absolute faith that they know their stuff. On a nice spring or summer day, you can sit in the outdoor area of the restaurant which is rustic yet very stylish and super fresh. The experience is elevated on so many levels: you are high above the lake, you eat the fruit of the land that grew on the beautiful horizontal fields around, and you know the staff who picked them.

Inspired by a zika-free beach holiday destination, I went to Rarotonga.

On the main island of the Cook Islands, Rarotonga, I attended a class called Cooking with a Local. It was a very unique experience and a great introduction to the island’s specific food ingredients. The course included many new to us activities, from picking breadfruit and island spinach to husking a coconut and finally using the freshly squeezed coconut cream when making ika mata (marinated fish salad with coconut, pawpaw, chillies, tomatoes and cucumbers).

This class was very educational and provided us with much knowledge about local ingredients and how they’re traditionally used. We felt this was important because the majority of places serving food on the island are moving away from the local way of cooking and towards more Western fast-food cuisine. The course answered our questions about what fruit plants we saw while exploring the island but weren’t able to name and it explained to us a lot about the culture of Rarotonga. Additionally, we were treated to learning about the whole journey of a coconut. From seed to desiccated coconut, which, up until then, I experienced only in a cheesecake.

Forget the dinner party in my house inspired by Rarotonga – if I ever end up stranded on a desolate island, like Chuck Noland – Tom Hanks’ character in Cast Away, I’ll be able to feed off the coconuts!

Travel + Cooking = Cherished Memories

As I ate my way through Italy and Rarotonga, attending cooking courses at some of the locations I visited, I realized that I have always been craving that more immersive experience. I wanted to learn more about a place than just seeing the sights. I wanted to see what it was like for the locals, to see their home through their eyes, even if it is only for a single meal.

I want to be able to take my travels with me; I want them to transform me. I want to revoke them vividly in the comfort of my home. I want my travels to be expressed in my everyday life going forward.

As you may have noticed, I didn’t attend any classes in Lake Como and while I will cherish the memories of it, I cannot serve dinner at our house which would launch me into a story of a cooking course there. Venice, Rome and Rarotonga however will be featured in many conversations going forward and in many dishes I will cook at home for both my family and friends.

Expand on your trips by being more than a mere tourist. By all means, visit the sites, take lots of photos and share them on social media. They are also memories that you will cherish forever. But if you have the time and you can find a local guide, try out a cooking course and immerse yourself that little bit more.

You can then impress your guests not only with photos from the place – impress them by your newly honed cooking skill or a meal inspired by your culinary adventures. What a treat and a dinner party story that keeps on giving!

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