06/29/18

Social media connecting the world through food and travel

A Colorful smoothie made for breakfast. That gorgeous charcuterie plate served during lunch. The amazing pot luck spread at the office happy hour.

Chances are you or one of your friends shared an experience revolving around food on social media in the last 24 hours. While we still hear complaints from the naysayers – “who cares what you had for breakfast!” – the fact remains that sharing what we eat and drink on our social channels is just another way for us to connect with our family, friends and even strangers. Food often serves as a powerful connecting force, both online and offline.

While this post was meant to be a commentary on how social media has had an impact on how we communicate globally, I want to revisit my offline experiences around the globe centered around food – all of which were, of course, communicated online so others could share in my experience.

With that in mind, here are some of my favorite connections, made possible with food, in my travels around the world.

Uros Floating Islands, Lake Titicaca, Peru: Steering clear of some of the more populous tourist attractions, our guide instead took us to visit a friend living on one of the floating islands made of dried totora leaves. We visited with the whole family, learning more about their way of life and how they were preparing for an upcoming marriage ceremony for one of the older sons. The matriarch of the family was busy preparing a large quantity of fish stew for the event and we were honored to be offered a sample. We visited several high-end restaurants on this trip (Peru is a culinary destination, after all), but nothing compared to the intense flavor of that stew being cooked over an open fire.

Toilara, Madagascar: Our incoming plane struck a bird while landing, busting the windshield. It was the last flight of the night, and it looked like we might be stranded in this tiny airport until the morning. While we would (luckily) end up getting on a new plane that night, the airline offered everyone dinner vouchers at a nearby local restaurant. Next thing I know, my husband made friends with another American, now living in Madagascar, and I was packed into a pickup truck, my husband in the back, with a bunch of other expatriates. To be honest, I don’t remember much about the food that night. But I will never forget the company and the conversation we enjoyed over that meal, hearing their funny and poignant stories of traveling and working in the country. Upon returning home from that trip, I happened to notice that two ot the people we had dinner with that night were credited in our guidebook.

Quito, Ecuador: Here, we turned our city tour into a food tour, stopping at every food cart along the way to try something new. Our guide appreciated our love for food and willingness to try it all. She offered to take us to one of her favorite places in the city to try her favorite dish, but first she emphasized how she wouldn’t normally bring an American couple to this hole-in-the-wall, but that we seemed up for it. We were introduced to the owner and the chef, and our guide ordered two bowls of cow stomach soup (not discussed in this post is the fried Guinea pig in the left image). I can’t say this is a dish that I heartily enjoyed, but I can certainly treasure the memory of the experience and am thankful for our guide for taking us off the beaten path.

Khao Sok National Park, Thailand: Though I have many other delicious experiences to share, I will end on this one. It was a day long hike through the forest with a small group of other tourists. At the halfway mark, we found ourselves in a hut with a fire pit. This would be where we were making and eating lunch. We learned the proper way to open a coconut and the various ways to use the water and meat from it. Working in teams with this group of strangers, we made and enjoyed a delicious meal that would power us through the trek back to our lodging for the night. I have spent most of my life telling people that I don’t like coconut. It wasn’t until this meal that I realized I had never had coconut beyond candy bars and macaroons. Today, coconut is one of my favorite ingredients to use in my cooking.