Go Behind the (Food) Scenes When You Travel
Here's the best way to learn about the food & wine culture of a travel destination
I’ve been working at Oldways for 30 years, traveling many miles, and visiting places around the world in order to introduce them to others. And all of this travel is travel with a purpose—to learn about and appreciate a place through its agriculture and viticulture, its food and wine culture, and then to bring that experience to others.
What we hope is to inspire appreciation and understanding of food and culture that leads to healthier, sustainable, meaningful food choices when our travelers return home.
(Psst! Want to travel and experience the food culture of the Low Country this fall with a Netflix-famous chef? Scroll down to the bottom of this email!)
In the early 1990s, the travel programs Oldways organized were intended to educate journalists, chefs, food writers, retailers, dietitians, scientists and doctors about the Mediterranean Diet, Mediterranean preparations, and extra virgin olive oil, so that each of these influencers would spread the word about this delicious and healthy way of eating. It worked. In the early 1990s, there was only a tiny offering of olive oils in U.S. stores—consider the array available in stores today.
What’s more, by appreciating the actual work, effort and beautiful products made in the places we visit, we honor and give value to the cultural food traditions of a place – something that means the world to those who toil long hours to produce artisanal and traditional foods and wines.
We recently surveyed people who have traveled on an Oldways Culinaria, and asked: “what is most appealing about traveling with Oldways?” The top answer—by a wide margin—was access to outside-the-guidebook experiences (farm visits, producer visits, local experiences.)
I can think of many very special experiences during Oldways Culinarias that immerse our travelers in the cuisine and culture of a place. To me, they are “pinch-me” moments – times that I can’t believe I’m so lucky to experience. Here are a few that touched me, as well as those who travel with Oldways.
Manavgat, Turkey. During our Turkey Culinaria in March 2022, Mustafa, a tahini producer in Manavgat, near Antalya, Turkey, invited us to his factory where we watched sesame seeds be transformed into tahini, an essential ingredient in Turkish cuisine. After seeing the roasting of the sesame seeds and the tahini making process, we had a tasting of tahini and extra virgin olive oil, followed by a lunch organized by Mustafa. The lunch was prepared by what in the region they call mobile cooks and kitchens that go to people’s houses (usually houses located in the villages) and cook local food for weddings, funerals, and circumcision ceremonies. The cooks made keşkek (a very traditional dish made by pounding wheat and lamb meat together), plus rice pilaf, slow cooked beans, and other local dishes, and we sat at one long table in the parking lot in front of the factory. It was magical and delicious. Definitely a pinch me moment.
Parma, Emilia Romagna, Italy
Parma is famous for pasta, for Prosciutto di Parma and, of course, Parmigiano Reggiano. While we were in Parma, we had the pleasure of visiting one of the last farmstead producers of Parmigiano Reggiano at Valsarena—“farmstead” means they grow the feed, raise the animals, and make the cheese all at one farm. After watching the cheese production, plus visiting the rare, brown Sola Bruno cows (including newborn calves), the Serra family who own the farm invited all 40 of us from Oldways to lunch in their beautiful home. As a treat, Giuseppe Serra “cracked” a wheel in honor of our visit. Magical and gracious.
Village of Asites, Crete
At a conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of the initial Mediterranean Diet studies, our group of scientists, chefs and journalists had the great fortune to participate in a celebration of a rebuilt schoolhouse in the small mountain village of Asites. The women of the village brought the food a la Maine baked bean supper – mainly beans, greens and horta (wild green) pies. The children of the village sang, and the men of the village led everyone in dancing (and a few thrown plates!). Pinch me!
Village near Granada, Spain
Watch this experience in a film that was captured on the day-of!
As I was in Granada, planning a Culinaria in Andalusia, Spain, Carlos Yescas, cheese expert, told me about a producer of goat cheese west of Granada named Maria Jesus. We arranged a special visit to her farm. When we arrived, we had a tour of the Queseria, and then walked through their olive grove to visit their goats in the field. Meeting 300 goats at one time was a once-in-a-lifetime experience! Maria Jesus and Reinaldo graciously offered us a simple, casual country lunch of local Jayena bread, meats from Granada, cold salads with vegetables from Granada, seasonal fruit, and Cueva de la Magaha, a ricotta-syle cheese with honey, local wines, beer and water. As you can see in this video, it truly was a “pinch me” moment, one that gave us an appreciation of their cultural food traditions.
And there’s so much to look forward to on our future tours (which you can join us for!), such as:
In Naples and Amalfi in October 2022, we’ll visit producers of San Marzano tomatoes, pasta in Gragnano (the city of pasta), limoncello in Amalfi, and buffalo mozzarella, including a stop to meet the water buffalos.
In the Low Country in November 2022, we’ll learn about the rice production that helped to make the region what it was and is.
In San Sebastian, Spain in March 2023, we’ll see the production of cheese in Navarra, conservas near Bilbao, and wine in Rioja.
In Greece in April 2023, we’ll learn about the production of olives and olive oil, of course, plus honey and an ancient drink made from honey.
And in Costa Rica in June 2023, it’s coffee and chocolate that we’ll learn about.
No matter the place, my advice is to be sure to visit producers of food and drinks that the region you’re visiting is known for. It will, for sure, give you a better understanding of the place you are visiting, and in addition, you will honor the people and the culture of the place.
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Global Recipe: Besan Onion Cheele (Chickpea Flour Crepes)
In Indian cuisine, cheele are savory crepes typically served with chutney or plain yogurt for breakfast. The most popular cheele are made with besan (chickpea or garbanzo bean ﬂour), giving the dish a boost of protein.
Insider Travel Tip
Pack an empty, flattened duffle bag at the bottom of your suitcase
You may not have planned for a shopping spree during your trip, but most travelers end up purchasing more souvenirs than they expect. If you’re packing light or in a carry-on only, place an empty, ﬂattend duffle at the bottom of your bag. You may not need it, but just in case you end up taking home more than you arrived with, you have the option to pack the duffle and check it on the way back.
Introducing: Low Country Tour with Chef BJ Dennis and Chef Jennifer Hill Booker
November 7-11, 2022
You’ll want to join us for this special food- and history-focused Culinaria in South Carolina and Northern Georgia’s Low Country. We’ll explore the sea islands that hold the key to the true history of the South. We’ll be led by Chefs BJ Dennis, Gullah food expert and advocate, and Jennifer Hill Booker, southern cuisine expert, as we discover the food, culture, history, crafts, language and traditions of the Gullah, who helped settle this part of the US, and who made the Low Country what it was and is. You’ll also have time to explore the best of Charleston, Beaufort and Savannah, including a local cocktail party in a Savannah square plus a ﬁnal dinner at The Grey in Savannah!
Spots are still available—register today!