Why Should You Try ‘Local’ Cuisine? In recent years, we have witnessed a social phenomenon around a hobby. “Traveling” is the new public obsession. That’s the word in the market. And social media, in its humble way, has already marked travelers to be the new “cool”. And as expected, in India, there has been a surge of travelers or even better put, ‘wanderlust’ – the urge to see new places. All this is extremely heartening and encouraging, as travelling is indeed an institution in its own – all forms of life’s education rolled into an experience that builds perspective. Traveling, without a doubt, is a great hobby (and, where applicable, profession).
I try to travel a bit too. Not as profusely or as adventurously as I would like, or some do regularly, but I still do travel. 5-6 new places in a year is what I try to achieve. And during those visits, I made a few observations regarding the food habits of travelers, and it left the Foodie in me a little heartbroken. What else could I have felt, when I heard a Bengali couple looking for Dal Bhaat in Kerala, or when I saw my own parents ordered Rotis and Bhindi Fry in Shillong? Well, for me, traveling is a wholesome experience not an exercise to tick the places, and “food” is very much a part of it.
Well, in my little way, I would like to encourage more travelers to sample local food at the place you are traveling to. People like to eat simple on a daily basis, around the world you know. If you put a little effort, hygiene won’t be an issue. However, I know it is not so easy to convince without structure, hence I enumerate a few reasons below on “Why should travelers try out local cuisine?”
- KNOWLEDGE and AWARENESS: The people make a place. And they are where you will learn the most about where you’re at. Is there a more authentic way to know about the place, to learn about the life and to open yourself up to the possibilities of a new culture? And is there a better spot to cook up a conversation than a local joint? I think not. I have met wonderful people in a Khasi joint in Shillong, a fish fry shack in Lakshadweep and a small by-the-road household-plus-eatery in Goa. And the list goes on. These encounters have left me richer and more aware of where I am, and definitely more open to the local culture. Yes, there may be barriers of language and trust, but hey, ‘food’ is a language that people from anywhere can bond over. Think about it.
- CONSERVATION: Where has all human knowledge followed from? Were we born with the information? No. It was conserved for centuries and we, today, are reaping the benefit and doing analyses to build up on that knowledge which will benefit our future. Now apply this to the micro-system of a local economy. Travelers look for North Indian food, for Dosa, for Dahi Vada in Manali, as a result demand increases, restaurants open. On the other hand, the demand for local food decreases. Add to it the ever increasing commodity costs and the low income of locals at any tourist destination, and you will see how this cycle is slowly killing off local food. No demand, no restaurants. We do cry for lost recipes of grandmothers, but are we doing enough to conserve?
- The EXPERIENCE: It is something else, I tell you. Eating Yakhni cooked by a local in Leh, polishing off Beef Fry and Parotta in a Kerala shack by the road, trying the Pork Sorpotel in a Goan outskirt, snacking on Pork Fry in a Meghalaya village, enjoying Bisibele Baath at the Madras tiffin room, a Sheermalin Lucknow – each of these is a unique experience. As they say, when in Rome, do as the Romans. What they forget to add is that the experience is incredible. There is hardly a loss from your end, a little adaptability and looking outside the comfort zone is all that is required. And believe me, they love to cook for tourists, they do.
- 4. A little GIVING BACK (and it works both ways): Ever spared a thought on what tourism has brought to the local economy? Yes it has created jobs, given exposure, organized money but hasn’t it also disrupted systems, brought pollution and influences that always threaten their horizon? Yes, it has. Now how to turn this into a mutual system? By ensuring we, in our humble matter, do our bit for their overall growth (and this not only applies to food, but to local products as well). Buy local artistry, buy local wine and eat local food. This way, we do out tiny bit for them, we bring them business, we create a demand and eventually the demand will support more local establishments and hopefully a few more children will be able to complete their schooling. We are a part of the social chain, and it is but a legitimate price to pay in return of the thrill that travel destinations provide. And most of the times, local food is also easier on the pockets, so you know, it won’t really hurt you.
That brings me to the conclusion of this piece. I do not know if I have been able to convince you, since food is made from flavors, and flavors cannot be turned into words; but what I have attempted is to mention why you should take the first step, to tell you that taking the first step and trying some local food will only make your trip more complete. After that, I trust the food to do the rest.