After cooking for strangers over the last decade in my shared apartment in Melbourne, from my tiny flat in London, and finally on my ‘count-my-blessings’ rooftop in Barcelona, I’m convinced that immersive food experiences are the future of travel.
The first time I traveled, not just tagging along with my parents, but choosing a faraway place, selecting my seat, then poring over how to see, hear, eat and experience as much as physically possible, was as a 19 year old traversing Spain. I had visited my grandparents in their beachside house in Torredembarra and walked up and down Barcelona’s Las Ramblas with my family, but never explored further afield, and definitely not as a free spirit.
That trip saw me fly into Barcelona by plane, catch the train down to Sevilla, make friends and hitch a lift with some girls that were driving down to Tarifa, slowly cycle up the coast to Malaga and then finally board a combination of boats to Ibiza and finally back to Barcelona. The objective for my trip was to experience, and it wasn’t until those final few days in Barcelona, digesting everything I’d seen (and eaten) over the past 3 weeks, did I truly understand which memories would ultimately stay with me: those that involved people or food, and ideally both.
So I remembered the fried calamari sandwich shared in Barcelona’s Parc Ciutadella with an old school friend, the traditional paella thick with rabbit and snails devoured in Sevilla with new friends from the hostel I was staying, the juicy tomatoes topped with salty anchovies I savoured on the side of the road with those two French girls, the crispy artichoke hearts a found myself sharing with a fellow diner as we crammed into a tiny bar to enjoy the best tapas in Tarifa and definitely not the seafood feast that was heaved onto our table when we ordered the ‘Mariscada’ (a feast from the sea everyone should try once in their life). Meals provided my reference point on that trip, and the people I shared those immersive food experiences remain friends.
Combining food with travel is obvious to the wanderlusters amongst us, but there is no definite word that truly represents this delicious combination of fresh horizons and even fresher flavours. Blending concepts is always prone to slight awkwardness but is completely necessary in order to truly represent the combined experience. Like Glocalization, where perspectives are formed at a global level and actions are applied at a local level, or the simple fusing of the gossip-driven Brangelina, the sugary Cronut, or the unfortunate Guyliner and sits nicely among other Pormanteaus terms that incite hidden rage amongst staff at Macquarie Dictionary.
It’s even been the inspiration behind the names of two of my favourite companies, Eat+With (a black-and-white Israeli creation) and Viz+Eat (a quirky French twist), now one in the same as TechCrunch reported in September of this year.
Pioneers changed the world. The innovators like Newton, Einstein, Edison and Ford. And the settlers that made the world the imperfectly occupied mess it is today. Pioneers are explorers, discoverers, adventurers, experimenters, the seekers and the searchers.
I too am a Pioneer. I seek out the new, surprise makes me smile, and adventures are what I pursue day and night, as retold in my latest cookbook. My plate knows no boundaries, my fork no limit. I foraged for lemons in central London, survived on wild berries on Sweden’s deserted Gotland Island, and spent summer weekends amassing nuts and herbs from the mountains of Catalonia in preparation, like a squirrel, for the coming winter. But it is when I travel that my pioneering spirit peaks.
Holidays are built around food and memories are never too far from my stomach. I’ve eaten fish eyes in Hong Kong, dined on chicken sashimi in a train station bar in Tokyo, picked apart Sill in Sweden, combined caviar with vodka in Moscow and made room for za’atar with every meal in Jordan. I discover the people and the place through food, more specifically, the act of eating. And thus, I am a Pioneater, making Pioneating my way of getting to know the world.
What is Pioneating?
Pioneating refers to the act of learning about a culture by sharing a meal with the locals. It is the phenomenon that sees travelers seek out stronger connections with a place when they travel, choosing food as the medium through which they form these ties.
Immersive food experiences provide the ideal setting to understand a person, a place and a culture. As far as communal experiences go, meal times are a close second in terms of intimate moments we can share with others. When two or more people sit around a table and share a meal, personalities are naked and biases are laid bare. We understand the who, where, what, why and how even before dessert is served.
Making Relationships Delicious
In published research, Larry Forthun found that the bonds between people were strengthened around food. The act of eating is inherently one of life’s pleasures and this familiar setting automatically promotes positive relations between people. Of those surveyed in the study, some 71% said that the happiest moment of the day for them was sitting down to a shared meal – read more here.
There is no better setting at which true intercultural exchange is possible. Historically food has served as a way of bringing together world leaders and promoting peace between warring nations. This form of culinary diplomacy is most accurately described by Rebecca Sheir who illustrates how dinner has served as a tool for diplomacy since bread was broken amongst 12 apostolistic men.
The Traveling Buffet
The role of food in the life of the traveler seeking out immersive food experiences is even more fundamental. Meals act as a framework for memories and relationships with a place and its people. The term culinary tourism entered popular lexicon over the last decade – analysed most aptly on Huffington Post. This hungry tourist combines the best of travel with the sensory pleasure of discovering new flavours. In some cases, the strongest motivating force is the plate of razor clams in Cadiz, the perfectly formed Mille-feuille in Paris, the collard greens in America’s soulful south or the real Tom Yum soup that only Thailand can provide. The force is the food.
Show me the Numbers!
The World Food Travel Association last researched the culinary tourist in 2007 and found this palate-driven glutton seeking out immersive food experiences accounted for almost 1/4 of all travelers. Since then, we’ve seen the MasterChef Phenomenon and the penchant for people to choose meals on the basis of how it will look good on Instagram, and one can only predict that today the culinarily-motivated comprises
How to become a Pioneater
I am proud to lead the global community of home cooks and private chefs at VizEat & EatWith, as we revolutionize the dining landscape and create a world of immersive food experiences. Our community of independent chefs is making Pioneating an accessible norm for every traveler. We are making it possible for the wanderlusting type to sit down with the locals and enjoy a home-cooked meal, delivering an experience that goes beyond the plate to form a profound cultural interchange. Guests are granted the privilege of trying authentic food and connecting with authentic locals, and other foodie travelers from around the world.
Perhaps it is put best by Cesar Chavez, famous Latin American activist and long time foodie:
“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him…the people who give you their food give you their heart.”
This is why you should always travel with a fork, a big appetite and an even larger heart, because immersive food experiences are the future of travel and I’m so excited to help make Pioneating a word Wikipedia-worth in 2018.