Travel the world without leaving your kitchen, and venture out of your comfort zone when you do leave home!
Thanks for checking out the inaugural post of The Culinary Diplomat. May the site inspire you to discover new places, tastes, and cultures and inspire you to create and share your own food adventures. Each post will introduce – or reintroduce – you to a particular food, dish, restaurant, or style of cooking. We’ll share plenty of cooking and nutrition tips, resources to find that ingredient or restaurant, and other helpful hints to recreate these culinary adventures in your own kitchen or travels.
I love food. Like many of you out there, food plays at least a supporting role in my most memorable experiences. From my travels around the world to my own backyard in my adopted hometown of Washington, D.C., food, the shared experience of discovering new ingredients, dishes, methods of preparation – with my friends, family, and even strangers – has shaped my life.
Admittedly reformed since my childhood picky eating days, my sense of adventure eventually eclipsed my food fears. Over the years, I’ve become more open than ever before, not only to individual ingredients, but also to the people and cultural influences that inspired them.
As an adult, I’ve become more aware of the subtleties of culture: how often do we focus on the things that make us different, which often really boil down to fear of the unknown? How often do we misunderstand individual people and the backgrounds – ethnic, national, or even regional – we judge them to represent? From the recent racial tensions in Ferguson, Missouri that ignited my own country to centuries-old rivalries between Turks and Greeks; Jews and Arabs; Sunni and Shiite sects, for example, history and current events heighten our awareness of cultural differences.
Those who study history and the role of diplomacy in history are aware that these divides have no easy fix, and it is not likely we will ever find that silver bullet that solves the world’s problems. But in experiencing previously unknown people and cultures, we can achieve a better understanding of and appreciation for the things that make each of us – and each tribe, region/state, and country we represent – unique.
Food is an inherent expression of culture. Tastes vary widely around the world, and my own travels have illustrated that reality to me. For example, I love my western dark chocolate bars and other traditional western desserts. The idea of eating red beans and rice as a dessert was unconscionable to me until my first trip to Hong Kong. After that trip…well, let’s just stay I’ll stick to my chocolate, but that first taste has made me more open to something similar in the future. With each trip to a new place (sometimes within my own country!), I have acquired a taste for a wider range of foods and seasonings. In doing so, I find myself with a greater understanding of others’ tastes and traditions and less fear of what is different. I have so many wonderful memories of some of those first or second experiences with a new food – whether eating a cricket with mezcal in Mexico (boy, was that a night!), alligator in Zambia (yes, it does taste just like…turkey. What, you thought I’d say chicken?), foie gras ravioli in France (the best dish I ever ate – stay tuned for that), alpaca carpaccio in Peru (tender and delicious), feijoada in Brazil, or homemade spicy Karnataka noodles in India. Those are experiences I will always treasure, the food memories that stick – even if I have no desire to ever eat one or two of those dishes again!
All of this is to explain why I’m launching The Culinary Diplomat: I hope that in sharing new or rediscovered foods, recipes, techniques, and restaurants it will help inspire us all to branch out to increasingly diverse flavors and cultures. Join The Culinary Diplomat community to make the world a smaller – and yet no less miraculous or varied – place. Please contact me to share your stories or to be a guest blogger on this site. While food is the heart of this blog, its soul is the act of sharing our experiences. Let’s join together in our shared appreciation of food – and the people and cultures that have shared theirs with us!