Traveling in North America Should Everyone be a Food Tourist
After all, the United States and Canada share similar beginnings. The pioneers and colonists who carved settlements out of the continent were originally English and French. Traveling in North America Should Everyone be a Food Tourist. Life in this new world called for robust food for a resilient and hardworking people. The huge variety of ethnic dishes enjoyed today came later, brought by immigrants from different countries. Many of the offerings at your favorite burger joint started out as gourmet dishes or adaptations of gourmet dishes (French fries began their career as pommies frites). From these basic roots of good, plain home cooking, grew the present-day incarnation known as North American cuisine.
It’s not all burgers and fries. When it started, the North American fast food culture was mostly about “fast” and not so much about food. Hey, the culture of the car was just taking off and roadhouses offered tasty nosh without having to leave the comfort of the Chevy! But that was over sixty years ago – I think we’ve got over it, already.
A relatively new and lucrative niche in the travel market is “culinary tourism” (also known as food tourism). Of course, savvy travelers know that one sure way to get under a country’s “skin” is to go where the ordinary people go, eat what they eat and see how they live.
Connecting with Food
So how do you connect with ordinary people, the man-in-the-street? The trained professionals, schooled in modern hotel practice to provide smooth, seamless service, won’t give you any insights into the day-to-day. But those hotel professionals, the concierge, the receptionist, even the bellhop are good places to start asking questions. What’s safe, what’s good?
Then go down in the street and find out where the neighborhood restaurants are. Small neighborhood eateries usually offer delicious food and give good value. If the locals eat there, it’s a sure sign the chef’s doing something right. Who sells the street food, and what is it? But don’t just try the street food. See if you can visit the markets where the locals get their produce for a cross-cultural learning experience.
A Little Research Goes a Long Way
Make it easy on yourself and do a bit of research, read a few articles like this one. Even with a loose plan of action, you have a better chance for a totally unique discovery. Every country has differing viewpoints – this is what makes this approach so rewarding. When I’m out-and-about in another country, I want to experience how life really is for the native people.
In the cooking, eating and sharing of food, you cross the invisible obstacles between “them” and “you” and become just people. Few things break down barriers quicker than participating in the “ritual” of eating. To connect with cultures all over the world, there is one element common to man, food.
The Vast North American Smorgasbord
The amazing thing about North America is its hugeness. Traveling through the US and Canada is like visiting all of Europe, most of the Middle East, some of South America, all of Scandinavia and a good chunk of Africa. Throw in Cuba, Central America, the Caribbean and just about any other culinary tradition you can think of and you’ll find it somewhere in this huge melting pot.
Given the vastness of the territory, it isn’t surprising that regional cultures have grown up around a particular nationality or local specialty. Take for example, the Canadian Maritimes, where abundant seafood attracted settlement more than 10,000 years ago. That area and its US counterpart, New England have been attracting newcomers since the first ships arrived in the 1500’s
When faced with a destination as enormous as North America, knowing what to find and where to find it lets you spend more time collecting great memories. Naturally, other countries also have regional differences but few of them are as big or diverse as the North American continent.
So imagine the whole of the North American continent is laid out in front of you. Now where in this mass of land are the best places to experience the “real deal”? Where are the classic destinations you should be looking for? Those places where the food forms a very real part of the experience? Regional qualities are often shaped by an unusual marriage between cultures and cuisines. These strong traditions develop between unrelated groups living and working together over decades.
Take for example, New Orleans, “the Big Easy” is often called the most unique American city. World famous for Mardi Gras, Jazz and food, its heritage is a multicultural melange between French, Spanish, African and Native American traditions. Other cultures added to this multiethnic mix, have resulted in Creole and Cajun cuisines.
Another significant landmark in a North American exploration would be San Francisco. Home of the Popsicle, hardly an epicurean delight, but greatly beloved by all of us living in hot climates. San Francisco has given the world many famous dishes that can trace their origins back to the city by the bay.
California wine country is the Napa Valley and Sanoma County. Located in Northern California, it has been known as a wine-growing region since the mid-19th century. This area, north of San Francisco, is well known not only for wine but also for its architecture, cuisine and culture.
New York, New York otherwise known as New York City has been described as the cultural capital of the world. The term “melting pot” was first used here because of the vast number of immigrants making up the population. This ethnic diversity means New York City’s food culture embraces a wide range of world cuisines. Street food is widespread and incredibly varied.
For a Change of Pace
The American South is known for its culture and the varied cuisine that separates it from the rest of the United States. Food figures highly in Southern hospitality and especially the sharing of cake or other treats with visitors. These customs of the South are an attempt to make the visitor feel as relaxed as possible in an unfamiliar place. This “famous” southern hospitality is remarkable to experience first-hand and adds greatly to a visit down in “Dixie”.
Southwest food is all about a cuisine adapted from the rustic cooking of the Southwestern United States and found in Southern California as well. Southwest cooking is a marriage of foods favored by Spanish settlers, cowboys, Native Americans, and Mexicans. Versions of Southwestern food are familiar to many as Tex-Mex” in Texas, New Mexico cuisine in New Mexico, while in Arizona, the Southwestern style of cuisine is often called Sonoran.
The Pacific Northwest is concentrated in the Portland–Seattle–Vancouver corridor. Ethnic cuisines are prevalent throughout the Northwest (most especially in Vancouver) where there is a large and ethnically diverse population. Portland is a microbrewery center known for its handcrafted beer. The region produces locally made wines from grapes grown in the sympathetic climate created by coastal breezes and the Northern latitude.
The Great North
Canada is the world’s second-largest country and its border (with the US) is the longest land border in the world. Taking on the whole North American continent is a tall order. But if you pick out the highpoints, the regions that have the most appeal for you, then you can approach Canada in manageable bites.
I’ve included Vancouver in the Pacific Northwest because the culture and cuisine is so linked with Seattle and Portland. But before you think I’m playing favorites, let me tell you about some of the other attractions for the food tourist. Quebec is known for poutine, considered by some to be the Canadian National dish. Also in Quebec is the city of Montreal, famous for the smoked meat that originated there. Then there is Thunder Bay, Ontario and Persians, the delicious sweet treat that originated in that city.
All the great experiences waiting for the traveler deserve a saga. Approaching your trip as a food tourist has less to do with cost but everything to do with value. By adding the dimension of cuisine, you have a way to intermingle with the local people on their level. After all, everyone loves good food.
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