One of the best ways of understanding and learning about a country, a culture, it’s history and its people is through the food they eat and so what could be better than combining a love of travel and a love of food with the desire to write. Food travel writing is arguably one of the most appealing types of food writing because any trip can be turned into a gastronomic journey of discovery.
Who are you writing for?
With food travel writing you don’t necessarily need to have any particular audience in mind. Your stories could be for the armchair traveller who wants to be able to experience places without having to leave the comfort of their own home or you could be writing for people who want to learn as much as they can about a place before they visit.
Your stories may also appeal to people who want to be reminded of a place they have already visited or even those who will never have the chance of visiting. So, try to write in a way that gives all of your readers the chance to soak up or imagine the sights, tastes, aromas, settings and people whether or not they ever get to experience it for themselves.
Food travel writing is personal
Food travel writing is not just about your culinary experiences. Tell your readers about the people you meet from chefs, waiters, market stall sellers, local farmers and street vendors to locals just sitting in a bar enjoying a drink or people tucking into a traditional meal with family or friends. As the main character in your story you want your readers to know what inspired you to make the journey and discover how your experiences affected you.
You don’t need to travel very far
If you can’t afford to go to faraway exotic places, a short visit to a local town or city will give you the opportunity to investigate and write about anything from local delicacies and specialities, local produce and famers’ markets to the best (and worst) restaurants and pubs, cafes and bars.
Tell it as it is
No matter how good your trip or journey was there will probably have been some low moments. It may be a truly forgettable meal, a frosty or unwelcoming encounter with some locals, an unfortunate reaction to a local delicacy or simply a place you didn’t enjoy. It is this type of detail in food travel writing that will make your story much more interesting and real. Your readers will enjoy reading anecdotes about disastrous meals, things that went wrong or weren’t as you had hoped or planned or any other unfortunate experiences that add colour to your story.
What to write about
You could write about the restaurants you visited irrespective of the cost and tempt your readers with mouth-watering descriptions of what you ate and drank. Or you could reach out to readers who are more familiar with working to a budget. For example, check out inexpensive restaurants, cafes, bars and teashops away from the main tourist areas where you might pay half the price.
You could go looking for local specialities and write about where they are available, how they are made, why they are typical of the area and discover from the local makers or vendors what the story/history is behind them. You could focus on finding local recipes served on special occasions such as Christmas and Easter or at family events such as weddings and learn about how they are prepared and served.
You could concentrate on finding places to eat where children are welcome, restaurants with the best view or ambience or where to find the best tapas, sea food, steak etc.. Or you could visit food festivals or local markets to check out the array and variety of produce available or you could sample the food on sale from street or road-side vendors – the opportunities for stories and anecdotes in food travel writing are endless.
Broaden your experiences
If you want to broaden your experience and extend your research why not investigate what effect geography and climate have on what is grown and eaten in an area or region. Or, investigate how the different communities and ethnic groups have influenced or contributed to the local cuisine. Enrol on a cookery or baking course to learn more about preparing and cooking local recipes.
Find out whether there are any special ingredients or spices that are indigenous to a region and trace their history and discover what influence they have had on food preparation in other parts of the world. For example, most of the worlds’s cinnamon comes from Sri Lanka, nutmeg trees are native to the tropical islands of Indonesia and India is now the largest producer of ginger. How did these come to be known around the world and how did they get there? The history of these now very familiar spices often goes back hundreds of years and because of their rarity were typically only available to the very rich. So when did they stop being used simply as a display of wealth and start being used to enhance the flavour of food? Many of our Christmas food stuffs which include spices are derived from food served at feasts in the medieval and Tudor periods.
An internet search will reveal a wide range of food travel books – here are just a few to whet your appetite (click on the links below to purchase any of these books):
Nathaniel’s Nutmeg by Giles Milton – In 1616, an English adventurer, Nathaniel Courthope, stepped ashore on a remote island in the East Indies on a secret mission – to persuade the islanders of Run to grant a monopoly to England over their nutmeg, a fabulously valuable spice in Europe.
The Spice Necklace: A Food-Lover’s Caribbean Adventure by Ann Vanderhoog – Ann Vanderhoof and her husband navigate the Caribbean on a sailboat, discovering local culture in each tiny port, and collecting sumptuous original recipes along the way.
A Moveable Feast: Life-Changing Food Adventures Around the World (Lonely Planet guide) – From bat on the island of Fais to chicken on a Russian train to barbecue in the American heartland, from mutton in Mongolia to couscous in Morocco to tacos in Tijuana, celebrate the riches and revelations of food with this 38-course feast of true tales set around the world.