Sometimes the best way to learn a place is to experience it through its food and drink. So much history and tradition is packed into why people in certain places each certain things. Take for example Maine. Everyone knows if you go to Maine you can’t leave without eating lobster. It is part of the cultural experience. But as a traveler, ask yourself why lobster is so connected with the culture of Maine. You might be surprised by what you discover.
In fact, lobster was once the food of the poor. Prisoners and indentured servants in colonial times would eat lobster because it was plentiful and easy to find in the tidal pools along the coast. Lobster also became a vital source of revenue for the people of Maine over the years…they made their living off the coast in the waters of the North Atlantic – the sea is in their veins.
So while in Maine, eat lobster. Or better yet a lobster roll and a local beer whilst sitting at the bar with the locals in a pub on the docks, watching the Red Soxs play on the TV. Ah, Portland…I love thee…
Or what about eating pretzels and sausages while drinking beer in Germany. Bring on the lederhosen! All of these things are hearty foods, made from ingredients found on most farms. They have historically fortified Germans and others for the long days of hard work tilling the land. As the old saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention and the biergartens of modern Germany, hives of Germany’s social culture, got their start due to necessity.
The Czech Republic has fried cheese or Smažený sýr as the Czechs call it. It is essentially a big, thick (1.5 cm) hunk of cheese, breaded and fried and served as a meal, along with tarter sauce, potatoes and of course, beer. This isn’t a snack, its a meal that makes you feel as if you could make it through an entire Czech winter without eating another bite.
Of course Italy is known for many foods/drink, primarily pasta, pizza, and wine. However, if you are ever walking around Rome and find you need a refreshing drink, there is no need to buy an expensive bottle of water. You can drink your fill from one of the 2500 public water fountains throughout the city. You can’t get much closer to history than these fountains. They are still fed by the aqueducts built thousands of years ago by the Ancient Romans. They used them to funnel fresh water into the city for use in public bathhouses, latrines, and fountains, as well as private homes. To think you can still do what the Romans have done for thousands of years is a humbling thought. Through barbarian hoards, earthquakes, famines, and war, the water still flows fresh and today you can even locate one with your phone (there’s an app for that).
I stumbled upon one when I was in Rome fifteen years ago. It was a warm day and we were headed into the Roman Forum and there is was….without hesitation, I pulled the tap and drank. It was cold and tasted delicious.
Finally, you can’t talk about how food and drink define a place without talking about the Scots. Ladies and gentleman, I give you haggis.
Made from the left over bits of a sheep, ground up and mixed with spices, haggis is then boiled inside a sheep’s stomach or intestines. The Scots have to get the award for most creative presentation as the haggis has it’s own ceremony called Burns Night.
Each January 25 or thereabouts, haggis is carried out at ceiladh’s across Scotland, let by a piper in his full glory. The haggis is presented on a grand platter to the host’s table where he/she rises to perform “Address to a Haggis.” A poem written by none other than Robbie Burns himself. It begins like this:
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.
And carries on for a full seven stanzas before the ceremonial knife is lifted and the haggis is cut open. I can say from personal experience that it tastes rather like sausage, but I do understand why many a good Scot chases it with a wee dram of the best whisky. 🙂
Oh, well….when in Rome….
All photos not marked are by the author. Cover photo courtesy of tipaweedram.com.