It is only natural that environment should dictate how and what you eat. Climate controls what can be grown, culture dictates the flavors produced and tradition keeps those things in place.
It was so sad to be traveling in far flung places throughout Asia and see just how pervasive the non-culture of American food has become. McDonalds and Starbucks are everywhere because, heaven forbid, you are forced to eat local food! Don't get me wrong, by the end of my trip all I wanted to eat was simple roast veggies and guacamole, but I also knew that I should enjoy the rich (authentic) flavors of the countries I was in while I could.
For someone with food allergies this got a little bit tricky, but hell, if I can do it, you can too!
I had Kobe Beef and fresh sushi in Japan (also copious amounts of Onigiri), Aloo Gobi in Jakarta, Hainanese Chicken Rice in the streets of Bangkok (at least I think thats what it was?) fresh mango in Manila that was tart and sweet and all the curries and rava dosa... not to mention far too much rice! Each flavor wound it's way through my senses, imprinting itself on my memory.
In his memoir 'Yes, Chef' Marcus Samuelsson talks about how his time working on a cruise ship taught him to 'taste the world'. Each city brought a new flavor to his pallet to keep on file for creating new dishes when he returned to a kitchen on dry land. As his career grew, Marcus was always thinking, "how can I change this dish? What would it be like if I added..." using his natural talent, tradition of his grandmother, and curiosity to make the dishes he was creating even better. I love that idea. How can I add to something or tweak this dish while still maintaining it's integrity...
Since returning home I have wanted to explore what flavors would look like, could I make Aloo Gobi with sweet potato? (the answer is yes and it is so so good!), could I make kimchee and ferment my own rava dosa? What would happen if I made pad thai with sun butter instead of peanut? How can I create the dishes I want to eat (keeping in mind my food restrictions) without jeopardizing flavor and texture?
Food is connection. The smells, textures, and flavors of a dish carve channels into our minds. We can't help but remember Christmas at grandmas when we smell prime rib and mashed potatoes or recall that time in Thailand when it was a million degrees and all the tuk tuk drivers were hustling you on the corner by the street food carts when you smell ginger and garlic creeping out from the local thai place. Bad Chinese food will always remind me of going to the mall when I was in high school and the smell of chocolate chip cookies will always remind me of my mom.
I can't put into words just how powerful this is. In Cooked, a new short docu-series on Netflix, (based on the best selling book by Michael Pollan) They talk about how revolutionary bread is... BREAD... and how it changed humanity. In Morocco bread is seen as sacred. So much so that it is illegal to cut it with a knife because it is seen as too violent! How amazing is that!? There are so many wonderful food traditions and facts in this series, you simply must watch it... It made me want to fly to Florida and have my grandmother teach me how to make all the traditional German food that I ate as a child in her house... mostly cookies and spätzle I can no longer eat but still.
What flavors interest you at the moment? Do you have any traditions that you keep, recipes that have been passed down? What treasures does your taste memory hold?