Cooking Classes While on Vacation
People have many reasons for traveling. Some like the nightlife, catching the best parties. Some have nothing more than business purposes. Others do it for the experience of a new culture, new people with different customs and beliefs. Whatever the reason, we all want to take home memories and possibly new friends. If your main interest is learning about a country’s culture and traditions, you should read on.
“Culture” is a word that has many different concepts. Yet, we all have a general idea of what the word represents. Every nation in the world has its own culture, its own trademark to distinguish them from the rest: clothing, music, language, and last but not least – food.
Food is very closely related to culture; much more than most people may think. It’s the center of many social events throughout our lives. The way a group of people prepare and eat their food says a lot about their beliefs and values. Some of the recipes that are popular among most households have been passed down from generations, which gives us an insight into their history and traditions.
Take immigrants as an example; even when they move to another country, they continue to prepare their foods in the way they did in their place of birth. This is done to keep their identity as it’s part of their ethnicity. Some foods also reflect people’s beliefs or religion. For example, in Israel, kosher food is eaten throughout the country, which means no pork whatsoever; although in other countries it can be extremely popular. This is how travel and food can come together to have a full cultural clash experience – in a good way.
When we travel, we usually plan our activities ahead of time. These activities usually include museums, landmarks, restaurants, national parks, etc. Most people believe that the best way to learn about a country’s culture and history is through its physical places you can visit. Not all travelers think about actual experiences through which you can meet locals and get a taste of their daily lives. Most tours and other programs only allow you to interact with locals in a professional “tourguide-to-tourist” relationship.
Although there are thousands of activities you can do while on vacation, there is one that is usually forgotten or dismissed: COOKING CLASSES! Yeah, I know what you might be thinking… Cooking on holiday? What a drag! Believe it or not, a cooking class can make your trip even more rewarding and meaningful. Also, let’s admit, it’s probably the cheapest way to enjoy a great meal. Well, let me explain why this might be a great choice for a traveler wanting to soak in the whole experience of a new place.
1. It’s a great way to make new friends
Besides going to the clubs, or to your hotel bar, going to a cooking class is a fun, healthy way to meet new people. This is particularly helpful for those traveling on their own. It’s like going to school; you’ll make friends with someone eventually. At these classes you can meet both tourists and locals. Tourists will usually share stories of their own birthplaces, relating their traditional meals to the ones being prepared in the class. If you get to mingle with some locals, you’ll know a little more about every dish you prepare and what it means for these people. Taking a cooking class with them actually allows you to know them on a more personal level, giving you a better understanding of what it’s like to be in their shoes. Do they eat this for breakfast or dinner? Do they take it with soda or tea? Is this a traditional Sunday meal? Locals are the only ones who really can relate to these meals, as it has been in their lives throughout generations. Learning to prepare a traditional plate of food while learning what it means to a local certainly can bring you closer to their culture and its people. It’s this exchange that will create a bonding experience with both your instructor and fellow students, as you will get a glimpse into their lives, their family and all that’s important to them. In the end, it all comes down to a delicious feast that will be shared through pleasant conversation and laughter. Nothing can make you feel more connected to a place than an experience like this.
2. You get to leave your comfort zone
As we grow up, we have a sense of what we like and how we like it. We get used to eating certain foods, preparing and eating them a certain way. The food we eat becomes part of our daily choices, our social gatherings, and even life at our home. Traveling, though, shows how differently people prepare their food all around the world. Some cuisines include ingredients that we have never seen or even heard of before. Some include things that we wouldn’t even imagine to be edible. For example, in Mexico, grasshopper tacos are a very popular choice for people who are out and about wanting to grab a bite. Although to some people (including me) eating grasshoppers is unthinkable, it is a very popular choice for a quick snack to Mexicans. It goes to show that nothing can be classified as “normal” or as “strange”. Perhaps if you grew up eating grasshopper tacos you’d love them too! It all comes down to being willing to try new things, no matter how strange it might seem. If you were to go to a restaurant, you wouldn’t even think about ordering some of the things you eventually get to try in a cooking class. At a restaurant, you also don’t get a full understanding of what you’re eating and how or why it’s prepared a certain way. In a cooking class, you’re kind of forced to try the foods you’re making, even if it sounds a little weird to you. In a way, it’s possible to say that a cooking class is the best way to dive into the unknown. Chances are, you’ll love it and it’s a new choice for a midnight snack.
3. Impromptu classes
Some cooking classes, especially those that are intended for tourists, can be a little bit more improvised. Instead of going to an actual building or classroom, you can take a class out in the open, with the locals in their daily lives. Some of these impromptu classes include a tour around the city’s gastronomical sites, such as markets and street stands. Exploring a city’s local markets is a great way to learn about the different authentic spices, herbs, vegetables and fruit that make up its cuisine. It also allows you to understand what people’s preferences are, and what they believe is indispensable when grocery shopping. Some other of these classes allow you to learn to prepare traditional dishes in rural communities, where everything is still done the old-fashioned way. Many people that live in these communities have indigenous ancestry and continue to lead their lives the same way past generations did. You can even learn to prepare traditional dishes with the locals, the same way their ancestors did. This might mean that you’ll be cooking on stone and fire instead of a stove, which to some, is completely new. Taking a class of this kind is so fulfilling because not only you get to soak their culture in, but also their history. Learning to cook as they have learned across generations brings a piece of their heritage with you. This gift is something nobody could ever take for granted. Having a person or a family open up their home and giving you a taste of their background is something to cherish for a lifetime. Getting away from the modern world, and going back to simpler times through great food and great stories is an amazing way to understand a new place.
4. It’s a great souvenir to take home
The sole experience of taking a cooking class abroad and meeting new people with different backgrounds is extremely rewarding. Even though the trip itself is unforgettable, the results of your learning experience will be something to enjoy forever. Most instructors for these classes provide you with a cookbook at the end, where you’ll find all the recipes learned and some new ones. Now that you know how to prepare foods that are completely new, sharing them with your friends or even with yourself will take you back to the place where you learned everything you know. It’ll take you back to the smells, sounds, and sights of that town where you made some good friends and great memories. For your loved ones, it means having a taste of a new culture without actually having to go, and also a new meal they can learn to prepare themselves and enjoy with others. In general, this will create a great atmosphere with very exciting stories to tell, reminiscing of the wonderful people you owe your learning experience to.
Finding a Cooking class is not too difficult. As your hotel or look for bullet boards where courses can be mentioned. Here are a few that are on Atlantim. Many more will be added in the future.