There are two pieces of advice I usually share when asked for my travel tips that have nothing to do with packing or planning. The first is the best way to experience a place is through its people, by meeting and getting to know locals. The second is always eat cuisine that truly reflects the local culture and whenever possible is actually cooked by natives, don’t go to Paris and eat at McDonald’s.
Spain is a wonderful country and there were many culinary adventures that took place while I traveled throughout Costa Brava, which I will remember forever. Eating at El Celler de Can Roca taught me much about the artistry of food and the satisfaction that can come from consuming, and enjoying, a meal that features so many ingredients which scare me. Yet, it was an afternoon spent in a remote fishing village closest to Palamos on the Mediterranean ocean, which truly fit the advice I so often give others.
The village we visited was made up of whitewashed buildings dotted with rainbow-colored doors and shutters. The ocean was bright green and turquoise, boats bobbed up and down in the cove, the beach was formed by rocks, hiding secrets and begging to be climbed upon. Into the postcard-perfect scene we entered to feast upon freshly caught seafood, paella, deep fried artichokes and fried chicken to rival the best the Southern United States has to offer. There was a head chef but the meal was really cooked communally by friends, each person with a task, who gather often for fellowship built around the bounty of the sea.
Many of the menu items were unrecognizable to me and I had to smile for the mystery. Because I can’t eat seafood, my options were a little more limited but I did not go hungry; far from it, and I could well appreciate the abundance we were offered. Smiles on the faces of my fellow visitors told me just how incredible our feast in its entirety was. Before Spain, I had been in Italy and since artichokes were in season, they were a part of every meal. To my dismay, I didn’t love them. Yet the deep-fried artichokes served that day with homemade garlic alioli, still make my mouth water even now. It’s quite possible I ate five times my portion!
A serenade of classical guitar with songs that told of old recipes and of Catalonian heritage followed the prolonged, leisurely meal. Morning bled through the afternoon and began to edge toward evening. Copious amounts of Spanish wine were offered to us and this helped to grease the wheels of conversation to a point at which, when we finally parted, we were no longer strangers; Spanish, American, Canadian, English – all, friends.
It isn’t unusual for people to come together over food. Though it happens surely in every country it will look a little different every time. If, as a traveler, you can share in an afternoon like I had you should not miss the chance. Museums and tours, from G Adventures of course, are a wonderful way to explore but I think one of the best ways to get to know another culture is by sharing in the intimacy of a meal cooked by locals and a conversation that tears down walls and builds bridges in their place.