Anyone who frequents ethnic grocery stores knows that you don't need an international vacation to be whisked away to another place. Food can transport us, passport-free and on the cheap. Here are a few ways I find faraway trips even when I'm close to home:
In addition to ethnic supermarkets, I seek out farmers markets and butcher shops for a peek at another culture. Farmers markets in neighborhoods with a large immigrant population are almost always full of unusual produce not sold elsewhere. And butchers catering to foreign tastes will often have unusual cuts of meat — even unusual types of meat. There's nothing like packages of strange innards to make you feel like you are somewhere else.
I also look for foreign food festivals, especially those hosted by a place of worship. People who move to a new country and hold strong to their religious beliefs also seem to keep their passion for perfect dosas or knockout pozole. I have no official data to back that up, only fond memories of standout meals eaten at church- or temple-hosted festivals.
Most importantly, I ask around. If I meet someone who is originally from another country, I ask her where she eats, which food shops she recommends, how she cooks her favorite dish from home. Anyone you meet is fair game; years ago my mom found our family's favorite pho restaurant when she asked her Vietnamese American gynecologist for noodle shop recommendations! (The place is wallpapered with giant pastel-tinted photos of 1950s Vietnam and totally feels like it's from another place and time.)
What kinds of places do you seek out for a taste of another country?
(Images: Dylan Ho, used by permission)