Travel broadens the mind, they say. But if culinary delights are your motivation for hitting the road, it’s the waistband you may need to worry about.
From Georgian khachapuri to Singaporean chilli crab, opportunities abound for some serious overindulgence while seeing parts of the world usually left off a traveller’s itinerary.
Travel bloggers Rach and Marty – founders of the Very Hungry Nomads website – know this more than most.
The pair, from Australia and Slovakia, respectively, are currently 179 countries through a round-the-world trip which aims to sample the cuisine of every nation on Earth (195 according to most calculations).
They took a break from chowing down to chat with battleface about staying safe, globetrotting on a budget and why breaking bread with locals offers a unique glimpse into culture and customs.
Which country’s cuisine has really blown you away?
Rach: There are so many! We fell in love with Georgian cuisine, perhaps because we weren’t expecting it to be so good. They really know how to build flavours using ingredients such as fresh herbs, fruit and nuts in their cuisine.
Eating our way around Ethiopia was also pure joy. We couldn’t get enough of all the delicious vegetarian stews and curries, yet fresh fish and meat dishes were wonderful too.
Food is such a communal activity – do you have any particular instances of bonding with locals over eating?
Rach: We sure do. In the Wakhan Valley, in Tajikistan, a group of ladies working the wheat fields stopped to take a break for lunch and they beckoned us over to join them. I remember a pot of rice pilau with vegetables, nuts and sultanas, topped with slow-cooked lamb with roasted garlic among other delicious foods.
Another food experience that comes to mind is an invitation to lunch at a home in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. An American woman we met who was working in the country took us along to her friends home for lunch.
The Afghan women were very interested in our travelling lives and had many questions for us. Our friend kindly translated from the local Dari language to English for us so we could communicate. It was a fascinating afternoon.
What about any negative experiences on the road? Anything that’s made you tempted to pack it in?
Marty: To be honest, we haven’t had any major negative experiences on the road. We’d like to think it’s due to the endless research we do about keeping safe and secure, especially when visiting unstable countries.
Our independent travels through West and Central Africa was at times tough, yet we always try to keep a positive attitude and wear a smile. We travelled this region with public transport, overland whenever possible, so we spent a lot of time in shared taxis to keep costs at a minimum. This certainly wasn’t the most comfortable way to travel, but definitely provided many stories to tell later.
Of course, we sometimes feel run-down, frustrated and crave basic home comforts, however we love to travel and not once have we honestly considered packing it in.
You’ve been to some pretty high-risk places – South Sudan etc – what safety precautions do you take when heading to places like these?
Marty: We do a lot of research. We crosscheck the latest details online on various websites so we know what to expect once we arrive and so we can prepare accordingly. In some of the more dangerous countries, we always reserve accommodation that has the best security available, which is hard at times, because it doesn’t come cheap.
We’re travelling on a budget of $50 per person per day, so we make decisions like this to stay safe and cut back on areas of our budget where we can. It sometimes might mean we have to eat sardines on a baguette for dinner, haha.
One thing we have learned on this journey is that things can change in an instant. A skill that you must possess when visiting every country is to be able to adapt.
The additional risks that women may face travelling is often focused on, but does travelling as women bring any advantages?
Marty: I believe women have a huge advantage when travelling. There are many male-dominated societies where being a woman will allow you to see that part of the culture or life only reserved for women.
The invite to lunch hosted by women in Afghanistan we mentioned earlier would be impossible for a male traveller. Female travellers are often very organised and have a great intuition which can positively impact their travel experience.
What about travelling as a pair – that must make the sometimes-lonely experience of global travel a little easier?
Rach: Very true! As we have travelled to some of the more off-the-beaten-path destinations, places where we don’t meet another traveller for weeks, we know travelling with someone can make all the difference. Not to mention the shared cost of transport or accommodation too.
There is something so comforting about having someone to eat your dinner with at the end of a long travel day.
Finally, you travel with only carry-on luggage, what’s an essential item you always pack?
Marty: A sarong. Such a versatile item which we use in so many different ways. It’s our shower towel, our beach mat, a wrap around skirt when you need to cover your legs, a scarf to cover your head in churches and mosques, a blanket when it’s cold, a pillow, a bag to carry items home from the market – the list is endless.