For those wanting to expand their palate while immersing themselves in exotic cultures, you don’t have to leave home to be a more worldly global citizen. Epicure & Culture caught up with Sasha Martin of Global Table Adventures to learn how to connect with other cultures — and foster world peace — through cooking at home.
1. What was your inspiration for starting Global Table Adventures?
Definitely my family. I wanted to help my picky husband overcome his resistance to new foods, raise my daughter with an appreciation of other cultures and satisfy some of my wanderlust (travel was not an option at the time). Once my husband was on board — he loves a good challenge — we started the process. One country per week, 195 total.
2. How can people connect with other cultures through food, even when they can’t leave home?
Sharing a meal is the ultimate way to connect with another culture. In fact, I think it’s the closest you can get to a culture without actually going there. You can literally enjoy the flavors of their country wherever you are. You just need a few spices and your stovetop — and sometimes not even that much!
3. How can eating the foods of other cultures help bring world peace?
It’s all about understanding one another. Food is the most basic of our survival needs, but it’s also how we come together in celebration. When we realize we’re all here doing the same thing, trying to feed our families and eat in peace, the rest seems more manageable somehow.
4. What is your approach for finding and choosing the meals you’ll serve your family?
My goal is to choose recipes that will make my family excited about the world. I think there’s a big difference between shocking someone by choosing the most extreme dish possible, and getting someone to say “Oh yum, I want to try that!” There are delicious and accessible dishes everywhere. You can literally take one ingredient like carrots or green beans and find a handful of new ways to try them from every continent. That’s the sort of fun I like to create with my family.
5. What is the most important thing eating dishes from around the world has taught you?
During the last year of the project, when I began writing my memoir for National Geographic, my editor pushed me to dig deeper. I’ll always remember her laughing, saying something like “You’re obsessively cooking every country in the world… that’s not a normal thing to do. What’s really going on here?”
Introspection (and lots of tears) brought me face to face with my rough and tumble childhood – the string of foster homes, the painful separation from my mother and the tragic death of a beloved family member. Food, specifically cooking with my mother, had been an important anchor early on, but as an adult I felt disconnected from that experience. As I worked to build my own family, cooking the world had become much more than trying new food – it became my way of working out what unconditional love and belonging meant. Reflected in the desire for my daughter to love her world, I also saw my own need to love my world and feel loved by it. After a childhood in turmoil I was hungry for peace.
I soon learned that I could not control my world or how other people behaved. I couldn’t even force my beautiful, kind-hearted daughter to love her world. Even with my encouragement, the choice was ultimately hers … the only peace I could create, it turns out, is for myself.
What a scary revelation.
But it was also freeing. As I cooked the countries, lessons from their cultures seeped into my everyday life and I felt a shift – not only in how I saw them, but how I saw myself. Cooking the world changed everything … but the surprise was that the biggest changes came from within.
6. For western travelers wanting an at-home culinary adventure completely different from what they’re used to, what would you recommend?
For those looking for a culinary challenge I recommend focusing on the “how”” when it comes to trying new foods. Get your hands dirty! Hand roll empanadas, fill your own ravioli, broil a 19-layer German Tree Cake… so much fun is to be had in the act of preparing food in the traditional way.
7. You have a daughter, Ava, who ate a meal from every country in the world before she turned five. How did you get Ava to open up to all these exotic flavors? Was there a technique you used, like starting her off with familiar foods then gradually getting more exotic?
Getting her involved in preparing the food was key. For example, she had no interest in trying sushi until, at two years old, she helped me make a veggie roll. Now she loves them. Also, many of the Asian-style soups are very much do-it-yourself, which is also fun for kids. They can add the herbs and garnishes they like, while staying away from more challenging items if they want.
8. On your blog it says that your current goal is “a year of global celebrations.” Can you tell us about this?
Every week I share a post celebrating a recipe or holiday around the world… sometimes it’s not even that specific – sometimes it’s simply celebrating a famous person or dish. Take a peek at what we’ve done so far by clicking here. Some of my personal favorites include Kahlil Gibran’s birthday, Nowruz and the seasonally appropriate Around the World with Apples for the First Day of Fall!
9. Recently on GOOD you suggested to the community that they “eat a meal from a country in conflict.” What kind of effects do you think this has?
The impact of this is HUGE for little ones. Even if you can’t talk about current events with little ones, simply giving these countries a place at your table will send a strong message to your child. I recently wrote up several mom’s perspectives on this for World Peace Day (along with the “official” world peace day recipe).
10. How can food change the way people view the world?
It’s all about connecting with each other. When you sample something delicious from another country, it fosters goodwill which, in turn, fosters understanding. Children are globally connected online, it’s critical to think of each other as global neighbors. Food is a great way to start a friendly dialogue.
11. What are some good starter recipes you recommend for those who can’t travel but want to begin exploring the world through food?
12. What are some recipes you recommend for those with a very adventurous palate wanting to explore the world through food?
Oh, Babenda for sure! It has fermented locust beans and anchovies and … and… just see for yourself (yum!).
For those with a sweet tooth, my 19 layer German Tree Cake and Scandinavian Ring Cake are both great tests of your baking skills.
*Photos courtesy of Global Table Adventures
About Sasha Martin
Sasha Martin eats the world for fun. In 2010 she founded Global Table Adventure, home to 650+ free recipes from every country in the world. Her book, LIFE FROM SCRATCH: A MEMOIR OF FOOD, FAMILY, AND FORGIVENESS (National Geographic, 2015) shares the poignant childhood memories that inspired her adventure as well as a behind-the-scenes peek at what cooking the world was really like.
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