Experiencing Culture Through Cooking

Marry and Stefan

Today’s guest post is by Mary Collins.

My major in undergrad was Cultural Anthropology. I found it fascinating, still do, largely because it was a window into so many unknowns. Prior to college, I had never left the country, except for a brief 2 week stint in Europe.  Reading about other cultures was a way to travel without ever leaving campus, and I couldn’t get enough.

This fascination led to my first solo trip to study abroad in Melbourne, Australia, senior year.  I can remember how terrified I was to actually board the plane, travel to the opposite end of the Earth (literally) and spend 6 months in a country where I knew no one.  I don’t get scared often, but that easily stands out as a time I was truly full of fear.

Mary Collins
(Mary Collins)

Of course, it’s not surprising to say, I caught the travel bug in an intense way by the end of that trip, made a ton of great friends, and discovered an amazing country that will always have a very soft spot in my heart.  

It was the first of many times I could feel the world getting smaller and friendlier while my appetite for discovering it continued to grow.

Coming back to the US, graduating, and starting my job at a Children’s Shelter, it didn’t take long to start planning my second adventure.  Next stop: Chile.  This time, my travel companion, who later became my life long partner and husband, Stefan, joined me.  He was the real foodie between the two of us, and opened my eyes to the different flavors, and tastes of Chile. It was there where I realized, while reading about cultures is great, there’s no substitute for trying the very foods they enjoy every day.  

Marry and Stefan
(Mary and Stefan)

Experiencing a culture through cooking and food creates rich connections that you can carry with you wherever you roam.

I still vividly remember the Malbec we drank while getting to know other hostel guests, and sharing stories of the day’s adventures, as dusk set in over the back courtyard, or the avocados we put on everything that we picked up at a street vendor’s cart each afternoon.  And of course the Pisco Sours- admittedly an acquired taste, but well worth the palate adjustment.  

These memories literally take me back to those meals, the people and the fond feelings for such an inviting country.  When I look back on our six week adventure, as we travelled to Mendoza, Todos los Santos, Chiloe, and Valdivia, to name a few, I feel like the spaghetti country opened its doors, welcoming us with open arms to discover all its beauty.

That trip lead to many others over the years, to include the Virgin Islands, Ireland and Uganda and Kenya.  And with each trip, I try to explore cultures that are as ‘different’ as possible from the US culture I’m coming from.  

Mary & Giraffe experiencing culture

But I continue to find, no matter how different the culture and circumstances are, ultimately we are more alike than we are different.

I also find that the more willing you are to submerse yourself if a culture, the more it will open up to you.  It is up to you how much of a culture you experience.  This is why I’ve become so passionate about seeing cultures through food.

If you’re just willing to try a new dish, it will connect you to its people in rich and tangible ways- and create memories that will last a lifetime.  Those connections can shape how you view far away countries or your own backyard.

It’s making those discoveries and connections I’ve dedicated my life to.  Those connections have reshaped the way I view the world, and I want to share that vision with everyone. To that end, my husband and I created Carpe DC Food Tours, a food tour company based out of Washington DC, to tell the stories of DC’s iconic neighborhoods through food.

Carpe DC Food Tours experiencing culture
(Carpe DC Food Tours)

While we stroll along DC streets, we show people the flavors and establishments that have shaped the area over the past 150+ years and where things are going in the future. I’ve learned that your sense of discovery and appreciation for culture shouldn’t end when your suitcase is unpacked and the pictures have been uploaded to facebook.  This exploration can continue to happen every day, and will only work to enrich all your experiences.  

So while I am planning our next trip to Japan in the fall, I am still a traveling every day, right here in my hometown.  My community continues to grow and I feel more at home and connected to the city around me.  

Ultimately, I learned that while travelling can have a profound effect on your perspective of the far away world, its effect on your local everyday experience can end up being the most life changing.

Mary CollinsMary Collins Bio

Mary founded Carpe DC Food Tours in 2014, to pursue a passion of showing people the beauty of connecting to the local community through food and stories. This vision came from her adventures overseas, as well as getting to know the District and the great food it has to offer. Prior to Carpe DC Food Tours, Mary earned her M.P.A. in nonprofit and international management, worked with a Ugandan based NGO, a children’s shelter and for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

2 thoughts on “Experiencing Culture Through Cooking

  1. What great inspiration to lead Mary to start her own food tours — they sound amazing! Food is a wonderful connector to lead travelers to share stories and enjoy a unique experience while traveling. I’m going to keep this in my travel notebook if I’m in DC!

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