A Quest for Culinary Traditions

Today’s guest post is by Valerie Sisco of Grace with Silk, and the Culture With Travel Food Correspondent.

Food and Family: A Quest for Culinary Traditions

Italy’s pizza and pasta, the pastries and chocolate croissants of Paris, and even Russian borscht {which I’ve had in New York City} are the iconic foods I have to try when I travel.
As soon as my flight is booked and hotel room reserved, I seek out the culinary delicacies of wherever I’m headed. At the top of my travel planning checklist is booking a food tour, enrolling in a local cooking class or embarking on a specialty sampling.
So, I’m wondering if a quest for a recipe or a particular food has ever influenced your choice of travel destinations?
I traveled to Italy last summer, hoping to find a trace of my dad’s family in the food of the country of my ancestors. But his family is from southern Italy and since I was in the northern lakes area, I discovered there are quite a few differences between the various regions.
ItalianGrandmother
Through the local food, I wanted to identify with my Italian grandmother I never had the chance to know. She died from an illness when my dad was a small child and his family rarely talked about her. Without much to go on, I was hoping to find a connection in the pasta or desserts, knowing only that she cooked spaghetti and baked lemon pies.
But on my trip I dined mostly on polenta and risotto, had tiramisu and peach sorbet for dessert, and ate very little of the pasta with tomato sauce and hearty meatballs that my dad’s family used to have cooking on the stove.

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During my pasta-making class, I thought about how hard it was to make noodles from scratch and as I waited, tired and hungry for the food we’d made to finish cooking, I marveled at a generation of grandmothers that had the energy to cook with such care for their families.
Pasta Rollout and culinary traditions
My other grandmother {on my mother’s side of the family} was a baker whose made-from-scratch pies filled with fresh peaches or apples were always a highlight of my visits with her. But her specialty was nut roll, a traditional Central European pastry of nuts and honey rolled up in dough, that was from her Czech/Bohemian background.
Czech Grandmother and culinary traditions
She never showed me how to make them and her only written recipe is sketchy and hard to follow. I’ve been trying for years to recreate her pillowy, buttery crust and get the consistency of the nut mixture right. I’ve struggled with the dough ingredients since she used lard, and I’ve tracked down similar versions of the recipe online hoping for a more detailed explanation of how the dough rises.
Nut roll and culinary traditions
Even though I’ve gotten close to baking nut rolls like hers after making repeated attempts, I still don’t have it quite right.
But I suppose that’s just the inspiration I need for more travel.
Italy Dining and culinary traditions
I’m considering a trip to Rome in the spring to get a little closer to the food of my dad’s family. And I know I’ll need to make a trip to southern Italy in the future to put me in touch with the lost recipes of the past. Maybe a trip to Prague would shed some light on the mysterious nut roll dough that keeps eluding me and my rolling pin.
I think the world’s food history — and the food of my family’s history — await my next travel adventure.
What’s your inspiration? Share in the comments about your next food and travel adventure!

Valerie Sisco writes the blog Grace with Silk. She lives in Orlando, Florida, where she’s dreaming of her next travel adventure. Follow her journeys via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

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