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TVO's The Food Chain, Girl Eat World and My Own Travel Musings

The first thing I do when I arrive in a new place is to visit a grocery store. Sure, eventually I will visit some lovely museums, take a hop on and off bus tour (I LOVE THOSE THINGS) and see the sights but, for me, to know a place and it's people is to know what they are eating. I want to know HOW they eat, where they eat and who they eat with.

I chose Portugal for my 50th birthday trip basically so I could visit Pasteis de Belem, the birthplace of these pastries

I learned more about the heart and soul of the Jordanian people by their constant invitations to come into their shop for a cup of tea or coffee, than I did from visiting their mind blowing historical sites. I will admit that, as a woman, I was a bit wary about visiting a Middle Eastern country that just happens to sit in the eye of a political/social firestorm. Would I be expected to cover my head? Would my son and I be safe to travel around on our own? Would we feel welcomed?

From the minute we stepped out of customs to be met by the first of many wonderful drivers that would treat us like precious cargo, we were made to feel warmly welcomed with our first cup of thick, dark, cardamom laced coffee and a warm smile.

"Welcome to Jordan" was bellowed at every turn, quickly followed by the invitation to come in for refreshments. To refuse them would be to disrespect their hospitality so my son and i ended up drinking a lot of tea and coffee. I have been to  far too many places where I felt like I was nothing but a walking wallet but here, even in the poorest of areas, Jordanians were eager to share what little they had with us, hear our stories and share theirs with us. They shared their fears for their future, their concern for the region, their desire for peace - all over hot cups of hot sweet tea or that ubiquitous cardamom laced coffee.

As a Canadian, it's just a drink to get me going in the morning but in the Middle East, it is a way of life. Families gather for hours over coffee to discuss the world, politics, life and the news of the day. You will find families lingering for hours at cafes, business men conducting their affairs with coffee and shisha at all hours. Sharing coffee is about showing respect and building trust in Arab society and if you are going to spend any time in the region, you should go in knowing that.

For the last 30+ years, I have filled my suitcases not with postcards, local crafts and trinkets but with cans of octopus in olive oil from Portugal, tins of lebkuchen from Germany and bags of dried chilis from Mexico. I have incorporated the spices and flavours of every place I have ever visited until my kitchen resembled the United Nation. One bite of ceviche on a cold winter day brings me immediately back to the white beaches of Tulum and I am almost embarrassed to admit that we often choose our next travel adventure solely based on what kind of food we feel like overindulging in.

Food culture also crosses borders, religions and oceans. What is eaten in one country can have a direct affect on another country, half a world away. Do you ever think about how the Portuguese came to fall in love with cod? Their consumption of Newfoundland cod, their national dish despite the fact that it doesn't exist in their waters,  has affected the lives of those East Coast fisherman and their families. The overfishing of cod off Canada's East coast to provide Portugal's insatiable need for the fish has caused the collapse of a natural resource that sustained and defined East Coasters for hundreds of years.

think about the socio economic implications behind bacalhau the next time you are in Portugal

Because I am a culinary tourist of the highest order, it follows that I am insanely jealous of Kamini Pather, winner of South Africa's 2012 season of Master Chef and host of the new show "Girl Eats World". She is living my dream, travelling around the world to meet her favourite food bloggers while they give her an insider's tour of their city's culinary heritage and introducing her to the people who provide food in their communities, sharing their tables and their customs.

As part of TVO's series, The Food Chain, Girl Eat World is an upcoming 10 part series and watching her visit cities that I have either been to myself or that i have on my radar sparked a flood of memories from a lifetime of travel. From Lima to Dubai, Kamina will show you a slice of the world, their food, their history and their culture. The Food Chain will attempt to look at the current state of the world through the lens of food - they will look at how the food we eat, where it comes from and how it ends up on our plates.

Girl Eat World will look at how the rest of the world eats but there will also be programming that turns it's eye inward, closer to home and expose the state of affairs in Canada, from the changing challenges for farmers to the problems facing communities in the woefully under serviced far north. How is it that a wealthy nation with an abundant food and water supply can tolerate Aboriginal communities living without potable water for decades while the rest of the country drinks their weight in bottled water and washes their cars with gallons of clean water that those communities would give their eye teeth for?

So, am I alone or do you choose your vacation locations based on the cuisine?
Have your travels changed the way you cook, eat and approach food?

The Food Chain on TVO will air Girl Eat World on Mondays at 9pm and you can also stream it here
Follow TVO on Twitter and Facebook to get in on the action

*I was compensated for promoting TVO's Food Chain but, as always, my opinions are my own 

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