Stove Top Travel

Shine: Cultural Understanding through Stove Top Travel

You’ve heard of armchair travel? These days it’s not hard to go around the globe without leaving home. (There’s probably an app for that.) But Sasha Martin wanted something a bit more active, something a bit more interactive. She developed Global Table Adventure so she and her family could travel around the world from their kitchen.

Going in alphabetical order, they are trying out the local dishes of every single country. (That’s 195 countries, in case it’s been a while since you got out of geography class.) Each week, they focus on a different country, starting on Tuesday with an overview of the cuisine to a meal review the following Monday (complete with thumbs up or down from toddler Ava).  They are a little more than half-way through the alphabet with Mexico being on the menu this week.

Aside from great recipes and amazing photos, Global Table Adventure promotes cultural understanding and diversity by finding common ground through food. If the saying “the way to a person’s heart is through the stomach” is true, then Sasha’s family is building up a whole lot of love.

(Get ready for some food porn.)

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How did you get the idea for Global Table Adventure? Have you always had a passion for food and travel?

It all seems so long ago now. Several things came together at once – I needed a creative outlet, my baby girl was just starting out on solids, and I was thinking about all the negative things happening around the world. At the most basic, I wanted better for myself, my family, and the world.

- For myself: I wanted a creative outlet that would help me out of my cooking rut. After moving to Tulsa, Oklahoma – after a lifetime of travel – I missed the food I grew up with – trying new dishes, new flavors. I am more landlocked in the Midwest than I’ve ever been before. Global Table Adventure has been a great way to continue learning and growing, while also being fortunate enough to stay home with my daughter.

- For my family: I wanted to find a way to get my impossibly picky husband to eat better, especially since we had a daughter about to start solids. Children mimic parents and I find that dinner can be a a big struggle if one parent refuses to try certain foods. I also wanted my daughter to learn to appreciate other cultures, other ways. By growing up with one meal from every country in the world, her mind will naturally be curious and open.

- For the world: The news would have you believe that there is nothing but war, poverty, and tragedy in the world. With so much focus on the negative, people tend to feel divided by their differences, instead of united by their similarities. I believe that Global Table Adventure’s uplifting focus on the food and culture of countries around the world will help people appreciate and come together over our common humanity. This is why I am dedicated to only sharing positive stories; there’s enough people focusing on the negative.

(Think of me as the world’s cheerleader!)

Dark Chocolate Guinness Cake with Bailey's Buttercream (Ireland)
Click photo for recipe.

Take us through a typical week of exploring each country.  
Each week I research and prepare to cook the food from a new country. Typically I cook all the food on one day, but sometimes I will spread it out over the weekend, especially if a breakfast dish is involved.

I only make recipes with ingredients that I can find locally. I feel that is important to my mission, which is to encourage other people to try as much food as they can from other parts of the world. If I make this an expensive, online mail-order experience, that defeats the purpose. Tulsa has a fairly good selection of international markets, so we haven’t had to cancel any recipe plans to date.

5 Step Mole Poblano (Mexico)
Click image for recipe.

Did you have any challenges in getting your family on board? Your husband is affectionately known as Mr. Picky, and when you started this project, your daughter was only about 6 months old.

Yes! (Did I say that too loudly?) Yes. My husband is known as Mr. Picky for good reason. He was very skeptical about anything beyond meat and potatoes when I met him. He didn’t even know what an eggplant was. He’d never had fresh spinach! Thankfully, my daughter hasn’t been as resistant as we began this project her first month of eating solids. It is all she’s known (although she does still have picky moments, like any toddler).  Now I can say that everyone is on board, come what may – and strange tastes are now part of the fun- they give us something to talk about!

I think the key is to think of food as an adventure, not an attack. Also – I always tell my husband – if an entire country eats it, how bad can it be?

Creamy Avocado Dressing / Vinagreta de Aguacate (Colombia)
Click on photo for recipe.

You’re a little more than half way through the alphabet. What has been your favorite dish so far? Least favorite? Are you looking forward to a particular country?

That’s like asking me to pick a favorite and least favorite child! I don’t think I can…. but I will say that I have struggled to make several dishes well. My biggest challenges have been any recipes involving yucca. I’m not sure what it is about that tuber, but I spent almost 2 years trying to cook it without much luck (many, many countries around the world eat it). I finally broke the losing streak with yucca fries – a real winner! Phew.

I always look forward to the foods of small countries – places I’ve never heard of. I love gaining that awareness – it is so fun!

Central Asian Noodle Stew / Lagman Shurpa (Kazakhstan)
Click photo for recipe.

With 195 countries, this project will take more than 3 years from start to finish. How are you able to keep your family’s enthusiasm high?
Now that the initial excitement of a new adventure has worn off (2 years into the project), I think the key is to make the experience fun. For example, instead of just trying a new type of tea, make it a tea party. Having friends over also makes it fun. Finally, getting their hands dirty (especially my toddler) makes them more likely to be interested in the dish. For example, Ava refused to try sushi until she helped make the roll for our Japanese Global Table. She’s never looked back!

Peanut Balls / Mtedza (Malawi)
Click photo for recipe.

Do you have any tips for someone who’d like to undertake a Global Table Adventure of their own?

Go for it! There are thousands of folks who have decided to set a Global Table with their families. I’ve called them my Knights of the Global Table. They are having a blast and learning a ton in the process. My best advice is don’t try to do too much at once. Each week you can try something from a different continent by simply browsing our interactive map. You could even try a monthly potluck with friends, if you’re single or without a big family to try dishes out on.

Fava Bean Mash / Ful Medames (Egypt)
Click photo for recipe.

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What’s the most adventurous dish you’ve eaten? Have you ever tried a themed meal or party?

Learn more about Global Table Adventure by visiting Sasha’s awesome site and following her on Twitter @GlobalTable. Let us know if you’re inspired to start a global table adventure of your own.

Get inspired by past SHINE posts here. If you or anyone you know should be featured in SHINE, please let me know: contact  {at}   jacquelincangro  DOT   com.