Prawn Amok, Cambodia

There are a number of things that are common to the human experience, but none has such an intense and ongoing fascination as food. Over the past several decades (and especially in the past few years) food has moved from a boring staple to a dynamic art form. (A similar assessment can be made of travel moving from a standard group experience to dynamic customized adventures, but we digress).

Obviously food plays a big part in any Smiling Albino trip, but we started to wonder how important it was to making the trip. If we served the same meal at every stop – even if it was a fantastic meal – would our trips be as successful? Would our customers be as happy? Would our reviews be as good? Forgive us for a little self-indulgence here…

We think that food provides a perfect window into understanding not only a new culture, but the people who live in it, and even deeper insights into history, geography, and economics.

In southern Thailand most dishes use fish in some way or another – paste, sauce, stew – and seasoned with spice combinations that will make your nose hairs stand at attention. Vietnamese food is noted for its freshness and simplicity, and the ability of top chefs to create delicious meals with very basic ingredients. In Nepal, cuisine is a melange of Indian and Asian dishes, bolstered by table-hogging number of condiments. And who would have thought that some of the best coffee in the world can be found in Laos?

What can these food trends tell you about the country that makes them, or the economy that produces them? What insights can be gleaned about the people that created these dishes, and subsist on them today, passing recipes down through generations?

Education through food… this is an idea we can get behind.

Another facet that unique or memorable food experiences bring to any trip is when they trigger specific memories. Personally speaking, we will never forget the smell as we walked into a crowded patisserie in Paris for the first time, or the sounds of camels as we sipped a cup of warm masala chai on a cold balcony overlooking the desert in Rajasthan, India, or the sound of tuk-tuk’s the first time we bit into goong dten in Thailand (live baby shrimp, if you’re curious to try with us).

What memories will come flooding back to you if you crunch down on those yellow rice noodles that are sprinkled on bowls of khao soi gai from northern Thailand, or feel the sticky wrappers of fresh Vietnamese spring rolls on your fingers as you pop them into your mouth?

Tastes and smells add dimension to a memory; they give it edges, corners, and texture. Food is the great equalizer, while no two of us love the exact same things, every single one of us needs to eat, and at the end of a day, our memories of travel are deeper and more meaningful when they include some great food stories. You can travel to the same destinations more than once and still come back with unique experiences acquired from the new tastes discovered.

So while we’re all about capturing our memories on Instagram and Facebook, we also think it’s a great idea to put some effort into enriching your memories with the addition of local food experiences. Smiling Albino offers an array of “foodie” adventures from Da Nang to Luang Prabang to Phuket, with options to be hosted by food experts and to learn techniques from top chefs. We’re pretty sure the more you eat, the better your memories will be.