One of my favorite sayings while I travel, or as I blog about food as I travel is, “it always ends up being all about the food!” For me in my own little ‘foodie’ world, it does come down to that most of the time. Whether I go to the next town or halfway around the world, my memories of a particular place are always measured by the food experience I’ve had there. Why do I enjoy visiting San Diego so much? Sure I love the beaches and easy California lifestyle, but it’s more about the fresh markets they close the streets down for on the week-ends and the endless line of great Italian restaurants in Little Italy. It’s the same reason why Europe tops my list of favorite places to travel. I’d like to say it’s because of the rich history and culture but my thoughts bounce to ones of the gelatos, fresh cheeses and dried meats that I know line the streets during a stroll on any given night.
But…what if I was forced from my comfortable foodie bubble and had to experience my travels and destinations from a totally different perspective. Well, my bubble did burst and I was hit with reality this morning while breakfasting at my favorite Bakery here in Phoenix. The owners are a husband and wife team from Bosnia and I had the pleasure of chatting with the wife as my family and I finished up the last of our cvapi sandwich on perfectly grilled levapi bread. While she packaged up the cheese burek I ordered earlier that morning — which by the way is the best burek you’ll ever eat, including those eaten on my several visits to Croatia — the conversation took an unexpected turn. We traded stories about the unparalleled beauty of the Croatian coastline and pebble beaches, the fresh figs still warm on the branch and the creamy vanilla scented sladoled, unmatched by any ice cream in the States. But her eyes began to well up when I asked her what brought her to Phoenix. She said it wasn’t a decision at all, but where her family was directed to go when released from the camp during the war in the 90’s. She continued with her story as my husband nodded and added a similar childhood experience of his escape back in the 60’s while Tito was still in power. She ended by saying that although she yearns to go back to those pebble beaches of her childhood holidays, she is left with an overall negative feeling…again her eyes welling up. How could I have been so selfish by reducing her war-torn homeland to a mere culinary experience?
I guess every once in a while we all have to remove ourselves from our own little bubble of comfort and experience things from another’s perspective. I promised myself that day as I left Panini Café that wherever my travels may take me, to always stop and ponder its history and people as I get to know it better — one delicious bite at a time.