In the spirit of building an online community of global travelers and local eaters, we’re happy to announce a new series of Q&As with travel and food bloggers we’ve come to know through their contributions to Eat Your World. Our first subject is the duo behind Backpack ME (bkpk.me), Ashray Baruah and Zara Quiroga, whose (respective) Indian and Portuguese backgrounds yield distinct perspectives not often encountered in the travel blogosphere. One thing they share in common? A love of local cuisine. (Check out their EYW profile for proof!)
Tell us a little about your site, and what inspired you to start it.
We used to live in Dubai, and after a few years there we got really tired of the superficial lifestyle and the obvious social inequalities all around. We decided to quit our jobs, sell our stuff, and start traveling around the world. We didn’t want to just travel for our own sake, but also to share with others our experiences. There are a lot of travel blogs, plenty of them written by traveling couples like us, but what makes us different from most of them is our distinct backgrounds. We come from very different parts of the world (India and Portugal) and this reflects in the way we travel. Most blogs and travel guides are very Western-oriented, and we wanted to bring something new to the table. Backpack ME is not only a travel website but also a place to share tips and inspirational stories in general. We like to think it is a platform to help people from all over the world realize that traveling is possible no matter where in the world you come from. It’s not a luxury activity and definitely not restricted to people from Western countries with a stereotypical profile.
In a nutshell, why do you travel?
Traveling is a constant learning experience. If you are on the move, you don’t get stuck, neither physically nor, more important, mentally. We want to do something relevant with our lives, contribute to the world in some way, some time. Traveling is part of a learning process that will allow us to become better people, with broader horizons. Seeing different realities in various parts of the world will help us understand how we can give back to the world. Traveling is a lot about the excitement in the shorter term, but about becoming better people in the longer term. The more you see, the more you question and, therefore, the more you tend to understand. The world is not a very straightforward place.
What’s your dining philosophy on the road?
One thing is for sure: Eating is one of our favorite parts of traveling. We love to dig into the local cuisines of the different places we travel to. Eating whatever the locals eat is one of the first things that can make you relate to a certain place. There is nothing more basic, yet more real, than this! We like to try the simple daily eateries and some street food, but also go to some upscale places every now and then. We can save on a lot of things when it comes to travel budgeting, but food doesn’t tend to be one of them!
Where are you now, and what’s the best (local) thing to eat there?
Right now we are in Santiago de Chile and will soon be heading to explore the rest of the country. Food here, as in the rest of South America, is very meat-oriented. They love beef and pork! Asado (local barbecues) are great for those meat-craving days, and so are the gigantic German-influenced sandwiches you find all around the city. The only thing we don’t actually appreciate is the half-kilo of mayo they serve the sandwiches with. It’s an insane amount of mayo!
For snacks, empanadas are available anywhere and tend to always be tasty and fulfilling. We are happy that Santiago has pretty decent Asian-cuisine restaurants, too, which is something we truly miss while traveling around South America. There are also lots of pleasant cafes to stop for coffee and cake, which feels so good in the wintery weather. We can’t complain…we’ve been feeding ourselves pretty damn well over here!
What’s your favorite city for food, and why?
Zara: If there is one thing that I miss about living in Dubai (and there aren’t really that many, to be honest) it’s the food. The fact that the city has people from some 200 nationalities means you can find food from all over the world, from fancy options to really affordable joints. In a regular week in Dubai we could easily eat Italian, Chinese, Thai, Indian, Ethiopian, American, Lebanese… there is so much variety that it’s difficult for it to ever get boring!
Ashray: I really like São Paulo, Brazil, because of the great variety, from the Japanese market with Asian food to fancy Italian restaurants and everything else in between.
Cake and coffee in Portugal
You have friends traveling to your respective hometowns. What iconic foods do you insist they eat there?
Zara: As a Portuguese person I can tell you that no matter where you travel in Portugal, you’d have to taste at least one recipe of bacalhau, Portuguese for cod fish. We have more recipes for this fish than days in a year. My favorite is bacalhau com natas, a creamy combination of cod and potatoes cooked to golden-point in the oven. I drool just to think about it right now! If you go up north where I come from (Valenca do Minho), you should try the roasted lamb, which is iconic. And, most of all: Try the desserts! Portuguese people love sweets and, with all humbleness aside, I’d say we are good at making sweet dreams come true. Desserts are definitely my favorite part.
Ashray: Anyone visiting New Delhi must not leave without trying tandoori chicken. Tandoori masala is a mix of several spices that come together to create a delectable and unique flavor.
Got any secrets for finding good food in a new destination?
Do not follow your guidebook! Actually, this applies for food and a lot of other touristic/travel-related activities. Guidebooks are not impartial; they are based on the opinions of those who wrote them. Taste in food is such a subjective thing, you shouldn’t follow other people’s opinions on where to go to eat or drink. Walk around whatever new place you are getting to know and go with your gut (literally!): If a place smells good, there is probably something tasty inside. If there are a good number of local people it’s probably because the food is decent too, and it’s likely to be fairly priced as well. More touristic or pricey doesn’t necessarily mean better. You have to be adventurous when it comes to food: Get out of your comfort zone and you will probably experience pleasant surprises along the way!
In Costa Rica
All photos courtesy Backpack ME