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5 Great Reasons Why Food is the Best Way to Get to Know a Culture

by Charles Ebert

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Whether you consider yourself a foodie or not, the fact is, you have to eat. Moreover, food has a way of bringing people together. For example, when you have guests at home, the first thing you do is probably prepare them a nice meal. Even if you don’t have anything else to offer, they will feel appreciated and warmly welcomed.

They say ‘The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’. This saying might be biased because the vice versa is likely to be true. Most relationships are natured through having meals together. Similarly, for those who are seeking to learn about different cultures, why not try cooking and dining with the locals


different dishes


More often than not, the food we eat has been passed down to us by generations that came before us. The food that our parents prepared for us when we were feeling sick is most probably the same that you are likely to prepare for yourself or your kids when feeling unwell. When you find yourself traveling to other parts of the world, making your traditional meal can be a great way of alleviating your homesickness.

Believe it or not, eating can also be your ‘employer’. Leah Walker of LeahTravels.com is an example of a person who makes a living by tasting different types of foods. She travels all over the world, indulges in their food and writes about it. She has learned so much about certain cultures. She has stated that even though the acquired cooking skills did not influence her own cooking, the cultural understanding made a difference.

With that in mind, here are some of the reason why food is the best option when it comes to getting a better understanding about a culture:


Local Cuisine Gives People an Identity


various Chinese food

Image credit: Images.dawn.com


Many people pride themselves in their (local) food and are often very excited when they visit a place and find their traditional dish being served in another country or destination. Some people who move to other countries on a permanent basis, open restaurants where they serve traditional dishes found in their home countries.

People who identify with these dishes often flock to the restaurant as it serves as a ‘home away from home’. Chances are, in this type of restaurant, you’ll get a chance to dine with your people and speak your own language as well. Opening up such a restaurant also allows you to share your delicacy with the world. For example, there are over 41.000 Chinese restaurants in the United States alone meaning even the those are not of Chinese descent are adopting Chinese cuisine as their own. 


Every Dish Has a Story



Image credit: Marisasitaliankitchen.com


When you engage with the locals, they will tell you in detail how the dish was discovered. For example, the Italian dish arancini have two stories. Both are told in different regions - in Palermo, the dish has a round shape and a feminine name (arancini) while in Catania, it takes a cone shape and has a masculine name (arancino). Both versions have different ingredients, but the same delicious taste and both interesting stories.

Lori Wade the chief of EduBirdies says, “When it comes to food, to make it stick for generations, sometimes you have to make your stories interesting.” The stories move from the invention of the delicacy to the history of ingredients and the reasons for using that specific ingredient.


Food Shows Our Values & Way of Life


Chinese family eating together

Image credit: Reacho.in


What you eat and how you do it tells a lot about the person you are. Food sheds light on the people’s way of life, their cultural values and their perspectives on life. For the Chinese, for example, their food represents strong ties among the community. They also dine together always and eat from the same communal dish.

For the Italians, food conveys warmth, love, pleasure, nutrition, and history. This means that Italians hold their food in great esteem and they often talk about food. They also don’t mind spending a lot of time in the kitchen. Actually, Elena Kostioukovitch who is an Italian scholar wrote a book and aptly titled it ‘Why Italians Love to Talk about Food.’ Similarly, eating is also a social activity that the French often pride themselves in.


Use Food to Get the Information You Need


dining with locals

Image credit: Wilde Kitchen


If possible, join in the food preparation so that you can understand what goes into making a meal. When preparing a traditional meal, note that the locals are never in a hurry and they use the same ingredients every time they prepare that dish. This is to ensure it does not lose the original taste. As you get to know each other, they will be prompted to tell you how their community came to be, the challenges they have faced and the opportunities available in the region. Research has shown that a person who likes you is most probably going to open up to you during a meal.

When dining, observe how they eat their food, for example, some communities use a communal bowl to show unity while in America, everyone eats from their own plate. Wine is also an important addition to the table. There are people who cannot finish a meal without a glass of wine. In the top wine producing countries, every bottle of wine has a story behind it. That includes the age of the wine.


You Can Learn the People’s Spending Habits


man with money


The type of food people consume is likely to reflect their spending habits. In the United States, for instance, people prefer having takeout in order to save time, which is often more expensive (compared to if they were to prepare the food themselves. While in Japan, people generally prefer homemade quality dishes. One of the learnings this illustrates is that Americans are more readily spend in order to save time.




There are many ways to get information when it comes to learning a new culture. However, the best methods should include interacting with the people on a personal level so that they can be comfortable around you and will open up to you. Getting people to trust you will no longer be a hustle since we now know that food and eating together brings people together in a more effective and enjoyable way. 

So, now that you’ve read my insights, did they help you to better understand the importance of food in learning about culture?



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