Since 2011, Traveling Spoon has been expanding culinary tourism into the homes of countless locals eager to share their cooking and culture with the world’s travelers.
Steph Lawrence and Aashi Vel, featured in ELYSIAN Summer 2018, are the founders of Traveling Spoon, a start-up that curates in-home meals for travelers looking for an authentic, local culinary experience in 110 destinations across 40 countries. You simply sign up, visit your host’s home and enjoy a home-cooked meal that captures the culture of your destination.
ELYSIAN had the pleasure of following up with these clever businesswomen to learn a bit more about the childhood experiences that inspired the launch of their culinary adventures. Additionally, we caught up with Traveling Spoon member, “Karen E.” to get some insight on what it’s like to be on the other side of the spoon.
The comforts (and comfort foods) of home
Aashi grew up in South India, the middle child between two brothers. The tradition in her family was to have a special family lunch on Saturdays. “My dad would try and teach us about self-control, so this was the day we couldn’t eat meat. That vegetarian meal was so delicious, I still love making those traditional dishes.”
Saturday lunch at the Vels:
- Rasam (a peppery tomato broth eaten with ghee and rice)
- Beans poriyal (finely chopped green beans, stir fried with curry leaves, onions, mustard seeds and garnished with freshly-grated coconut)
- Masala fried potatoes or tapioca
- Mutter aloo (peas and potatoes in a ginger, garlic and tomato base)
- Dahi vada (lentil and rice dumplings in a savory yoghurt sauce)
Steph, also a middle child of three, grew up in Boston and admits to having an admiration for all kinds of cheese. Every day her mom would make an open-faced toasted cheese sandwich, or a “cheese toasty,” something that Steph now considers her own go-to comfort food. “My friends ask me to make them a cheese toasty all the time,” she says, though Aashi is quick to point out that Steph is more famous for making those Chinese dumplings she had once set out to perfect. While Steph never found a Chinese grandmother to tutor her, she did find a woman in Beijing who showed her the secret behind the perfect filling for pork and cabbage dumplings. Hint: Timing is everything.
One traveler’s meal to remember in Bali
Traveling Spoon member “Karen E.” lives in Singapore and travels often for work and leisure. Bali is one of her favorite destinations and, in January 2018, she booked an in-home meal and cooking preparation experience there for herself, her husband, and two friends. She says she learned more about Bali from her Traveling Spoon host than she ever had before from tour guides or by exploring the island on her own.
Tell us about your host.
Dewa is one of those individuals who oozes positive vibes. From the moment we met Dewa until our return to our lodgings, he was humble, informative, kind, genuine, and absolutely patient. He shared stories and history the whole time – while we walked through the village leading to his home, when we arrived at his home, while we cooked, and all the moments in between and afterward.
Describe the meal you shared and your surroundings.
The meal was most excellent and definitely the highlight of our trip. With Dewa’s guidance, we prepared bregedel jagung, tum chicken in banana leaf, tempe manis, and jukut urab. Dewa asked each of us to help with the slicing, chopping, cleaning, cooking, and other miscellaneous tasks. The cooking experience was fantastic, but it was difficult to concentrate due to the breathtaking scenery in the family compound. From the ferns and flowers to the traditional Balinese style home, everything was beautiful – like cooking within a garden! Dewa also worked with our dietary restrictions, helping us prepare an entirely gluten-free and MSG-free meal.
What did you learn about your host’s culture that surprised you?
The Balinese people, in large part, cook with ingredients that are grown on the island. They are resourceful, living on what the land provides.
Have you incorporated any of these traditions into your own?
Eating in silence is mindfulness. In American culture, it may be said that a couple not speaking over a meal is indicative of individual differences. In my Chamorro culture, sharing a meal with lots of talking and laughter is ideal. In fact, the more the merrier. However, we have now begun to incorporate and embrace an element of mindfulness during our meals at home.
How did this experience enhance your trip?
Traveling Spoon curated a unique cultural cooking experience that enabled us to learn and understand more about the island that we absolutely adore.