When international travelers think of great food during their adventures, many reflect on that amazing home cooked meal that a serendipitously acquired acquaintance prepared, or perhaps that friend of a friend that took you in after too many touristy restaurants. But have any of you ever thought of cooking for the people and communities that you visit? Jay Kannaiyan has. The long term motorcycle traveler makes it a point to spread goodness through cooking for the locals he visits with through his travels.
Early in his journey, Jay realized that cooking was an important part of his background that he could share with others while curing himself of homesickness. What started off for Jay as a CouchSurfing suggestion for showing gratitude for a free stay, developed into a lifelong passion of working his way into strange kitchens all around the world. “By cooking,” says Jay, “I gained an amazing insight: food breaks down a lot of barriers: cultural, lingual, or social.”
The ingredients that Jay feels comfortable with are very broad and he typically uses whatever is locally available. “In almost any vegetable market in the world, it’s easy to find onions, tomatoes, ginger, and garlic.” However, the most important thing that Jay brings with him are the spices that are dried and ground by his mother in Chennai, India. He has these shipped in a rather circuitous route to wherever he is in the world and stashes them in specially made containers on his motorbike.
Although liking good food is universal, ‘good’ can be defined differently in the various cultures that Jay has interacted with. For example, chili isn't for everyone, so Jay reduces or even eliminates it from his curries and loads up on roasted garlic, ginger, and onions. The site of Jay bursting into someone’s kitchen to start preparing his famous chicken curry sounds strange to many of us, even more so for a woman to let a strange biker into her house because her husband just met him on the road. “Many a skeptical woman has questioned me on the amount of onions and garlic that I use, but their doubt vanishes when they take that first bite," laughs Jay.
Indeed, it is that transformation when a food skeptic suddenly realizes the sensation of a new and tasty experience. Best of all reflects Jay, “I notice a change in how people view me. I'm not simply a traveler, or a vagabond on a bike, but I'm moving through cultures and leaving behind satiated palettes. As an Indian, I think this is the best impression I can leave behind in these far-flung cultures that I've traveled through.'
So a truly new insight is awakened within us: that cooking for others can be the path to a deeper experience during your travels. On your next trip, advises Jay, don’t be shy and just be a guest—offer to cook something for your hosts to bring about an exciting, and genuine connection during your trip.
Tell us about your traveling cooking stories: where did you cook a special meal for your hosts or friends while you were visiting? What meaning did the ingredients or way of preparation hold for you, and what was the local reaction to your culinary delights?
Alice Gugelev is the Director of DoGoodAsYouGo.org, transforming the adventure travel sector by including volunteering as a standard part of every traveler’s plans.
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Illustration by Corinna Loo