I just got back from an amazing vacation on the beach in the Dominican Republic! Although we stayed a couple of nights at a beautiful hotel in Santo Domingo, most of our time was spent on the beach in Cabarete. My parents rented an awesome condo that was right on the beach. My family and I are what I consider ‘routine travelers.’ We like to pick a destination, rent a house there, and stay for an extended period of time. This allows us to develop a routine while there and really get to know the local culture and people. I’ve done it in Spain, Argentina, New York, Costa Rica, Bolivia, and now the Dominican Republic.
My favorite thing about staying in a house in one place is being able to cook. It’s challenging cooking in a foreign country — the cutting boards are always too small and there’s never essential cooking tools like tongs or a grill, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. I got really into cooking while living in Spain, so I find it refreshing to get back to my culinary roots and put myself to the test in an unknown place. During this last trip, I realized how awesome it is to cook in a foreign country. Here’s 10 reasons that prove my point:
- You’re on vacation, so there’s no pressure to create something impressive or elaborate.
- You’re on vacation, so you’re probably drinking the local beer (or wine or rum) while cooking.
- You get to check out the local markets. I especially love going to the fish and meat markets. It’s fascinating to see how the world handles their food.
- You get to experiment with new ingredients. If I hadn’t been cooking in a foreign countries, I probably would have never learned how to make octopus or whole roasted fish.
- It forces you to think outside the box. Last week, when trying to figure out how to cook whole blue fish, I found a great recipe for it seasoned with lemon, thyme, and parsley. However, those ingredients are not native to the tropical island climate, so I had to make some substitutions. I used lime, cilantro, and basil and the fish came out wonderfully!
- It forces you to be a more intuitive cook. When I’m at home, I’m always going to the store to purchase exactly what I need. Whole Foods is almost always open. But on vacation in a different country, with limited access to the market, I often cook with just what is on hand.
- It makes you appreciate everything you have at home. Last week, I made a giant vat of guacamole — enough to feed 20 people. As I was chopping tons of garlic, peppers, onion, and cilantro on a 4×8-inch cutting board, I couldn’t help but think of my oversized cutting board and food processor. I promise never to take them for granted again! Also, it’s really a luxury being able to use tap water. In the DR, we had to always use bottled or boiled water for cleaning produce and cooking.
- It encourages you to talk to the natives. While searching for the best sliced chorizo, I befriended the cute boy behind the deli counter.
- If you’re speaking a different language, you’ll learn new vocabulary! When selecting fish at the fish market, I had to figure out how to ask the monger to clean, scale, and gut the fish in Spanish.
- It validates your kitchen prowess. If I can make roast chicken for 12 while jet lag at a high altitude with a rink-i-dink oven that’s almost run out of gas, I can do anything!