Urban Cuisine Tour: Uniting the world through food

Travel, Culture | by Sascha Matuszak
Posted: May 10th, 2011 | Updated: July 25th, 2012 | Comments
[showtime] Ever wondered where French cuisine really came from? Ever slurp up the last bits of a Thai Tom Yom soup and wonder how in the heck anyone came up with that flavor profile? If so, then you might want to hop a ride on chef Dustin Joseph's Urban Cuisine Tour and combine eating with history, culture, anthropology and language. The tour is a one-man quest to link all of the cultures of the world together through our most basic daily act: eating. Along the way Dustin has discovered one of the richest micro-climates of the world in the Andes, the role of Italian nobility in enriching Europe's moribund menus, the synthesis of all Asian styles we call 'Thai food" and most significantly: a life's work.

The Fork is Mightier than the Sword

"How food changed the world," said Dustin to me in between mouth-fulls of Sichuan-style twice-cooked pork and green peppers. "That's what this thing is all about." This "thing" is a three year odyssey across more than a dozen countries in search of the roots of pasta, the best potatoes, the original chili and other food-quests that, when pieced together, provide a remarkably clear and enlightening picture of the movement patterns of peoples and what happens when those patterns collide. Dustin can't stop talking about the influence of West African cuisine in Brazil or the world-wide importance of the Cuzco Valley in Peru, one of the planet's most diverse and productive micro-climates. Nudge another plate of seared chilis his way and he'll start talking about the bleak tables of Europe before the arrival of the Moors, the Berbers and the foodies of the Orient. Don't even get him started on Thai food. Dustin has lived in Pai in northern Thailand on and off for the past eight years and the propensity for the Thai people, both past and present, to take whatever it is that they come across (a milk and/or coconut based  soup inherited from the Hui and/or Shan peoples from the north; spicy herb-infused curries from India via Burma; broth boiled chicken from southern China) and "Thai-ify" it. But as the meals and the miles add up, Dustin finds that fusion is the oldest trick in the book. So far, not one of the food cultures that the Tour has visited can claim to have created their own cuisine independent of outside influence. It's been a veritable smorgasbord since Day 1, in fact food orgies might be the oldest sport known to man... Dustin is currently in Sichuan gobbling up everything he can get his hands on and piecing together the path of the chilli from the New World to the Old World "The Incas were agricultural geniuses," he tells me. "And when the Chinese arrived during the Song Dynasty (!), there was a lot of exchange going on." I spent a few days eating and talking with Dustin recently and here's what he had to say about the Urban Cusine Tour, Chinese influence on food, the Peruvian influence on China and himself:   China Travel: Who are you and How did this whole thing start? Dustin Joseph: I am a Chef with a passion for travel, culture and history. I was born in Michigan, grew up in Colorado, then moved out of the country to Thailand at age 18. The Urban Cuisine Tour started when I began traveling extensively in 2005 mostly around Mexico, Europe and Southeast Asia. I am a observer by nature, and while traveling—mostly for culinary research—I began noticing similarities between not only the food but also the cultures. I started to wonder how this came to be and who was responsible for influencing whom. Starting in November 2010, I set out on a mission to "Connect the World through Food" by looking into the history of these countries I was visiting and eating at as many traditional eateries I can find. I want to show the world how connected we truly are by teaching them the history of the world through food. China Travel: First impressions of China? Dustin Joseph: China is the birth place of so many influential techniques, equipment and products.  For example techniques like stir frying, deep frying and pulling noodles. Equipment like the wok, chopsticks as well as other cooking tools. Products like rice that have made its way around the world. Luckily for us, they have blessed the world with these innovations through trade, exploration and migration. The Chinese have not only changed the culinary game in Asia but have had big influences on Europe through the Arabs and all across the Americas through the Europeans. They in turn were heavily influenced by the Americas, Europeans and that exchange is still going on. Chinese are drinking coffee, for example. China Travel: Itinerary for the next few months? Dustin Joseph: Start in Shanghai and then dive into the famous Sichuan cuisine out West. I will probably be based in Chengdu for a couple weeks, then after that I'll head south to Yunnan Province to make the connections between south China and Southeast Asia. After China I will be in India, Nepal, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam. Upon returning to the West I will travel around the Caribbean to places like Cuba, Jamaica and Puerto Rico. China Travel: What are some dishes you have heard about and are trying to get your hands on? Dustin Joseph:I am not looking for any one dish In particular. I am interested in all the traditional food I can find, especially those dishes that have been influenced by other cultures. For example, the Hui Chinese are known for their expertise in pulling noodles and those techniques might have been perfected one thousands years ago when the Hui traveled the Silk Road between China and the Middle East and came back converted to Islam with new spices and techniques. These are also the traders that are responsible for making a big impact on Southeast Asian cuisines. China Travel: Any shoutouts? Dustin Joseph: I want to thank all my supporters and those who have encouraged me to explore and travel. Stay tuned for more posts on Chinese and Indian food. To keep abreast of the Urban Cuisine Tour—what's he eating? where did it originate? how has it been adapted?—just check out Dustin's blog on the site, which he updates regularly with insightful commentary, historical and cultural tidbits and dozens of pictures of great looking food.

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