Food is the centerpiece of Stephanie Lawrence and Aashi Vel’s travels. Whether it’s mangoes in India, soup dumplings in Beijing, or a home-cooked dinner in Nepal, the two connect to local culture through what they eat—and more importantly, through who makes the meal. Their shared passion for people and food led them to create Traveling Spoon, a service that connects travelers with hosts who open their homes to share a meal. Here, Stephanie and Aashi share their favorite travel experiences and eats.
Right now we’re in San Francisco.
Occupation: Fulfilling our life dream working on Traveling Spoon, a company we created that connects travelers with authentic food experiences in people’s homes around the world.
Our last trip took us to Vietnam and Thailand, where we spent four weeks sourcing amazing home cooks who made us the most incredible meals, from caramelized clay pot fish to light, crispy spring rolls.
First international trip—when and where?
Steph: To Australia, at the age of two. All I remember is eating too many M&Ms and throwing up on the plane.
What is your most treasured travel souvenir?
Steph: Food and cooking goodies from around the world are always my most treasured travel souvenirs: A brass wok from Thailand, an enormous wooden mortar and pestle from China, a hand-hammered metal colander from the Xinjiang province. They fill my kitchen with so many memories and stories I treasure.
Aashi: My most treasured travel souvenir was a kaffir lime I stole from a tree in Chiang Mai. I pinched it every day for a month just to get a whiff of that delightful citrus aroma.
How has travel impacted your life?
Steph: Travel has meant everything in my life. I feel richer and kinder and more inspired by the things I’ve seen and done while traveling. The two things that are most important to me when traveling are food and people. I love the incredible variety of flavors I’ve tasted around the world: cool yogurt and eggplant dishes in Istanbul, steaming-hot, burn-your-mouth xiao long bao (soup dumplings) in Beijing. Some of the things I have eaten have changed me as a person. People are also so important. I love meeting people from other cultures, seeing what their daily lives are like, and noticing how we are different—but even more so, how we are the same.
Aashi: Traveling makes me truly happy: the anticipation of the journey, stepping into the streets with a map on your first day, meeting locals and sharing incredible meals. What most touches me each time is when random strangers are so helpful and more generous than you could have ever expected.
Is there an experience that has specifically transformed your life?
Steph: I was in Kathmandu, visiting a friend working for the IRC, and we had dinner with a local Nepalese family: two parents and three school-aged children. They lived in a small, modest, two-room home in Patan, a residential area south of central Kathmandu. We could not communicate but for smiling and broken hellos, but I had the most memorable and delightful meal. They made us an incredible feast—more food than I’m sure they eat in a typical week—and gracefully shared it with us. It was humbling and wonderful to play with their children, eat their food, and share their space thousands of miles away from my own home and family. I’ll always remember it.
Aashi: I was alone in Hanoi having lunch with a friend’s contact. When this girl realized I was alone she decided to take the day off from work and show me around the city on her scooter. Noticing that I was cold, she took me to her home and gave me a wool coat and gloves to keep me warm during my trip. I had known this girl for five minutes and received so much love and warmth. I will never forget it. She is now one of our Traveling Spoon hosts.
Favorite alcohol you can’t get in the U.S.
Aashi: Masticha from Chios, Greece is a delicious liqueur that instantly transports me to the woods.
Steph: Mankas Inverness Lodge, near Point Reyes Station on Tomales Bay in Northern California. It is a rustic, beautiful lodge where they bring you warm coffee and a newspaper in wooden crates in the morning and make you fireside suppers in your room at night. It is pure magic.
Aashi: Kumarakom Lake Resort, Kerala, India for its serene location, fresh seafood, and fantastic ayurvedic massages, and Chaa Creek eco-lodge in Belize for the hammocks, canoeing, and beautiful medicine trail through the rainforest.
Aashi: If you’re in India in the summer, don’t miss the sweet, sticky and heavenly experience of eating several Banganapalli, Alphonso and Imam Pasand varieties of mangoes every day. The stomach ache you’ll probably get is totally worth it.
Traveling Spoon is the best way/place to connect with locals! In all seriousness, we believe in the power of connecting with locals over food as a way to experience an inside look at the places we visit. We built Traveling Spoon to make it easier to do that.
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Lawrence and Aashi Vel
© 2015 AFAR Media