Name: Jodi Ettenberg
Occupation: Food and travel writer
Where were you born?: Montreal, Quebec
Where do you live?: I’ve had no home base for the last 7 years.
Jodi Ettenberg is a writer, photographer, and food-obsessed traveler exploring the world since she quit her job as a lawyer in April 2008. Jodi founded Legal Nomads to tell the stories of the places she visits, often through food. She is also the author of The Food Traveler’s Handbook: How to Eat Cheap, Safe, and Delicious Food Anywhere in the World, and runs small-group food walks in Saigon, Vietnam during the winter months. She has been featured in the New York Times, National Geographic, BBC Travel, Singapore Airlines, CNN Travel and more. She gets the shakes if she goes too long without sticky rice.
How would you describe your travel style?
Fairly food-centric but without obsessing too much about lists of things to eat or check out. I tend to start with morning markets and find dishes I enjoy, then fan out in town trying to eat other iterations of them, sitting and watching people, trying to get a feel for the culture of food in a new place.
What’s your earliest travel memory?
My mum taking me downtown in Montreal to a lake on Mount Royal, to picnic together and feed the ducks while we would people watch on a warm summer day.
When researching travel destinations, how important are food/drink choices and experiences to your overall decision-making process?
Critically important. Food is why I travel, and has been the driving force in discovering new places for the last many years.
Culinary traveler or food explorer? Which do you identify more closely with?
Neither, truly. Food is my best lens into culture and history and anthropology, and a tool to connect to people as I travel. It is not just about the food itself, but also about what it brings to the table. (Pun intended.) So I do think of myself as someone who explores through food, but it’s not the only dimension of my travels.
If we ask your best friends if you’re a foodie, what would they say?
They would say yes, but they would also laugh that it wasn’t always the case. Food was not as important to me growing up. It was only as I started travelling and realizing just how universal it is, and how it was consistently the most enjoyable discovery for me, that I started focusing on it more and more. Now they would say I was obsessed.
What’s in your carry-on? Any essential food or kitchen tools you won’t leave home without?
I have celiac disease so I do always carry granola bars or a small bag of nuts with me, just in case I cannot find food that won’t get me sick. I also always carry portable chopsticks, tiny metallic ones that fold in on themselves.
What’s the most unusual food you’ve eaten?
Probably chicken pudding in Istanbul, a vanilla and cinnamon dessert treat, dense with the blended weight of chicken meat but still completely camouflaged by the sticky sweetness.
If we handed you a ticket to anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Probably to Penang, in Malaysia, as I have yet to visit and everything I have read about the food there has made me desperate to eat through town.
What’s the best culinary travel experience you’ve ever had?
There’s really no way to narrow it to one. So many of my travels have centred around food, and much of it involving a new recipe and learning and eating.
Any great travel tips to share?
A lot of people are worried about getting sick while eating street food, and they rightfully try to find street stalls with fast turnover and lots of people. But it’s also important to be mindful to eat around the times locals do; if a country tends to have an early lunch, you might want to as well. I also tend to search for stalls around universities at lunchtime if I want something cheap.
Favorite Culinary Destination: Saigon, Vietnam
Favorite Restaurant: Any place with small blue plastic stools and a roadside view.
Favorite Street Food: Bun rieu cua, a crab and tomato broth soup from Vietnam that excites the taste buds.
Favorite Food Market: The morning markets around Inle Lake in Myanmar. I visited in 2009 but at that time they were almost free of other travelers, and full of the hill tribes who had descended from the Shan foothills to shop for the next few days. Eye-opening, colourful, and packed with new snacks to try.
Favorite Cooking Class: Naomi Duguid’s Immerse Through classes in Chiang Mai are incredible because she is so deeply connected to the history of the foods she makes and explores on her tours.
Favorite Food/Tasting Tour: I haven’t done many – I tend to just roam alone and eat my way through a place.
Favorite Culinary Tour Operator: Mark Lowerson from Hanoi Street Food Tours.
Favorite Travel App: I’ve been enjoying a new travel app called Native, which asks for your travel preferences and then supplies you with a travel assistant that helps you book your flights for a small fee per month.