Join us as we sit down with Aashi Vel, founder of Traveling Spoon and co-host of the Association’s Eat Well Travel Better: Business of Food Travel Podcast.
First off please introduce who you are and share with us how and why you got involved in food/beverage tourism.
AV: I was an industrial designer for 11 years designing and developing life-changing medical and consumer products. Helping people, in this case, improving the quality of their lives through devices like a portable liquid oxygen generator or a more effective catheter, brings me happiness. My passion, however, has always been food and travel – in fact, I got my MBA in order to start a food company. A few months before starting business school at Berkely, I traveled to the Yucatan in Mexico. I struggled to find authentic Mexican food amidst the chic but overcrowded, touristy restaurants. On my way to one of these restaurants, I passed by a woman’s home and saw her cooking through the window. That’s when I realized that what I really wanted was to eat with her and taste her authentic, homemade Mexican food while hearing her stories. I started Traveling Spoon to give travelers these kinds of authentic and cultural experiences. It brings me immense joy to have a meaningful impact, not only on travelers but also on our hosts that are enabled to become micro-entrepreneurs, earning an income doing what they love.
Next we would love to know what your company does, its mission, vision, etc.
AV: Traveling Spoon provides travelers with private and authentic food experiences, from homemade meals to cooking classes, in people’s homes around the world. Our mission is to make travel meaningful. We give travelers a chance to see how locals live, eat what they eat and share stories about each other. This I believe is the power of travel – to be able to connect with someone from another culture and feel like you’ve made a friend. Our vision is for every traveler to have an authentic food experience, at least once on every trip.
We are sure that you have many, but if you had to choose just one, what would be your favorite food/beverage travel experience?
AV: One of my favorite food travel memories was when I visited our host Dewa in Bali. It was a magical experience that was truly the highlight of my trip, and it was about so much more than just the food. I loved walking through the garden which was filled with the most incredible exotic fruit trees and herbs. My favorite moment was when Dewa pointed out the papaya tree in his garden. I looked up and saw a bright, perfectly ripe papaya and asked Dewa what it was still doing up on the tree and why we were not eating it! He responded, “Aashi, in Balinese culture we only take what we need for the day. This morning there were two papayas – we took one and left the other one for the monkeys to spread the seed.” I felt humbled witnessing their deep respect for nature. My experience discovering the regional plants, cooking with the family, grinding curry pastes from scratch, learning about their culture and finally eating the delicious meal (best meal I had in Bali) that I helped prepare made me so grateful to be building Traveling Spoon and providing travelers with these meaningful food experiences.
Finally we would like to look ahead towards the future. Our industry is growing and changing quickly, from your experience and perspective can you predict any food & beverage travel trends for the future?
AV: I’m already seeing travelers explore regions outside mainstream travel destinations and it makes me so excited that people are interested in the unique foods of those regions. New producer tours, from fish sauce making in Phu Quoc to vinegar tasting in the Philippines, will be more sought after. Incorporating more plant-based foods and protein is another trend that I see in the food world which is not only environmentally-friendly and healthy but also more humane. Lastly, of course, more immersive, cultural experiences over food in people’s homes is how I believe travelers will experience food on their journeys!
Forbes: Traveling Spoon is the next generation of culinary tourism