One of these days, I'm going to go abroad to countries' whose cuisines I love, and do a 2-week cooking course. They're popular in places such as Italy and France. I love the idea of working with a local chef, getting up early to go to the local market and then spending the day cooking!
While I have yet to take such a course, I do try to get my feet wet a little.
Every time I go abroad, I make it a point to visit a local supermarket. Supermarkets' contents tell you about the culture. When I go to France, I love going to the supermarkets, especially the smaller ones. Just the cheese section alone is enough to keep me happy!! And the yogurt section. French yogurts are often creamier than what we have in the US. I suspect they have fewer preservatives. When I was in Belize, I was struck by all the different types of hot sauces! I bought Marie Sharp's hot sauce. Marie is a local entrepreneur who struck it big (ttp://www.mariesharps-bz.com). Her hot sauce is carrot-based, so your mouth isn't overwhelmed by heat! It actually has flavor. I travel to London pretty often for business. The local supermarkets have my favorite shortbreads, which I always buy for my sister. I also lived in Brazil for a year or so and enjoyed Carrefour's and Pao de Acucar, the two main supermarkets there. Buying slabs of guava jelly and passion fruit juice concentrate were always treats!
I was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia two years ago. I took a day and went sightseeing. I asked the taxi driver to take me to a local supermarket before dropping me off at the hotel. He asked, "Why?" "Because, I like to visit local supermarkets when I travel." He suggested different Malaysian restaurants and couldn't quite understand why a Westerner would want to visit a supermarket! Sadly, time did not allow me to visit. But I'll be in Kuala Lumpur again this July. Guess what? I intend to visit a supermarket first thing!
Food is part of national identity. For me, being a good cook means getting to know how foods fit into their countries' personalities. What better way to gain some insight into this than by visiting local supermarkets?
In addition to being a serious cook, I guess I'm also a bit of a food anthropologist!!