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Food, culture, and other key words for a perfect pilgrimage

Scents, smells, colors, flavors. One can discover what a place is all about by trying its food. It is not just a matter of nourishment. Trying flavors and textures enriches one’s soul, and brings us closer to other peoples, cultures, and traditions.

Pilgrimages, by their very nature, bring people closer together. A shared path allows travelers to experience the places they go through in a definitely more authentic way. The pace of the journey itself encourages encounters. How many pilgrims have shared a part of their journey, have helped one another, or have been welcomed with warmth and enthusiasm by local families, even without knowing each other beforehand?

When on a pilgrimage, one discovers. In more ways than one, discovering means recognizing and accepting differences, even at the table. In fact, food and conviviality are at the heart of hospitality. A willingness to discover new flavors is a relatively easy way to learn about specific cultures, places, and even history itself. By trying a local dish, one can understand how that culture was born and shaped over the centuries. Food holds customs, secrets, wisdom, and weaves bonds. To understand what is behind a dish is to understand a place and its people.

Kebab turco
Kebab in Antalya, a must-do experience on the St. Paul’s route in Turkey

Here are 5 key words to help you make your pilgrimage an unforgettable experience:

1. Experience

Experience goes beyond mere exposure to new things. To experience something implies a mental and emotional openness that allows us to actively welcome the unexpected. This fundamental attitude requires the courage to step out of one’s comfort zone, to open up to the world, and to expand one’s boundaries –not just geographically. Going on a pilgrimage is also about questioning and enhancing your personal preferences (even gastronomically).

In the words of St. Catherine of Siena, pilgrimage becomes an inner journey, an exploration of our deepest being.

Limiting one’s culinary experience by sticking to familiar flavors in a different country is definitely missing out on what the journey is about. Imagine an Italian pilgrim on the Andean Baroque Trail desperately searching for a restaurant that serves pasta, instead of enjoying papas a la huancaína, or fried Andean trout. This attitude not only deprives him of a valuable opportunity for discovery, but also represents a resistance to embracing cultural diversity and, thus, personal growth.

A true pilgrimage experience means remaining open to new flavors. This simple gesture shows our willingness to grow, to learn, and to embrace the richness of the world around us.

Hummus in the Holy Scriptures: A Culinary Mystery

2. Midnfulness

Being mindful is not just about enjoying local food. It is also delving into the cultural, historical roots of these culinary traditions.

When one fully understands the culinary landscape of a given region, food becomes a catalyst for emotions and memories. Food creates deep layers of communion between the traveler and the local community. By going beyond the boundaries of our own palates, we come into contact with the traditions handed down from generation to generation, and the culinary art that reveals the soul of a people.

In this way, each dish becomes a chapter in a larger story, and an opportunity to enjoy the diversity of the world around a shared table.

3. Hospitality

Hospitality and reciprocity go hand in hand. Being hospitable and enjoying someone’s hospitality is a harmonious exchange between pilgrims who seek for authentic human encounters with the local community, and those who are willing to receive these visitors with open, trusting hearts. This is not just some formal act. It is a true gathering –an interweaving of cultures and traditions that and enrich each other.

Pilgrims who are willing to meet the communities they visit offer the gift of their desire to build bridges. Those who welcome them without prejudice overcome cultural barriers. Hospitality becomes the meeting point across and between worlds, paving the way for mutual understanding. Through hospitality, genuine friendships can be made. It is the first step towards mutual recognition.

There is a fountain of wine on the Way of Saint James

4. Other generations

Do not hesitate to listen to the stories of the elderly. Wherever you go, there is always someone who is eager to share his or her experiences and to describe, in vivid words, what the world was like in times gone by. These stories offer unique insights into history –or maybe just a moment to relax while listening to someone’s life.

Enjoy these moments. Every story told by an elder is a journey into the past that enriches the present and inspires the future.

5. Respect

Respect and understanding are key if you really mean to enjoy your pilgrimage. First and foremost, it is important to show respect for local customs, traditions, and gestures. Being informed and acting accordingly helps create an environment of mutual respect. Only through mutual respect can diversity become a true asset.


As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Diversity in life is a wonderful thing; it should not be a cause for hatred

A pilgrim must be willing to know, and to accept her or his own ignorance and shortcomings. Every step of the way, every new dish, every shared glass of wine, every cup of tea, can be the gateway to the cultural heritage of the place: people can truly find each other by sharing meals –and values.

This post is also available in: Español Italiano

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