Aditi Dugar, CEO and founder of Masque, a wilderness-to-table restaurant in the heart of Mumbai, started cooking at the age of 16. The brain behind the multiple award-winning restaurant explains how culinary travel breaks barriers and builds bridges between people from different backgrounds and cultures.
Culinary Explorations have been a part of my travels since very early on. As a child, when I travelled with my parents, much of our time was spent planning and eating the local food in cities we were travelling to. After I got married and started travelling with my husband, Aditya, on his work trips, I began experimenting with food even more. We [ Aditi Dugar and her husband ] planned all our meals to ensure we could experience the finest food in the city we were in. This paved the way for my food explorations around the world and I also signed up for short courses and internships. Whether it was working with a street food specialist in Southeast Asia or taking a baking class in Europe, I’ve done it all just out of interest and curiosity. At the time I had no clue that I would work in the food space one day. It is amazing how the dots have connected for me now that I am in the business.
Food is a great way to explore a new place and understand its cultural nuances, and I see that more and more people are now opening up to the idea. Travelling busts so many such myths. Over the years, I have also learned that it is not just fine dining restaurants that serve great meals; the lesser-known places that locals go to are sometimes the real gems. I remember discovering an entire area lined with sake bars in Shibuya that tourists had no clue about.
Travelling as a Vegetarian
A lot of people wonder how I manage to eat around the world even though I am a vegetarian. There was a time when getting a vegetarian meal was almost impossible but I would write to restaurants and chefs weeks in advance and request them to make vegetarian food for us; luckily most of them agreed. When you share a love for food, you go the extra mile. One such instance was at a restaurant in San Sebastian that served only seafood. I was fully aware that I would find nothing to eat there and yet we went there to see how they cook using only salt (that was their USP). When the head chef found out we were vegetarians, he insisted on cooking us a multi-course vegetarian meal and it was our most incredible meal in San Sebastian. Food, after all, is a universal language, and sharing a meal can lead to profound connections.
Bringing the World Home
Culinary travel is not just about exploring new destinations; it is also about embarking on a journey of flavours and cultures. In a world where travel is evolving everyday, culinary travel is emerging as the future for several reasons—it allows travellers to connect with a destination on a deeper level, savouring its essence through the palate. It also lets you connect with people and their daily practices. Visiting someone’s home, seeing them cook, and sharing a meal creates a special bond. I feel immersing yourself in local cuisine to truly understand and appreciate the beauty of diverse cultures across the world is the future. The more effort we put into learning about new places and different cultures, the more likely we are to be kinder to one another.
Power to Transform
Culinary travel breaks barriers and builds bridges between people from different backgrounds and cultures. This is something we often try to tap into at Masque too. A lot of our menu is driven by our travel to research hyperlocal and regional cuisines and uncommon ingredients, which we then connect with a common thread. When travellers seek out authentic culinary experiences, they often find themselves in off-the-beaten-path locations, discovering hidden gems, and creating lasting memories. Finally, it promotes sustainability and ethical choices. Culinary travellers often support local producers and sustainable food practices, contributing to the preservation of culinary traditions and ecosystems, which in themselves are transformative.
Future of Culinary Travel
There are several exciting trends in culinary travel that are upcoming. The growing interest in hyper-local experiences will have travellers seek out smaller, authentic eateries and food markets. Wellness-oriented culinary travel will also gain momentum, with people choosing destinations known for their healthy and sustainable food options. And there will be a surge in food and travel partnerships—something we are already looking at in Masque, where we plan to collaborate with travel companies to offer curated culinary journeys and weave in storytelling at the restaurant. I also feel that fusion of technology and culinary travel will continue to evolve, with apps and platforms connecting travellers with local chefs, food tours, and cooking classes, making it easier to explore and appreciate the culinary world.
— As told to Anubhuti Krishna