Meet Rach & Marty. Two very hungry nomads on a mission to discover the world’s most incredible food experiences. From the amazing street food of Thailand to the tasty chapulines (grasshoppers) of Mexico — these world travellers have tried it all, in over 160 countries to date!
We had the pleasure of catching up with Rach & Marty from Very Hungry Nomads to learn more about their inspiring journey. In this Q&A interview they reveal what country has the best (and weirdest) food, how they like to eat when they travel, and why food has the power to bring people together and break down cultural barriers.
Where did you grow up and what inspired your love of food travel?
Rach – I grew up on a farm in Victoria, Australia. As a child, it fascinated me to learn about other countries and cultures at school and as I grew older, I read a book about a woman travelling and working her way around the world. Wow, I wanted a life like that.
As soon as I was old enough to get a job, I started working to save for travel. My parents taught me early on about the value of money and hard work. If I wanted something in life, I had to save hard and earn it. In between school and my part-time job during the week, I took on a second job on the weekend.
My first full time job after I left school was as a travel consultant, I guess this is where my love for travel really began.
At age 21, I felt I had saved enough money to leave home and travel. I left Australia on my own with a working visa in hand to live and work in Canada. It was one of the best experiences of my life and I’ve been living and working around the world ever since.
My passion for food has organically grown over the years and with each new country and new culture I experience, I find myself most excited about trying new cuisines.
It’s a little hard to describe but put simply, a memorable food experience is what makes me happy. My love of food paired with travel is the perfect combination and a huge motivation for why I love to travel.
Marty – I grew up in Slovakia, a beautiful country in the heart of Europe. I always wanted to see the world and learn languages so it was no surprise when I packed up my bags at the age of 18 to move to Germany.
Since then, I have lived in 6 different countries so far and travelled to many more. I’ve worked as a tour guide for many years, a job that I loved and one that combined my passion for people and travel.
Travelling around the world has allowed me to taste and learn more about food and different cultures and to find a real passion for it! I love coffee, sleeping in and I’m an endless optimist. My motto if you ask me how I am? “Just living the dream!”
How did you get started with “Very Hungry Nomads”? Where do you see yourselves in 5 years time with Very Hungry Nomads?
The most common question that we’re asked as female travellers: “Is it safe to travel the world as a woman?” The answer is YES!
The idea to visit every country was really born around the fact that of the people who had visited every country, they were almost all males. There were hardly any women on the list and we want to change this.
After a brief conversation in a café about how many countries there are in the world, we decided then and there that we’d visit them all.
Our mission is to prove that the world is a much safer place than many people believe. By taking this journey, we hope to empower and inspire women from everywhere to believe that anything is possible.
We quit our jobs, sold our stuff and left our home city of Melbourne in April 2018. At the time we had each previously visited 108 countries, leaving us with 88 more to visit. Today, we’re at 165 countries visited, with 30 more to see.
We travel on a strict budget of $50 USD each per day. This must cover flights, accommodation, visas, food and activities. Some countries are difficult to keep within the budget, however, we try to keep costs down by sleeping in simple, yet clean accommodation and moving around and eating like a local (public transport, local eateries and street food).
We’re not sure where Very Hungry Nomads will be in 5 years time and we’re not the kind of women who need solid plans in life. We’re open to take on new opportunities as they present themselves and we guess we’ll see what happens once we reach country 195.
We are working hard on growing and monetising Very Hungry Nomads over the coming years. We’d like it to be a trusted tool, loaded with expert travel advice for anyone to use.
What country has the best food in your opinion? Why was the cuisine of this country so good?
This is always a tough question to answer but if we had to name only one country – Thailand gets our vote! We love everything about this delicious, smiling nation and the cuisine is something special.
The balance of flavours, the right amount of heat, fresh ingredients and street vendors on every corner is a win. Let’s not forget that this is a very affordable place to travel and eat too.
We love walking through the bustling food markets here and Thai people have a clear obsession for good food too. They cook with passion and love and we think this can be tasted in the food. We’ve eaten some incredible food in Mexico, Colombia, Japan, Georgia, Lebanon, Vietnam and Ethiopia too.
How do you like to eat when you travel? Do you gravitate towards street food, fine-dining, cooking, or do you like to find places where the locals eat?
We search for places to eat where the locals fill the place. In our opinion, it’s always the best sign of good food. If it means we have to squeeze into a tiny place with plastic chairs, rubbing elbows with locals and a menu we can’t read or without a menu at all, then it generally works in our favour.
Most of the time we look around the tables to see what everybody else is eating and we’ll point to that dish and hope for the best. If we’re in a country where street food is king, (Mexico, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam to name a few) then we’re in food heaven. We are huge fans of eating street food and many would say that we must have iron stomachs by now.
Many travellers fear eating street food because they believe it is unhygienic and they will get sick, however, we believe the opposite. The good thing about street food is that you can see the kitchen, how clean it appears, how fresh the food looks and they cook your meal in front of you.
Naturally, you need to use some common sense when choosing which vendor to buy from, but again, if all the locals are eating at the same stall rather than the others surrounding it; we’ll jump in the queue and wait too. We often ask our taxi drivers where they eat and we research food blogs on best eats from that destination so we don’t miss out.
If we’re travelling in an expensive country with little options to eat at an affordable price, we’ll visit the supermarket and buy local ingredients to make a meal. If we have access to a small kitchen, Rach loves the chance to cook.
Every now and again, we’ll treat ourselves to a fancy dinner. In some countries such as Mexico, Oman, Ethiopia, Italy and Georgia, a fine-dining meal doesn’t necessarily have to break the budget. The trick is to steer clear of the tourist restaurants and do some research before you arrive so you can find these hidden gems.
Could you tell us about the destinations you have visited this year? What has been your favourite experience so far in 2019?
This year has certainly been an exciting one so far. At the end of our six-month long trip travelling in West/Central Africa, Sao Tome was a destination that surprised us. This small two-island nation (the island of Principe sits just next to Sao Tome) was one of our favourite places from our last year of travelling.
There is something about former Portuguese colonies that we seem to enjoy. We loved the natural beauty, the warm climate, the lush tropical surroundings and the fact that it wasn’t over-run by tourists.
The people were friendly and the food and coffee were fantastic. We hired a car and drove around the island at our own pace and it felt like an uncovered slice of paradise.
At the beginning of the year we hopped through the Caribbean islands. The countries that we enjoyed the most were Dominica and also the Dominican Republic. Dominica is a gorgeous, lush green island with incredible beauty.
For outdoor lovers like ourselves who enjoy nature, walking, waterfalls and good food, Dominica ticks all the boxes. We found that Dominica was very affordable too (unlike many of the surrounding Caribbean islands).
Moving on to the Dominican Republic was enjoyable for us. It’s a Spanish speaking country, so we were excited to brush up on our Spanish as we travelled through the country. We loved the vibe, architecture, nightlife and food in the capital of Santo Domingo.
The rest of the country is easy to get around via local buses and again, it’s a destination that doesn’t hit your wallet too hard. We’re beach and sun lovers and the Dominican Republic has some magnificent coastal towns and villages that provide a relaxing time to do whatever you please.
We’d certainly like to return to both Dominica and Dominican Republic in the future.
Would you say you are both adventurous eaters? What is the weirdest/strangest foods Very Hungry Nomads have tried?
Yes and no. There have been opportunities to consume food on our travels that we just couldn’t imagine keeping down. We see that many cultures use every piece of an animal with nothing going to waste but to be honest – chowing down on a sheep penis or a developing duck embryo isn’t something either of us has the urge to consume.
We’ve tried some of the deep-fried insects such as spiders, crickets, scorpions and water bugs in Asia and we’ve enjoyed eating ‘chapulines’ (small grasshoppers) in Oaxaca, Mexico. They cover them in a spicy seasoning and squeeze lime over them and to be honest they tasted like popcorn. These are the perfect accompaniment to some good quality Mexican mezcal or beer.
We’ve eaten cuy (guinea pig) in Peru, which we think tastes like chicken and we’ve downed some questionable hairy meat in Bolivia, an experience we’d rather forget.
Rach really enjoys stinky tofu, yet Marty can’t be in the vicinity of it because of the smell. We’re almost always up to try new foods but there are limits to what we will try. We think of food to be an enjoyable experience, yet we can appreciate why in many cultures, what we may find weird to eat, it is entirely natural for them to enjoy.
How challenging is it to find good food in the unexplored parts of the world – e.g. parts of Africa & the Middle East?
West Africa and Central Africa was quite a challenge for us in terms of finding good local food at an affordable cost. We feel that the Francophone countries in Africa have some great dishes because of the French influence on their cuisine.
You can find some classic French dishes like fillet steak with pepper sauce and fries or fresh fish with garlic, lemon sauce, but you must be prepared to pay for it. We found some great local eating spots by researching online where we tried all the local stews, soups and tasty dishes.
Most of the time, we lived on chicken and rice as it was always available and fresh that day, yet some countries were very surprising in the way of food. We ate the best fillet beef of our lives in Niger and Sierra Leone had some fresh and tasty seafood.
The Middle East has some of the best food we’ve eaten, ever! Iran in particular was such a surprising destination for us and the food is something that we absolutely loved. The genuine hospitality of the Iranian people was astounding, we felt so welcomed in their country.
Oman was delicious and we cannot wait to return here for so many other reasons in addition to the great food. Lebanon is all about fresh food, flavour and the Lebanese are incredibly hospitable people. We have yet to visit Israel and Palestine, but we’ve heard some amazing things about the food there, so we can’t wait.
What is it about food travel that allows you to connect with total strangers and new cultures?
We always say that you don’t need to speak the same language when food is present. There is something simple, yet powerful about sharing food with strangers as it seems to instantly bring people together. We love that we’re able to share our culture and stories through food and that is something to be grateful for.
We’ve had countless memorable food experiences over the years and we’re always astonished at the kindness of strangers. When we travelled in Afghanistan, we were invited to lunch in a typical Afghan house.
Of course, only women were present. The food was all home-made from scratch, it was delicious and plentiful. We ate together, drank fresh tea, shared photographs of our familes and talked about education and what their life was like under the Taliban. Then we all danced together, right there in the living room.
Another time we were wandering through a field in the stunning Wakhan Valley in Tajikistan when a group of women beckoned us over to join them for lunch.
Delicious food was shared, laughs were had and even though we communicated through bits of broken Russian, German and English, a common language wasn’t important. The sharing of food is what brought us together and the experience was genuine, heart-warming and unforgettable.
Out of the remaining 30 countries you have left to visit, which country are you most looking forward to visiting?
We’ll be heading back to Africa soon as we have 14 countries left to visit. Many people have told us that we’re going to love Mozambique for the food. Again, perhaps it’s the Portuguese influence that makes their cuisine special. In addition to this, the beaches look breathtaking and the country is a little bit off-the-beaten-track.
This winning combination of good food, sun, beach, islands and culture is what we love in a new destination. We’re still planning the logistics of our movements through the remaining countries in Africa so we don’t have anything solid planned for Mozambique just yet. You can bet that we’ll try as much of the local seafood and local dishes as we can.