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The World is My Cooking School

After a trip around the world, a California teacher comes home with local recipes and lasting friendships

Words and Photographs by Carl Haley

The author and his family in Tokyo.

Call us crazy. We decided to quit our jobs, reduce our belongings down to six bags and spend a year traveling the world learning about different people, their cultures and, most importantly for me, their food. Our goal was not to be constantly moving around. Instead we decided to spend an entire month in twelve different countries. In each destination, we rented a house or apartment and stayed put for the month while getting to know how the locals live. Gastronomically, I was always curious to know where they bought their groceries, what they cooked and why they cooked it.

Madagascar. Our 11-year-old son insists it was not just the animated movie that made him choose this exotic locale when it was his turn to put a pin in the globe during our planning stages. He has been a lemur-phile of his own accord for some time. We will forever be in his debt, because of all our destinations, this enormous island was certainly the most remote and exotic. And the lemurs really do dance!

Corbin and a lemur share a banana.

We rented a house on the beach off the western coast. Our house included a maid and a groundskeeper. A cook was also available for an additional $5 a day. Initially, I wasn’t sure I wanted to give up cooking, but at those prices it seemed foolish not to.

Lolo turned out to be an amazing cook. She alleged that she had only practical training and had never been to a school, but her five-star meals, whose dazzling presentation was exceeded only by superior taste, made us believe she was a world class chef in some sort of witness protection program. Both lunch and dinner always had a starter and then a main. Sometimes she would also make a dessert.

Madagascar has superior produce and seafood. Eating local is the only option, as the infrastructure does not exist to transport food long distances. We would sit on our veranda facing the sea, and locals would walk by selling mangos, tomatoes, tiger prawns and lobster. We bought two huge lobsters weighing over six pounds for only $20. We were in heaven.

After the first week of enjoying Lolo’s food, I decided that I needed to learn some of the recipes she was cooking. I proposed we pay her a bit extra so she would share her skills with me. She proposed a different form of compensation: English lessons. We had a deal.

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