When you drink a Pisco sour do the ruins of Machu Picchu come to mind? Or does the aroma of a mole poblano bring you to a leisurely dinner on a plaza in Mexico? If this happens then you are experiencing what experts are now calling culinary nation branding.
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For quite some time nation branding has been a tool for countries hoping to increase trade and tourism. It can include slogans (‘Belize: Mother Nature’s Best Kept Secret’); tourism campaigns (‘Why Not Chile’); and trade promotion (the work of PromPerú, e.g.).
As more and more countries become aware that the way they project themselves on the global stage can affect their bottom line, competition for tourism and trade dollars increases.
With the increase in the popularity of food tourism and passion for new food experiences, countries are realizing that they can cash in not only on their iconic sights, but also on their culinary nation brand. When a country turns its foods into a national brand that is good for business.
Culinary nation branding is part of the evolving field of culinary diplomacy which uses food and cuisine as a tool of international relations. It is no coincidence that countries like Thailand, South Korea, and the United States have started promoting themselves with their cuisine.
Some of the strongest culinary nation brands are in Latin America, Peru and Mexico have the strongest ones, but other countries are betting their kitchens on a new positive identity. That is why trade and tourism ministries are seeking out their best chefs, restaurants, and culinary traditions.
What will be the next culinary hotspot, agricultural superfood, or repurposed cooking technique? Will we be shelling out for imported Peruvian giant corn in coming years? Or will every kitchen have to include a Mexican molcajete, a volcanic mortar and pestle, to recreate newly-discovered flavors? Will we be flocking to Quito, Bogota, or La Paz to experience a culinary renaissance?
And if Cuban tourism continues to open up, with Paladares become the new normal for showcasing that country’s cuisine? For Latin America, re-characterizing some countries by their cooking may actually help overcome decades of prejudice toward places once perceived of as dangerous, or riddled with crime.
This may be one of the strongest reasons for such places as Mexico, Peru, Brazil, or the Caribbean to rebrand themselves as food destinations that attract a new type of foodie. As more countries engage in culinary nation branding, everyone benefits – farmers and producers, the tourism industry, small businesses, and of course, all of us who get to taste new and different cuisines.