Siddhartha had it all at one point in his life. He had the women, he had plenty of money, he had royalty, but he lacked something…an itching, aching feeling that he couldn’t quite exactly place. Something was missing. One day, though, he had a gross realization that led him from the palace walls to the outside world. While it was a struggle and a growing process after he got ride of all of his possessions, things soon changed when he reached his moment of enlightenment while sitting deep in mediation under the Bodhi tree. From there he would go on to teach thousands of followers his ways that now lives on as Buddhism with millions of believers across the world.
And, while most people we encounter today would never give up everything in search of themselves and inner peace, there is something freeing and liberating about the act. Just ask Allan Karl, a Californian from Connecticut who was at a crossroads in his life…you might even say it was a fork in the road. He had recently lost his job and his marriage had just ended, so he did like Yogi Bera suggests: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
And he did. He sold everything he owned and took his custom-fit BMW motorcycle on the road. But, his trip differed just a tad bit from one that you or I might take. He started in Newport Beach, California, went through Oregon, then kept driving north. Eventually after three years of biking, Allan had traveled through 35 different countries in five different continents, traveled over 60,000 miles, and downed thousands of meals. “I think the hardest part is just understanding,” Allan shared with us regarding taking his trip. “Some people in their minds will constantly find reasons why they can’t do something. So, my recommendation is that you need to realize that you can. Take advantage of the opportunities that you have.”
During his epic voyage around the world, Allan documented and photographed everything that he could. Eventually the stories that he gathered from people, what he learned about local culture, and photographs of people and the food that he tasted all would be put together into a stunning book aptly named Forks: A Quest for Culture, Cuisine, and Connection. Each chapter documents his trip along with recipes for you to use so you can get a little taste of what he experienced.
As the subtitle of his book suggests, he did have lots of food along the way that intricately became enmeshed with culture. It’s definitely difficult to separate both because eating is such an important part of a society and each country has its own traditions and favorite meals. Thinking back, Allan can still remember eating one of his favorite meals of the trip: moqueca, a fish stew made in Brazil. “They pulled fresh fish out of the fridge and made it right there. It was in a small little place with, literally, grandma in the kitchen.” He also recalled having amazing empanadas filled with ground beef, spices such as clove, and garlic while he was in Argentina and standing around a fire in Africa watching the cast iron Potjie cook on the coals of the fire. He even had ostrich on his trip and, according to him, it was great. (We just might take his word on that, though.)
In terms of cuisine, Allan was amazed by Ethiopian cooking and especially Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. “I love the freshness, the fresh salads, the spices, and the hummus. And there’s no question that Peruvian food is one of my favorites, too. They bring in Asian flavors to their dishes because, historically, they had brought laborers over from China and Asia.” We discussed our love of Lomo Saltado (stir-fryed beef over a bed of french fries) and moved on to talking about how he put the recipes and his book together.
“When I left, I never thought I would have a book like I have now. I went out, drove, and just ate. That fish stew was the first and only recipe that I collected as I traveled. When I got back three years later, I decided I would cook that fish stew and some other dishes from my travels for my friends. They said that I should really put the food in the book.” That one interaction with his friends changed the focus of his book and brought him on another journey entirely. Allan soon took to social media and crowdsourced the recipes that he remembered and loved the most from the trip. After much work, he had finally completed the writing, the editing, the photography, and his work and it was ready to be published.
Later, we had asked him, tongue in cheek, whether he found the three year journey or the putting together of the book to be more difficult. While the question took him a bit off guard, he shared that both definitely presented comparable challenges. For him, already having a background in media and marketing, he had a vision for the book and the audience of his readers. But, his vision for the book is one that traditional publishers disagreed with, so finding a publisher was incredibly difficult work. Then he began to talk about his trip: “I broke my leg in Bolivia and had to come back to recover, then I came right back on the trip. I had to reset myself. There were also challenges at country borders and especially Africa. The Sudan and Syria were also real challenges. There was just a lot of bureaucratic things to deal with. And, while the language issues were difficult, I found my way around.”
So, it was interesting to see that his trip was not only a physical challenge of stamina, but also a mental one. Danger was everywhere from motorcycle crashes to being held at gunpoint by Columbian guerrillas, but he still continued on his journey. Ever interested in what could possibly drive a person forward despite such challenges, we asked him how he kept going. He shared, “My brother thinks I’m over the top positive, but I looked at those obstacles as opportunities. For example, I was in one of the Latin American countries and I got pulled over and was asked for my passport and license. It was clear that he wanted a bribe and threatened to take me to the station. But, I had something that he didn’t have: time. ” And he was right, the cop didn’t have time to take him to the station.
Near the end of our conversation, Allan said he had two things to share. “One of my big things is how important it is to be curious. When we’re curious, we ask more questions, and we’re more open to experiences. When we’re open, we tend to recognize how much we can learn and experience and get rewards out of life. But, you don’t have to travel around the world to do great things.” He also said how important it is to push your own boundaries and constantly try new things. “Just because you didn’t like something as a kid, doesn’t mean you won’t like it now. Try new things.”
It’s interesting to think where Allan would be if he had never taken that trip and set off on his journey. While he definitely had thought it through, he didn’t allow his fears to take over. Nor should we, no matter what we’re going through in life. Allan Karl and his journey as seen through Forks: A Quest for Culture, Cuisine, and Connection is definitely an eye-opener and a perfect book to get for people with wanderlust, a love of culture, and an obsession with food from all over the world.
“And, I’m not done, I guess,” Allan quips while laughing, almost nostalgically. “People have told me that I haven’t done the whole world yet. That would be another great book with more great stories.”
*If you’re a local Nutmugger, you’re in luck because you’ll be able to meet, greet, and talk with Allan as he makes his way back home Friday, 9/26, starting at 5 at the Barret Bookstore in Darien to meet him as he signs copies of his book. Ostrich not included. He also has other appearances, book signings, and talks coming up, so make sure to keep up with him and don’t forget to pick up his awesome book online or at your local book store.