Welcome to this episode of the Why We Travel Podcast. This episode features a conversation with Sophia Bentaher about taking a culinary tour of Europe in search of the perfect dessert recipe.
Sophia is a French Moroccan American gal living in LA and working as a poet manager.
In 2017, she ditched a 9-5 to go hitchhike across Europe and learn how to bake traditional desserts in each country.
Kind of Eat Pray Love meets Anthony Bourdain. Crossed 20 countries and gathered over 23 local recipes, from kolaches to crostatas.
On the Show Today You’ll Learn:
Her motivation for learning traditional desserts from each country
- What exploration and movement means to her
- What it’s like to hitchhike to 18 countries in one trip
- How to ask for help and approach people
- And more
Links & Resources
Claus Lauter: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Why We Travel Podcast. Food is a big topic with every journey, with every travel, and most travelers are foodies, going to new countries, trying out new food, big thing there. So today with me, I have someone did this in a very, very special way, and it’s a sweet story and you will know why that is a sweet story in the moment.
Sophia B is with me today and she has done a trip to Europe back in 2017 where she explored cakes. So we wanna dive into this right now, hi
Sophia Bentaher: Sophia. How are you? Hello. I’m very good today and really excited to come here and talk about, , cakes and.
Claus Lauter: So Sophia, give a bit of a background of yourself and what got you into traveling.
Sophia Bentaher: Yeah, sure. I’m French Moroccan American, which means that I was born and raised in the US and from a French mom and I, Moroccan dad. And, , I think my relationship to travel started pretty young. , just because of that multicultural background. We would travel, during the summers or , yeah, I just remember.
On a plane pretty early. , and I think also what multiculturalism does sometimes it, breathes this like intensified curiosity. , and this need for change , I really love change in diversity, so that kind of shaped my relationship to travel, where basically staying in one place feels foreign to me in a weird way.
I need to continuously go and explore. , and by the way, traveling can be something like a, 10 hour flight away from home or it can just be hopping in the car and driving 30 minutes outside to a different neighborhood. But it’s this idea of exploration and movement towards something that you don’t know that I feel very connected to.
, and yeah, and I also moved around for university and then just whenever I’d have a time or spare change, , I. Find a destination. Europe is great for that cause we have these low cost airlines where you can just go to Dublin for $5. so traveling is definitely a key part , of my identity for sure.
Claus Lauter: Okay. What do you see yourself more like a solo traveler, adventure traveler? What kind of style of traveling do you prefer?
Sophia Bentaher: A little bit of all the about Choice is not my forte. , I enjoy traveling alone because it means that I’m gonna more easily like talk to people or I’ll be, independent and in charge of my time.
And then at the same time, I also love going, like with a friend group travel, not so much. weirdly enough, I organize travel retreats, but I wouldn’t participate in them myself. , and. Something that I often do when I’m arriving in a new city or a new place is like, I’ll try to Google, like insider tip.
I’ll try to look for like local blogs instead of, maybe like the first Google results because when I go to a place I’m not going with this idea of, okay, I have a list of 20 things to see. I like to just walk around and see what the local lifestyle is like. It’s the same for food.
Being able to just walk and see , what places look full and what places look full of locals is something that, really, , excites me. But I think it’s a hybrid. It’s not like adventure travel either. It’s leisurely everyday life traveling.
Claus Lauter: Okay. . Sounds great.
Now, back in 2017 you did a very interesting trip and you wrote , Love, Pray, and meets B, which is one of my heroes. So we’re the same page, So what got you to the idea to go to Europe and do very special? Tell me about it.
Sophia Bentaher: The backdrop is, , myself and a friend, Annabel, who we had been to university together.
We were freshly graduated, and , we were both rebuking the corporate lifestyle, right? I had gone to Morocco to try to connect with my father’s heritage, and I was working in a guest house and Annabel, I don’t remember exactly what she was doing at the time, but she was very much like, What’s my life?
I don’t wanna just go in and integrate some traditional job. So her and I were talking and we loved desserts together. We used to bake in university. We would have these big baking afternoons. And I think the conversation, we were just like, we wanted to promote again, diversity. We wanted to help spread awareness of , what’s different, because I think we’re always focusing on , The differences, but in a conflicting way.
Right? And so we had this curiosity of what is a traditional dessert in Roman? I remember the conversation. We were like, Well, why don’t we just go and discover it? And then we thought, Well, why just Romania? Why not all of Europe? , and at the time, the kind of hitch hiking concept wasn’t there.
We thought we were very young and irresponsible. We thought that we would be able to save up in a few months and then go and do that with the car. And that wasn’t the case. So when we got to like the date of departure for the trip, , we just decided to wing it because ultimately we just really wanted to go and whenever I talk about this, trip, it boils down to curiosity and this a little bit of also naivete, right?
Which is just like, if right now after this call, I was just like, Okay, I wanna go to Mexico today, but it happens that I don’t have a car right now, and I’ll figure it out. I’m just gonna walk out the door and make it happen. But because there’s something that’s driving you,
the curiosity, you find ways to make that happen. And Annabel and I were both obsessed with dessert. We both were very curious about what kind of desserts exist , in Europe and also in the world. But we just started with the scale of Europe. , And also we wanted to a bakery, like a coffee shop.
There was also a business plan behind it , we’re gonna go get these recipes and then we’ll have this shop in which people can come and try desserts from all over different areas. Okay.
Claus Lauter: So you said Romania was one of the countries. Which other countries did you go to?
Sophia Bentaher: We did 18 countries in total.
If I can roll through them pretty much in less than a minute, I think we started in France, went up through Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, , Hungary, Romania. Bulgaria, Greece. I’m definitely missing some in the way, but that’s okay. , after Greece going up again, the coast, Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia.
We didn’t stop. Croatia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, I haven’t counted on my fingers, but that’s the, tour.
Claus Lauter: Okay. That covers quite a bit in Europe. What’s your approach to find , this specific dessert or cake
Sophia Bentaher: it was so messy. We would just literally show up somewhere, because also we’re hitchhiking, so we don’t really have, This is a thing with hitchhiking, like you can be very stuck and say, I’m trying to go there.
That will limit your way of traveling. Whereas we were like, Okay, we’re trying to go to. Grace is huge. So from there we would land somewhere, and once we had figured out housing, because that’s the other thing, we were sleeping in strangers homes. We didn’t really know where we’d stay. We would just talk to people on the street.
It’s actually a really interesting question. Nobody’s asked me this before, but, Annabel and I , would be different in our approach. I want to control sometimes, so I would be like on Google looking traditional recipe of Bulgaria or something, and Annabel was always very good at inviting me into like, probably a lot that we don’t know the whole point of coming to see the locals and to learn a local recipe is like, just trusting that we’ll find.
What’s really present here versus looking at Google and then saying, we found this recipe specifically and we’re trying to make this towards the middle end of the trip, we’d show up, like there’s one time in Greece, we rallied almost the entire town. We were just walking down these costone streets and people were like, Who makes that orange cake? That’s really good. Oh, it’s that girl. Okay, where is she? Who makes that orange cake? And we just find this girl who makes an orange cake that’s very specific from the region. Because she blends an entire orange into the batter, so she doesn’t just put orange juice, she takes the entire orange that’s really ripe, blends it into the smoothie maker, and then it makes this pace and she puts that into the batter.
So you have a super Orange chocolate cake, and those are things that like, I wouldn’t have found that on Google. I wouldn’t, I would’ve found probably Buck Club Bar or something.
Claus Lauter: Yeah. I think you had the right approach to just winging it and just go for the flow and see what happens.
My approach. Yeah, to certain degree there. Now going somewhere and finally there’s one thing and you’re just. Got a little bit into it, but then getting the recipe out someone to take it with them, I think that can be a different level of challenge there. So how did you approach that?
Sophia Bentaher: my one belief on this is that, , people want to help. , it felt like a treasure hunt. Think of the way that children approach a treasure heart. We weren’t just coming in like, Hey, give us one piece of information. We’re like, Tell us your favorite local dessert, and then teach us how to make it and tell us somebody who can make it with us.
And I think once you present a question like that as a collaborative game or a collaborative approach, most people, human, psyche wise, they’re like, Okay, how can I help? And so was just part of the conversation. When we’re asking for dessert, we’re not just asking, Hey, where’s the best bakery? We’re like, What’s a traditional dessert?
And who makes it best? And also help us connect to them because they’re gonna teach us and we’re gonna bake. , it was pretty, supportive. I don’t need to sugarcoat. We also had this appointments, we had this one coffee shop, I remember where we went for two days straight.
And they were like, Yeah, yeah, come back tomorrow. I was like, Okay, tomorrow. And then tomorrow, hey, come back tomorrow. And at some point we were like, Okay, tomorrow means no thank you. And that’s okay. And , we would ask people to help us and also we had this very light and playful tone.
I tell this to my team members sometimes, but I think people want to help and the way to make them help the easiest way to make people help is to tell them specifically how they can help you. So when you’re gonna go and ask for advice or ask for support, instead of saying like, Hey, I need help.
Be like, Hey, this is exactly what I need. ? Like, I need abc. Is there something in all of this that you’re able specifically to do
it’s like, this is all that I need. Help me get the treasure hunt.
Claus Lauter: Okay. , how often did you get lost in translation? Because obviously with all these countries, there’s not only language differences, but also cultural differences. Yeah. All over Europe. So , how did you deal with that? I think that was not that easy.
Sophia Bentaher: Ama and I both speak English. I speak French, she speaks German, and we both also speak Spanish, which covered a lot of, of surface. , Romania, for example, is a Latin language. I did not know that Romanian, I thought it was gonna be a very like Slavi language. , but I think for the most part we got around in English.
We definitely started speaking more English and German once we were getting the more East, we were getting. , also Google Translate, although Google Translate can have mistakes. I remember one time being in a truck with a driver who was telling, we were writing back and forth, and I guess Google Translate just didn’t work in Polish the way we were expecting it to.
So we were like, Okay, can we go to this city and then he hands us the phone and there was his language written, and then there was like, Okay, , in 20 minutes I’ll blow you up. And I was like, I think it’s probably he’ll drop us off. it probably means that, but Google is miscommunicating the word.
And so for the whole 20 minutes we were just like, He’s gonna drop us off. And then other moments, there’s probably something I got lost in translation that I don’t know about, on both ends. But, , overall technology’s a great tool. , communication. And another thing that I sometimes tell my friends who are traveling is , don’t underestimate the power of nonverbal language, because when there is a will to communicate, there is a way to put your message across.
It can be through miming, it can be through pointing things, it can be through drawing, it can be through words, and you replace them and , there’s always a way to put your message across. You just have to be creative about it.
Claus Lauter: A hundred percent degree. Now, with the traveling, what’s the biggest challenge , on the trip?
Sophia Bentaher: The biggest challenge, which softened over time is, For me personally, , not knowing where we’d sleep or go. And then also the notion of dependency. I grew up in a culture where it’s like very hard for me to ask for things. So like asking for a cake recipe, it’s fun. And there’s not that much risk, but having to ask for transportation and housing it confronted me to a lot of my own kind of limiting beliefs of like, Oh, I can’t ask people that because they’re gonna feel taken advantage of or I don’t know where I’m sleeping tonight.
Can you help? Things like that. That was definitely challenging. , surprisingly enough, I think people expect, because we were two women, they’re like, How was it being women traveling? And I really want to , talk about, , or help destigmatize that. In a weird way, people were more supportive in protecting of us because we were women.
So a lot of the drivers, for example, we always had this question of the hitchhiking drivers would be like, Why are you picking us up? And 90% of the time the answer was, I don’t want anything bad to happen to you guys. then I’m like, That’s interesting because you’re scared of the good of the bad, but you’re doing the good thing, it’s very telling for me of just like how as humans we’re scared of the outside world, but at the same time we’re doing the right thing. So it’s like there’s more good people out there than there are bad, but we’re so scared of the bad that we like end up not focusing on it while we’re doing the good thing.
I always find that so funny.
Claus Lauter: Yeah. 99 point something percent of all humans are good people., I was an Airbnb host for a long time and you’re always a little bit of over careful about your guests and , that nothing happens to them.
And on all my travels I had the same experience. People try really to take care of you and point . you in the right directions. And it’s easier than, , What people think or what the news wants to make you think. Now, once you were back, question is, did you start your coffee shop? , what did you do with your
Sophia Bentaher: recipes?
Yes. So we did go, to Morocco straight after. , we had planned, to go and open a coffee shop. We were talking with an investor on, in Morocco, in Mar Cash. I think if we hadn’t had that next chapter, Who knows, I might still be traveling for desserts because you fall into it and you’re just like, Oh my gosh, there’s so much to go discover.
But we had an end date, we knew that come December we were gonna go to Marike and open the shop. , and so we went to Marrakesh. We started working for about a month on the plans and imagining what that would look like. And at that point, just completely honestly, what, happened is during the trip, I think we really learned about like intuition and trusting our feeling around certain things.
there’s like a vibe. I don’t even need to get all LA spiritual on you, but I think that sometimes, Things in life that we perceive and we don’t know how to put words on them. And so we had been practicing that more and more throughout the trip. , and with this specific person that we were working with,
nothing wrong happened, but it was feeling off. So we decided to not work with him, and we started baking from our kitchen. And so I don’t know if you’ll be familiar or if your audience will be familiar. There’s a show in America called Two Broke Girls, and it’s these two girls who are baking in their kitchen.
They’re making cupcakes to try to go and sell them. We were in our kitchen making cakes every morning, going and dropping them off to clients and coffee shops and, trying to put a business together, going to farmer’s markets, and so we did that for about six to eight months, maybe like a year up until the end.
And at that point we realized, It’s one thing to bake every Sunday for your friends. It’s another thing to lead an entire business like a bakery is no joke. And I have so much respect for any baker or person who cooks food for the rest of us. , so we decided to stop and then we continued on our, journeys.
And that was in , 2018. Okay.
Claus Lauter: So what was the biggest takeaway from, I think you touched already a little bit on that. What was the biggest takeaway or in hindsight From the trip?
Sophia Bentaher: Mm-hmm. , , curiosity and kindness. A contagious a hundred percent.
It was a like everyday exercise. Things will work out most times, right? Most times things will work out even if you don’t have the answer in the moment. , and the third takeaway is, again, why I quote Bordain on this, but like food is just such , a social glue. And if you come in with curiosity, again to do the full circle, if you come in with a curiosity about somebody’s culture and you ask ’em about food, 99% of the time you’re gonna get met with a big smile and something.
I wanna share a meal with you and I wanna show you this and that, and it connects us back to like the childlike feeling. , It makes life a little bit less serious and big and important.
Claus Lauter: Okay. Come slowly to the end of our podcast. What would be a advice that you would give someone who wants to travel the way you did?
Sophia Bentaher: That’s a great question. An advice that I would give to somebody. I would say give yourself the tools and the space to really work on your mindset. Going into it, and again, I’m sounding like a broken record, but stay curious, stay open minded, be resourceful in terms of like, if you go out thinking that you already know what’s gonna happen or you want it a certain way.
Be realistic about that, that. There’s so much of life that we don’t know. And when we go to these new places, being able to just be like, All right, I’m gonna show up. And also stay super open to connection and to discovery. , I think that mindset shift is at the root of everything.
That’s what I would recommend.
Claus Lauter: Awesome. Sounds really good. , where can people find out more about you when they want to get in touch with you? ,
Sophia Bentaher: right now, I would say through social media, Instagram is where I’m, , often as we all are in my generation just addicted to the phone.
, and otherwise I also have my web. Site on which people can send me a little message. But, I’m an open door. I love people getting in touch. And recently somebody actually had heard the story and they were doing a similar trip about coffee and he reached out being like, I’m trying to explore every coffee in every world.
, can we talk? And we had a great chat and I love that. I thought, how fun that we can all inspire each other to go travel. That’s really fun.
Claus Lauter: Coffee sounds great. My round the world trip was on the degree to the Burger and beer tour, so I did a lot of burgers and a lot of beer.
Sophia Bentaher: Okay, that’s, I wanna hear about that
Claus Lauter: So we’re all food is at the end of the day. We’re so much for your time. I will put the links in the show notes that people can reach you if they have any questions and talk soon. Thank
Sophia Bentaher: you. Have a good day. You too. Bye.
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