Eating Abroad!

Today, I had the idea that I would write about food. That’s right! Food!

Long before I started traveling, I used to watch Anthony Bourdain’s travel show, No Reservations. I fantasized about his life: traveling to foreign countries on another person’s dime all while trying out local cuisine. Getting paid to eat. At the time, I was a picky eater but was ambitious enough to sell my picky-eater soul to the devil in exchange for the chance to travel around the world, get paid a handsome salary, and become famous.

Well, two of those things happened and one didn’t. And I didn’t have to sell my soul to the devil to get those things either. In the same way that Bourdain made traveling and eating his job, I have made traveling and teaching my job. However, I digress from my main thesis and would like to return to the topic of food.

I’ve thrown away my picky-eater status and cultivated a more cultured palate that suits my current mode of life. The last two years of my life have not been fixed in the types of food I eat. When you live abroad, no matter how secure you’ve become in terms of what you eat or what you are comfortable eating, you are still confronted by moments of challenge. A business meeting, wedding, or family gathering. A native friend. Someone saying, “Let’s try some traditional food!” Regardless of the challenge, you walk up to the table (or smell it from far away), and stare at the food before you. Thoughts broil in your mind and your stomach slightly clenches. What is it? Where did it come from? Will I be sick tomorrow? Or the worst: I’m starving but none of the food before me looks appetizing.

What we feel comfortable eating is cultured in taste (I’m of course ignoring individual choice). We are taught what we think is good, what we think is bad as we move from one life stage to the next. Moreover, within our own food culture we learn what we like, what we don’t like, and what we are comfortable with. When I first started traveling, I never considered food types as a major concern. My concerns dealt with money, where I would live, transportation, and if I could speak the language. Now I’ve learned that it is the trivialities of culture that deter and cause strain to an individual who enters a new culture. It is the daily life that breaks people down—Maslow’s physiological needs.

I don’t doubt the authenticity of Bourdain’s show, the meals he eats, or his gastronomical philosophy about good local cuisine, “The best food is always local dishes and street food.” He’s right to a point. To a point! However, I don’t know if he’s ever had to eat the same local cuisine day-in and day-out. I agree that it is a novel experience when you’re first served that dish and the buds that are tickled on your tongue explode in ecstasy. “Man, I’ve never had anything like this before! This is incredible. What is this?” However, the show, and often any media form (even this one) fail to exhibit that street or local food, especially in underdeveloped countries, consists of only slight variations of the same dish for every meal. Wealth and development have allowed me to take for granted the fact that I can have variation in my food choice, even between different meal times. It is one thing to have your favorite exotic or local dish once a week or once a day, but it is another thing all together to have it every day of your life for every single meal time.

Foods I miss the most according to each meal-time:

breakfast – any type of grain cereal

lunch – a sandwich

dinner – anything hot and baked

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