Above the the Temple of Apollo at Delphi the incription ‘γνῶθι σεαυτόν’, to ‘Know Thyself was written. I know one thing that I am absolutely sure about myself… I am unabashedly motivated primarily by food. Often times when we travel to new and exotic places with a different type of cuisine than we are used to, things can get tricky. The best tip I could give someone is to try as many new an exciting dishes as you can when you travel. This isn’t always so easy, so let me give you some of the tips I go by when I am motivating myself or others.
Pick a dish you love, and choose varieties of it
I have always loved noodle soup dishes, but growing up in Canada, I wasn’t exposed to much other than the instant noodle variety. When I moved to Asia, the choices of noodle soups (hard not to say that with Joey from Friends in your head, isn’t it) were hard to handle. What I did was to choose something so similar to what I was used to, and then over time, switch varieties until I had no problem with some of the more difficult ingredients.
I’m a traditional Japanese ramen lover. It didn’t come easy to me. I started switching varieties over time, until I was hooked on certain flavours. I realized that many metropolitan cities in the world had a ramen shop of sorts. Having ramen in San Francisco, New York, Seoul, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Orlando, Edmonton, you name it. Ramen became my comfort food. I sought to make ramen my must have food if I wanted something different than the local feature, but meaningful to me. My Globetrotter Food Tip is : Pick a food you love, but that you know exists in many other places. Try to try this in different cities and countries when you can. You will become an expert on varieties and taste differences in this food. It could be as common place as a hamburger, or as uncommon as creme brûlée. The point is to have consistency and variety in the same meal!
This clip is from a Japanese movie called Tampopo, and symbolizes my mantra with Ramen
Try everything once, but be safe, and maybe ethical
When I travel, I don’t ever want to be held back by the fear that something might taste bad. If it tastes bad, at least I know this for myself and don’t have to continue. I will never let someone dissuade me from trying something once because that might be their personal preference. However, this is not the case when the food could be dangerous (like the deep-fried scorpion I ate at a Beijing night market. It wasn’t dangerous, so I learned, unlike the live octopus I ate once that clung to my throat and almost choked me) or it could be just plain different (deep-fried starfish was a interesting. My tip, only eat the points, the middle is no bueno). These have made incredible stories when talking to people about food and I am glad that I tried all of them. Now I can go anywhere and try anything at least once. Not everyone will have this sort of mind frame so it’s important not to try to force anyone to do anything they are resisting. Like the old adage,
You catch more flies with honey than vinegar
When I first met Jacquie, she was extremely skeptical about trying new foods. She was so hesitant because in her mind she ‘didn’t think she’d like it’. She based future experience on past results. I am so proud that she has opened up to so many new foods. This has happened because of one golden rule, and our next Globetrotter Food Tip:
If you are trying new foods, you need to have trust.
In many ways, Jacquie was only able to try new foods because she trusted in herself, that if she did or did not like it, eating more was her choice. Secondly, she trusted in me that I would never feed her something that would hurt her or I knew that 100% she would not like. Lastly, she trusted that trying a new food may open her to a life experience she could cherish and new foods that she didn’t know she liked. Eating, and sharing food is a very personal thing to do. If you have someone who you travel with and they are skittish to try that exotic dish, be patient, ease them in, and above all, have trust.
Another reason why I stated in the heading to be ‘ethical’ aside from the trust issues has to do with your personal beliefs on food. If you are a vegetarian, obviously your explorations should be curtailed by your dietary needs. For me, I had a challenge to my dietary ethics when I was living in Korea. I was offered to have 보신탕 (Boshintang), a soup primarily made of dog meat. I refused, but it was due to scheduling, as I did not want to insult my host. You may be in situations where your ethics may be challenged.
What are your tips for trying new foods while travelling? We’d love to hear them in the comments below!
– Happy Globetrotting
* Edit – Not a day after posting this I was in Toronto, Ontario for a family visit when I had Ramen at a nice little Izakaya on Danforth. I posted this photo to Instagram. What’s amazing is that when you post media on social media, and use hypertext with ‘#’, other people can find your photo if you’ve made your settings public. I posted this quote ‘#Ramen @ @nakayoshidanforth in #TDot. I’ve been dying for some #AsahiBlack all summer!‘ which automatically updates my Twitter feed. I couldn’t have imagined that the Asahi Brewing Company would reply with the following! Being a globetrotter can be very rewarding!