Eat. Eat. Eat.


Scorpions on a stick, Night Market, Beijing


Where will I eat? A frequent question for travelers that can create as many good memories as bad if not approached carefully…

I remember my first trip overseas to Europe — the first stop was in Madrid, Spain. My friend and I ventured out to eat lunch on the first day, having no idea where to go, and settled on a small café that didn’t seem any different from any other place. As we settled in to eat our soup, after picking through the menu and relying on my small amount of French to somewhat connect the dots in Spanish, we were quickly repulsed by the assortment of unknown bits and pieces in the bowl. Which included a hair. And then another. We decided we were done with the lunch before we had started, paid our bill, and made a quick exit.
Suddenly the thought of using the guide-book didn’t seem like a sad compromise and the adventure of eating was tamed. For our next meal, we carefully consulted our books, noted a specific address and found a more welcoming meal. That is the point of guide books – recommendations saving us time and money.
Of course, the sophistication continually increased over the years and now I can get recommendations down to the minute via my smart phone. It’s good and bad since it takes away the opportunity to find your own little treasure but minimizes experiences with “hair soup.”
I like consulting with the locals on their favorites and, when spending more time in a place, trying my own luck. I don’t always trust Yelp and Trip Advisor because I seem to have a more discriminating palate than the type of people who have to continually post their minute to minute gastric trials and tribulations. Why do I need to see ratings for coffee shops and gelato?
I’ve been lucky to enjoy cheap, authentically delicious dumplings in a street side “shack” in Beijing, the perfect coordination of dough and filling, not soggy, and precisely firm enough to delicately take your bite. Chased with a cold beer, dinner was finalized for about $1.50.  There is the famous street food in Thailand, that is only a hesitation for the first meal, and then you’re in – slurping up the spicy noodle soups with strips of chicken or pork, decorated with cilantro or basil and adorned with even more peppers for an authentic “Thai spicy” delight. And why not try the delicate escargot of France? It becomes an eating exercise in the mastering of a small metal implement designed to carefully hold the shell while you pluck the buttery garlic-infused innards with a small fork.
And if you want to explore the roots of our sushi fascination while in Japan, you can’t miss the experience of the motorized sushi conveyor belt, teasing you with various offerings of raw fish relaxing on rice. Indulge in the fatty tuna – you’ll wonder how you ever suffered through the substance that passes for tuna in America.
I’ve also encountered the curious breakfast of Argentina, consisting of various breads that I found terribly disappointing and lacking in any merit worth mentioning. Sorry, I’m not a bread person. No worries, I found redemption in the tender lamb, lean juicy steaks, and wonderfully fresh seafood (the wonderful trout lasagna dish after 10 hours of hiking!) as I travelled the length of the country.

The one thing, no, TWO things I really miss when I travel? Popcorn – I’m a bona fide addict (thank God it’s fairly common, especially in South America), and a fresh salad. After traveling for several months in southeast Asia, I eventually have to abandon street food for a few days and just eat somewhere where I’m sure the raw vegetables have been properly bathed. What an extravagance to crunch on romaine decked out with juicy tomatoes and cucumber!
The best piece of advice I can give is to travel with an open mind and open palate. It would be a shame to miss the delicacies and delights of other countries and cultures. There are meals that linger in my memory – a lamb dish served with a yogurt almond sauce in Jordan; a crab delicacy at a small French influenced restaurant in Cambodia, forever stamping the fusion of the two cultures as a very promising pairing for future dining.

It is one of my favorite adventures in travel – revealing and ultimately, fulfilling.

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