Traveling through Asia has probably been the best thing I could have done for myself as a young twenty-two-year-old. The highlight of traveling above everything else was the food. As I found in Asia, food is extremely specific to each country, and even different parts of one country will have their own signature dishes or snacks. While certain countries like Malaysia or South Africa do provide fusion food, meals typically characterize a place’s signature flare.
Travel to Eat
Food has a deeper meaning to me than just being… food. It’s not only something we nourish ourselves with but also it touches upon important social and cultural factors one can see while traveling.
Food in Asia is quite culture-specific and allows us to enjoy and experience the country, much more than if we were to just ‘get by’ through eating the food that we are familiar with while traveling.
While on a solo trip through Osaka and Kyoto in Japan, I decided to stay in a hostel for the first time ever. I met a French father and daughter in the hostel who were traveling through Japan for two weeks. She was young and full of energy, working as a school nurse and taking short international vacations whenever the time came. Her father, on the other hand, was an old-fashioned, stiff and difficult-to-please man.
Her biggest regret during the trip was that she couldn’t enjoy all the delicious local dishes. She said her father didn’t want to step outside of his comfort zone and try any Japanese food, and this made her quite upset. She liked trying new things and enjoying different food from around the world.
I was totally blown away by this, considering myself to be a true travel foodie. I asked her what they could possibly eat for two weeks. She said their meals consisted of fried chicken, bread and pastries…not that exciting considering the insane amounts of mouth-watering Japanese food nearby.
When eating local food, you also allow yourself to get a taste of the local culture and a tiny sliver of what it might be like to be a local living in the country you are traveling through.
Travel to Malaysia means you cannot pass up an opportunity to eat curry and rice off a banana leaf using nothing but your hands. Spend a week in Korea means you have to give kimchi and even soju a chance. Enjoying the beautiful Philippines islands? Have you had fresh coconut milk or tried to eat balut, the infamous fertilized duck egg?
If you skip out on the local delicacies you not only deny yourself the opportunity to enjoy or even detest the food, but you also miss a chance experience the real flavor of that country.
Some of my fondest travel memories have revolved around food. On another solo trip to Taiwan, I met up with the sweetest Taiwanese girl who gave me an intense one-night food-tasting tour in the famous Shilin Night Market. We didn’t finish everything we ordered but she was so persistent on trying everything that Taiwan had to offer that we were just about rolling away by the end of the night.
Highlights included street fried chicken, tofu pudding, seafood noodles, candied strawberries, beef rolls, and caramel pudding bubble tea just to name a few! The most interesting things that I ate on my trip to Taiwan, however, were duck blood soup and stinky tofu. My Taiwanese friend insisted that I wouldn’t experience Taiwan without giving them a try. So I did, and you know what? It was pretty gross, but at least I tried it and can say I really got to taste Taiwan!
As I have traveled, food has allowed me to step outside of my comfort zone and try new things. By doing this I was also able to meet more local people as we now something in common that could connect us. If you ever get the opportunity to eat something that makes your stomach turn a little, try it! You might be pleasantly surprised.
Of all the things I hope to experience, it’s food that I travel for these days. I travel to eat.
Do you travel to eat? If not, what’s your reason for traveling? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments section below!