Finding My Way to Fabulous (and Freaky) Foods

Finding My Way to Fabulous (and Freaky) Foods

I find it daunting that my son Dek is a more adventurous eater at almost 3 years old than I was up until my mid-twenties. I did not grow up in a culinary household. Nightly meals consisted of baked chicken with no seasoning, baked potatoes and cooked corn. Maybe a watery batch of homemade Mac n’Cheese (I still despise the food to this day!) or lasagna made with cottage cheese instead of ricotta. Trust me, there is a HUGE difference when you swap one for the other.

Needless to say my mom was not the best cook, but in her defense, the woman could bake. I grew up with the smell of fresh-baked bread wafting through the house and some of the best blueberry pies with homemade crust. We each have our cooking talents; my mom’s was baking, not cooking savory delicacies.

I was exposed to some foods but nothing like what I would have in Singapore- curries (left) and oysters and eggs (middle photo) certainly weren’t a staple in our house, although satay (right) was from time to time.

Greens? Yes. Deer meat? No. But boy was it tasty.

Fried chicken and green beans weren’t foreign to me, but coconut rice sure was. I began to wonder where it had been all of my life. I’m still trying to recreate it at home. Mine is never as good.

Learning to Open Up

Thankfully my aunt cooked often enough for me to get a peek at what was out there in the world. I also lived down the street from a Puerto Rican family and the mom who could cook a mean pork chop. I could smell it in my house and I would show up at their back door. I think she was afraid to make them after a while.

Mike coming into my life was another blessing. He got me to eat fish. Moving to Seattle sure didn’t hurt his cause. We have some amazing seafood out here. Dek just added to the mix. Once he started eating solids I couldn’t make faces about foods I didn’t like. If we wanted him to eat what was offered when we were out mama had to suck it up and slurp it down too.

I never thought  I would try Shark Fin soup let alone not be totally disgusted by the taste. With enough vinegar I could almost get past the gelatinous texture.

You can’t leave Asia without trying Durian fruit. Tasted like mango teriyaki to me, which my colleagues found hilarious. I won’t go out of my way to eat it again but if I was stranded on an island I would eat it.

Turning Missed Experiences into New Opportunities

Throughout my life I know I missed several amazing culinary opportunities while traveling. I missed out on some of the top cuisine in Lisbon because I refused to eat fish. My aunt, who I was traveling with, savored each morsel, while I stuck to things I knew like chicken, duck and beef. Not bad at all, but I knew I was missing something big by not joining the masses in this staple of the local cuisine.

It wasn’t until I went to Singapore on a business trip that I really let my taste buds flourish. My Asian colleagues knew it was my first time to their island. They wanted to show off the very best they had to offer. We went to several hawker stands, local eateries and restaurants. They ordered for me. I looked on in amazement as stingray, chili crab and two types of rojak were set in front of me. How could I be rude and refuse what they were offering? My mama raised me better than that. So I dove in. I swallowed mouthfuls of foods my teenage self would have blanched at. It was the best experience of my life.

Malay and Indian rojak were one of the first items up that my colleagues had me samples

Prawn filled dim sum wasn’t my favorite, but I certainly swallowed it down

My first taste of really good Indian food

And what’s a culinary adventure with out a little stingray. Surprisingly good.

My not-so-graceful moment eating snails and mussels. I swore I would try a bite of everything. My colleague and friend just laughed at my face as I ate it. They didn’t push me much after that.

After a while my Singaporean colleagues started to have fun with my new food venture. I think they bought stuff they didn’t even eat regularly just to see if I would try it. I did take a bite of everything they put in front of me, but some things I just couldn’t stomach beyond that, mussels and clams being one of them. I cannot get past the texture of it. The same goes with shrimp and prawns. I feel like I am biting into someone’s spine every time I eat the little buggers.

I’ve had shark fin soup, the cheek of a fish, the eggs straight out of a crab and so many other things I never thought I would say I would put in my mouth. Sure, to other travelers who have been across the globe this may be no big deal. They eat scorpions for breakfast and drink snake blood. For me this were all huge steps, no leaps, past my comfort zone, bringing me into a new level of what I found delicious to eat in the world. It was eye opening.

I discovered an insatiable love of crab on my first trip to Singapore. Now I search it out everywhere I go. Happily it is always close at hand in Seattle.

Once we took Dek to China and Japan I was a pro at this international eating thing. I knew some of the things that I enjoyed to eat and what to ask for when we went to restaurants. I wasn’t afraid to check out the nearest street stand and devour bowls of noodles with who knows what inside. I’ve actually found that if I don’t know what’s in there I sleep a lot easier at night.

No, I was not brave enough to try mini-octopus on a stick. I plan on making Dek try one next time we head to Japan though. I’m sure I can convince him it is a lollipop.

Mike and Dek certainly enjoyed their snack of octopus balls in Kyoto. I couldn’t stomach the smell.

Salmon soup, salmon roe, okinomiyaki and yakisoba were definitely part of our family diet in Japan

Keeping My Palate Growing at Home

At home we have tried to up the level of weird we digest. Mike loves going to our favorite taco truck and ordering beef cheek and tongue. He is on the hunt for bone marrow and other delicacies we have only heard about on travel shows.

We have never had unseasoned chicken a day in our married life. We use spices, try new fruits and vegetables whenever we can (yes, even Swiss chard was foreign to us). We take Dek out for Greek, Puerto Rican, Mexican, and Indian. Our Ethiopian neighbor has replaced my Puerto Rican mom down the street. She brings us homemade savory meals to try out. I may not be able to smell it down the street, but I sure do like when she shows up at my door.

I was almost afraid of food as a kid; I’m not anymore. I look forward to each new experience, every new cuisine we venture into. I even had a friend who got me to eat mac n’ cheese again, bacon being her secret weapon. And I have learned how to make a mean lasagna using ricotta that isn’t runny at all. Dek has been exposed to a diet of sushi, yakisoba, spicy chili, carnitas and a fish with the head still attached. Sometimes a little international adventure not only changes your eating habits, but makes life a little more fun too. I can’t wait for our next adventure that pushes me over the edge of my culinary comfort zone. I wonder what will challenge me next.

It wasn’t all savory adventures. I thoroughly enjoyed my first ice cream on a slice of bread

I quickly fell in love with the fruit soursop (white fruit) when I began my culinary exploration in Singapore. Dragon fruit, kiwi, mango and watermelon also filled my plate on a regular basis. Nothing like fresh fruit in the tropics! 

Sweet potatoes over ice and a rose scented icy that my friend’s son just devoured. Smelled like the inside of a perfume store to me. I stuck with the sweet potatoes and soursop fruit over ice.

Now it’s time for you to take a culinary tour. Check out these other food tales and recipes from fellow travelers living abroad and wandering the globe whether in reality or just through their kitchens. 

Still need more foodie fun? Check out Wanderfood Wednesday.

The first thing I ordered for myself in Singapore. I just pointed at which noodles I wanted. I have no idea what was in the broth. It’s better that way.

Well known Lau Pasat Hawker Center was one of my first stops when I got to Singapore

 

Singapore would open my eyes, mind and taste buds to a whole new world of food (Singapore 2008)

Singapore would open my eyes, mind and taste buds to a whole new world of food (Singapore 2008)

 

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14 comments

  1. Ice cream on bread, now that’s one I haven’t seen!

    I think it’s definitely a reflection on the parents and environment when kids are adventurous eaters – my eating history sounds similar to yours but my two year old eats all kinds of stuff that I hadn’t touched until I was well and truly grown up. He often amazes me!

  2. Great post! My favorite part of travel is always trying new and excotic foods, although it can take a certain amount of gumption to really venture into unfamiliar territory. Having locals making recommendations doesn’t hurt. :D

  3. Green noodles? Don’t think I would have chose THAT dish! Yikes, and I think your 3-year-old is more of a foodie than I am at this point :) We are adventurous in eating but Central and South America where we have lived for 6 years or so does not have the variety of eats you show above… yum!

    • © Keryn Means/ walkingon travels

      The green noodles actually ended up being vegetable based much to my surprise and delight. I’m still not sure what was in the broth though ;-)

  4. Good thing you threw in that bit about your Mom being a good baker or you’d be in a lot of trouble! :) I grew up in a meat and potatoes Irish household too so I have never been a very adventurous eater. I’m learning though and my kids aren’t great eaters yet but they have tried a lot of things that I didn’t eat before I was an adult. There are some things (like mini octopus on a stick) that I just don’t see in our future though! :)

  5. Trying new and different foods is one of the things I love about travel. Looks like you’ve tried a lot!

  6. Shark Fin Soup, Stingray Filet, Octi-Pops, and literal ice cream sandwhiches ! Love it ! I am showing all of this post to my kids. You sure are brave and the photos are cool with you proving that you are eating these exotic ( edible?) foods. Keep up with the your culinary fearlessness !
    Susan

    • Mia

      Susan,
      Some people love Shark Fin Soup, and others, like Keryn, think it is disgusting. But whether you like the taste or not, you both need to be further educated on the catastrophic impacts and cruel practices that surround the Shark Fin trade. You have both contributed to eating one of the 73 million sharks that are killed each year, to keep up with the unsustainable consumer demand. Shark populations have plummeted by up to 90% in some areas and estimates of the global value of the shark fin trade range from a minimum of US$540 Million to US$1.2 billion – The industry is reaping the environment of an important link in the health of the marine environment. Without sharks, the entire food web of the ocean will collapse because sharks are the APEX predator! There is a movement called Fin Free (www.finfree.org – website will be launched soon), where you can learn about how successful they are in shutting down countries’ Shark Fin trade – It has already been banned in Taiwan, one of the largest consumers of Shark Fin Soup.
      I am just here to inform you, and I leave the decision with you if you would like to continue eating shark fin – But now that you are equipped with this information,you would be a complacent and foolish individual to continue, in my opinion. Go to http://www.unitedconservationists.org to find out more.
      Mia

  7. Well, I had a great post all written, but it got snapped away by the internet gods… I love the fact that you are getting out there and trying the food. But, all I can tell you is after 8 years in Singapore, durian still stinks ;-)

    • © Keryn Means/ walkingon travels

      I’ve got to say, when I went back to Singapore after that first trip and then headed to China for a few trips I could smell durian a mile away. I usually crossed to the other side of the street :-)

  8. I’m not a very adventurous eater either- I try new foods sometimes but have to admit, that those little octopus on a stick make me a little sad! I think I love them alive more than I’d like to try eating them!!

    • © Keryn Means/ walkingon travels

      I couldn’t bring myself to eat the little octopus either. I did see a kid walking by eating one like it was a lollipop though. A bit surreal to see.

  9. Durian and octo-pops would never cross my lips. :) Just don’t have that much adventure in me! Loved all the color pics and will now be off to search for coconut rice recipes. Sounds delish!

  10. I still haven’t tried fresh Durian even though they sell it at the stall across the street from me. I really need to do it at least once before I leave.

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