“Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico and the Far East, eating out in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonald’s? Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria’s mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head? I know what I want. I want it all. I want to try everything once.”
The world is a wide, wonderful and deeply diverse place. You may think that you have a relatively firm grasp on humanity and what it means to be a human being, but then you can go traveling to an entirely different culture and you realize that the people there have an entirely different way of living. What you thought was “Mexican” food isn’t at all what actual Mexicans in Mexico eat. You might think that your city’s metro system is advanced and then you see what they have in Tokyo. Go somewhere else and you’ll realize that you really take “clean” electricity and indoor plumbing for granted.
While I don’t necessarily agree with everything that Anthony Bourdain has to say, I do find myself identifying with much of what he does. And I completely agree that when you go out and see the world, you should make the commitment to similarly eat the world. Why on Earth would you go to Scotland and not eat the haggis? I’ve had sulfuric black eggs in Hakone, medium-rare goose gizzards in Paris, whole duck tongue on a skewer in Taipei, and kangaroo steak in Australia.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Anthony Bourdain, he was a chef for a good number of years, but he is far better known these days for experiencing the world through his stomach. Most of us know him from television shows like No Reservations, The Layover and, most recently, Parts Unknown. Through his programming, we are reminded that so much of a culture is ingrained in its food. You haven’t really seen a country or really come to understand a people until you’ve eaten their food.
Absolutely, there are all sorts of health risks involved when it comes to eating questionable food in a foreign land. I’m not saying that you should throw caution to the wind, but it is important to sample the local fare. Generally speaking, if the locals eat it regularly and the food item is reasonably cooked, you’re probably pretty safe. You might recall when Ed Lau ate raw chicken on purpose and he’s still alive and well. Given the right opportunity, I’d gladly try balut in the Philippines or deep fried water beetle in Thailand.
“If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel — as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them — wherever you go.”
I’m not 22 years old anymore, nor am I particularly all that physically fit, but I am hungry to learn and I am hungry to be better. I love to travel and it is one of the biggest regrets from my 20s that I didn’t do more of it. It wasn’t until this year that I took my first trip to Europe and it wasn’t until a couple years ago that I touched down in Australia. But there’s still so much more world to see and there’s still so much food to try. As authentic as your local restaurant may try to be, there’s nothing quite like eating Italian pasta in Italy or Peruvian ceviche in Peru.
Maybe it has something to do with novelty-seeking. That personality trait can be connected to troublemaking, but it’s also a predictor of well-being. So, if it means that I might get into some trouble for going out to see (and eat) the world, so be it. I’ll be all the happier for it.