I have met people on every part of the spectrum when it comes to food. I once dated a guy who walked around ordering street food by pointing at it, and then ate whatever it was. He never knew what he was eating!
In the time I knew him, I saw him eat reformed fish paste in the shape of a trout, silk worm larva (still in the cocoons!), unknown meat on a stick, and several questionable soups. He always said that he had to try things to know if he liked them or not, and that they “Wouldn’t be selling it as food if it would kill you.”
I have to admit, it was a fair point.
On the other side of the spectrum, I met up with some friends in Bangkok who completely refused to eat street food. They pointed out that it was often cooked with used oil from restaurants, that there was no concern for sanitation, and that they read online about people getting sick from street food.
I humored them and paid the exorbitant prices in a restaurant that night, because there was no room for argument.
When it comes to food of any kind, I personally am not terribly concerned. I ate street Pad Thai in Thailand and lived to tell the tale. I never got sick or even felt bad. However, I did draw the line at scorpion on a stick. I am all for trying new things, but I don’t like the crunchy exoskeletons on bugs. I already had deep-fried grasshopper, and I knew it was going to be similar so I skipped it.
I think what I am trying to say is:
Do whatever the hell makes you happy.
I mean, bring along a travel size Pepto Bismo and an Immodium tablet if you are on vacation no matter what, because you don’t want tummy problems to spoil a vacation.
Just don’t let others dictate what you eat (or what you decide to do!) because you may only visit a place once, and you don’t want to regret the things that you didn’t try because someone warned you off of them.
If you want to eat everything you see, then you should. If you want to stick to five star restaurants, then you should. It’s up to you what choices you make about what you eat.
Now, I admit, I ate dog in Korea because I was curious. It didn’t taste at all good, but I tried it.
I have actually eaten all kinds of weird food, from rattle snake to durian fruit.
In my opinion, I would suggest that you try as much as you can. There are all those cliché sayings like “You only regret the chances you don’t take” and such, and they are right. The brain has a way of justifying things you do once they are done, but always wondering about things that you chose not to do.
So what the hell? Eat the mystery pancake or the weird fruit. It might turn out to be your new favorite food.
As for my friends who would only eat in restaurants, I think I should share a few things with you about that. I have worked in a lot of restaurants. I bused tables, was a short-order cook, waited tables, and was a bar tender. In all those years, I learned that it’s a very good thing that the customer can’t see behind the walls.
Yes, some countries have food codes. If you don’t know, a food code is rules made by rich people who are afraid that “the help” might spit in their soup.
In spite of laws that may or may not be in place in various countries, it’s important to note that I worked in restaurants in the United States. No other country spends more on “food safety” and the enforcement of the food codes, so in theory the establishments I worked in are best there is.
And like I said, it’s a good thing you can’t see the kitchen. It’s a good thing you can’t see the prep room. It’s a good thing you aren’t watching the dishwasher or the delivery guy bringing the food.
That’s not even mentioning the farm where your vegetables were grown in fertilizer (a nice way to say poop) and had flies walk all over them. And I grew up on a farm so I can promise that the chicken you are eating was dumb enough to eat poop too.
Anyhow, if you eat at a taco food stand on the beach in Rocky Point, you watch the proprietor cook your food. You also watch the flies walking on the ingredients before he throws them into the oil or onto the grill.
So yeah, you see the gross parts.
But the things is; the gross parts are always there. It’s just a matter of if you see them or not. No matter where you buy food from, a fly probably walked on it. It might have bits of cockroach in it. It could have been sneezed on. And that’s just life.
When I was little I remember seeing how hot dogs were made. After I saw, I didn’t want to eat them anymore. I was horrified that people ate chicken feet and cow liver, all mixed up in a disgusting soup of meat parts that couldn’t be used for anything else.
Even the “all beef” hotdogs that were expensive still had cartilage and organs in them. (Hey- all the parts were from a cow, and that makes them “beef.”)
Then one day at a BBQ my boss handed me a hot dog. This was in Asia, and refusing would have been really rude.
They had gotten the hot dogs specifically, to make the Americans feel welcome. Not only did I have to eat it, but I had to look like I really enjoyed it and appreciated the gesture. Being polite and never refusing a gift of food is very important in Asia.
And you know what?
It was pretty good.
I mean, it was still chicken lips and cow rectum, but it was pretty good.
I guess the moral of the story is that we are just weird creatures made of meat and we eat other weird creatures made of meat. It’s only a big deal if you think about it too much. Otherwise, you’re fine.
Be picky if you want to be picky. That’s fair.
Just remember that even in a nice restaurant, you can still get sick. And, if you turn your nose up at things, you might miss something amazing.
I keep coming back to this, but I think it’s sort of the central theme when it comes to travel, or maybe just to life in general:
You only regret the chances that you don’t take.