Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Food Adventures (ITC Week 29)

What do you splurge on when you travel?  What’s one thing that you are willing to spend more on while traveling? Why?
I am generally a cheap traveler; the less you spend each day, the more days your cash will last. I stay in hostels, use budget airlines, and I have often carried a jar of peanut butter and a squashed loaf of bread in my backpack so I don’t have to eat out every meal.  However, there are some things that are worth budgeting in; after all, I don’t want to be so cheap that I miss what I came for. 
Meat, gravy, and knedliky in the Czech Republic
The first thing that comes to mind is local food: you’ve got to get lasagna in Italy, sausages in Germany, and barbecue and my mom’s chocolate gravy in Tennessee (not together, of course).  You’ve got to get shrimp within view of the ocean, and waffles in Belgium (which, by the way, are much better than what we call ‘Belgian waffles’ in the States—crunchy, sticky, sugar coated!).  And then of course, sometimes you’ve got to get Chicken Parmesan in Hanoi and Turkish kebabs in Krakow. 

As I’m still trying to outlive my reputation as a picky eater (well-deserved) as a child, I have tried over the past few years to be adventurous and have at least one meal of traditional local food you can’t get elsewhere in each country.  I stopped at a diner in
Jičín, in the Czech Republic, and had their roast meat and knedliky (sliced dumplings), all smothered in gravy.  I ate the official food of the Dragon Boat festival in China, glutinous rice wrapped in tea leaves, when my students offered me one (and I managed to keep smiling and chewing while they were looking, and deposit the rest in the bushes when they weren’t). 

Glutinous rice wrapped in tea leaves
When I traveled with my study abroad group in college, we would live on baguettes, fruit, and chocolate bars for most meals so that we could splurge on Hard Rock in every city.  I’ve kept up a similar philosophy over the years; it’s worth a few peanut-butter sandwiches to afford a nicer meal that will be part of my memory of the place.  Sometimes it’s trying the local food, and sometimes it’s getting some good Italian or American food—as an expat, finding an Italian restaurant that, on the inside, looked like you could be on a side street in Rome, next to my hostel in Shanghai seemed heaven-sent after months of nothing but Chinese.  And then, sometimes I find it entertaining to eat something wholly out-of-place—how are the Polish people at cooking Italian?  (Not great).  How are Germans at Tex-Mex? (again, not so great).  But the Vietnamese can sure handle Italian! 

A dish of stewed potatoes and beef at a banquet in China


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