Steph’s note: The adventures of travel are unpredictable and Travel Oops is all about celebrating the unexpected results. However, there are some travel oopses that you definitely want to avoid. Here is advice about the Avoidable Travel Oops.
The Avoidable Travel Oops: Offending your hosts because you don’t want to eat the food they offer.
Most travelers have had a dilemma like this: you don’t recognize what is on your plate; it smells like feet; it may even slither or crawl on the plate or it is of a hideous texture that induces immediate gagging. What do you do? Refusing to eat the food, in most cases, is an insult. Telling your host you are full may backfire since you might not get anything else to eat, and let’s be honest, it’s a pretty bogus excuse anyway.
Food is such an important part of any culture, and you don’t want to come off as culturally insensitive. Plus, it’s an honor to be served a traditional or national dish. So what do you do? Eat the food. And there are ways to make this easier.
Tips from travelers on how to eat something you find horrifying.
1. Before you attempt to eat, smile and thank your host for the food — even if you are crying on the inside, hide it. Plus, this may give you some time to strategize how to ingest your offering.
2. Make sure you have a beverage nearby (preferably alcohol, but go for anything that will wash the edibles down.)
According to long time traveler Ed Schuck, during a Chinese New Year’s celebration, he was confronted with a 1,000-year-old egg, a traditional Chinese appetizer that, to many Americans, looks like something Darth Vader might eat.
“It tastes like a gelatinous hard boiled egg. And I’m not an egg eater. I’ve got a strong stomach, but the texture of a hard boiled egg makes me want to throw up,” Schuck says. His secret to consuming the 1,000 year-old-egg: “It helped to get it down with a shot of scotch.”
3. If you don’t have a beverage handy, try to work up your own juices — your saliva — and then chew as quickly as you can. The added lubrication will help get the substance down.
4. If the food is solid, cut into little pieces — provided you have cutlery. Small bits are easier to swallow — especially when you are following either suggestion #2 or #3.
5. Aside from the advice in #4, if it is possible to swallow something whole, without having it get stuck in your throat or crawl back up, this down-the-hatch approach is quick and efficient.
6. Spread the offering (if it is spreadable) on a piece of bread or eat with bread to cut the taste. This works well with a mystery soup or stew. It may not be polite to sop up soup or stew with bread, but if you are desperate, try it and if you get strange stares or a reprimand, this is when you can blame your ignorance on your own culture — especially if you are American.
7. Drown in sauce — chances are you will have some type of sauce served with the meal. Use it.
Torrey Lengerich and her family visited Cajun Country in Louisiana and tried everything. Even her kids ate frog legs and alligator. If there was ever a debate, Lengerich had an easy solution: “Here’s the ketchup!” she would say handing her kids the bottle.
8. Breathe through your mouth — just like you did back in the day when you had to finish your peas.
9. Keep reminding yourself that even an attempt at eating what you are offered is worth the pain. Your hosts will be pleased.
Molly Simonson was invited by locals to a meal in Nahiku on the Hawaiian island of Maui. She was offered Hawaii’s traditional dish, poi, by a native Nahiku woman, Aunty Alice, and Simonson knew she had to eat it. After all, she wasn’t at a hotel luau but at a family friend’s house.
“It looked gummy and gluey,” Simonson says. She then told herself, “but I gotta do it. There was a look of anticipation [from Aunty Alice].” Aunty’s look, Simonson adds, was the equivalent of: “Is this little white girl going to do it?”
10. Tell yourself it’s an adventure, and plus, you need sustenance.
Zack Zeiset, who has traveled to Bhutan, Cuba and Thailand just to name a few countries, follows this method: “My theory is purely logical. All I have to do is get [the food] past my tongue,” he says. “My stomach won’t know the difference between calamari and intestines,” he adds.
11. Keep an open mind. You might like the food. I was privileged to eat with friends in Barcelona who prepared a traditional Catalan meal for me — it was delicious.
12. When you are done, or the hosts seem satisfied, smile and thank them again.