Yummy or Yucky?
One of the advantages of global travel is the amazing amount of new food and customs to be exposed to. Many times the new food is an advantage and part of the adventure. But from time to time it may be a disadvantage.
Anytime you visit a new continent there is certainly new and different food to try. In Ghana I ate fufu (a starchy, doughy type food eaten with stews). Here is a pictorial fufu progression:
A delicacy in Ghana is grasscutter (a large rodent sold roadside, I’m not kidding). I can’t really say I ate it, but I can honestly say I tried it. Okay, I took a bite and didn’t really find it to be delicious. If you search the internet for grasscutter Ghana you will find lots of photos. Here is mine.
When visiting a new place, it is good to have a safe dish you can rely on when you want something good and still local. In Ghana a very safe dish is red red. It is fried plantains and beans. Reliably good.
After eating many different new foods, I took friends to a restaurant with a varied menu so we could all order what we wanted. One friend looked at my pizza and said, “That is disgusting, how can you eat that.” I said, “YOU ARE EATING COW INTESTINES AND YOU ARE TELLING ME MY DINNER IS DISGUSTING!” Seriously. We were all screaming with laughter. They would not touch a bite of my pizza. And, yes I must confess, I could not taste their spiced cow intestines.
Of course, there are very yummy options as well – like going out for Dim Sum in Hong Kong where you get small portions of many foods and get to try lots of cool dishes in one meal.
Colleague Jeff Filo has been traveling and training globally for many years. He recently spoke to the students of my university global management class about his experiences and shared some best practices about training and traveling around the world. One of the topics the students asked about was food.
After hearing many stories about his peers traveling and having issues with food, he developed a resource to help navigate it. He listed foreign foods that would be possible to eat and gave a run down of what most Americans could tolerate. He made color coded categories of:
- Baseline Western Diet
- Some people eat
- Few people eat
- Would be horrified
Then he listed the Animals, Insects, Birds, Seafood, and Animal Parts he would eat and which he would not. Just for grins, he will eat sea ray, eel, and squid. He did not list any insects he would be willing to eat.
Travelers can fill it out to share their preferences with the in-country host to help guide restaurant and menu selection. And it is educational for the in-country host when entertaining foreign friends. They will know some good questions to ask. I found it to be hysterical, useful, brilliant, and helpful! Jeff is kind enough to share his Global Dining spreadsheet with us. You can cut and paste and tailor it to you.
Some travelers are more adventuresome that others when it comes to food. I have seen people with a very low tolerance for trying food unfamiliar to them – often times it is the tactile feel that makes it difficult and not the taste. Or the mental idea they can’t get past. But there are people who, even if they wanted to, cannot bring themselves to eating dog when visiting China, for example. I guess I am one of them. When visiting a large market, I actually had to take a fast left turn to avoid the impending dog leg section.
Food allergies are a problem when you cannot communicate with your server. My in-country contact in Hong Kong wrote out a note regarding food allergies for me to take with me.
This was a very kind and considerate thing to do. I handed it to many servers along the way. It says, “I am severely allergic to seafood. I cannot eat all kinds of seafood and foods with oyster sauce and shrimp paste.” (Those hidden ingredients are so troublesome.)
Food really is part of the experience of travel. It broadens us in various ways!
Thanks to contributor Jeff Filo, CPLP, Product Manager, PTC University, PTC Inc. for sharing his Global Dining spreadsheet.
If you want to see more global dishes, What the World Eats is a fabulous book for adults and kids.