HUNGER IS THE BEST SAUCE
I used to think, when I was little, that people from all over the world speak the same language and eat the same food. My preconception was shattered when I made my first oversea trip to Thailand.
I guess Clifton Paul Fadiman put it best: a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.
In Hanoi the tour guide took me to a local restaurant well known for a delicacy called Tikchow, or dog meat. In Manila I ate a seasoned egg called Balut, only to find out later that it contained a duckling embryo.
In Santorini I had to ride a donkey to go down the cliff to have lunch. In Anthens I had a cup of Capuccino which tasted more like Chinese medicine. And in a Milan cafe I even had to pay table fee for sitting down.
Worst still, In Jaisalmer on the Thar desert, I had to eat my dinner from plates and cups washed with sand. In Beijing I had to share a small dining table with 16 people. And in Monaco I had to pay US50 for a set lunch with soup.
The list goes on.
In Gangga Fuji restaurant, Varanasi, I had to wait over an hour in a crowded room full of hungry travelers, and finally left empty stomached. At a little eatery place in New Delhi called Appetite, the 35-rupee French breakfast set comes with a cigarette at the end of the meal.
Inside the Thai restaurant Sanguan-Sri, I was intrigued by a dish called Kao Chae – boiled rice soaked in a bowl of ice-cubes and smelt of fragrant jasmine. It certainly looked exotic but the taste was unimaginable.
In Vientiane, Laos, the appetizer I ordered came in the form of fried grasshoppers and silkworms. In Taipei, I had a piece of smelly tofu which spoilt my appetite the whole evening.
Oh! And I remember one other thing. Throughout my Turkey trip, the menu for breakfast was always composed of “olives, tomatoes, cucumber, toast, cheese and butter, honey, and a boiled egg”.
Perhaps this is not the kind of memory one expects to bring home from Turkey. But it’s certainly among the best of mine.
Watermelon seller balancing her act, Mandalay.