Here’s a fact: I’m the world’s pickiest eater. My friends still bring up the time in high school when I wouldn’t eat KFC coleslaw because it was “too spicy”.
It’s not due to failings on my mother’s part-we had to sit at the table until all of our food was gone, and I certainly wasn’t one of those coddled kids who was allowed to eat nothing but cheesy pasta for ten years (although I totally could).
I’m addicted to sugar, and I believe breakfast should be either French toast or pancakes (preferably with chocolate chips). My sweet tooth is legendary, and if I have a meal without dessert it feels…unfinished.
I’m not fussy when it comes to all food-I can eat the hell out of Italian, and I enjoyed a lot of Mexican when I lived in San Diego. But when it comes to food in Asia, it sometimes just seems icky.
I like to think I’m adventurous, and I love to try new things, but for some reason trying new food is something I struggle with. If I ever did the Amazing Race I’d be able to jump out of a plane, but the eating challenges would be my kryptonite.
Maybe it’s the lower hygiene standards (it’s not uncommon to see a cockroach or two scuttling around), or perhaps it’s the mystery meat thing (I only eat chicken and fish). It could even be that my taste buds are undeveloped and unprepared for real flavour after being exposed to so much sugar over the last few years.
Here’s how it usually goes:
My brain: “Wow this looks…interesting.”
Me: “It looks yummy, that’s how it looks!”
Brain: “Yeah, but what are those weird green things. They look like peas but they’re too big”
Me: “Peas are great, big peas will be delicious”.
Brain: “Oh god they’ve given us those smushy noodles again. And what’s with the aversion to knives over here? What am I supposed to do with a fork and a spoon? What if it’s spicy? Maybe you should order a smoothie just in case.”
Me: I asked for mild, I’m sure it’ll be fine. Hmmmm these peas are…
Me: Great I’ve picked out the giant peas and now I look like a five year old.
Brain: Do you think the chicken has bones in it again? Cause that’s seriously gross. Remember that time you bit into that chicken and…
Me: Yes I remember! Hmmm this chicken isn’t too bad.
Brain: “A bit spicy though. I think they just do it to fuck with you.”
It really is exhausting.
When I first moved to Chiang Mai I went down to the gate to try some street food. I’d had pretty good luck with street food in Bangkok, and I’d heard great things about the food in Chiang Mai.
Pretty much nothing was in English though, so I wandered over to a guy who was selling what looked like chicken kebabs.
“Is that chicken?” I asked
“Yes it’s chicken blah bah.”
All I heard was chicken. What a great start to the night! I ordered two, crossed the road and bit into one.
I have no idea what it was but I’m pretty sure it was a part of the chicken that should not be eaten.
I literally could not chew through it. Thai people must have teeth like razors.
No problem. The next guy was selling fried chicken (give me a break, it was the only thing in English). He cut it up and I gave my “chicken” kebabs to a nice dog.
China is just as bad. People eat all sorts of weird stuff here, and my inner Miss Picky does not do well with mystery meat. It may not sound like it, but I’ve come a long way since I moved to Asia.
In the last nine months I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone time and time again, and discovered that while some food may be a little different, the smell of amok will always remind me of Cambodia, I miss green curry and Pad Thai in Thailand, and China is actually pretty good at comfort food.
The trick seems to be to go with someone who eats the food regularly, or at least can speak the language. This solves 99% of my problems right there, as I can prepare myself for what’s coming.
One of the best ways to embrace a culture is by eating the food, and I end up liking around 80% of the food I try here. While I still have a long way to go, at least now I’ll try something before screwing my nose up like a four-year-old.