My favorite part of traveling is sampling the local fare. I’ve learned far more from my searches for national cuisine than I have from any tour. The people I’ve connected with over a meal (or while hunting for that meal!) are always happy to chat about their love of this-or-that dish, and oftentimes, the conversation lasts much longer, and goes much deeper, than my original inquiry.
I once spent an hour chatting with a Japanese woman who was fascinated by this foreigner’s obsession with trying puffer fish. I’ve made friends sipping a fermented spit drink with Amazonian locals. I got a good-natured laugh out of South Africans when I told them I really wanted to try termites (they taste like popcorn btw!).
Food connects us. That’s why I think it’s so important to be open-minded and go for the gusto when I’m in a new country. Here’s my list of foods you have to try in Australia:
You can find this at any grocery store. Anywhere. It’s not my cup of tea, but it’s a must-try if you’re visiting Australia. Just don’t buy the big jar if it’s your first time sampling. Photo: StephenMitchell
These taste just like Zingers, but they’re usually chocolate with raspberry filling. You can eat an entire box in one sitting. They’re that addictive. Pro tip: Read the package before you buy. Sometimes there are other flavors, like orange, and that’s just WRONG.
It’s a white meat, but it was tougher than I expected and tasted just like (you guessed it) chicken. It needs to be marinated with something acidic like lemon, and I’d recommend sprinkling it with fresh dill. Overall, I wouldn’t get it again.
This was DELICIOUS. It’s sweet like lamb, buttery almost. It’s not too tough and not too tender. Goldilocks would’ve gone bananas for this dish. I give it an A+! You can pay for it online at Sam the Butcher in Sydney and hop on a bus to pick up your order.
For years, I’ve apologized for my diet, for my food allergies. I’ve kowtowed to shop owners, genuflected in front of flight attendants and begged pardon from baby-faced waiters whose eyes I pray will someday get stuck mid-roll.
Part of it is my upbringing—we’re a very non-confrontational family—we don’t make waves. Part of it is media, telling me (and you) that I’m a weirdo. Part of it is friends, family, tour guides, etc. enforcing the stereotypes and making me feel small. But most of it is me being afraid that everyone is right. That I am weak, that I’m faking it, that I’m a burden, that I don’t deserve to eat out, travel or attend dinner parties without bringing my own food (which is what normally happens).
And it’s bullshit.
And all those people owe me an apology. In fact, I’m going to take this a step further and suggest that you take a look at your own behavior. Because, odds are, you’ve been a dick to someone about their food allergies. We deserve a fucking CAKE for all the crap you “normal people” put us through. (Granted, it’s gonna have to be a gluten-corn-sugar-nut-dairy-free cake, but we’ll take it.)
When you interact with someone who has food allergies, please keep these simple rules in mind:
DON’T ask: “What happens if you eat it?” I’ll projectile vomit all over your mother’s blouse. I’ll get so constipated that my intestines protrude over my waistline. I’ll get diarrhea so bad it puts food poisoning to shame. I’ll sprout pus-filled blisters all over my face, and then blood will start squirting from my eyeballs.
REALLY? Do you really want our dinner conversation to include a detailed list of all my gross symptoms? If you want to know out of concern for my safety, you can ask whether I carry an Epi pen and where it’s located in case of an emergency. Otherwise—and I mean this kindly—bugger off.
Do you know how difficult it is to explain disgusting stuff in a way that won’t disgust people? Do you know how much I hate doing it?
First of all, I’m NOT going to eat “it” so this isn’t a relevant question. Secondly, I wouldn’t ask YOU about your health problems over dinner, and I think it’s incredibly rude that you ask about mine—EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
(In case you’re not great with sarcasm, the above allergies are made up. But, still, you get the idea. It’s never going to be pretty. That’s why we allergic people don’t EAT these foods. If food allergies gave me silkier hair or prettier skin, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be writing this blog post right now.)
DON’T make me feel like a freak I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out to dinner when the waiter will take my partner’s order and then, after listening to me, give him a nod and say, “Oh, so you’re the normal one.” Or maybe he’ll refer to me, from then on, as “the difficult one.” Or, my favorite, “So you’re THAT girl.”
Yes, you’re right, waiter. I came here so I could feel bad about myself. Thanks for letting me know that I’m a freak and reminding me that my life will always be a little shittier because I’m forced to deal with people like you. Totes awesome.
About 15 million people in the U.S. have some sort of food allergy. I happen to have more food allergies than the average person, but that’s not my fault. You wouldn’t tease someone with a broken leg, calling them “difficult” or abnormal. I wish I had a broken leg—at least it would eventually heal. This shit is probably gonna stay with me forever.
So, please, I beg of you, THINK before you open your mouth and spew words.
DON’T openly make fun of me
Do you think I like giving up delicious foods? Cookies right out of the oven—that’s heaven right there. And I can’t eat them.
Oftentimes, the one thing people remember about me is “Oh, she’s the woman allergic to XYZ” because YOU made such a fuss over it. I’m a pretty cool person with lots more to be remembered by than food allergies. Please refrain from being a jerkface.
DON’T just order pizza
FACT: 60 percent of the U.S. adult population is lactose intolerant. And, in the U.S., minority populations are much more likely to be affected. So the next time you plan an event and only order pizza, you’re really just excluding more than half of your attendees AND managing to dissuade minorities from showing up. How about you reconsider that order, huh?
DON’T act like this is a bigger deal for you than it is for me
I recently took a reporting fellowship to Israel. I was told that I’d be “fed a lot and often.” Free food? Who doesn’t like free food? Especially free Mediterranean food! But, of course, just to be on the safe side, I emailed the trip coordinator the week before, letting him know about my allergies.
Of the 30 countries I’ve visited, it was the worst experience I’ve ever had traveling abroad.
Now, usually, I’d be totally fine procuring my own food. Drop me anywhere in a Romance language-speaking country, and I’m a food-finding machine. But this is Israel. I have no idea how to speak or read Hebrew.
I told the coordinator that I was allergic to the ingredients in falafel the day before we were stopping at a falafel place for lunch. Instead of planning ahead and helping me out, we got to the falafel place, and the coordinator said I could eat hummus. HUMMUS. He wanted me to scoop up hummus and eat it with a spoon.
I’m all for a good hummus spread, but that’s not exactly a filling meal.
It gets better. The tour guide finally offered to help me find food, which took a while because it turns out that falafel stands are SUPER popular. So finally we stumble across a Japanese place that makes sushi and the guide goes to order me some salmon rolls. Normally, this would be awesome. But the salmon had obviously been sitting out for a while and was kinda graying at the edges. I asked the guide to inquire after refrigerated salmon.
He flipped. The look he gave me was of pure disgust. He stalked out of the restaurant, threw his hands up in the air and proceeded to tell me how frustrating and difficult I was. He told me, angrily, that there was no way I could get food poisoning from eating that fish.
I explained to him that I was sorry he was frustrated but to look at it from my perspective. I’d had food poisoning before and wasn’t eager to get it again. Plus, he had to deal with my allergies for five days—I had to deal with them for life. He proceeded to tell me that I wasn’t making his life any easier.
*whistling sound as the point of the conversation goes over someone’s head *
Yes, during the trip, both the guide and the coordinator berated me for having food allergies, for not getting myself food and for being difficult, frustrating and a burden on the trip. They also told the entire fellowship, a sizable group of journalists, all about my food allergies, discussing them openly, loudly and publicly—as one usually discusses the health problems of others. NOT.
(In his defense, the tour guide did apologize eventually. But not until I sat in the bathroom of a Japanese restaurant for 20 minutes, sobbing.)
(ALSO, I packed half my suitcase with food I could eat. I just didn’t have enough for three meals a day. BUMMER.)
DON’T tell me to eat at vegan/vegetarian restaurants
I’ve been to plenty of vegan and vegetarian restaurants where the chef doesn’t know what ingredients they use in their sauces. That’s the cue for me to get up and walk out. And it SUCKS.
DON’T ever use the words “Oh, why don’t you just try eating a little?”
Because I can’t even.
DO try and be flexible
When a waiter goes out of their way to make sure my meal is allergen-free, I call their boss, I write an amazing review, and I tip really well.
Should I have to do this? Shouldn’t it just be a part of a waiter’s job? You’d think, but it’s incredibly rare.
So, friends, isn’t it worth the extra time to make someone feel less awkward and alienated? I’ll make it worth your while (probably with cake!)!
DO ask how you can help
I was recently on the phone with United Airlines for more than an hour, trying to get a list of the ingredients for their in-flight meals. I was days away from boarding an international flight, and I didn’t want to take up precious space in my carry-on to pack my own breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I’d like to tell you that United Airlines has a list of ingredients for their meals, this being 2017, but that’s not the case. In fact, when I got on the flight, the flight attendant didn’t even have the gluten-free meal I’d requested. Instead of apologizing for the mixup, she told me that I should’ve called ahead of time.
Which I did. And I emailed. Twice.
So, when you extend some compassion—any compassion—to someone with food allergies, know that you’re making their day. It’s a common courtesy that I rarely get from anyone.
DO refuse my apology Because I shouldn’t have to apologize for something that’s not in my control. And I’m going to try my damnedest to stop apologizing, but if you hear me do it, please politely decline. That’ll let me know you care about me, and that I’m worth your time, your compassion and your (extra) effort. And from one human being to another, I thank you so, so much.
The Significant Other is getting ready for Passover dinner, but all we have to eat is kangaroo rump. According to the Internet, that’s not kosher so we’re going to pass it off as brisket and hope his parents can’t tell the difference over Skype. Dontcha just love holidays?
The significant other didn’t want me to write this post. He protested loudly and prolongedly last night as I thoughtfully made notes. The female parental unit (who taught me the diarrhea song!) would also advise against hitting “publish.” But, I’M DOING THIS FOR YOU, GUYS, so here it goes.
If you make the trek to Peru from the United States, your weak, little gringo stomach is probably going to hate you for a bit. And your intestines? Well, those suckers are about 30 feet long collectively, so when they’re ticked off, you’re definitely going to know. They don’t call it “Montezuma’s revenge” for nothing, y’all.
Nobody wants to talk about diarrhea (except these guys) because, well, who wants THAT kind of imagery floating around in their noggins? Any way you slice it, diarrhea is the worst, and—in some cases—pretty dangerous. Unfortunately, odds are you’re going to get it at least once while traveling. If you live in Peru (or any third-world country, really), you’ll have it multiple times.
Here’s how to handle this crappy situation:
BEFORE You Go, Things You Really Ought to Know
Eat foods that will please your intestines. Repeat after me: “When my intestines are happy, I’m happy.” We all need to start paying more attention to our innards—especially ones that cover so much real estate!
You don’t want to start a trip on the wrong foot so avoid foods that you know upset your digestive system. Start taking prebiotics/eating foods that have prebiotics several weeks before you leave. The science on this changes all the time so ask your doctor for recommendations!
Stock up on Pepto and Tums before you leave. It’s difficult to find U.S. quality in Peru. And get chewables whenever possible—they work faster.
Also make sure your vaccinations are up-to-date. You can get a lot of gnarly bugs via contaminated food and water.
(Ladies, if you’re prone to infections down there I’ve got you covered. Insertable pills—oral pills don’t work well!—containing one or more of the following are helpful for warding off illness: Lactobacillus brevis and Lactobacillus salivarius and Lactobacillus plantarum. Avoid anything with Lactobacillus acidophilus because apparently it’s not effective. I wrote an article about this one a few weeks ago so it’s relatively up-to-date, but check with your doc!)
You’re Gonna Have to Poo so Don’t Neglect the Loo
Yes, your foray into the wonders of diarrhea is just beginning! Assume that you’re going to get it at least once. How awful would it be if you had to go through the process while in a gross bathroom?
When you’re apartment hunting (or hotel shopping!), the loo is top priority. The majority of toilets I’ve seen in Peru don’t even HAVE seats so consider yourself ahead of the game if you’ve got one and it’s latched on correctly.
If you just love the apartment, but the bathrooms are dingy, ask your landlord to fix it up before you move in. This is a simple and reasonable request!
When it comes to hotels, ask to see the room before you check in. This is a standard practice here, and no one is offended.
Hey, Gringo, Let’s Be smart! Don’t Eat at That Food Cart!
Adventurous eating is awesome. You cannot truly experience a country without sampling its cuisine.
But please be smart about your food choices. American tourists are already the butt of SO MANY jokes. If y’all keep making me look bad, I’m gonna go “Soy de Canada.”
Go to a nice restaurant and order that guinea pig—don’t eat it off the street.
Avoid anything that’s not cooked or peeled (unless you’re at a really nice place). Salad that’s not washed in a cleaning solution is especially dangerous. #LifeExperience
You’re Feelin’ Kind of Slow, and There’s Grumbling Down Below
Have these on-hand at ALL times: Tums, Pepto and Immodium. Check your purse. Are all three accounted for? What part of havetheseonhandatalltimes did you not understand?!
When Your Stomach’s Feeling Sick, And You Need Help Real Quick
Peruvian pharmacies sell LOTS of medications, including antibiotics, without prescriptions. This is great for travelers because who has time to find/visit a physician while on the move?
But, be warned, the pharmacists at these counters are not highly trained like in the U.S. If you’re buying medication do not expect them to know what you need. Always look up the generic drug name and dosage beforehand. Write it down on a piece of paper, and give it to the pharmacist to avoid any confusion.
Before you leave the pharmacy check to make sure the pills are correct, and keep your receipt. You do not want to accidentally take bad medication.
Don’t Suffer Another Bout, Just Get Up and Throw it Out
Your intestines are on fire. Was it the chicken? That burger? The salad?
If you have any leftovers THROW THEM OUT. For someone like me who absolutely hates waste, this was a problem. But it’s always better to just chuck possible offenders than make yourself (or someone else) sick once again.
When You’re Sitting on the Pot and You Really Think You’ve Got…
Check out this Jezebel article “You’ve Been Pooping All Wrong.” Yup, there’s a right way and a wrong way. And when you have diarrhea, you better poo correctly. Seriously.
If Your Intestines Are on Fire, and the Sitch is Rather Dire
If you’re in pain and losing lots of bodily fluids, go to the hospital. For about $100 they can hook you up to an IV and pump you full of great medications that will take care of your food poisoning problem. It’s much better than waiting it out and potentially hurting yourself.
Got any other Pro Tips? Share ’em with me! Always happy to talk health, prevention and, more specifically, poo.