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Do I have to eat vegetables for breakfast?

Editorial: One of the delights of foreign travel is sampling the cuisine of the country that you’re visiting. The best way to do that, so I’m told, is to try everything. Take your cue from the locals and simply point to what the guy next to you is eating, implying “same for me”.

I’m way too picky an eater to do that, however. They eat deep-fried spiders in Cambodia. Snake is quite commonplace in the Mekong Delta. I’ve travelled to both destinations recently and I can barely stand to touch these creatures much less eat them.

I hate hot, heavy breakfasts. Breakfast in China is like lunch and dinner in China. Noodles are common. I could handle noodles at mid-morning but not with the layer of hot pig fat that they sometimes put on top. Cantonese-style breakfasts have too much shrimp: baby shrimp, minced shrimp, dried shrimp. I’m very allergic to shrimp. Nor do I get off on all those leaves they wrap food in (lotus leaves, banana leaves, bamboo leaves, reed leaves), at least not for breakfast. Green suggests vegetables and who wants to eat vegetables for breakfast!

You certainly need a strong stomach if you are going to be a culinary adventurer.  Anthony Bourdain, best known for his travel television show No Reservations, believes “traveling and eating are about letting things happen.” He eats stuff like sheep testicles and contends that even if you have to chew antibiotics after you indulge in “extreme cuisine” that it is “a small price to pay”.

Not for me. I’m the sort who is secretly thankful that Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam were former French colonies because you can always get a croissant and a good cup of coffee there. Whereas in China, they hard-boil eggs in tea!

At the same time, few things are as closely tied to a country’s identity as its cuisine. And I’ll admit that food in itself can make a trip memorable.  So I have resolved that next time I’m in Asia (and I will be heading there soon) I’ll try a couple of those cooking classes that now seem to be offered all over the world. I’m thinking that I will be able to peruse the menu before signing on and won’t mistakenly put stuff in my mouth that I’d rather leave in the pot.

If you’re going to be a cultural tourist you need to be knowledgeable about more than the cuisine, of course. When I landed in Yogyakarta on the island of Java in Indonesia a few months ago, the first thing I did was e-mail my former husband asking if he remembered if women wore the hijab (the Muslim headscarf) when we were there many years ago. Hijabs are widely worn there now and that was a surprise.

The hijab along with the underemployed rickshaw drivers who lined the streets made the place seem so different from Bali. But maybe it’s not all that different. Islam in Indonesia has been influenced by Hinduism, Buddhism and ancient beliefs just as Hinduism in Bali has been influenced by other faiths.  The rickshaw drivers may seem down on their luck but Indonesia is in fact one of Asia’s fastest growing economies. Yogyakarta is the feature this month and it is a very interesting destination.

The hotel where I stayed in Yogyakarta was pretty spiffy and I could safely order a hamburger for dinner. With French fries and ketchup. A rare treat in that part of the world. Yum, yum.

Sylvia Fanjoy

© Riding the buses 2012

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