Food. Critical to survival, also a hobby for me. One of my favorite aspects of traveling is immersing myself in the local culture and food. In my early stages of expathood I was the (probably obnoxious) person who refused to eat anything familiar, went out of my way to try strange foods that might frighten the not so “culturally sensitive” as myself. In Germany, even as a vegetarian I was horrified at some of my roommates purchasing airy unsubstantial white bread and “American” (ie processed) cheese to make grilled cheese sandwiches. Neither of these so called food items were part of my diet in the US, but more importantly why would you seek out American foods when you’re living in Germany?! I was creative in sampling the local cuisine even though the bulk of German food revolves around meat.
On short term trips I enthusiastically ate everything put in front of me (goat stew that still contained goat hair? Yes, please–but maybe not so enthusiastically). Whole fish in Nicaragua (shocking to some Americans but quite common in most parts of the world)? Sticky rice dipped in pig’s blood and fish skin in Taiwan, smelly durian fruit in Indonesia, eel in Japan, everything was fascinating for my curious tongue. In Korea I scoffed at the foreigners who frequented Itaewon (the foreign part of Seoul with expats in abundance) to get their hamburgers. Korean food was tasty and healthy and part of the whole living abroad experience is fully integrating myself into the local way of life. Of course I’ll try live octopus!
Pride comes before the fall. Living in Germany and Korea, I made a point of stepping out of the comfortable expat bubble of familiar culture and foods. If I was the only white person in the establishment=success (see “stuff white people like”). Well, Uganda has changed that. I was enthusiastic about my matooke (boiled mashed green bananas), poshyo (some kind of mostly flavorless starch that is gradually growing on me), “irish” potatoes, millet, sweet potatoes, rice (notice the carbs trend), beans, and often unidentifiable meats for a while. Then, I started frequenting “expensive” cafes when I could find them, to get my salads and sandwiches. I was not a minority in these establishments. My best friend has become chili sauce to douse my flavorless food with spice. Guess I’ll stop judging the expats who require their familiar foods. I’m probably not as cultured as I once claimed to be. But I won’t stop eating whatever is put in front of me. Even if it’s chicken gizzard.
Side note: Uganda has made me miss Korea for the first time since leaving. Cheap, delicious, convenient food whenever I want. Life was easy!