Notwithstanding having a kitchen the size of a yacht galley, I love food.
Living alone, I whip up few culinary delights unless friends have been invited. This is despite watching the occasional TV chef, attending a cooking school in Thailand, managing a cafe in Athens, and working as an entree chef in Wales. (In an Italian restaurant, under a temperamental French Chef.)
However this experience has qualified me, like many of us in an art gallery, to know what I like - and what I miss when I travel.
Usually simple things like good bread, vegemite, fabulous cheese, fresh seafood, and poached eggs on toast. Naturally, it all depends on the country I am in, how long I have been on the road and my daily state of mind.
When all is well, I am happy with the local food no matter what it may be, although a snack of sun-dried caterpillar in a Zimbabwean food market was hard to swallow because of its dryness.
As a vegetarian it’s difficult to be sure no chicken has sat in the soup water despite having learnt to say I don’t eat meat in a dozen different languages. “Vegetarian meal? No problem, here is chicken, fish or pork.” As long as it is not red meat some assume that it must be vegetarian. “No - no meat, no chicken no pork. Rice please. No, no soup on it,” I say as they carefully ladle some liquid while leaving the chicken pieces floating in the fatty cauldron.
Some countries are easier to travel in when you don’t eat meat although even many Buddhists eat meat. The best place in the world for vegetarian meals is a small suburb in Georgetown. (Penang, Malaysia) If you are going there, write out these directions!
Go to the huge reclining Buddha, (walk or bus from town) then cross the road to visit the peaceful Burmese Buddhist temple. When you are finished, go out the front gate - turn left, walk a kilometre down the road to a T-intersection, turn left and stop at any food shop. I guarantee it will be fantastic. I also know you will ask, as I did, “Are you sure this is vegetarian? No meat?”
The Burmese are amused. “Yes, no meat.” These people have developed creative and tasty ways of using tofu in it’s many forms. Menus are varied, the food delicious and I went back, and back, to sample the lot.
Many British people I have met in Asia had become vegetarian for their travels – reducing their chances of gastric problems and maybe it helps. I always eat everything I want, everywhere, and apart from the very occasional quick trips to the toilet it seems my stomach can handle anything.
A young British GP I met in Harare said she always eats the local yoghurt for a day or two when she goes anywhere new - a gentle way introduce her stomach to the local bug culture- sounds feasible - I have no idea if it works but she swore by it.
As I was not vegetarian for moral reasons, I eventually gave up being strict with my food so I could join locals and try cultural delicacies such as crocodile, haggis and in Cairo, pigeon stuffed with green rice. My stomach continued its cast-iron behaviour. I put it down to the worms I told my parents I had eaten when I was a child. Had I eaten them? I have no idea!
So eschew the international fast food places and tourist restaurants that will deliver the same meal as you get at home, go visit the local markets and give your taste buds a scrumptious surprise.
© Heather Hapeta
Check out Heather's updated webpage - with new articles, links to her photos and occasional blogs. www.kiwitravelwriter.com