Have you ever found yourself reminiscing about your travels by discussing the meals you had? We do it all the time. Food is a powerful memory trigger. Certain smells remind us of childhood. A single spice can transport us back to a place. Through a country or region’s foods, we also make meaningful connections with others. Sharing a meal is an important ritual no matter where you go. Through our Food for Thought series, we hope to learn more about other travelers’ journeys, and the role food plays for them. A new installment will be published each Friday. This wee we talk to Drew from The Hungry Partier. A recent college grad, Drew is all ready to take the world by storm. His enthusiasm is infectious as he seeks out local foods and the best places to have a good time.
“In the spring of 2012, I studied abroad in Prague, Czech Republic, where I had the opportunity to travel all over Europe. It was during that semester when I developed a severe case of the travel bug, as my eyes were opened up to some incredible places around Europe. Since the beginning of 2012, I’ve been to 42 countries, over 120 cities and 4 continents. All of that, while still managing to graduate from University in May 2013. These days, I am living and teaching English in Seoul, South Korea and having the time of my life.”
Food for Thought
The underlying idea of the “Food for Thought” series is that to truly experience a culture you must taste it. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
Absolutely, I 100% agree with this statement. Eating the local food is my favorite thing to do when I am traveling, and it’s a fantastic way to truly experience the culture.
Just think about what the word culture means. To me, culture is the customs and beliefs of any particular group of people or a society. Given the fact that all people must eat to survive, the food in any specific place is one of the biggest triggers for immersing yourself in their culture.
Some of my best memories on the road are from the local dishes that I ate. There is just something that attaches me to the cuisines, and it always keeps me coming back for more!
What food do you identify with “home?” Does it reflect something about your own culture or upbringing? Do you crave it while you’re away?
The first thing that comes to mind is In-N-Out Burger. For all you non-Americans and others who have never heard of In-N-Out, it’s the best fast food burger joint in the planet. The locations are ONLY in California, Arizona and Nevada, which makes it rare and special.
I am from Scottsdale, Arizona, and I have 3 of these places within 10 miles form my house. I seriously crave it everyday. Especially because I am living in Korea (Where there is NO bread or cheese in the local food), all I can think about it a juicy greasy hamburger.
Yes, it definitely reflects my upbringing. As a kid, I have fond memories of my friends and I eating this food. There is nothing more satisfying. It relates to my culture, because Americans love their fast food, and this it top-notch in my opinion.
How has travel affected the way you think about food?
I have always loved food, but traveling has turned me into an ultimate foodie.
To be honest, I sometimes plan my trips according to which local foods that I want to eat most. For example, a few months ago I was backpacking around South East Asia, and I specifically chose to go to Singapore because I heard that they have the best food. Well, this turned out to be true and Singapore stands as my #1 country with the best food (hawker centers, anyone?). The local dishes in Singapore just made my overall experience that much more awesome.
Now, I want to explore even farther into the food culture. As opposed to eating at the “touristy” local food places (like the Hofbrauhaus in Munich, for example), I want to try more places in rural areas and eat at the hole-in-the-wall restaurants with only locals. This is where (I’ve realized) the best local dishes are!
Do you have a technique to try and understand local cuisine? (ie: Attending cooking classes or food tours? Hunting the best street food?)
It’s all about the street food. I would say that 40-50% of the meals I eat are street food. Yes, I have suffered from food poisoning a few times, but in the end, it’s worth it.
Not only is it the cheapest option (for all you budget travelers), but many times, it is the best! And almost always, I ask a local which is their favorite street food vendor in town. I don’t like to rely on sources such as lonelyplanet or tripadvisor. I always try to make local friends and have them take me, because who knows the places better than a local?
As I mentioned before, I am currently living and teaching English in Korea. The street food everywhere in this country is mind-boggling fantastic. It’s extremely cheap and open 24 hours! My favorite is Mandu, which is a Korean dumpling that is steamed, with wither kimchi or meat inside. It is just too good to be true.
Tell us about a memorable meal that was so special it is forever ingrained in your memory. Where was it and what set it apart? What was served, and who shared it with you?
My all-time favorite meal is Chili Crab in Singapore. It is one of the national dishes, and has won numerous world food awards from the best chefs in the world.
I just ate it a few months ago when I was on my backpacking trip around South East Asia. This dish is pretty much exactly what is sounds like. A freshly caught crab that is doused in a sweet and savory chili sauce. It’s honestly the most insane, epic, terrific and enjoyable combination of food that will send your taste buds to heaven. With all the flavors mixed together, it is so damn good.
I ate it with my friend that I was traveling with. She also really enjoyed it, and we had to go back for seconds! I seriously have been craving this dish since I last ate it. It is only served in Singapore, which means one thing only. I must go back!
What food have you tried in your travels that some might find shocking or surprising? Would you eat it again?
Actually, it’s a funny thing that you asked this question because I ate this 2 days ago…
I ate a live octopus in one single bite.
Yep, that’s right. I went to the huge fish market in Seoul and purchased a swimming octopus that was the size of my palm, and ate the entire thing in a bite. I took it straight out of the water and put in into my mouth.
I didn’t just randomly do this to be funny though; it is actually a pretty big thing here in Korea. Many restaurants serve this on their menu, and many people actually enjoy it.
It took me 20 minutes to chew it before I could swallow. I could feel it squirming around and sticking to my throat the entire time, until I finally digested it in my stomach. I am proud of myself for doing this, but I don’t ever think I will do it again! There is a video on my blog if you want to see what is was like 🙂
And just for fun, if you had to choose one country’s cuisine to eat for the rest of your life what would it be?
I know that I claimed Singapore to have the best food, but my immediately answer to this question is Korean food.
I might be a bit biased, because I have been living here for 8 months, but Korean food is nothing short of spectacular. If you’ve never had Korean BBQ before, I suggest that you look into it and find some restaurant to try it! It is amazing.
The food here is healthy, cheap, spicy and plentiful. The vegetables are all locally grown, as is most of the beef and pork. And my favorite, which is eaten with every meal, is Kimchi! Kimchi is a fermented cabbage dish that is spicy and delicious. Many of the soups and sauces here are extra spicy, so if you are a spicy-foods lover, then you will fall head over heels here!
I can go on and on about Korean food, but I will end my rant here. I am hungry now, so I am actually on my way to get some delicious BBQ at a local restaurant. Thanks for reading!