In my recent post – Eating for Healthy Life – I wrote about my dietary habits: what I eat and what I don’t eat, in order to keep in good health. I easily adhere to my diet when I am at home and in control of food that I buy, prepare and cook. But, is healthy nutrition possible when we travel? I am not going to answer this question now. Rather, I am going to look at what I did during my past travels. Back then, I didn’t really pay much attention to such issues and their impact on health.
The concept of my current diet has developed over time. I read many books and internet articles on healthy nutrition and I started to acquire an insight in the field that was previously completely unknown to me. The switch to my current dietary regime has not happened overnight. Rather, it was a subtle process based both on my newly acquired knowledge, but also on my personal experience as I started to notice improvements in my general well being after I had eliminated harmful foods.
Visiting distant foreign destinations and unfamiliar cultures is always very exciting. One important component of travel is food. We all have to eat several times every day. We form our perception of a place that we are visiting according to our culinary experiences. If we eat well, we are satisfied and content. It positively enhances our overall impression of that particular destination. This is especially true in countries where the cuisine is significantly different to the cuisine to which we are usually accustomed to. Trying new, unfamiliar and strange tasting and looking dishes is exciting and gratifying at the same time.
When it comes to food, I am very open minded. I normally want to try everything at least once, so that I can decide whether I like it or not. There are not many foods that I wouldn’t eat. However, I don’t eat many things because of my dietary constraints and because I think that they are not good for me. People use same ingredients all over the world in food preparation, although in some countries they prepare food in radically different ways. But, that’s good because it brings novelty to what would otherwise be the same thing that we normally eat at home.
Usually, for me the most important meal of the day is dinner. Going for dinner is an important ritual at the end of the day. Dinner is time when I can properly summarise and assimilate many impressions of that particular day.
So, let’s have a look at some of the dishes that I had during my previous travels. Also, whether or not they were good for me, in the context of my current dietary habits.
I like Chinese food. While most ingredients in the Chinese cuisine are exactly the same as in various European cuisines, they taste very differently.
When I go to China, I normally only eat Chinese food. What I especially like is that the Chinese base their cuisine on meat and vegetable dishes, which is what I normally eat.
There is rice and noodles too, which you can easily avoid. But for me, the Chinese meal is not a proper meal without some egg fried rice. I also find that eating just meat and vegetables is not very filling, unless I order many various dishes that usually come in smaller portions. The idea is to order more than one dish, something similar to the way that you would eat Spanish tapas.
I also like the Thai cuisine. It is very similar to the Chinese cuisine, at least in my perception. I am sure that both the Chinese and the Thai people would say that there are drastic differences.
Perhaps, there are certain flavours that the Chinese use, but not the Thais. However, as I come from a different part of the world, I can’t really detect such culinary nuances. Of course, there are dishes that are typically Thai, such as Pad Thai, but there are many similar noodle based dishes in China. I had some very good meals during my stay in Thailand.
One country that is very famed for its cuisine is Italy. The Italians say that you always eat well in Italy, which is mainly true. If you stay away from very touristic restaurants, in very touristic places and if you go to places where the locals go, you will certainly eat very well. When I am in Italy, I normally only go to family run establishments that cater for the local population. For such places to be successful and to thrive, they have to maintain a very high standard. But, the Italian cuisine is largely based on carbohydrates, with pizza and various pasta dishes offered in abundance. Pizza, a dish invented in Italy, is happily consumed all over the world.
Another iconic thing in Italy is the ice cream. For some reason, the Italians make the best ice cream. True, you can find good ice cream in other countries too. In Italy, you will find good ice cream almost everywhere. I sent a below photo to a nutritionist friend of mine and he replied with two words: “poisoning people”. Perhaps, his comment was harsh, although licking two or three balls of pure sugar certainly cannot be good for anyone’s health. I am aware that the pleasure and gratification that you feel when you lick your ice cream are beyond any description, especially during warm summer nights.
I also like Spanish food. When I ask my Spanish friends whether they think that the Spanish food is the best in the world, they all without fail say yes. But, when I ask the same question my Italian friends, they also without fail say yes.
This is very funny! I don’t think that it is correct to say that food is the best in any one country. It is certainly possible to eat well everywhere. If you use good and fresh ingredients and cook them properly, the end result has to be good. Strong opinions on the subject of food, as expressed by the Spanish and the Italian people, are a result of what they are accustomed to and not because those are really the best foods that can be eaten.
When I go to Spain, I particularly like tapas – they typically serve tapas as small plates and you can order several dishes, for novelty and variety.
When I was in Barcelona just over 2 years ago, I had a lot of seafood tapas. Barcelona is by the sea, thus seafood is more prominently featured in the menus and it is very affordable.
I particularly like going to Turkey. The Turkish cuisine is very similar to the Serbian cuisine. That is not surprising, as Serbia was a part of the Ottoman Empire for approximately 500 years. There are many identical dishes.
The Turkish cuisine is perhaps more authentic as it has not been exposed to European influences, which are very present in the Serbian cuisine. However, I am sure that there are many Arabic influences in the Turkish cuisine.
INSECTS & OTHER ADVENTUROUS FOOD
Then, there are dishes and food products that are completely unfamiliar to us. One example is an assortment of various edible bugs and insects in a photo below, on offer in the night market in Chiang Mai. I tried a grasshopper. It was perfectly fine to eat, although apart from being crunchy, there was not much else to it.
Or, perhaps deliciously looking deep fried black scorpions on offer in the market near the Wangfujing street in Beijing.
In that same market, you could also buy miniature scorpions on skewers. They kept them alive for maximum freshness, before deep frying them for maximum indulgence.
However, my most favourite unfamiliar food that I tried in Pingjiang road in Suzhou, was marinated chicken feet. It is a fine delicacy and a very popular food item in China. In my opinion there is not much to eat, chicken feet are just a bone.
My diet is based on elimination of all food products that, after being eaten are rapidly digested, with the consequence of abnormal spikes in blood sugar levels. This primarily happens with carbohydrates. I avoid bread, pasta and other wheat products, also potatoes. I eat rice in limited quantities. By analysing photos in this post, I am aware that almost every meal contained something that, according to the principles of my diet, I shouldn’t have eaten.
While I am certainly not fanatical about my nutrition, I also aware that it is very hard to adhere to my diet when I am away from home. Temptations are everywhere. Almost every restaurant meal comes with ingredients that I try to avoid. At the same time it is very hard for me not to eat, especially if I am hungry and if everything presented to me looks temptingly delicious.
I will come back to this topic. My intention is to be more careful with regard to what I eat when I travel. I will analyse whether that’s possible and to what extent. There are ways in which one can be in more control. For example, staying in an apartment with a well equipped kitchen can be one simple option. This will be an interesting exploratory journey and I will keep periodical up-dates.