As I prepared my salad for our lunch today, I marveled at the variety of vegetables available for us to use: lettuce, radishes, okra, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, fresh peas, carrots, pickled red cabbage, and two different kinds of cheeses. I put my homemade croutons on the table and wondered at the beautiful and nutritious meal available here in this country.
I began thinking about food in context of living abroad. Part of the adventure and adjustment is the food.
Be willing to give it a try.
I was talking with my friend Mrs. D one day when she told me about her friend who made ketchup from bananas. When I reacted negatively, Mrs. D said, “Have you ever tried it?”
“Then don’t be so negative.”
She was right of course! I have another friend, a TCK, who thinks grubs are just the greatest treat – fried – of course. My boys liked grasshopper season. Fried grasshoppers aren’t bad, not good, but not bad.
I drew the line at snake stew…although my boys thought it was good, but bony. And while in Brazil once, I was persuaded to eat ant-bottoms. They were good – really!
And so the list goes on of very different things that one can eat abroad.
But use your head.
As the years have passed, I have seen error on both sides. Some workers eat to their harm – anything that is offered and/or available. Some workers totally reject the local cuisine.
Here are my guidelines for eating abroad:
- If it has been cooked and is HOT and is offered to you, try it.
- If it is fresh (salads, unpeeled fruit, freshly squeezed juice) and is offered to you, in some countries, it is not safe to eat it or you will pay the consequences…diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pains, parasites, etc. You can refuse on those grounds. “I’m sorry if I eat this, I will get sick. My body is not used to it.” I have never seen anyone offended by that.
- The only thing I would consistently turn down when I went out was salad. Tea is boiled. Sauces are hot. Bread is usually fine. Just stay away from the fresh stuff and raw meat.
WATER: This should be your priority. Even a piece of sugar cane in contaminated water can be deadly. It is not necessary to buy bottled water if you have a good filter. We had a Katadyn filter. I’m sure they have even better filters today. And if there is no filter, boiled water works! If you’re making rice or beans or pasta, the only time you might use unfiltered tap water is if it’s going to boil.
VEGETABLES: If you prepare it yourself, use safe methods in your preparation. In Africa, that meant washing our vegetables that were not to be cooked and fruit in filtered water with bleach (1 T bleach to a sink full of water), and then rinsing in clean (filtered) water. A major pain, but we were able to enjoy many local things that way, fresh! In our present country, that is not necessary, but I still make sure the fruit and veggies are washed!
EGGS & MEAT: No rare steaks, no red color whatsoever. You do not know the background of your food…how many days it has been around, refrigeration, etc. We ate “roadkill,” but only when it came directly off the grill. You can wash your eggs if you want, but I never did. Eggs that have been boiled are generally good; you will smell a boiled egg it if it’s bad. No eating raw dough. Cooked thoroughly, you are safe. We never ate over-easy eggs in Africa.
Can’t finish the dish/drink your host serves you? I have found that it is okay; no one is offended. If your country is different on that point, let me know. Because I have been in a good many situations and countries, and sampling the food always seems to be sufficient as opposed to eating it all in agony.
My Western food is not always good to our new family/friends in different countries. So when they come to my house, I try to cook as near to their taste as possible.
Let us celebrate and appreciate our hosts’ countries cuisines. I really think this is a matter that is important to those living abroad. Let us not be guilty of “We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic….” Numbers 11:5
If you’re new to a country, it’s better to err on the side of caution.
If you are one to be adventurous and try everything, remember not to ruin a good experience by eating what you want and then spending the next three days in bed, sick.
If you are a visitor to a new place, know these guidelines! Don’t depend on your drugstore filter to work like it does on your American camping trip.
Let your stomach be your guide.
What has your experience been? If you live or have lived abroad, what did you do differently? Please share!