I travel to eat. In my opinion there is no better way to immerse yourself into a new culture than to try the local delicacies and indulge in new and exotic foods. I always do a bit of research on what meals to hunt down and restaurants to book before I go somewhere, but there does seem to be a stigma against those who aren’t as adventurous.
Now I’m not endorsing taking your own packed lunch everywhere and only eating toast (if you can find it); I do firmly believe you should at least try something new abroad. But there are times when I’ve been away, especially in Asia, and I’ve eaten ‘western’ food. I had my reasons and they are pretty solid:
1) Just because it’s not in Europe, doesn’t mean it isn’t good
We have amazing Chinese and Indian food here in the UK; countries out of Europe are just as capable at creating delicious meals. I had the best steak of my life in Shanghai at The 1515 Chophouse; something I was not anticipating at all. There are also trends from Europe that have made it to Asia too, and I had some amazing craft ales in China and South Korea which were a hell of a lot nicer than the local spirits.
2) Sometimes you want something familiar
It doesn’t matter how long you’re away for, there are times when you’re abroad that you just want a bog standard sandwich or a decent cup of tea. The first time I went to China I remember desperately searching for cold milk to have in my tea one morning and having a jetlag induced meltdown when it never came to fruition. The excitement I felt when I found Marmite in Imbi Market in Kuala Lumpur was paramount to winning the lottery!
3) Sometimes you don’t have a choice
There have been times on my travels in Asia where I just could not find a restaurant or menu that I
could understand. When I’m hungry and there is a Starbucks or a Pizza Hut in whatever random Chinese city I was in, I just sucked it up and went in. It doesn’t mean that the food is familiar in anyway (trying to order a plain pepperoni pizza in Xi’an was like trying to get blood out of a stone), but at least there is English. Kind of.
4) Asia doesn’t do breakfast or desserts well
OK, this is a kind of generic statement and really just based on personal preference, but overall these are the things I struggle to find in Asia. There’s only so many times I can eat dim sum first thing in the morning, and I’m sorry but red bean paste is not a dessert filling in my book. I had wonderful apple ice cream from a tiny hole-in-the-wall place called What Is Your Flavor in Shanghai, and Nutella, banana and marshmallow toastie from Kala Toast in Hong Kong which, frankly, were well worth going against the grain for.
5) Because you’re on holiday and you can eat what you damn well please
You know what? If you’ve paid to go away then you deserve to enjoy it in whichever way you please. My first night in Seoul I ate a big arse burrito with an unbelievable frozen margarita and no, it’s not ‘authentic’ or ‘local’ but it was damn good and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Food should be enjoyed no matter where you are or what you’re having, so if you want to ditch the noodles occasionally and indulge in a burger, you go for it!