This article is being re-posted from FLiP Magazine November 2014. FLiP Magazine is a great publication with insight into pop-culture for both men and women! Aeri Rose is a regular contributor to FLiP W, the female focused half of the magazine. You should definitely check it out, and subscribe for the free digital editions! Even if I’m quiet here…I’ll always find something to say there!
The Art of the Exotic Palate: Trying and Declining New Foods
By Aeri Rose
Being polite can be very similar to knowing an intricate dance. When you don’t know what you’re doing, it is easy to step on some toes. And when traveling abroad, it is easy to feel like you’ve packed two left feet. Just like a ballroom dance, research and practice will help you avoid a misstep, but sometimes you just have to jump in and do the twist. So, to help with those impromptu moments, this month’s travel article is called “The Art of the Exotic Palate: Trying and Declining New Foods”, and we will talk about a particular situation when a polite and graceful demeanor is the most important: during meals. So, enjoy our stories, and our universal tips to help keep you fed and happy on your next vacation.
Tip # 1: Be Inquisitive and open minded! Taste and try everything.
Remember you are on an adventure, you are open minded, curious, and hoping to turn strangers into friends all around the world. If someone has invited you into their home, invited you to share a meal, or even just made a recommendation after seeing you hem and haw over the lunch menu, accept their advice! Even if it ends up being the worst thing you’ve ever tasted…at least you will have a new story to Like the time I was encouraged to try silk worms in a Korean marketplace. They were served in a clear plastic cup with some broth and a toothpick. High in protein I was told. I was able to crunch a few down before they got cold, and they really weren’t even that bad. OK so maybe they were really gross. But I ate them and lived to tell the tale! And you can too!
Tip # 2: Taste but don’t waste!
Some dishes are recognizable, others strange. Some smell amazing, others…strange. When trying new things, take small portions so you will still be able to finish a dish even if it is not to your liking. Please do try to finish what has been served. Your host might have been using your visit as a chance to prepare some specialty dishes with expensive or hard to find ingredients that would be a shame to throw away if the crazy American took too much and couldn’t finish it. Remember, if you like something you can always follow the tiny first helping with a second larger helping, provided everyone else has already served themselves as well.
It is important to note that while food should never be wasted, often leaving one or two bites on a plate is the unspoken signal that your appetite has been satisfied.
Tip #3: Don’t be childish or immature if you encounter unexpected, unappetizing, or visually shocking
My Sicilian grandmother came to America when she was 17, and shortly after arriving in Maryland she was invited to a crab feast. Anyone who has ever shelled crabs knows they are odd, ugly little things that are cooked alive. She screamed when she saw them, and thought she was being made to eat a giant spider. My point is…everyone eats weird things in weird ways. It’s only weird if you aren’t used to it. So contain your gag reflex, control your urge to dissect your meal like a 7th grade biology lab, and keep your screams to a minimum when exploring exotic meals.
Tip # 4: Follow your host’s lead.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do! Preparing and eating foods and drinks like the locals will give you a chance to taste and learn about a new thing, or a new way to enjoy an old thing. Take tea for example. Everyone has a way they like to drink their tea: with lemon, honey, sugar, milk, hot, cold, etc. When you’re traveling don’t drink tea the way YOU like to drink it, drink it the way the locals do. When you’re in England, take tea with milk and sugar and a piece of shortbread. When you’re in Turkey take it strong in a tiny clear glass with too much sugar. In China? Dump some leaves in a cup, swirl them around, and spend the rest of the time trying to figure out how they drink the tea so gracefully without getting mouthfuls of tea leaves. And then call me and tell me what you’ve learned, because I still haven’t figured it out!
Tip # 5: If you absolutely cannot attend or cannot eat a dish served, say “No” as soon as possible, politely, firmly, and perhaps up to three times.
Being a picky eater, or having something else sort of planned that night are not really acceptable reasons to decline. But, if you know that fried crickets and blood pudding will be on the menu and you just will NOT be able to navigate a graceful decline at the diner table, than perhaps declining the initial invitation is your best choice. If you do have to decline, do it as soon as possible. As in, DO NOT accept and later change your mind, and definitely DO NOT accept and then stand them up.
Some acceptable reasons to decline might be because of known allergies or strict dietary restrictions, or because non-negotiable travel plans have already been booked. Like, for example, if you are a vegetarian hiking through the Gobi Desert and a Mongolian nomadic family invites you into their Ger to share their evening meal, you can be certain it will be 99% comprised of various cuts of goat meat, organs, and cheese products with perhaps one onion diced and boiled in your honor. As a vegetarian, you might find it easier to offer them some sweet mint tea and continue on your way.
So to recap, the dinner dance can be intricate, but there are always some general guidelines to keep in mind to help navigate any meal without stepping on too many toes. And when in doubt…say please and thank you and make your mamma proud.
Good luck and enjoy! Buon Appetite!
Have you ever had the urge to just drop what you were doing, pack a bag, and set out on an adventure? Five years and over two dozen countries later, Aeri Rose is proof that excitement, independence, and discovery await those who are bold enough to say “yes” to life’s craziest choices. When not exploring the world with her little grey backpack, Aeri Rose can be found living a nomadic lifestyle traveling the United States as an artist and entrepreneur. To follow Aeri Rose on all her adventures, check her out online at aerirose.com or travelingwithaeri.com; or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aerirose.”