Ethnic food saved my life. Well, not exactly, but hear me out. Traveling across the world you come across different versions of foods you get at home. Some are familiar comforts — multi-national fast-food brands, for example — while others are authentic — like dim sum in Hong Kong.
In any case, we often look to the familiar in an uncertain environment. We spend time among those who may look like us at a resort or out on an excursion. We try a little slice of the New while making sure we can still stay in touch with the Familiar. Because, Ethnic Food is Local Food somewhere.
In many places, jumping into truly local cuisine may be unsafe or unsanitary for the western tummy, there ARE opportunities to break down cultural barriers and make friends in the process. As we at MIEW travel for both business and pleasure, there are a few rules we try to adhere to that we’d like to share:
1. When in traveling in a new place, seek out supermarkets (grocery stores) and open-air markets (you can find the foods that locals eat)
2. When you find a place a good place, especially at an open air market, make repeat visits to the same vendor/stall
3. Always wash fresh foods. Always. It’s easier to make sure whole/uncut produce is clean.
4. The freshest markets will have insects from their field of origin, but never fear, a bathtub (drown the bugs) or fridge (freeze the bugs) is only a hotel room away
Each of these tips will allow you to discover something new about your chosen destination, allow you to build a relationship with a local vendor and help you to connect to a culture even if you don’t speak the language.
In Thailand and Cambodia, I spent every morning visiting the wet markets shopping the same stall for the freshest fruits. The little old lady always smiled and winked when I stopped at her produce stall — we had a pleasant fairly non-verbal conversation. Even without knowing the language, and her limited English, she provided me with the ripest fruits to eat that day. We bonded over food, and that’s really the moral of this story. There’s nothing better than being in an unknown place and knowing a stranger is looking out for you, wanting to show you the best their country has to offer.
Share your “local” food story with @MIEWfoodsLLC on Twitter; we’d love to hear it.
Pro tip: When you do visit a stall at the wet market, be sure to ask for the mango (or whatever) that’s ready to eat today, if that’s when you’re going to eat it. Often the produce that’s placed in the front will take a day or so to completely ripen. There’s nothing quite as amazing as dragonfruit or mango that hits the peak of readiness at just the moment you eat it. 🙂