Travel Diary of a Picky Eater

Conch Fritter Sign

When I was 17, I spent a month as an exchange student in Paris. I remember vividly one evening when my host mom had prepared a questionable looking fish of sort for dinner and placed it proudly in front of us. As hard as I tried, I could not eat the meal and afterwards my host mom took me aside. I knew she wasn’t happy with me, and I had tried to explain my eating habits, but to no avail. She sat me down and, in the only English I ever heard her speak, she said, “You know, there are people starving in China.”

Life is a bit more complicated when you are a picky eater, a category in which both my partner and I fall. We’re not trying to be difficult, but we just don’t like certain foods. Ok, a lot of foods. In our defense, we have tried, but no matter how some things are prepared, we just can’t eat them. So far this doesn’t sound so strange, right? Hang on a sec.

The foods that generally fall onto our “can’t eat” list include all seafood, most vegetables, and just about anything made from these two food groups. It would be one thing if we could just avoid these dishes and move on, but people constantly harp on the fact that we don’t eat these things. And it’s annoying. I’m sorry I don’t like lobster, but I don’t belong in a circus freak show.

Fast forward to 2010. Throughout our travels, we’ve done a good job of finding things we can eat. Luckily grilled meat of some sort is a pretty common staple throughout the world. There are some trouble spots though that cause problems. Like the Bahamas.

I absolutely loved my brief stay in the Bahamas but, and I think they’ll probably admit to this, their culinary point of view can be at times a bit questionable. As far as I can tell, their entire diet is based on conch. Or a dare. Or both.  During one meal, our host was describing all of the possible variations on conch and, like a scene from Forrest Gump, I began to fully understand the width and breadth of my problem.

I, unlike Scott, can stomach small amounts of foods which I don’t like in order to be polite. I had to do this in Morocco when I had to hold my noise to get down some sort of fresh veggie dish that had been made for us, and I did it again in the Bahamas. As it turns out, most of the conch I had was actually really good. The probable reason though is that it was breaded and deep fried, a universal cooking technique to make anything taste good. But the inevitable happened and a seafood showdown ensued.

We were at a meal, hosted at a local restaurant that had been set up to highlight Bahamian history and culture. That part was great. The meal started out as I had expected, with a couple of conch variants, all of which was fine. The next course though was too much for me to take. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but I’m pretty sure it was something like fish with a side of fish and a delicious fish sauce.

I’m slightly envious of people who like seafood. They always look so happy when they’re consuming shrimp or lobster and while I have tried, that same look of fishy pleasure is not to be for me. But what irritates me is that people can’t seem to fathom the concept that there are people in this world who actually don’t like seafood. Worse than that, they never, ever plan for us.

When the fish platter was announced, I just couldn’t do it. I was tired and hungry and there was no way I could pretend to eat the seafood buffet headed my way. I tried, as politely and quietly as I could, to indicate to my hosts that I could not eat the kind entrée that had been prepared.

Conch Fritters
Conch Fritters

Simultaneously, I must have sprout antlers, since that could be the only explanation for the looks of shock and amazement I received in response to my confession. I doubt any other announcement could have elicited the same response.

They quickly regrouped and sent out what I suppose used to be red meat, but in its current form was more appropriate for shoe repair. The meal had become a disaster and I was starving.

I’m not writing this to say, woe is me, rather I want to announce to the world that it is not a crime to not like seafood. I’m not sure about this, but I am fairly certain that out of 6 billion people, Scott and I are not the only two people who don’t participate in consuming this particular food group. I understand that many people love their lobstah rolls and chowdahs, which is fantastic! Yay you! But please, don’t presuppose that we all have dreams of boiled crustaceans and instead of spending 20 minutes discussing how odd we are, help us find some ham or something.

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

30 thoughts on “Travel Diary of a Picky Eater”

  1. I feel your pain a lot – I only eat seafood when it’s fried and covered in batter/condiments but generally I strongly avoid it. Not the easiest when you’re in a place like S.E. Asia (or even San Francisco) where seafood is everywhere and you feel like people think you’re strange because you won’t even dare taste it.

    While traveling has made me open up a little to trying new things and I eat a lot more variety than I did maybe 5 years ago, I can’t seem to stomach most seafood. Just thinking of that fishy taste… ugh!

  2. I’m the same way with dried meats (like jerky) or sausages. I don’t care what animal it once originated from (chicken, pig, cow, deer, alligator, etc.) I can not stand jerky or sausages. Unfortunately, a lot of people like to make their own jerky or sausage and then insist that I try it. I can’t even get the meat past my lips to take a bite. It’s not that I’m a vegetarian or anything. In fact, that is the furthest from the truth. I love a good steak or burger or some BBQ ribs or even a plain chicken breast. But, the jerky and sausages are not for me.
    Maybe the next time we’re together, I can eat your seafood platters while you eat the jerky and sausages on my plate! :)

  3. As picky we both are, you were definitely the hero in Morocco–there is no way I could have choked down even a bite of that mess of a green bean salad that was foisted upon us. I am definitely the fussiest about my food–so thank you for speaking for all of us that seafood is vastly and overrated. I think there should be a term for landmeat grazers–“terrafermivore.” Seeing people go batshit C-R-A-Z-Y for lobster makes me just a little crabby. I’m sorry, but it’s just not that good, folks.

    I’ve been all over the world, and it’s almost never impossible to find chicken, rice and Coca-Cola! Amen to that!

  4. You are not alone! I absolutely abhorr seafood. Fish and I do not get along. When it’s served to me, I do my best and choke it down, but it takes all the willpower I possess!

    Get Travelated and Get Going.

  5. Have you ever considered getting a ‘food allegery’ to seafood? I think it might at least take the questions away! lol. I haven’t eaten meat in over 10 years – that’s hard enough. Now I am trying to get rid of dairy & eggs – definitely easier said than done.

  6. “I’m slightly envious of people who like seafood. They always look so happy when they’re consuming shrimp or lobster . . . .” Too funny! Enjoyed your article and share your love for red meats.

  7. I’m with Rachel–just tell people you’re allergic to seafood. Then no one would think twice about it. I don’t think it’s strange to dislike seafood, or even some veggies–but all veggies? I hope you take vitamins.

  8. I’m with you on the general dislikes. I really dislike fish, though shrimp and oddly salmon is ok in quite small doses. Veggies aren’t my thing either, unless they are cooked really soft.

    The one place that I thought I would have problems but didn’t was Greece. I was thinking, island nation.. must eat lots of fish. Yeah, there was more than average fish on the menu,but the amount of roast lamb made up for it.

    As I get older, somehow my distaste for certain vegetables has lessened. I happily eat olives and bell peppers and tomatoes if they have been coked. I still cant take the beansprouts that the local asian places in Germany insist on sticking into every single dish.

    1. Thanks for the comment and once again, I’m glad it’s not just us. :) We’re not overly neurotic about it though and like you, manage to find acceptable alternatives almost anywhere.

    2. I’m a picky eater too, and I know exactly how you feel. I hate lettuce and tomatoes (which come on practically everything in the US) and people always look at me weird when I request a sandwich without these two things. “You don’t want ANYTHING on it?” Nope, I’m good with just meat and cheese, thanks. I’m actually much less picky than when I was a kid– I used to not eat any vegetables at all, besides potatoes, wouldn’t eat cheese, etc. I still don’t eat red meat, most seafood, or most veggies (have branched out to onions and a few others since starting college, but still don’t like leafy greens).

      Sometimes when you literally have no other choice, you have to eat it. It’s not fun, but for example, I was in Fiji (on a tiny minor island) for 6 weeks a couple years ago and literally we had fish/seafood for every meal. It got old really quick (and the first meal I had when I was back on the main island in a city was Chicken pasta), but I do have to say fish is much better tasting when it’s cooked the same day you catch it. I feel like most of the fish we are likely to encounter in the US, in restaurants and such, has been on ice for days and days, and it’s generally disgusting IMO.

  9. This article is all about me, too! I have stuck with the “allergy” strategy to get me out of everything I don’t like. Hubby is on board too, we’re both tired of people trying to insist.

    Although, he’s guilty of it too. He always asks…”Are you sure you don’t want to try this?” Seriously? We’ve been together 11 years, do you really think that is going to work NOW? Ha!

  10. Ha! yeah, people try that with us too. Nope, still don’t like it thanks. LOL

    Also thrilled to see that we’re not alone! I don’t feel like a freak anymore. :)

  11. Nice read and you are definitely not alone! I’m the person that orders the one chicken meal at any seafood, sushi, etc restaurant.

  12. Amen! I can’t deal with the smell, taste or texture of any kind of seafood. Maybe that’s why I don’t enjoy the beach, it’s seafood everywhere! I was in the same predicament at a dinner party, it was a seafood stew. I tend to tell restaurants (if it’s a tasting menu) it’s an allergy to avoid the fuss.

  13. I was recently asked (in Ghana where we live) – ‘What kind of person doesn’t want to eat goat with their beans???’

    Ummm, a vegetarian?

    My daughter is a sugar-free, gluten-free vegetarian (for health reasons), which makes for some interesting and challenging meal choices when we’re travelling. It’s interesting to see how personally people take being an ‘abnormal’ eater, it becomes a personality thing. What’s interesting is seeing the looks on people’s faces when you tell them your child can’t have sweets or biscuits…

  14. Mmmmmm… conch fritters… Deep-fried boot…

    I understand your position. Though I have been known my WHOLE life as a picky eater (mainly because I’m skinny, my stomach is small, and I can NEVER finish a whole plate of food) I do eat seafood and other “foreign” delicacies. And I can see how, when traveling worldwide, NOT eating seafood could be an issue – it’s free (to catch), it’s from the sea (which is everywhere), etc.

    Having lived in Indonesia for the last five months, I can tell you that there are times when if I have to eat another “cleverly disguised” bowl of Ramen noodles (mie goreng, soto ayam, etc.) I will seriously throw a fit.

    I tried to explain to an Indonesian friend that the noodles with which these foods are made are – in my country – ALWAYS soup and a super-cheap way to fill the belly. The stuff of countless post-college “so poor I was…” jokes. But then that’s the point of people filling their bellies with those noodles here, so my explanation is kind of moot in this context. Doh!

    When we travel abroad we find ourselves in numerous “can’t eat” situations. I think the discomfort caused by these moments is exacerbated by the fact that in my country, though food is expensive, we throw a lot away. When my bowl of mie goreng, half-consumed because “I’m full, God-dammit! I can’t eat any more!” is discarded, I think about all the people here who would kill to finish that bowl. And I feel bad. REALLY bad.

    All we can do is handle ourselves with the most grace we can muster in the situation. It sounds like you are doing fine at that.

    Have you ever traveled to India? I imagine that would be an utter nightmare.

    And isn’t lobster a bottom-feeder – cockroach-like in its diet and environment? Not my favorite, though I will eat it. King crab legs are much more to my liking, though.

    Keep the faith!!!

  15. I’m a very picky eater also. The only seafood I can stomach is some fried cod. The only vegetables I eat are corn and french fries. I order my hamburgers (which better be on a simple white bread bun) with only ketchup on them. The only sauce I’m up for is maybe a sweet bbq sauce if I’m eating pork… or maybe a simple tomato sauce with spaghetti. I don’t even like cheese unless it is on a slice of pizza. My diet is basically meat and vitamin supplements.

  16. Oh boy, do I understand you!
    I’ve always been a picky eater and although with age I’ve come to like more foods there are still lots of no-no’s in my list.
    I am in the “no sea food” club too so sometimes I had people offer me fresh water fish instead (it’s still fish people!). Being in a relationship with a Spaniard I have tried whichever fish she orders from the menu (a ridiculously small piece and always well seasoned with lemon juice) and most of the time I disliked it, sometimes I could at least swallow it and the last thing I tried I thought I could actually eat if I had to (roasted monkfish with sauce vierge). I cannot handle any creatures like mussels, prawns, squid or octopuss. The sole smell makes me sick.

    I absolutely loathe cucumbers and living in England that rules out most store bought snadwiches/salads. If I have to go for afternoon tea at a hotel (very common here) I have to face the salmon sandwiches, the cucumber sandwiches so I end up turning my face away and waiting for the cakes.

  17. I’ve got to admit to being one of those people who can’t understand people who don’t like ‘fish and seafood’, just like I can’t understand people who dismiss a whole nation’s gastronomy. The reason for both is exactly the same – it’s all different, with varying textures and flavours. Octopus doesn’t taste like mussels, prawns don’t taste like scallops. Salmon doesn’t taste like sea bass and cod doesn’t taste like mackerel etc. so it doesn’t make any sense to me when someone dismisses the lot. #notapicky eater :)

  18. I don’t feel so alone! Yes, I am super picky- worse than you….I can’t even stand the smell of fish- and my family all lives in an ocean area, so you can imagine!

  19. First of all, if I read this to my boyfriend, he’d be able to relate! He is very picky and calls himself a “meatatarian”. He doesn’t like most vegetables and numerous other foods. Do you have any suggestions for traveling with a picky eater? I was thinking for Christmas I could make little survival kits for him (craft bead containers with seasonings). But if you could offer any other advice, it would be really great!

  20. I can definitely relate to this. I’m a very awkward vegetarian, and have been for most of my life. I always feel so envious when I see people tucking into a nice veggie meal, but I don’t like the majority of vegetarian options on menus in the UK, let alone abroad where vegetarian options can be almost non-existent. My fiance and I are planning a trip to Iceland in December, and while my fiance will have no problem eating out, I will probably spend the week trying to find somewhere that sells pizza. We’re thinking of staying somewhere with a kitchen so that we can cook our own meals.

  21. ‘picky’ eater combined with having multiple food allergies has made my life… interesting… to say the least ( I consider myself a ‘purist,’ as I dislike combined foods with a passion ). weirdly, I’m in my 40s and only now starting to travel, so far everywhere in the US I’ve gone ( thus far ) I’ve found food options, but as I’m considering international travel this coming year, I know I’ll be encountering some food issues- bound to be interesting.

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