Recently a group of travel writers released a new series of travel guides that focus not on destinations, but styles of travel. I love this approach because it’s so much more personal and the assembled experts provide tips and tricks that will help every level of traveler. On a recent flight I decided to read through The Food Traveler’s Handbook written by blogger and culinary travel expert Jodi Ettenberg and I am so happy I did.
If you’re not familiar with Jodi and her top travel blog Legal Nomads, you should be. In 2008 she quit her job as a successful attorney and decided to start traveling the world and she hasn’t stopped. These years of traveling experience along with a self-confessed obsession with discovering new foods as she goes have led to this fantastic resource guide that everyone will find useful.
Food is a critical part of the travel experience and I thought I was doing it right, until I read Jodi’s book. I picked up great tips that I can’t wait to use on my next trip as well as suggestions on how to avoid making mistakes like getting sick. Jodi was kind enough to answer some interview questions about her and her book and I think you’ll love the answers.
1. In your book you write about certain foods that may be taboo, especially from a Western point of view and how best to evaluate whether or not travelers should consume them. Has there ever been a time when you ate or drank something that may not have been in line with your own thoughts and beliefs but which you did for the experience?
There have been a few times, but it was more about hospitality and not offending hosts than experiencing something new. I’ll always try something new if it’s within my ethics boundaries, but occasionally I’ll be in a situation where someone offers me something and it would be extremely rude to turn it down. For example, when staying with a family of nomads in Morocco, I was offered bread. As a celiac, I tried to turn it down a few times (because it makes me sick), but was urged quite insistently to eat and took as small a piece as I could. And I got sick. On the experience side, with nomads in the Gobi in Mongolia the family killed a sheep and goat as an honour to their guest (me), and had me help with the butchering and cutting off the hair of the goat. It was certainly not something I would do as a matter of course! But it was fascinating to see how they used every part of the animal and its skin and hair/wool. And of course, I appreciated dinner that much more considering I was involved in its very early preparations.
2. Trying local and street food is an important part of the travel experience as you so eloquently describe, is there a certain city or place where it’s easier for the first time traveler to eat like a local?
I think a first-time foray into street food would be best affected in cities or cultures that eat on the street as a matter of course. For example, in Thailand where many Thais take to the streets for dinner after work, or eat at street stalls during lunch hours. Street food is quite safe there too, with such fast turnover at mealtimes. It’s my first recommendation for those who want to dip their toe into the world of roadside eats.
3. I admit that I usually ignore condiments, I’m sure to my own detriment. What’s been the biggest taste surprise, good or bad, from a condiment that you’ve experienced on your travels?
I think my love of fish sauce is the most surprising to me because I always hated it and it really does smell so incredibly foul. But used in its own ways – sparingly for some recipes, more liberally for others – I’ve come to appreciate it in all its fermented fishy glory.
4. As we all know travel is fraught with many ups and downs, you can’t have the good without the bad. Other than food poisoning, have you tried a dish that you immediately took a dislike to?
Olives. I just cannot seem to like olives. I’ve tried them in countries renowned for the quality and specialness too – Morocco, Italy, Jordan, Israel and more. But there is just no gateway olive for me. Each time I try it hoping to be proven wrong but alas I cringe and need an immediate palate cleanser. There’s now a #saynotoolives hashtag on Twitter because I learned that Andrew Hickey (@ah) and Shannon (@shannonRTW) are also olive-haters ;) [Author’s note – I too hate olives and will be checking out this hashtag]
5. When you can’t find any great local street food to eat, what is your go to meal?
I like going near universities or hospitals at lunchtime – many cheap options there for hungry people on the go. Another option is the supermarket, which can provide hours of wonder with new packaging and products to sample. I also check forums like eGullet or Chowhound to see what others have recommended.
6. You devote a lot of attention in your book traveling with food allergies. As a celiac, are there certain staples you always pack with you in case you can’t find anything else to eat?
I always carry instant oatmeal with me, some nuts and some granola bars. In a pinch, it’s something to eat if nothing celiac-friendly is available.
7. If you had to construct your perfect meal, what would it be?
A giant meal of dim sum offerings, hopefully gluten-free though realistically not likely. I did an interview recently where I was asked what my choice for ‘final meal’ would be and I said a big dim sum filled with glutinous treats like bao and the like, because if it was a last meal, then I sure was going to go out eating bread ;)
Huge thanks to Jodi for agreeing to this interview and I hope that it has made you excited to pick up a copy of The Food Traveler’s Handbook, as well as the other books in the series, all available on Amazon.com through the links below.