How Travel Has Influenced My Diet

Food and Drink, Travel
Cooking class in Pai

Me taking a cooking class in Pai, Thailand. Despite the way it looks, I really do know what I’m doing.

It is impossible to travel and not be changed. For me, more than anything else, travel has affected my diet. A look through my kitchen will reveal foods, such as wonton wrappers, Greek yogurt, and oyster sauce, that I’d probably not be eating had I never traveled overseas. Here are 12 examples of how travel has changed what I eat.

1. Black Beans – Guatemala

I realize this isn’t very exotic, but the humble black bean is the food I consume the most as a result of travel. I started eating these when I did a two-month homestay in Guatemala and now I eat them all the time in chili, as a side dish, or simply with tortillas. Black beans are cheap, filling, delicious, and high in fiber.

I. Love. Black. Beans.

2. Wine – Argentina

Stellenbosch South Africa Wine Country

Sampling the wines of the South African Wine Country.

Before visiting the wine country of Argentina, I think I only drank wine once. I remember choking down a few glasses of cheap jug wine, getting used to the taste and making the following declaration: “This is like juice!” I then proceeded to drink several more cups.

The next day, my brain seemingly had a pickaxe lodged inside and everything was so bright, so very bright. I swore to never drink it again.

In the wine country I got to sample a number of wines and learned what I liked. I really enjoyed the Malbecs of Argentina, especially with a giant steak.

3. Dumplings – China

Chinese dumplings might be my favorite food. Also known as pot stickers or wontons, they can come fried or steamed with a variety of fillings. I make pork and shrimp dumplings at home, with ginger, garlic and onion. It is simple and awesome, especially served with Sriracha and soy sauce.

4. Pad Thai – Thailand

A dish consisting of eggs, tofu, bean sprouts, onions, peanuts and noodles doesn’t sound appealing and I probably wouldn’t have fallen in love with the dish had I not gone to Thailand. Now Pad Thai is one of my favorite foods. I only wish I could get it more often!

I’ve made it on my own successfully a few times. I’ve also failed dramatically making it on my own a few times.

5. Falafels – The Middle East

The falafel is the cool kid of vegetarian sandwiches. It loudly declares: I DON’T NEED MEAT TO BE EXCITING! Once I started eating falafels in the Middle East, I couldn’t stop. Many days I ate them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I now make a bastardized version of the falafel at home that would make my Jewish Grandma (If I had a Jewish Grandma) cringe, but I really like it.

6. Greek Yogurt w/Honey – Greece

Greek Yogurt = tangy and weird

Greek Yogurt + Honey = pretty much the most awesome thing in the world

7. Tea – The Middle East and India

All across the Middle East they serve tea with mint and a dump truck load of sugar. Known as Bedioun tea, Moroccan Tea, Jordanian Tea, Egyptian tea (depending on where you are) it all seems pretty much the same to me, and it is pretty much awesome.

In India I started drinking Masala Chai – the milky, spicy and sweet tea that is ubiquitous on the subcontinent. There is nothing better than having a cup of chai after a spicy meal.

8. Human Flesh – Papua New Guinea

Hanging out with the headhunter tribes of Papua New Guinea, I developed a taste for human flesh. I am currently eating a guy named Fred who answered a Craigslist ad. I’ve almost finished him off and need another.

If you can answer yes to the following questions, let’s meet for coffee.

  • I am between 15-40 years old
  • I am between 10-30 pounds overweight
  • No one would describe me as sinewy
  • I could be described as “well-marbled
  • I am a non-smoker.

9. Key Lime Pie – Florida Keys

Key Lime Pie is my favorite desert (after milk and cookies) and I am sure I’d have never tried it if I hadn’t lived in the Keys for two winters.

10. Green Olives – The Middle East and Greece

Olives and olive oil

Olives and olive oil accompany just about every meal in Greece.

Eaten as a snack and appetizer, I picked up a love for the ubiquitous green olive in the Mediterranean.

11. Weird Indian Food – India 

In India, I learned to put whatever was on my plate into my face hole despite the looks of it and I was (almost) never disappointed. Unlike China, you don’t have to worry about eating an endangered animal – or worse, a reptile – since the food is vegetarian.

Take Palak Paneer for example. It looks like something that escaped from a baby’s diaper, but it is absolutely delicious. I am quite sure I’d have never ordered that from Bombay Palace restaurant in a strip mall in Texas.

palak paneer

Palak paneer: looks terrible, tastes delicious.

12. Fried Rice – Thailand

Many years ago I took a cooking class in Thailand and the one dish that I make really well from that experience is fried rice. I hate to brag, but my fried rice is better than any you’ve ever had, with lots of broccoli, peppers, mushrooms and cashews. In fact, I just made some.

Excuse me, but I need to eat this:

Jeff's Fried Rice


How has travel influenced your diet?

What are your favorite international cuisines?


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Currently living in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. I travel, write, take photos, and stalk street cats. ~

36 thoughts on “How Travel Has Influenced My Diet”

  1. kuzcomerlin says:

    This thing from India really looks like described. But I would love to try it!
    So, let’s meet for a coffee 🙂
    I totally agree with your experience. As a kid we were living some time in France. Because of my fathers job he always brought new expression back home, our family friends were more than “multi-culty”, so my mothers kitchen was by the time.
    I myself ended up travelling around in a few countries (private and professional), stranding in Greece.
    With this background my kitchen is also influenced by it and I found it fun to always try out new things to taste (even though I think my own family sometimes feels a little annoyed by this 😀 )

    • The Palak Paneer from India is really good, especially eaten with chipati bread and I am very glad that we are meeting for coffee.

      Greece is a great country to be influenced by with food. It ranks as one of my favorite food countries!

      • kuzcomerlin says:

        You are right. I am located on the most beautiful island of Crete and I learned to cook these delicious dishes from my mother-in-law.
        I found out that the food which is prepared here on Crete are very much based on the history the people have past over the time, especially the time where they were not allowed to eat any meat and the women were supposed to prepare dishes with vegetables they found in the wild. Wild vegetables we would throw away as weed is prepared here as a wonderful dish eather cooked or as a salad. Did you ever tried them?

      • I did have some of the greens on Crete but should have had more. I did see a lady foraging for plants in Greece and thought that was pretty cool. It is interesting how hardships can lead to great food.

        The food is so healthy there. I feel like I could live to 100 eating that diet!

  2. Aah….Indian food…….sometimes Indian food tends to smell godawful in addition to looking that BUT if you dare to pass that daunting bit, it’s all goodness and relish! I loved the unique list you made..

    • Tua – strangely, Indian food took some getting used to for me. I say strangely because I like spicy and weird food. But after a week or so I fell in love with the food and I miss it now!

  3. Adventures in Kevin's World says:

    Part of what makes indian food so fantastic is the dichotomy you describe – it looks revolting but generally tastes amazing. Unless of course its from the indian restaurant in Anchorage, in which case it really does taste like it comes from a baby’s diaper.

  4. Enjoyed your take on Indian food, that’s was awesome 🙂

    Yea, you are right, there is such mid boggling variety of food items are there in India and it differs from state to state.

    • Sreejith – so true. I loved the curries of the north, but the prawn curries in Goa were even better. I didn’t love the sweet dishes in Kerala, but other than that I love Indian food.

      I want a samosa for breakfast right now…

      • In Kerala, you should have tried Non-Veg 🙂 or Fish … 🙂

        Sorry Jeff, it’s past dinner time here, may be tomorrow we can try 🙂

  5. So here’s my question for you. When you are travelling and encounter new food, what’s the connection between looking good and tasting good, if any?

    • Good question. I think there is a certain psychology between looks and taste. In Guatemala they make black beans in many forms, one of which is a pureed paste. I don’t like it as much as the whole bean version and I’m not sure why. In India they have Thalis which I’m sure you are familiar with, which are like personal buffets. Some of the items look suspect but it all tastes pretty much amazing, provided you like spicy, flavorful food.

  6. So, I read your post, got really hungry and had to get something to eat. Sadly, it was just a piece of toast.

    I love everything you listed, well I guess not number 8. At least not that I will admit.

    Lately, we’ve been trying different indian cuisines and have had some amazing successes and a couple of failures. But it’s always fun. We’ve gone shopping at the different markets here in Denver and spend forever trying to figure out what the heck all the ingredients are that we need. Usually, we end up asking for help.

    • We took a cooking class in India and one in Thailand. I think overall, Thai food is simpler to make than Indian food. But Indian food is just so interesting. I feel like since they are vegetarians they have perfected making interesting food using spices, flavors, etc.

      You should really try #8, especially if you like chicken.

      • You’re right about the indian food. A lot of our indian recipes are quite elaborate and call for things I’d never heard of. We are mostly vegetarian and don’t really eat eggs or cheese, although we eat some fish and seafood, so a lot of the asian and indian cuisines work out well for us.

        I might have to give #8 a pass for now. I heard it was high in cholesterol.

  7. I always eat ‘weird’ things, so I think the only way travel has influenced my diet is that its made me not want to eat hummus as much… after having the real thing, the hummus here just doesn’t do it.

    • Great point! I should have mentioned that I don’t eat tomatoes or bananas in the states anymore. Hummus is the same. Did you know that Sabra, one of the major brands, use CANOLA OIL!!! What a travesty!

  8. I’m with you on just about the entire list Jeff, except for # 8. I’ll have to take your word on that one. We’ve tried Pad Thai at home and just can’t seem to get it right. It’s probably some strange ingredient that we don’t add. Bangkok baby – that’s where it happens, and when I’m in Bangkok, I practically live on Pad Thai. Falafel and Indian spinach dishes are other things that I love, and can’t make at home. ~ James

    • Pad thai is a complicated dish – even thais will tell you that. Between the noodles, soft and hard veggies, eggs and protein, it is hard to get it all just right.

      My falafel balls don’t usually stick together and just become one giant blog, but a delicious blob of garbanzo beans, herbs and spices, so it is okay. I haven’t even considered trying to make an Indian Spinach dip – that just looks like failure!

  9. Jeff I have a confession. I currently have minimal access to Ms Wifi. If I whisper sweet nothings and stand on my head I can see the first section of posts and when I hit like on your post that is what I had. Currently the goddess of internet access is feeling very generous. When I got to #8 I spit my Jamaican refreshment out as I burst into laughter. You are very hilarious,

  10. Oh I love the way to have described each of your fav food.. 🙂 loved reading it.. 🙂 Btw I love konjee n Tom Yum soup too other than Phad Thai when it comes to Thailand, French savoury crepes are heavenly.. The plain n simple Italian Margherita pizza.. The Belgian waffles with loads of cream n fresh fruits! Oh yes, you should try the dumplings in the North Eastern Indian States on your next trip.. They are called steamed momos & something to die for..! The English banoffee pie .. Wow 🙂 & my all time favourite is the chips, cheese & curry from Scotland!

    • I did have momos and really liked them also. I had them in Kerala at a place with many people from Kashmir.

      Chips, cheese and curry – I’ll have to look into that.

    • I’ll have to try this Pad Thai recipe. Thanks for sharing.

      My falafels fall apart also but that is okay – I just mash them all into the pita.

  11. haha #8…that’s so messed up! Also love the reaction to wine “This is like juice!” It is really fun to experiment when you’re traveling. I’m always in search of the speciality in that area, like Turkish tea in turkey or a pint of Guinness in Ireland. Probably not going to get better than the real thing 🙂

    • Kristina – We always look for the local specialties also, especially the local beer. Food is a great ambassador – it has had a greater influence than religion or language I imagine. Thanks for commenting.

  12. joerg says:

    From an article in the “Times of India”, Bangalore edition,
    a few years ago (2002/2003 ?):

    Reporters from the “Times of India” had checked with the local (Bangalore) municipal food inspection agency, who, even though being grossly overstaffed with a sizeable payroll, could not provide a list of all restaurants in Bangalore, nor could they supply proof of ever having inspected even one restaurant for general cleanliness, hygiene and freshness of produce and ingredients in the recent past.

    This is, of course, no surprise to anyone who ever observed a typical Indian restaurant, especially if one was able to peek into the kitchen.

    So, the “Times” sent out their reporters to quietly check out restaurant kitchens, their supplies and the food preparation and storage areas (under the guise of an official food inspection ?).

    The reporters came up with the simple conclusion that ALL restaurants visited by them (95% of which were vegetarian, we don’t even want to know what goes on in the so called non-veg, or “Military” restaurants) had serious problems with cleanliness and other health related issues. Moldy, wilting and just plain rotting vegetables were found in every one of them, cockroaches, rat and rodent droppings were more abundant than all the tea in India.

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