February 19 2007

Be a traveler, not a tourist

There’s a motto I live by when I travel: Why should I eat at any restaurant I find in my own home town? It seems pointless to me. On my first trip to Japan in August 2000, one of the guys I met up with there ate Wendy’s almost every night we were there. It drove me nuts. I have a Wendy’s less than two miles from my house! If you’re going to go through the trouble of going some place new, then be adventurous and eat new foods! Expose yourself to what the world has to offer.

With that in mind, there is a show on the Travel Channel I love called Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. Anthony is a professional chef who has lived a “colorful life” and makes no bones about it. However, he has an acerbic wit, paints vibrant pictures with his words, and has a motto I love; “Be a traveler, not a tourist“.

And as if I didn’t have enough reasons to love him, two weeks ago he was a guest blogger on and the following to say of my girlfriend, Rachael Ray:

RACHAEL: Complain all you want. It’s like railing against the pounding surf. She only grows stronger and more powerful. Her ear-shattering tones louder and louder. We KNOW she can’t cook. She shrewdly tells us so. So…what is she selling us? Really? She’s selling us satisfaction, the smug reassurance that mediocrity is quite enough. She’s a friendly, familiar face who appears regularly on our screens to tell us that “Even your dumb, lazy ass can cook this!” Wallowing in your own crapulence on your Cheeto-littered couch you watch her and think, “Hell…I could do that. I ain’t gonna…but I could–if I wanted! Now where’s my damn jug a Diet Pepsi?” Where the saintly Julia Child sought to raise expectations, to enlighten us, make us better–teach us–and in fact, did, Rachael uses her strange and terrible powers to narcotize her public with her hypnotic mantra of Yummo and Evoo and Sammys. “You’re doing just fine. You don’t even have to chop an onion–you can buy it already chopped. Aspire to nothing…Just sit there. Have another Triscuit…Sleep….sleep….”

But I digress…

Back to what I was saying about trying new things (sleep…sleep…aspire to nothing), I think everyone has to remember something about “odd foods”. Just because they are odd to you, doesn’t mean they are odd to the locals of where you are. Even if you are traveling across country, try a local cuisine. If you travel to another country, I beg of you, try the local dishes! Sure, you’ll run in to some things you don’t like, but aren’t there things here in your own country you don’t like eating? Just because you don’t like one dish in another country’s cuisine, it doesn’t mean you write them all off.

So why did I mention the Rachael Ray thing? (beyond my hatred of the miserable little chipmunk cheeked harpie?) Just as he said she lulls you in to a sense of not aspiring to better cooking, I think the same can be said of Americans when we travel. We fear change, we want the safe and familiar. Watch an episode of Bourdain’s show, see how he’ll try an ostrich egg cooked in a dirt oven, or eat a dish made of rat, or the lower intestine of another animal. Some of it he likes, some of it he doesn’t, but doesn’t the old saying go “Nothing ventured, nothing gained”?

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