Thursday, October 5, 2017

What I’ve Learned from Eating Abroad

Inine_What_I've_Learned_from_Eating_Abroad_10.05.17I’ve been lucky enough to travel to interesting places. The trips I’ve taken in the last 10-15 years, during my “Primal period,” have been the most meaningful, rewarding, and downright enjoyable because I’ve been able to view other cultures and customs through the prism of health, nutrition, and human evolution. I bring something back every trip—a tip, an insight, an alteration of an existing conviction. Travel abroad isn’t just a good time. It’s educational.

What have I learned eating abroad?

There’s Something Uniquely Terrible about Wheat in the U.S.

I have the perfect level of sensitivity to wheat. I’m not celiac, but I’m sensitive enough that it affects me. If my sleep is bad, or I’ve had alcohol, or my stress is high, wheat reliably produces symptoms. But even those symptoms are manageable—mostly superficial bathroom stuff.

This means I’m quite attuned to the quality of wheat. Wheat simply doesn’t affect me to the same degree in other countries. When I was in Greece, a couple times I had some baklava after dinner or pita dipped in hummus or olive oil. Pita is unleavened. It certainly isn’t fermented. It’s about as unaltered as you can get. And it didn’t affect me. Granted, I wasn’t eating more than a piece in a single day. But a single slice of bread back home is usually enough to produce at least a few niggling symptoms.

I’ve noticed similar null responses to bread in France and pasta in Italy. I’m not sure what it is, exactly. Maybe it’s the ubiquity of dwarf wheat in the U.S., which is known to produce enhanced reactivity in celiacs and gluten-sensitives. Maybe it’s the Roundup many American wheat farms spray before harvest.

Portion Size Is a Big Factor in America’s Weight Problem

Although we tend to highlight the roles food quality and macronutrient ratios play in obesity and other diseases, we can’t ignore the role food quantity plays. One massive change from our ancestral environment is that in the U.S., you can go into the average chain restaurant and have a trough of seed oil-soaked carbohydrate with a quart of sugar water served up in a few minutes for under $15. The portion sizes are gargantuan. Salad bowls full of pasta, pizzas the size of manhole covers, plates of fries that arrive overflowing onto the table. You go pick up Chipotle burrito bowls for your officemates and it’s like carrying a golden retriever puppy in the bag.

I didn’t really notice this until I traveled abroad with Primal awareness.

You won’t get a large salad bowl filled to the brim with pasta in Italy. In China, you’re not being served 4 cups of white rice in a single sitting. Soda in Europe is served in small cups like you’d use at home, not 32 ounce tankards. It’s a small detail, but it makes a big difference.

Industrial Food is Addictive

I knew that the food industry employs top scientists who manipulate flavor combinations and ingredients to make the food extremely hard to resist and easy to overeat. But being in a place like Kauai, which isn’t “abroad” but until quite recently was a separate nation with its own history and tradition and culture, really hammered it home. Hawaii is a bounty of healthy local food. Fruit literally rots on the side of the road. There are banana trees in every yard. The drugstore sells local grass-fed beef. The seas teem with fresh fish, the forests with wild boar, and roadside stands sell ahi jerky and smoke meat (smoked wild boar). Every time I visit, I eat incredibly well. Staying Primal is easy and quite inexpensive.

Yet, native Hawaiians are the most obese ethnic group in Hawaii. They’re eating spam musubis (admittedly delicious), macaroni salad, tons of fried food. The most well-known dish—the plate lunch—usually consists of meat either breaded and fried and/or cooked in sweet sauce (teriyaki, usually), white rice, macaroni salad, and maybe an iceberg lettuce salad with seed oil-laden dressing. I get the distinct sense that “native foods” are viewed as quaint, eaten only occasionally alongside the industrial food, or just plain ignored. It’s a damn shame. but industrial food always wins. It’s supposed to, and that’s the problem.

Fasting Solves a Lot of Problems When Traveling

Long ago I decided fasting was a better option than eating whatever terrible food was available. These days, I look forward to it and consider travel my opportunity to fast. If food options are miserable in the airport or destination, I fast. I’d rather snack on my own animal fat than eat salads that have been sitting out for days or peanuts roasted in corn oil.

Then I figured out how fasting helped with another unavoidable aspect of travel: jet lagAirline food service typically hews to the schedule of the departure time zone. Food is a powerful circadian entrainer, so this prolongs your body’s adaptation to the new time. I hew my eating to the schedule of the arrival time zone. This hastens my body’s adaptation.

My last opportunity to eat will be dinner time back home. My next opportunity will be breakfast time at my destination. This can turn into a really long fast. If I leave early in the day before dinner, I don’t eat dinner on the plane. If I arrive at my destination at night, I wait till morning to eat. I’m ready for that breakfast, to be sure, but I also bring more energy to the first day of my trip as a result.

Walking Is the Best Way to Discover Good Food

The Old World wasn’t built for cars. It was built for pedestrians. You feel this when you go crawling through the tiny side streets and alleyways using only your senses and intuition as guides. These are better guides than star ratings and ego-driven reviews. They’re ancient, ancestral, Primal. They lead to adventure. Yelp and other restaurant review apps have softened us and killed the excitement of stumbling on a great new food spot. They turn trips linear. That’s a shame, because discovering something delicious out of the blue is one of the best parts of traveling.

A favorite meal in Bangkok happened at a breakfast cart serving jok, the Thai version of rice porridge. The family was sleeping and I got up to go for a walk. Rice porridge, pork bone broth, pork liver, pork kidney, ground pork, some type of bitter green topped with salted pickled chilis. It wasn’t in any restaurant guides (I looked). Maybe it’s on Yelp or TripAdvisor these days. But I never would’ve found it if I hadn’t gone walking and noticed the long line and incredible smells.

Go Where Locals Go, Not Where They Say to Go

Many times locals will change their recommendations based on what they think you’ll like. So, the Beijing taxi driver will take you to the place all the other tourists visit, not where he takes his wife for date night. What you want is to eat where the locals actually eat. See where the workers go for lunch, the businessmen for dinner, the laborers for snacks. Watch for teeming crowds, then go eat whatever they’re eating.

Eat the Local Specialty (Allergies and Intolerances Permitting)

Clichés can be tiresome. But they shouldn’t be ignored. They develop for very good reasons, especially when they involve regional delicacies.

Parmigiano-reggiano is not a fad in Modena. Place a crystalline shard on your tongue and try to deny its greatness. Beef is the real deal in Argentina. Eat a ribeye medium rare slathered in chimichurri with a glass of Malbec and call it a cliché. South African biltong destroys any jerky I’ve had back home, especially if it’s made from kudu. Carnitas street tacos with pickled carrots and chilis may be a cliché in Mexico, but you’ll eat three of them at a time if you know what’s good for you.

This being a Primal website, you’re probably leery of certain foods. People with established allergies or intolerances to certain foods should not eat those foods just because they’re the local delicacy. But if you have some leeway, if your physiology allows straying, if the symptoms aren’t that bad, by all means: Stray! Let it be part of the experience.

That said, “stray” does not mean gorge. “Try the hand-pulled noodles this old Uighur grandma serves with cumin lamb” doesn’t mean “Eat it every meal.” Sample. Taste. Enjoy. Appreciate. Move on.

Those are the general lessons I’ve learned from eating abroad. That’s what I’ve taken back, and it’s what I’ve used to extract large amounts of meaning and enjoyment from my travel experiences.

What tips do you have for eating abroad? What have you learned?

Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care!

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Sugarmoon

Thomas and I spent hours debating what to do the day after the wedding. We are taking an official honeymoon to the Mexican Riviera in two weeks, and so we didn’t want to take more than a day off of work post-wedding. But we wanted to do something special so that we weren’t just going home, unpacking, and going to the grocery store the next morning. We discussed going a mountain resort, hiking, doing a spa day, or spending the day in Richmond. Ultimately we voted just to stay put at the Clifton Inn for one more night so we wouldn’t have to pack up and leave right away.

When we woke up, we were SO GLAD we had absolutely nothing planned because all we wanted to do was relax! If I have any advice for brides-to-be, it’s to plan to do absolutely nothing the day after and postpone your honeymoon a week or two. That gives you time to unpack and re-pack and makes the days leading up to the wedding much less stressful.

Many of our family members stayed at the Clifton with us, which was extra fun. After the wedding was over and we had our sparkler exit, we were able to sneak back over to Grammie and Pea’s room and tuck Mazen into bed. He was so surprised and happy to see us! This photo melts my heart <3

Everyone gathered in the breakfast room in the morning, and we had so much to talk about!

We said our farewells one by one, and then around noon it was just us. We beelined to the pool!

We spent a few hours talking about how perfect the wedding was, snoozing, and reading our books.

The pool was freezing, but the hot tub was perfect!

The Clifton offers complimentary high tea at 3:30, and it was the perfect afternoon snack to tide us to dinner.

A mini ham and cheese sammie and two sweets!

Late in the afternoon we went for a stroll down to the dock, which is now “our spot” since it played such a sweet part of our wedding day.

We took the short hike around to the other side of the lake. It was simply beautiful on the most perfect crisp fall day!

Next we stopped into the bar to get some drinks to sip on the front porch.

We went back to the Carriage House to get dressed for dinner. This was the spot where I got ready and waited to walk out to the ceremony lawn and where we stayed for two nights. It was so lovely!

We had yet another beautiful sunny day so that we could enjoy dinner on the terrace. It was quite surreal to think that just 24 hours prior so many of our loved ones had been there too!

For dinner we had burrata and olives –

Beet salad and shrimp and grits –

And someone else’s leftover wedding cake! Lol! (Ours had all got eaten.) It was delish!

After our second night, we were ready to head back home. I carried the topper to our cake on my lap and felt like we were bringing a baby home from the hospital! Haha.

 

The end.

(For now!)

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