Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Amazing Race 17, Episode 5

Riksgränsen (Sweden/Norway border) - Narvik (Norway)

This week on The Amazing Race 17, twenty-year vegetarian Kat and her partner Nat had to eat the meat of a whole sheep’s head to win the “Fast Forward” and get ahead of all the other teams in the reality-TV race around the world.

There’s more reality in eating challenges like this — which have become one of the more contrived and predictable staples of The Amazing Race — than one might think. Sometimes in a foreign country you don’t know what you will be served, or what it will contain, until it arrives at the table. And while in a restaurant you don’t usually have to eat what you ordered (as long as you pay for it, of course), in a private home or some other settings there may be no way not to eat what’s put in front of you without giving grave offense.

If you are going to turn down certain food(s), “I can’t eat…” is much more likely to be understood, and to be socially acceptable, than “I don’t want to eat…”

It varies from place to place whether people are more understanding and accepting of religious or medical reasons for “can’t”. In China, for example, with dietary restrictions as with not smoking, it’s usually assumed to be a medical issue (allergy, illness, injury, or occupationally or environmentally-induced sensitivity) while in India there’s enough diversity of religious dietary rules that “I can’t eat…” will generally be taken as a matter of faith.

But you might find that some foods that you initially find disgusting aren’t really so bad, if you give them a try. You are unlikely to be served anything poisonous or genuinely inedible. Remind yourself that whatever it is that you have been served, some people probably eat it every day, while others probably consider it a rare treat.

Who knows, you might even develop a taste for it! A common experience is to discover, after the fact, that something unidentifiable that you liked, or at least found innocuous, actually contained some ingredient that you would have assumed would taste terrible.

If there’s something you really can’t eat, be prepared. My usual travelling companion has some food allergies, so I’ve been through this around the world. At the first opportunity, have someone write, “I can’t eat…” for you in the most widely understood local language, so you can show it whenever you order food. To minimize the chance of misunderstandings, try to keep the note as simple as possible, rather than going into any inessential details or any explanations beyond “can’t”.

A good place to find someone to do this for you is at the departure gate while you are waiting for your flight to a new country board, or on the train, bus, ferry, or the like. There’s usually plenty of time, everyone is bored, and you can usually find a person who is returning home to your destination and who can understand your request well enough to translate it into a simple note. Such a polite request can serve as an opening to a larger conversation and more education and advice about the place you are headed.

In places where many food sellers are illiterate, you can still make use of such a note as long as you can find a bystander or fellow diner literate in the local language — even if they know no English — who can read and explain your note to, for example, an illiterate street vendor.

Link | Posted by Edward on Sunday, 24 October 2010, 23:59 (11:59 PM)

Interesting point. There are a lot of countries though that in the way they prepare food that would make many of us ill. My travels abroad are limited but I have found myself in situations where I tried to eat something so not to offend anyone but my system just couldn't handle it. So I think I would rather offend someone the next time around than to get sick in a foreign country again. It really puts a damper on your vacation.

Posted by: sixer, 5 November 2010, 05:40 ( 5:40 AM)

After living off and on in Bali Indonesia I have been in several situations where the spices and ingredients were not going to be welcoming. It's best to eat around what you can and drink lots of water. Be slow about it and if you can blend it with rice.

Posted by: Thomas, 15 November 2010, 04:19 ( 4:19 AM)
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