Wide Awake in Wonderland

We’re only dancing on this earth for a short while

When bon appetit goes bad October 28, 2008

Years ago I went on two-week trip to Thailand. Overall, it was a great experience except for one little tiny glitch – I loathed Thai food. Just the smell of it on the streets would make my stomach turn. I got by on a mishmash of Power Bars, McDonalds, and poorly executed versions of Western classics. You never know what will get lost in translation: breakfast sausage and canned cocktail wieners were considered interchangeable.

Nonetheless, all was well until the day we found ourselves in a small village near the Burmese (Myanmar) border, and there was nothing but Thai food. Absolutely nothing. For three days. Never much of one for food strikes, I put on a brave face and ate most of the rice and as much as I could tolerate otherwise. They say no good deed goes unpunished, and within twelve hours, I was brought to my knees by a ferocious bout of food poisoning. I honestly thought I might die. Somewhere out there are pictures of me lying on a hammock, looking up to the heavens, and praying for a swift death.

This little tale is made extra ironic by the fact that for somehow I was convinced to try Thai food again…and now I really like it.

Anyway, and in contrast, this trip has been a breeze. Minus the very occasional and comparatively mild digestive disturbance, I’ve eaten the local, the freaky, and even the scary (from a hygiene perspective, anyway) without trouble. In fact, street food has been a good friend along the way. I’ve found I like being able to pick up a corn on the cob for my walk across the Bosphorous, and I rarely say no to a roasted chestnut.

However, I must confess that I have hit a food wall. By and large, I can’t do it any more. I’m done. The mere sight of the giant meat log from which the schwarma/kepab/kebab/gyro is cut now turns my stomach like the Thai food of yore. The thought of drinking any more salty yogurt, eating another piece of goat-derived cheese, or laying down good money for some cold eggplant makes me ill. The food isn’t making me sick – I’m just sick of it.

Now I imagine this next suggestion may hurt some feelings. I mean no harm, but I really do think that the Greeks and the Turks must have sat down and drawn up their national cuisines together. You could blindfold me and present me with a ‘best of’ plate from each country, and I swear it’s pretty much the same exact thing. The only clear differences are the names:

  • pastry with either spinach, cheese or ham inside

  • yogurt in varied and sundry forms

  • olives, olives, olives

  • salty crumbly cheese made from goat milk

  • a clear alcohol that tastes like licorice and turns cloudy if you add water

  • meat on a stick

  • fourteen different oily salads made of cold eggplant

And I’m not saying any of this is BAD, I’m just saying I’ve been eating it for almost a month. And I’m starting to hate it. And I think I’m ready to go home. To a large degree, I look forward to the cornucopia that is our lack of food identity. Sure, we have too many choices. Sure, overall we’re way too fat and dying faster than anyone else. But I swear, if there’s anything better than being able to eat from the menu of any country, nationality, or creed for breakfast, lunch, and dinner…I don’t know what it is.

I’m sure the day will come that I crave a Greek salad rather than shudder at the thought one, or find myself trying to make a chicken gyro and tzatziki in my own kitchen. It could happen. It probably will. But for now, having discovered an actual jar of peanut butter in the local grocery store, it’s PB&J and Pilav (rice pilaf) until I am back on my own turf. And I couldn’t be happier. Bon Appetit!

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