Getting Used to the Cuisine in a Foreign Country

Posted on 09/01/2013

One of the more difficult adaptations that an expat may encounter has to do with unfamiliar food. The reason for this is relatively simple. As we’re growing up, there are several things that we learn to take comfort in. It might be a favorite stuffed toy at bedtime, the sound of a caretaker’s voice or even a favorite television show. But ranking high on the list is our favorite food. When you keep hearing that a fine restaurant may be good, but it doesn’t compare to the “home cooking from mom”, the quality of the food has little or nothing to do with it (unless mom is a gourmet chef). It’s the psychological comfort that the food (and surroundings) impart.

This, of course, is something that extends into our adolescent and adult years. The places, where we live, each has its own regional specialties that we associate with “home”. This all can change when we become expats. When you consider how difficult it is to make adjustments, later in our lives, you can see why adapting to a new cuisine can be rather difficult. Especially if you are going to live in another part of the world that has a completely different set of taste buds (or so it appears). For example, going from the United States to Canada is not such a big leap. But moving from the United States to China is a different story altogether.

In western cultures, caviar is considered a delicacy. In the Philippines, balut is considered a delicacy. For the uninitiated, “balut” is a fertilized duck egg with an almost complete duck fetus inside – feathers, beak and all the rest. In Japan, soups made with extra large cockroaches may be served to a guest of honor. Fortunately, most folks in foreign countries understand what is and what is not appealing to outsiders. But that doesn’t stop them from trying to get you “initiated” to their form of specialty foods. In my time in the Philippines, I have eaten six balut and I remember each one of them, even though I “had a few (the local rum)” during each occasion. I expect that number seven will elude me till the end of my days. Hopefully.

The best way for most of us to adapt to a different type of food is to isolate what foods are actually our “comfort foods” and find a way to secure them. Me, I’m fortunate enough to live near a large city and a couple of duty free supermarkets. In any case, as you’re adapting to the new cuisine, you may wish to consider not making a 100% change all at once. This will allow you to discover what new native foods you like and those you do not. Here, we have a very important point. It’s not necessary to express enthusiasm for every food that is served to you. Believe it or not, the locals just like people everywhere else, like some foods and dislike others. You, too, are welcome to express that discernment. Your honesty and genuine enjoyment for some of the local foods will be greatly appreciated.