It was the one thing that made me seriously reconsider my decision to leave England behind to travel the world. The thing that I was most worried about facing and the only thing that had frequently reduced me to tears in the run-up to my departure.
I spent 6 weeks in Eastern Europe avoiding the inevitable and living in denial. My subconscious mind would not let me forget about it; I found myself waking up repeatedly in the early hours of the morning trembling and covered in sweat. An experience which worsened with every passing day.
On the 1st September 2011, I boarded a plane from Moscow to Taipei with sweating palms and a thudding heart, knowing that it was time. In just a few hours I would come face to face with the one thing I’d spent my whole life avoiding…
When I arrived in Asia, I had eaten Chinese food a grand total of once in my life. I’d only tried a few grains of rice and was still frightened of it. That is the extent of my inexperience.
To say that I was massively apprehensive would be the biggest understatement of all understatements.
As soon as I arrived at my hostel I met up with a group of people who were heading out for some lunch. I swallowed, noticing the lump in my throat before nervously agreeing.
The immediate sensory overload of stepping outside in Asia for the first time was unfamiliar and terrifying. A world of neon and horns, with wafting fragrances of foreign spices doing nothing to calm my nerves.
Arriving at a Taiwanese restaurant we were brought a menu in all Chinese. As I was unable to read Chinese my friends turned to me and asked me what I fancied eating.
I stared at them blankly whilst frantically trying to think of the name of an Asian dish – something that would prove to be impossible having never set foot inside of an Asian restaurant. I pretended to think about it until someone rescued me by naming something bizarre sounding. I quickly said I’d have the same.
I had no idea what I had just ordered. I just crossed my fingers and hoped it was edible…
And so there it was! Even now I still don’t know what it actually was. My attempt at describing it would refer to it as some kind of soup with noodles in, and some colourful lumps which were chewy.
It wasn’t the appearance that horrified me. No. It was the two black sticks resting next to the bowl. They silently taunted me, daring me to pick them up and use them to embarrass myself beyond all hope of recovery. I desperately scanned the room looking for a knife and fork, but alas…
I’d have to use the chopsticks.
I felt a chill run through my body at the thought of it. Now was the time to come clean to my friends and admit that I had never used chopsticks before.
“WHAT?!”, they stared at me with their faces showing a mixture of shock and amusement before they dissolved into hysterics. After having them repeatedly show me how to hold them and me ending up throwing more food over myself than I got in my mouth, I gave up.
I was going to have to use them The Lauren Way. I took one chopstick in each hand and attempted to scoop the food into my mouth that way. I attracted a lot of attention, and I’m pretty certain at one point I saw a guy videoing my attempts on his phone, but I was just happy that I was now competent at transporting the food from the bowl to my mouth.
As for the food itself…
To my surprise I found that I absolutely loved it!
I finished the whole thing and simultaneously felt every muscle in my body relax. This wasn’t so scary after all.
The next day I carried on my theme of trying new food, when my friend Max took me to the famous restaurant Din Tai Fung at Taipei 101 so that I could try dumplings and steamed buns for the first time!
Despite struggling with chopsticks once more I found that I loved both and was starting to think that maybe I could possibly become a fan of Chinese food…
Feeling that I had been a little too safe so far with my food choices, Micah of Search & Destroy offered to take me to the famous Shilin Night Market so I could try some of the crazy street food that Taiwan has to offer.
We walked past stalls selling stinky tofu, chicken feet, lumps of dried blood, various different parts of snakes and so much more.
It was there that I ate duck tongue.
Yes. I ate a duck’s tongue! You could buy four of them on a stick and to my horror they were still connected to the windpipe. They were surprisingly long and had the same texture as a human tongue.
It was freaky.
I forced myself to battle through the horror and nibbled gently around the edge. It was very, very chewy and really fatty as well as having a bone in the middle of it. I can’t say that I enjoyed the experience or that I would rush out for some more duck tongues anytime soon, but I am glad I had the experience.
My first meals in Asia were eye-opening to say the least. I realised that eating foreign foods and foods that look scary is not as intimidating and as scary as I originally believed. I am now so much more confident in trying new things and can’t wait to eat even stranger things during my time in Asia.
With my newfound
cockiness confidence, I now want to try as many strange things as I can find in Asia, so if you have any suggestions for me or if there’s something crazy and disgusting that you want me to eat while I’m here, leave a comment and let me know and I’ll do my best to hunt it down!