Lauren Vs. Food: My First Week in Asia


Dumplings
Dumplings

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.

My nemesis.

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…

Asian food.

Gulp.

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…

ramen in Taiwan

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!

xiao long bao at Din Tai Fung in Taipei

Steamed buns at Din Tai Fung Taipei

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.

eating duck tongue in taiwan

eating duck tongue in taiwan

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!

Previous 24 Hours in Moscow
Next The Hello Kitty Restaurant in Taipei

35 Comments

  1. Jaime
    October 3, 2011
    Reply

    Wow I can’t believe you had neve had ASIAN food before. I love ASIAN food. One of the things I look forward to the most when I am there. As for chop sticks you will get the hang of them it took me a while and Im now a pro. Glad you gave the food a chance and liked it. I have to admit that on the road I still most of the time have no clue what I am eating. I will ask for something and hope its something I know and if not I just go for it & most of the time it is good.

    • Lauren
      October 4, 2011
      Reply

      I am MUCH better at using chopsticks! I hold them differently to everyone else but it works for me! A lot of the time in China I’ve just had to point at the prettiest character and hope it’s something edible! I haven’t had anything disasterous yet…

  2. Amanda
    October 3, 2011
    Reply

    Good for you for being a bit adventurous! (And for admitting that Asian food scares you! Some of it scares me a bit, too… lol.)

    • Lauren
      October 4, 2011
      Reply

      It IS scary! They have some of the weirdest foods I’ve ever seen! Pea flavoured crisps anyone??

  3. Gerard ~ GQ trippin
    October 3, 2011
    Reply

    Congrats on popping your chopstick cherry! You’ve now opened countless eating opportunities in Asia with your new found skills! Beef tongue is quite delicious too if you’ve never tried it. Not as chew as duck tongue too probably. =P

    • Lauren
      October 4, 2011
      Reply

      Hahahaha :) Duck tongue was RIDICULOUSLY chewy, I couldn’t eat anything that chewy ever again!

  4. Micamyx|Senyorita
    October 3, 2011
    Reply

    I love Chinese and Japanese food, but i never mastered the art of using chopsticks! I always ask for spoon and fork when i eat hehe :D Go here in the Philippines and we also have some sets of quirky foods hehe

    • Lauren
      October 6, 2011
      Reply

      Yeah, I’m slowly getting the hang of it but it’s so unnecessarily complicated!!

  5. Leah
    October 4, 2011
    Reply

    I can’t believe you’ve never had Asian food! For some reason that just cracks me up. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Asia, and I must say that there are plenty of things I won’t eat. Cheers to you for trying the duck tongue. I don’t think I would have.

    • Lauren
      October 6, 2011
      Reply

      I know, everyone I’ve met has found it amazing that I’ve never eaten it before!

      Ducks tongue is the weirdest thing I’ve tried so far… I’ve been too scared to try anything else crazy!

  6. Steve
    October 4, 2011
    Reply

    I live in China and have tried most things, from turtle and seahorses to pig lungs and intestines. Most of it’s surprisingly delicious…except the intestines.

    • Lauren
      October 9, 2011
      Reply

      Oooooh, turtle sounds interesting! I’d eat that! Lungs and intestines… Not so much!

  7. Michael Hodson
    October 4, 2011
    Reply

    You crack me up — from regular calamari to duck’s tongue…. you are starting to get there. Who knows what you will be eating in a month!

    • Lauren
      October 6, 2011
      Reply

      I can’t see me getting any more extreme…

  8. wandering educators
    October 3, 2011
    Reply

    yay you!!!!!!! i love asian food. glad you’re a convert!

    • Lauren
      October 4, 2011
      Reply

      And the more I eat, the more I love it! :D

  9. Annette | Bucket List Journey
    October 4, 2011
    Reply

    I ate lambs tongue and if ducks tongue tastes anything like that, than…EEEWWW! But, kudos to you for taking Asian food by the balls…or rather tongue ;)

    • Lauren
      October 6, 2011
      Reply

      I’m keeping clear of the balls!

  10. Claire
    October 4, 2011
    Reply

    Ha ha! What a great story. If my mum heard it she would say “bless your little cotton socks” :)

    • Lauren
      October 9, 2011
      Reply

      Hahahhaa! Glad you liked it :)

  11. Sunee
    October 4, 2011
    Reply

    Wow, duck tongue. Bird lovers everywhere are shuddering at the thought, but well done anyway. When you said you were ready to step out of your comfort zone you really weren’t kidding :) And don’t worry, I’ve been eating Asian food for years and chopsticks still baffle me.

    • Lauren
      October 6, 2011
      Reply

      At the time I didn’t really think ducks tongue was such a big deal, but judging by everyone’s reactions it is! :D

  12. Alouise
    October 4, 2011
    Reply

    The Lauren way of using chopsticks is pretty much how I use chopsticks too. Anyway for this being your first experience with Chinese food has been pretty brave. Good for you for pushing yourself and trying something new.

    • Lauren
      October 8, 2011
      Reply

      Hahaha, excellent! That’s the best way to use them! :)

  13. Jordan
    October 4, 2011
    Reply

    Congratulations on stepping outside your own boundaries! That’s a huge step.

    • Lauren
      October 9, 2011
      Reply

      Thanks! :)

  14. Akila
    October 4, 2011
    Reply

    Yay! What a happy story. To be honest, I was never that huge of a fan of Chinese food, either (and I love food) until I went to China. And, the food there – WOW! If you’ve got a big group, definitely head out to a Mongolian Hot Pot place because they are awesome and though not crazy weird, definitely get some traditional crispy duck in Beijing. And, jiaozi. Eat lots and lots and lots of jiaozi.

    • Lauren
      October 12, 2011
      Reply

      I got some of the duck in Beijing and it was AMAZING!

  15. Aussie on the Road
    October 7, 2011
    Reply

    I think my first real test as a traveler was eating raw sea cucumber inside of my first month in South Korea. I survived and haven’t looked back since.

    Good on you for going head on and just embracing it :-)

    • Lauren
      October 12, 2011
      Reply

      Shudder… Raw sea cucumber doesn’t sound fun!

  16. nina
    October 20, 2011
    Reply

    Glad you’re enjoying Asian food and is quite gung-ho about trying out the more exotic fare!

    In the Philippines, try isaw (grilled chicken intestine), bilog (grilled pig’s intestine), dinuguan (pork blood stew), balut (fertilized duck embryo). Enjoy! :D

    • Lauren
      October 24, 2011
      Reply

      …. Those sound delicious! ;)

  17. Kurt W
    January 19, 2012
    Reply

    Great line about the chopsitcks taunting you. I think we all had that first meal when we realized that we wouldn’t be full after getting a few grains of rice or two noodles per attempt.

  18. Olives
    November 18, 2013
    Reply

    I’ve just discovered your blog 50 days before my partner and I go to SE Asia for three months.

    It’s so refreshing to find a blog that is from someone so normal. It’s amazing that you’ve done so much while being; petrified of flying and Asian food, stupidly clumsy (like me) and prone to motion sickness. To see that you’ve had such a good time reassures me that I’ll survive too.

    Your packing tips are really helpful and the posts are written in such a lovely way. Keep up the awesome work :-)

    • Lauren
      November 21, 2013
      Reply

      Wow, thank you so much, Olives. That means a lot to me :-) I’m very glad I forced myself out of my comfort zone and tackled the scary foods and the fear of, well, everything. It’s helped me to develop as a person and I’m actually not so bad with food now!

      Enjoy Southeast Asia! :-)

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