Food Craving: Travel edition


What you’re looking at is an example of a daily staple in my diet over here: fresh squeezed juice, fried bananas, squash, and taro. And as I said goodbye to the cranky fruit man for the last time yesterday, it got me thinking about the food you find yourself depending on abroad.

For me, going abroad has induced cravings which I can only assume must be on par with the intensity and specificity of the pregnancy type. I don’t know if I should call this emotional fulfillment or my-body-needs-this-give-it-to-me-now survival instinct. But after reflecting on our time in Ubon, I don’t think it’s a phenomena unique to me.

I first noticed these intense and specific tastes after a bout of food poisoning. After surviving 24 hours where my stomach was trying to rend itself from my body and escape through my throat, I was scared to put anything back inside … But when my hunger did return 48 hours later what did I crave?

Processed breads. Crackers. Donuts. Freakin’ garlic butter toast.

We all did. And we made sure we fulfilled that need. There was no taxi ride too expensive to ensure we treated our bodies to digestible fare. So, after each of our food poisoning episodes, we survived on refined buns of nutrient leeching flour to build our tolerance up again for the much less processed but suddenly much scarier local food.

The perplexing choices your body makes…You don’t appreciate a food back home, in fact, you may not even like it. And then, you see the shiny familiar looking wrapper in a store and your stomach takes a robot like control, much like Krang of the old ninja turtles cartoon. 

Krang: “PRETZEL DOG, NOW!!!”

A few weeks back I saw a snickers bar at 7-11 and I had that Krang-like reaction. Every other food option within my bike radius (pad-Thai, fried rice, stir-fry) suddenly sounded the equivalent of ingesting drywall. And if I wasn’t able to access that candy bar then and there, I knew I would die a long, slow nougat-less death.

So I ate three of them, one for lunch, two for dinner (with a side of pineapple and papaya of course.)

Cringe if you want, but I never felt sick. Instead, I was practically reborn.

What could my body have been lacking in my Thai diet that it needed to supplement with this American candy?

Well, there’s caramel (which never was a favorite of mine), peanuts (which are readily available in other forms), and chewy nougat (whatever that is)…but I think we all know it was just the processed combination conveniently wrapped up in a cradle of chocolate.

The craving isn’t just for junk food. I’ve had days where I practically crawled to the salad bar at Tops Grocery in the ritzy mall that you have to take a cab just to get to, and I filled my plastic container with uncooked, unprocessed, wholly recognizable vegetables.  I practically wept when the cashier handed me my container of greens and it was mine, all mine. And then I guarded it jealously until I was safely back in my room and no Thai cook could snatch it out of my hands and mush-ify with boiling pig fat and chili paste.

The craving works both ways too. It’s not just familiar American food you want. You discover something new and amazing, like taro chips, fried fruits, or spicy tofu on a stick and your Krang-like stomach commands: “THE KEY TO YOUR SURVIVAL IS THIS!”

Oh sweet taro chips. You are deceptively insubstantial, and then a whole bag is gone.

I can only attribute these strangely specific cravings to the adjustment you’re putting your body through by living in a foreign country. So no, I don’t think this is emotional eating and it definitely shouldn’t be over-eating. I think of it as the process your body goes through as it demands the things it’s lacking during the adjustment phase.

So, what will I be giving up when I go back to the States? Sweet fried bananas, squash, and potatoes from the grumpy fruit man… Pineapples and papayas from the sweet fruit lady. And a life-giving protein source I only just discovered the night before I had to leave it all behind… meat-on-a-stick from the street vendors.

As I’m just about to put my body through the re-adjustment to American processed foods, no doubt you’ll be able to find me rushing to the nearest Thai restaurant in Honolulu and inhaling chili paste and curry like there’s no tomorrow.

I just had one last snickers bar earlier today and it definitely failed in satisfying that void I’m currently feeling in my basic survival. The culprit? Meat-on-a-stick. Totally unreachable to me now. Dammit all.

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