This term of culinary tourism is new to me. I imagine myself gliding through life not knowing I was a tourist, curious about other cultures and tastes. The truth of the matter is that I don’t think I have given much thought to other culture’s culinary experience until this year. Usually, I would just follow my friends to the restaurant of their choosing and wanted to taste something delicious. The chapter on “Tasting an Imagined Thailand” really got me reflecting on my experiences with “authentic” food and what was all staged for my pleasure.
Some years ago, when Thai restaurants began to popup everywhere, our town received “TN Thai.” This was a lovely little Thai place in the midst of our downtown and it was good food. The experience was also fun; it was different from my own dining style, yet drew enough parallels that I wasn’t freaked out or anything. Before every meal they brought out multicolored chips that looked like styrofoam and had a nice crunch to them before they melted in your mouth. (Upon a small internet search, I was able to distinguish these as shrimp chips.) This was comparable to potato chips before a meal, paralleling like a pro. Next, I would order a meal with rice, eggs, chicken, peas, carrots, and other vegetables. Easy enough, the veggies were like the one’s my mom cooked as a side dish, this; this was familiar. I played it safe every time I went there because I wanted to be satisfied with my meal on a taste basis. I repeat, I was not looking for some adventurous experience that would open my eyes to a new culture. That was NOT me. For example, when it came to the spiciness of ingredients, I was all for “’All meals are individually prepared and suited to your palate.”’
During my first year of college, my friend Tay became a huge influence on my life for many different reasons. Zeroing in, she really helped me to channel my adventurous attitude into acceptance and exploration of “otherness.” Tay studied abroad in Thailand and throughout LandSea, a backpacking trip sponsored by the college, she would tell about her experience. I became curious of far away places and different cultures. I remember one particular evening, Tay and her Thailad study abroad friends let me tag along to a Asian market in Kalamazoo to buy some food for the night. They purchased different veggies, rice, and spices. They cooked this kind of stir-fry and offered me some. So I gladly excepted because I was hungry like always. As I started eating this food, I realized my mouth was actually on fire. I ate the food as fast as I could because I wanted it to be over as soon as possible. I just wanted this taste to go away, but as I swished water around it just spread all over my mouth. They had been used the spice from their journey to Thailand, yet it was so foreign to me that it was a culture shock at the least. I love experiencing new cultures and definitely try to be “authentic” even though that is a malleable word. My authentic encounter with Thai food may not have been the most idealistic one, but I learned putting yourself out there is something within itself.