My absolute favorite part of traveling is trying new foods. I’ve eaten sushi in Japan, crickets in Cambodia, phở in Vietnam, pad thai in Thailand, tteok-bokki in South Korea, and a bunch of other amazing foods all over Asia.
My biggest food-related struggle when traveling is being a vegetarian. In some countries, it’s not so much of an issue, just more of an inconvenience. But in Japan, it can sometimes be considered quite rude to deny food that has been made for you. So whenever I’m in Japan, I relax a little on the vegetarianism and allow myself to eat broths and eat certain seafood.
My first ever time eating sushi was in Tokyo, at the famous Tsukiji Fish Market. I remember being very scared, because I had gone my entire life hating fish. I didn’t enjoy the smell, it seemed really slimy, and I couldn’t get over the idea that I would be eating raw fish. I talked myself into trying sushi though, because I knew that the sushi in Japan would be better than anything I could ever get in land-locked Ohio, and I knew that seafood has an important role in Japanese culture. I was not disappointed – my first time eating sushi in Tsukiji was just the beginning of a beautiful relationship between myself and raw fish. I’ll still eat sushi every once in awhile, particularly when I feel nostalgic for Japanese food.
As a vegetarian, I definitely had to get creative when looking for food. It’s hard sometimes not to feel like you’re missing out on some experiences, especially when food is such an integral part of a country’s culture. Something I learned is that Indian restaurants – which are really common in Japan and most of southeast Asia – are always vegetarian-friendly. There are also plenty of places that are Buddhist-friendly, and practicing Buddhists don’t eat meat, so there are lots of dishes for vegetarians. You just have to find the good dining spots!
By OGO Peer Advisor Mailé Nguyen