The other day in our food court at Singapore Airlines, I bought lunch at a stall called Fish Head Noodles. That’s not such a notable thing to people from this part of the world, but in the US, fish heads sort of, well, freak us out.
Tracy was the one who made me aware of the fact that I ordered my lunch from Fish Head Noodles. I was not even aware of it, which makes it all the more notable. The very fact that we are working in a place where Fish Head Noodles is the most popular stall used to give us a good chuckle. Not because it’s weird or wrong, but just because it’s so different from what we’re used to seeing every day.
In the Suntec City mall food court, there is a stall called Pig Organ Soup within eyesight range of an Auntie Annie’s Pretzels stand. That nicely encapsulates Singapore I think. It’s Southeast Asia with lots of ex-pats – ex-pat people, ex-pat food, ex-pat brands… Asia for Beginners, I’ve heard it called.
So maybe I’ve reached the point where I can order fish head noodles without thinking twice, but there are some things I still have some trouble with. For now, I think I’ll stay away from pig organ soup.
In Laos, I saw several street vendors selling grilled birds on a stick. I’m talking about three or four little songbird-sized birds, grilled on a stick, satay style. I saw an Aussie gobble one of these down.
I’m a pretty adventurous eater I think, but the songbird satay was a bit too fear factor for me. In Bangkok, late one night, I ate a handful of roasted cockroach-sized beetles that I bought from a street stall. I’m not sure why I find this less freaky than songbird satay, and I can’t satisfyingly explain to an orthodox vegetarian why any one meat is better or worse than another. Food literally becomes, well, us, and in that sense maybe our connection to it is too deep and innate to be fully explained.
You end up saying, “it’s just how I feel dammit.”
Anyway, beyond steamed chicken feet and foul-smelling durian fruit, there are a few less obvious things I’ve had trouble eating in Southeast Asia. The first one that comes to mind is cooked iceberg lettuce, which is almost always in porridge or congee. It’s all a discovery process, and it’s a whole lot of fun.