There are three things that are intricately linked and take on a vitally important role when you travel: jet lag, food and toilets. Traveling for over 24 hours straight, half way around the world, crossing 10 time zones does weird things to your body. First, you're more cranky than you've ever been in your life because you're more exhausted than you've ever been in your life. Second, you get waves of nausea and in the absence of sleep, because it's difficult to get sustained sleep on a plane, train, boat or cab ride from hell, the only other way to treat feeling like you're going to spontaneously empty your stomach, is by eating. Which is great for me, because I love eating. I'll eat just about anything, which in retrospect, has come back to haunt me many, many times.
After subsisting on subpar airplane food, finally, we'd arrived in Vietnam for breakfast and our first taste of real Vietnamese food. Probably the most well-known Vietnamese dish, pho (pronounced fa, as in fa la la). Beef with rice noodles and veggies served separately to add in. (I didn't take a picture after I put the leafy greens in because even after a full nights sleep, because I was still exhausted and also voraciously hungry.) Also, yes, this was breakfast. Many Asian countries don't have separate and distinct breakfast foods.
However, they do have coffee. Not Starbucks, although there is at least one 'Bucks in Ho Chi Minh City. We never saw it or McDonald's or any other American (or European) chain, which was so refreshing. Like we'd traveled back in time or something. Vietnamese coffee consists of slow filtered coffee that's sweetened with condensed milk. Yes, that stuff you use for baking. Did the French colonialists bring over cans of the stuff to make seven layer bars for their Christmas cookie exchange and unintentionally start this condensed milk coffee craze? Not likely. But, how did this tradition start? I have absolutely no idea.
But, I do know, I ate a lot of rice. Because I made a lot of assumptions. Like when I ordered coconut chicken that it would come with vegetables that were more substantial than garnishes. I was starting to worry. I was eating mass amounts of food, but I hadn't pooped in days. A girl's gotta poop, you know.
At least most meals were served with fruit afterward; nature's Metamucil. Although this dragon fruit (which tastes like a pear with the consistency and seeds like a kiwi) wasn't enough to do the job. Drastic measures had to be taken.
Committing a travel sin while we were sightseeing in a touristy city, we stopped for lunch at a cafe owned by a Brit that serves up fresh salads and juices. I felt like a traitor, but it had to be done. Luckily, it did the trick. Now, back to our regularly scheduled Vietnamese cuisine.
The second most famous Vietnamese dish; spring rolls. Meat (and/or tofu) rolled up with veggies in a thin sheet of rice paper with a sauce for dipping. In theory, this is a great dish. In reality, most of that roll is going to end up in your lap and not in your mouth, because rolling a spring roll must be an ancient art form taught from a very young age. Because I am incapable of using this delicate rice paper as an efficient vehicle to get its contents in my mouth. Also, I don't have a photo of it after I rolled it up because I couldn't figure out how to hold the roll in one hand and take a picture with the other. And again I was S-T-A-R-V-I-N-G because we had just hiked miles through the muddy jungle and spelunked through caves. So, when lunch is sprawled out on a tarp I sat my ass down, criss-cross applesauce and dug into the communal ingredients with my hands I rinsed off in the stream and stuffed my face. Before relieving myself in the facilities, a nearby tree, before making the long trek back.
Back in town we feasted on fried rolls filled with mystery meat. Was it dog? Which, yes, they do actually eat in Vietnam. Who knows?
I think this was pork, but it could've been cat.
Mussels really aren't my favorite. But, I'm here and so are they, so sure, why not?
I think I had one of the fried shrimp, because the kids ate them all.
Pork kabobs with figs and a spicy sauce. This was probably my favorite.
Fried pancake with pork and shrimp loaded with grease. I feel like I'm going to regret this later. And 20 minutes later when we were in the cramped market place and I was cramping up, I did. Where o' where could I regret this though? Like right now! Little known fact: a lot of travel time is spent going in search of a toilet. And not knowing if you will find one in time.
This is where I was, when the situation became dire and I ran off (literally) to find a toilet or at least a deserted alleyway. And I was at a point where I didn't care which, when I came across one. Stopping to pay the attendant for the use of the squat potty, but not sticking around to get the change I was owed. I never calculated how much it cost me to make a deposit in that hole in the ground, but it saved me my dignity. So really, who cares? Totally worth it.
That's almost the end of our gastronomic journey. Almost. Until we ate on a boat, which we don't have a good track record with. I offer up our food boat experience in Thailand a couple years ago as proof. (Click the link at your own risk.) Anyway, our lunch was cooked for us by a chef on our very own tour boat. The spread was huge, consisting mainly of seafood caught in the local fishing villages. Where the fisherman live on houseboats with toilets that are like the above squat potty, except that the waste isn't collected, it goes directly back into the bay with a plop. Of course, I wasn't thinking about that at lunchtime. At lunchtime I was thinking, no one's eating the shrimp, the chef that I'll never see again in my lifetime might feel slighted. Never mind that they aren't deveined. And that I'm really only eating them out of my own self-assigned guilt and obligation over the matter.
And that's how I got an intestinal parasite and the rest of my family was spared. Right before we began our 48-hour journey home. Luckily, my husband recognized the signs: severe abdominal cramps, nausea and/or diarrhea with frequent burps that taste like sulfur. He found a pharmacy and I started on antibiotics right before we got on the plane. My husband knew I felt horrible because I had no appetite whatsoever and wasn't eating anything. Which did melt off the vacation pounds I'd gained, so while it was miserable, it did end up being kinda win-win in the end.
And by the time we'd reached Taiwan, 24 hours of travel in, I was hungry and ready to take risk again. Would my parasite like apple pie and coffee for breakfast? I was eating for two after all.