Dan and I sat in a pizzeria in Tokyo on our last night before leaving for Indonesia. All that remained of my blandest-of-the-bland pasta in tomato sauce was lumps of aubergine and courgette, two of the many things on my list of things I hate to eat. It's not the taste. They have none. But they're squishy and this is upsetting. I was in a sombre mood because I (thought I) knew that no matter how tough Japan was for food, Indonesia was going to be a nightmare.
"Eat those courgettes then," Dan said. I stared at him, uncomprehending. "If you eat those 9 lumps of courgette and aubergine I will pack your suitcase for Medan."
I'm sort of an odd picky eater. I actually like loads of stuff, and after a lot of exposure I grow to like other stuff. My issue is that if I don't like something, I just can't eat it. Most people will power through, reasoning that they paid already, but not me. I'm also weird about meat in places I don't fully trust, which meant I spent most of our trip vegetarian, or eating McDonalds.
Indonesia terrified me for two reasons. Firstly I assumed the food would be crazy and spicy, and I'd read countless Trip Advisor forums about Bali Belly (you can guess), secondly I didn't want my fussiness to impact Anna and James. It's fine when it impacts Dan obviously. He actually uses my picky eating as an excuse to eat TGI Fridays all the time, pretending he would eat traditional Japanese fish soaked in goo if I wasn't so weird about it. But when other people are involved I either have to pay for, and not eat, weird food so as not to cause a fuss, or annoy everyone by making them get pizzas or burgers every day. Awful.
China and Japan were difficult enough. We ate mostly pizzas and burgers. They provide the nutrients required to live, but when eaten every day make you cranky and give you tummy aches. I had some rice too, not wanting to be a complete cultural philistine.
Aside from the actual consuming of food, travel brings another problem. Sometimes, because of transport and schedules, you'll have to go ages with no food. What's worse than McDonalds four days in a row? No McDonalds. When Dan (or men in general I find) doesn't have food, he simply gets hungry. He'd like some food, but he gets on with life. When I don't have food, my body and mind start shutting down. I can think of nothing else, and if things get in the way of food, I might murder them. This does not a good travel companion make. My Mum told me before I left to make sure I eat a lot because otherwise I'll be horrible company. We learned pretty quickly to always carry biscuits, but what do you do when you think food might be imminent? You're on the brink of death, but dare you ruin a potentially delicious pizza that could be right around the corner, by eating a KitKat?
So we sat in the Tokyo restaurant and I ate every single piece of aubergine and courgette. A revolutionary moment in my life. Dan claimed I hustled him and didn't pack my suitcase.
As it turned out, Indonesia was the easiest place by far to eat. They're big into vegetarian food, and all speak English so understand when you ask if it's spicy. They usually pause and say 'No not really...'. That's when you order something else. I discovered Nasi Goreng which is fried rice with lots of other lovely stuff in it, and ate it most days. I have already written about the riverside barbecue in Bukit Lawang where I caved and ate the chicken and fish.
Picky eating isn't the primary source of food-based distress when travelling. Even for the most adventurous palette, you're going to be eating out every day. And when people serve you food, they put yummy salt, sugar and fat in it because they want it to taste nice. The result is 5 weeks of rich food and a sore stomach. I don't know how people do it for years at a time.