While studying abroad in Western Australia, one of my flatmates generously offered to cook everyone a nice steak dinner. I don’t ordinarily eat steak; I try to refrain from eating animals for which we need euphemisms to consume comfortably)\, but that night I made an exception. Free food is free food and “When in Rome,” right? I remember thinking that the steak tasted a little…gamey.
Hours later, upon finding the discarded packaging for the meat, I made an unsettling discovery: “Kangaroo sirloin, $11.” It was a peculiar sensation to realize that the animal carcass I’d been munching on was not cow, but an animal that I’d never seen in real life until recently. I felt like we’d eaten a sacred emblem of Australia, akin to eating bald eagle in America.
I’m not generally an adventurous eater; I tend to shy away from foods with eyes, tentacles, feathers or a heartbeat. I’ve had numerous opportunities to try unique dishes while living in Madison and have always resisted. Yet when I was in Australia, I became much more daring.
While out for fish and chips, I was offered fried squid. I shrugged and popped a piece in my mouth. A few days later I was urged to try cold octopus, suction cups still visible, and I agreed. I never would have tried these unique delicacies had I been at home. Why did stepping foot into another country suddenly change my tune?
We often toe the line between attempting to have an “authentic” experience and actually fetishizing another culture when we travel. I don’t think being in a different culture made me change my habits. Honestly, Australian culture is too similar to American culture for this to be the case.
Australia is not some magical, mystical land where everything was different; rather, it was the sensation of being uprooted, adrift and constantly a little lost that forced me to let go. Five months in Australia made me realize that eating weird food and pushing myself out of my comfort zone wasn’t scary, it was essential. Branching out added new and valuable flavor to my life.
Perhaps the reason the world looked different from the southern hemisphere had more to do with where I was mentally rather than physically. It’s not the culture that was fundamentally different, but how I felt within it. Everything around me was so new and strange that eating squid didn’t seem that crazy. The journey often made me feel uncomfortable and unsure, but it also made me willing to take any new experience that came my way. Now, no matter where I am, I savor every new experience and most importantly, try the food.