The Perks (and Perils) of Eating Local When Living Abroad
Heading off to an exotic location for your next teaching contract means immersing yourself in a whole new culture… and cuisine. If you’re anything like me, the local diet of your new destination will have had about as much to do with your decision as the TEFL job itself. While living in a new county which so happens to serve up your favourite food may sound like a dream come true, there are also pitfalls to consider. Read through our top tips to ensure you make the most of an exciting new cuisine.
Watch the Wallet… and the Waistline
If you’re moving to a country where you, as a foreigner, are earning a pretty decent wage, chances are you’ll be able to afford to eat out whenever you feel like it. Going to teach English in a country like China or India (where super-cheap food is available on every street corner) means that by choosing local, down-to-earth restaurants, you’ll be able to eat out every day of the week. Even in traditionally more expensive countries, like Japan, if you pick wisely you could enjoy a meal out once or twice a week – certainly more frequently than you would do back home!
While this may sound like a dream come true for those of you who baulk at the idea of donning an apron, be aware that this dream can quickly turn into a nightmare. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that eating restaurant meals all the time really makes you pile on the pounds, particularly if you’re eating out at cheaper joints which fill you up on carbs like big bowls of rice and noodles. Also, even if the meals are super-cheap, it will still be as cheap (if not cheaper) to cook for yourself at home. Rather than spending a few pounds on a meal here and there, why not save up and treat yourself to something nicer once a week instead? Saving eating out as a special occasion rather than making it the rule helps you to control your spending, as well as watch your waistline.
Avoid Getting Sick
Wanting to eat out cheaply is all well and good, but at what cost? In countries such as China – where food hygiene standards are questionable or at least more relaxed – you can’t be too careful when it comes to picking where to eat. Many restaurants proudly display their food safety rating (happy faces in green making it easy to see who made the cut), but these are not always what they seem. While in some restaurants the sign may be a genuine indicator as to the quality of the food, in other places it’s more likely to be an indicator of who paid the bribe or not. You’re better off sticking to your instincts and making your own choice. Here are a few tips for making a good decision:
- Ask your friends and colleagues where they like to eat. You can’t get better advice than hearing of a place from someone who has actually dined there.
- Take a look at the customers – is this place popular and heaving, or are all the tables empty? If local people aren’t dining there, take that as a sign that this place is to be avoided!
- Late night street-side noodle stalls and meat-on-a-stick places are all too tempting after a night out, but there is another reason why these stalls only pop up at night. In China, you don’t need a hygiene licence if you operate after hours. Wherever you are, be wary of these ‘pop-up’ stalls and always make sure your food is cooked properly.
Staying Healthy Without Breaking the Bank
While you may have eaten a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables at home, if you move to teach English in a country with a different cuisine it can be difficult to keep up the habit. In some countries, fresh fruit isn’t eaten on a regular basis, so if you want to keep your fruit bowl stocked it can come at a cost. The best way to continue eating a healthy diet without spending a fortune is to eat locally and find out what is in season. While supermarkets may stock a variety of fresh products, they’re likely to have been imported and have a heavy price tag. Do your fruit and veg shopping at local markets where prices are lower, and where you can grab good deals when they’re flogging off in-season products.
No matter how much you think you love exotic food and will eat nothing but local when you reach your new destination, everyone goes through periods where you hit a sort of food fatigue. If you’ve lived in Asia, countless are the times you’ll think If I have to look at another bowl of rice I’m going to kill myself. In these times, the best thing to do is to give in and treat yourself to something foreign. Even in less-than-cosmopolitan areas, most supermarkets now stock a variety of Western foods. Eat Western on the cheap by grabbing the ingredients for a spaghetti bolognese, or something else simple yet satisfying that doesn’t require a million ingredients. Or, if you’re really in need of a treat, go out for dinner at a proper Western restaurant. This is even more fun if you live in a small town (or city) without such luxuries – plan a weekend away to a nearby city, see the sites and top it all off with a splash-out meal. Heavenly!
Looking for food in other countries?
- Choosing an EFL Destination: Food in Taiwan vs Food in Thailand
- A Beginner’s Guide to Indonesian Food
- Why to Teach Abroad: Food in Korea
Want more articles like this? Be sure to check out our Teaching Abroad Blog.
About the Author
Celia Jenkins is a freelance writer and TEFL-trained English teacher who spent five years teaching in Asia. She specializes in travel writing and writing for children, and has a penchant for knitting. Celia is the author of Knitted Sushi (easy knitting patterns for beginners) and Ben and Maki – Let’s be Friends (an English/Japanese bilingual picture book). To contact Celia about freelancing work, check out her Upwork profile