Given that today’s Chewing the Fat interviewees have been taking the travel blogging world by storm over the past year with their epic adventures through Asia, Europe and South & Central America, I assume everyone’s familiar with them. In case you’re not, however, a little introduction: Dan and Casey are two lovebirds, world travelers, and adventurers extraordinaire. Their website, A Cruising Couple, is all about adventure travel – with a dash of class. They enjoy being outdoors, working from trendy cafes, and gorging on Mexican food… something we talk an awful lot about in this interview!
If we have any regrets from our Big Trip, it’s generally that we frequently stumbled upon an awesome expat travel blog long after we had already come, seen, and eaten our way through the country in question. Such was the case with Dan & Casey. Back when we first discovered their blog, they were living and working as English teachers in Taiwan—one of our favorite countries when it comes to delicious eats and culinary indulgence. Little did we know that while we were prowling the streets of Taipei solo looking for our next great meal, Casey & Dan were nearby doing the exact same thing! Catching up on their blog, we quickly realized that this dynamic duo definitely knows how to eat and it pained us to no end that we had missed a chance to hang out with them in person. Since we didn’t get to eat our way through Taipei together, I decided it was time to make up for that oversight with the next best thing: this interview. After all, we all know that food brings people together—whether it’s actually sharing a meal, or just talking about it. I consider this interview an appetizer for when our paths one day cross again; I know it will happen because although the world may be a big place, we gastronomic globetrotters have a way of finding one another!
Read on as Dan & Casey discuss what makes Mexican food the best, North Carolina state fair delicacies (Krispy Kreme burgers anyone?), the pitfalls of getting “hangry” while traveling, and so much more!
We’re a big fan of “foodcations”—on more than one occasion we’ve taken trips motivated solely by the desire to eat our way through our destination. Of all the places you have visited in your travels, if you were limited to only eating the food from one country, which place would you choose and why?
Though it definitely wouldn’t be good for our waistlines, without a doubt Mexico. We recently spent two months in the country, and while admittedly that isn’t a lifetime, eating Mexican cuisine three times a day just never got old. Serve us huevos rancheros for breakfast, fish tacos for lunch, and mole for dinner (with a healthy serving of margaritas on the side) and we are two happy travelers. We love the variety of spices and flavors prevalent in Mexican cuisine, as well as the fresh, local, seasonal ingredients. We were also surprised to find a lot of the food in Mexico is actually a bit lighter than the food-coma inducing Mexican fare we’re served back home. Plus, each region of Mexico has its own local specialties; we didn’t even come close to tasting it all!
And the flipside: of all the places you’ve visited, which country had your least favorite food? Why was that and were you surprised?
We would have to say Costa Rica. While it’s not that we hated the food, we just found that there wasn’t a ton of diversity. Most local meals were rice, beans, a fried meat, and sometimes a few uninspiring veggies thrown in. Eating out is also expensive, so we felt like we didn’t explore the regional cuisine as fully as we could have. Even sticking to our golden rule of ‘eat where the locals eat’, we struggled to find dishes for under $10 a meal. Of course, now that we’re in Norway, $10 sounds like a steal! But while we didn’t find the main dishes to be that memorable, the coffee and chocolate were two redeeming factors that made Costa Rica a tasty place to explore—that and the great international cuisine around the country. We had some of the best sushi of our lives in a small beach town called Santa Teresa.
What’s the most exotic/adventurous edible you’ve sampled and what did you think about it?
We tried a lot of weird body parts when we were in Asia… We’re Americans, so typically we are pretty picky when it comes to what parts of an animal we feel comfortable consuming. But as you guys know, in most places around the world they don’t let anything go to waste! While I won’t say that various organs or intestines ever grew on us, we did give them a try. We did eventually become fans of jellied pig and duck blood, not on its own but incorporated into soups and sausages. And then of course there’s stinky tofu—but we’ll talk about that later!
Many travelers mention succumbing to McDonald’s or other fast food cravings while on the road… what is the guilty pleasure food that you indulge in when traveling?
McFlurries are our Achilles heel. We don’t actually crave fast food in the way of burgers or fries, but we do love our McDonald’s ice cream. If it’s been a while since we’ve seen a McDonalds and we happen to pass one on the road, Dan and I don’t even have to say anything to each other. We just both gravitate inside to order two oreo McFlurries. We also love wine and cheese, which is a bit of a guilty pleasure that we indulge in no matter what region of the world we’re in. It was certainly a splurge when we were living in Taiwan, but so worth it every time.
Sometimes you don’t know a good thing until it’s gone! What’s the one food you miss the most when you’re traveling?
After leaving Taiwan we found ourselves craving beef noodles a lot. We used to eat them at least two or three times a week during the two years we lived there, so it was a bit hard to let it go! The one thing we miss from home though is probably Trader Joes. Does that count? We don’t really miss one food per say as much as we miss the convenience of going into a healthy grocery store where we can easily make our purchases and know what it is we’re putting into our bodies.
If you knew we were coming to visit you in your hometown, what would be the one food you would make sure we tried?
This is a hard one! Being from North Carolina, a lot of people are pretty insistent that we have the best barbeque in the world (though honestly I don’t think I’ve ever gone out of my way to eat it). Similarly, some North Carolinians also feel deep southern roots. But we never really related to that, so saying we would take you for true southern cuisine just sounds a bit weird! If you came during the State Fair though, it would be easy: Deep-fried snickers and Krispy Kreme Donut Burgers (literally, a burger with two donuts for the buns.)
One of the (many) reasons we envy you is because you lived in Taiwan for two years; we LOVED the food in Taiwan, so that sounds like foodie paradise to us! Did you know much about the food there before you arrived? What was your favorite dish that you discovered there and would recommend all visitors seek out? What was your least favorite?
We knew absolutely nothing about the cuisine in Taiwan before arriving. We assumed it would be a lot of rice, which we were correct about, but we were pleasantly surprised by many of the local dishes. Beef Noodles, or soup with beef and noodles, will always be our favorite. At first we didn’t really get why it was so special, but then we went on to eat the soup, like, three times a week. We loved the grapefruit green tea from the tea stands, and often chose that over the less healthy Bubble Tea. There’s also this fun fried shrimp and pineapple dish that is coated in mayonnaise and sprinkles—an interesting culinary affair for sure. Finally, we really miss Suan La Tang, or Sour and Spicy Soup. One of our Taiwanese friends taught us how to make the dish, but it’s not always easy to find congealed pig’s blood. In terms of our least favorite, we could never really learn to appreciate chicken hearts on a stick or fried duck tongue. We would have definitely needed a few more years for those.
Since you guys are A Cruising Couple and you’ve actually been on a cruise, we’ve got to ask you about the food you ate while onboard! How does cruise dining differ from the way you normally approach food when traveling?
The food aboard cruise ships is absolutely delicious. We have no idea how they feasibly keep and prepare all the food on a boat for so many people. But cruise food is also dangerous. You can order every dessert on the menu and the waiters won’t even judge you (or at least they’ll pretend like they don’t). Normally when we’re traveling, we consider the price, how ‘authentic’ the meal is, the general vibe of the restaurant, and if it’s a local business. But when you’re on a cruise ship, you just sit down, choose between the days’ offerings, and enjoy. It’s definitely a fun experience, but only for a brief period of time.
One of our favorite posts on your site was when you revealed how getting “hangry” is your Achilles’ heel. For those not in the know, can you explain the essence of “hangriness” and what steps other traveling couples can take to avoid it?
Oh man. Being ‘hangry’ is the absolute worst. The word comes from a witty combination of the words ‘hungry’ and ‘angry’, and is the direct result of being angry only because you are actually hungry. I think it happens to everyone, but unfortunately the ramifications of hangriness are unleashed on those poor travel companions who just happened to have a more filling breakfast than yourself. We try to avoid getting hangry by always keeping snacks on hand. Unfortunately we often eat all said snacks when we aren’t all that hungry, thus leaving us unprepared for when hangriness actually sets in. But I suppose that’s another issue entirely. If we notice one person is become a bit easily irritated though, we always stop what we are doing and fuel up. Also, healthy snacks are your friend, and we find they help with general energy levels and moods.
We’ve talked on our own site about how there is nothing more foul than the smell of durian. BUT if there was one thing that could challenge it for the stink crown, it would probably be stinky tofu. In your own words, please describe as best you can the nature of stinky tofu’s aroma. Also, we know you two never took the plunge and tried it for yourselves while living in Taiwan… do you regret that choice or stand by it?
Well, it’s certainly aptly named. Stinky tofu sort of smells like raw sewage, but it’s a bit more pungent, and has the ability to waft through large spaces. The worst was when we were training for our marathon and we would pass a stinky tofu stall at about mile fifteen. Really, nothing makes you want to vomit more than that. Despite it all, we did end up trying stinky tofu, actually on more than one occasion. We’re definitely glad we tried it. You can find less smelly varieties of stinky tofu; we recommend starting out with one of those and working your way up to the really rancid stuff.
Let’s talk desserts: we’ve noticed traveling through Asia, that the desserts over here are often pretty weird and frequently include weird ingredients that we generally wouldn’t think to include in a sweet dish (e.g., various types of beans). What’s the weirdest dessert you sampled during your travels through Asia? Are there any Asian desserts that you actually enjoyed?
I have to agree with you that the desserts are a bit strange at times. We’re huge chocolate lovers, and I don’t think we ever got over the depression that sets in when your chocolate chunks actually turn out to be red beans. I think the weirdest dessert would probably be shaved ice (which is delicious) but then smothered in sweetened condensed milk, beans of all colors and sizes, pudding, and a generous heaping pile of taro and tapioca balls. It was just a bit too much of everything.
We did love Sinh To in Vietnam though. It’s like a smoothie, but with ice, sweetened condensed milk, and fruit that you mash up with your spoon. Without these sweet treats, I don’t think we would have made it through our cycling trip.
Bonus Question: What’s your favorite bubble tea flavor?
Definitely the original version, though we do ask for it with about a quarter of the normal sugar content, you know, to make it healthy and all…
Massive thanks to Dan & Casey for diving headfirst into this interview and taking us all along on some of their eating highs and lows as they’ve slowly but surely conquered the world. I can’t wait for the day we get to meet and devour a tiny slice of the globe together—I just know it’s going to be epic! I’ve yet to make it to a state fair (sad but true!) and it sounds like the one in North Carolina is not to be missed! Krispy Kreme donuts for all!
ATTENTION FELLOW FOODIES! Want to be featured in a future installment of Chewing the Fat? Great! We’re looking for new people to dish about dining with! As I said above, you don’t have to be a long-term traveler, or even have your own blog to participate; all you need is a healthy appetite and an appreciation for food. Contact Us letting us know that you’re interested in taking part in this series, and we’ll get back to you with all the information you need to get started.