This week we are so happy to welcome one of our favorite travelers to Chewing the Fat, the lovely and talented Expat Edna! Edna is a serial expat currently based in Paris. She first moved abroad at 18 and left the US for good after graduating college, spending three years working in media and journalism in China and Singapore. Now in her fifth year abroad, she moves around the world covering international sports events and can be found writing about her travels and life in Paris at Expat Edna.
Edna is one of the many amazing people we have been fortunate enough to have met while on the road. Not only was she kind enough to meet up with us while we all happened to be in Singapore over the Christmas holidays (Yet more proof that our site is woefully behind!), but she also took it upon herself to act as our dining guru and shared some of her favorite eating spots in the city/state/country with us. Naturally, her recommendations constituted some of our very best meals in Singapore; given that Singapore is one of the world’s top culinary hot spots and positively chockablock with delectable comestibles, that’s no small feat!
If you’re ever in the same city as Edna, you owe it to yourself to see if you can get her to share a meal with you. For those of you not so lucky as that, read on—her interview here is the next best thing!
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?
My two absolute favorite cuisines in the world are Chinese and Thai — I could eat nothing but that for the rest of my life and be totally happy. But I can’t decide between the two, so I’m going to cheat a bit and say Singapore, as it has both!
And the flipside: of all the places you’ve visited, which country had your least favorite food? Why was that and were you surprised?
I’m not a huge fan of Indonesian or Malaysian food, which is surprising given I love almost every other Asian cuisine out there. But something about the spices and herbs in those dishes don’t appeal to me — you’ll never find me craving nasi goreng or murtabak.
What’s the most exotic/adventurous edible you’ve sampled and what did you think about it?
Well there’s a lot of foods other people consider “adventurous” that I consider quite normal due to my Chinese upbringing. For instance, I LOVE century eggs, pork floss, and red bean ice cream. Some of the things my friends couldn’t be paid to eat, I’ll gladly eat for breakfast on a daily basis.
So I can’t think of anything terribly adventurous outside of that, but I did try kangaroo kebabs while I was in Australia. It tasted like chicken — I’m totally kidding. It tasted like beef.
Many travelers mention succumbing to McDonald’s and other fastfood cravings while on the road… what is the guilty pleasure food that you indulge in when traveling?
Subway. I have no shame in admitting I love Subway. It’s my comfort food, hangover food, budget-friendly food…satisfies all my needs, man.
Sometimes you don’t know a good thing until it’s gone—If there were one food from back home that you could eat RIGHT NOW, what would it be?
Anything prepared by my mom or dad. My parents are both from Shanghai and excellent cooks – I was the only kid I knew grewing up who loved broccoli and cauliflower and preferred fish to red meat. The Shanghainese have a magic way with vegetables and seafood.
If you knew we were coming to visit you in your hometown, what would be the one food you would make sure we tried? (If you would like, you can answer for both Pennsylvania & Paris!)
If you ever came to visit me in Pennsylvania, the first thing I’d ask is why, because I’m from a small town where Olive Garden and Red Lobster are the nicest restaurants around. So I’d probably take you on a road trip to nearby Hershey to visit Hersheypark, or Lancaster (which is Amish county) to try Amish jams and whoopie pies. The PA Dutch make damn good whoopie pies.
Paris on the other hand, now that is a tough call. I’d say anything pastry related, especially an éclair or macaron – you can’t leave Paris without discovering what Parisians can do with butter and sugar. It’s UNREAL.
We think one of the most unusual locations you’ve visited has to be Azerbaijan! You wrote a great post about one of the local specialties you enjoyed there—tea with a spoonful of fruit jam—but as we would imagine that most people are pretty oblivious about Azerbaijani cuisine, what other types of dishes can visitors expect to chow down on?
There’s a lot of lamb and pickled stuffs, but the dish that stood out most to me from Azerbaijan was piti. It’s this soup with beans and tender lamb and flavorful chunks of fat, and you pour the soup over bread to let it soak up the broth before you dig in. It’s just heavenly.
You’re a proud Chinese-American who spent her childhood summering in Shanghai—what would you say is the biggest misconception about Chinese food in the United States, and how does what most people get at their local takeout joint compare to the real deal?
The dishes you see in the US are nothing like the dishes you see in China. So there are these misconceptions that Chinese food is greasy, oily, with too much MSG, and overall not very healthy.
In China they do use oil and MSG, but in moderation; and overall it’s a fairly healthy diet, heavy on vegetables and light on red meat. I mean just look how skinny the Chinese are — they wouldn’t be that petite living off the food at the Panda Express.
You currently live in Paris, which many would consider a foodie’s paradise! However, we know that sometimes the day-to-day realities of living in a place can reveal certain ways in which a city is lacking—have you discovered any culinary blind spots in Paris (or France in general) that you find particularly frustrating as a long-term resident?
There’s a depressing lack of good Chinese food, as well as spicy food — let’s just say you won’t find Tabasco in many French households. So to get my Asian food fix I’m constantly at Vietnamese restaurants, and whenever I need to wake up my taste buds I make a trip to Chipotle.
You lived for quite some time in Singapore and acted as our dining expert while we were there, so we have to ask you to weigh in on this one: with which side of the controversial crab debate do you side and why, black pepper or chili?
Black pepper, without a doubt. It’s drier, more flavorful; I find the chili crab has a sweetness that I’d prefer not to be there. But also, I just really love pepper.
A huge thank you to Edna for participating—she managed to battle through a post “Paris-in-the-1950s” birthday party hangover in order to get her answers and gorgeous photos to us… now that’s commitment! 😉 If ever we had an impetus to make it out of Asia, surely the prospect of tearing up the Parisian dining scene with her as our guide is about as good an incentive as they come!
Like what you read here and want to be featured in a future installment of Chewing the Fat? Great! We’re always looking for new people to dish about dining with! 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.