Our last Chewing the Fat was a tough act to follow, no doubt, but if anyone is up to the challenge, it’s absolutely this guy: Jimmy Dau from Jimmy Eats World! A foodie of top order, we’ve followed along as Jimmy has eaten his way through Latin America, impressing us not only with his capacious stomach space and the meals he roots out, but with the ones he whips up in humble hostel kitchens as well. We’ve met plenty of people on our travels who just seem totally at ease on the road, like this is the life they are meant to be living, and Jimmy certainly seems like on of those guys.
It’s little wonder he’s so comfortable traveling—he’s been doing it since he turned 18! Over the years, he’s developed a very clear travel philosophy, one that makes our food traveler hearts skip a beat. In his own words: “The places I visit have always been decided on based on the strength of the local food culture. From Vietnam to Spain and Italy, the common theme amongst the people is their love their food and produce. They don’t take any shortcuts and the family unit and friends are always involved in the consumption and enjoyment of meals. I’m constantly attracted to this attitude and nothing is off limits from my palate.”
Read on as together we celebrate the beauty of Vietnamese food, talk about how to make self-catered hostel food taste gourmet, get a primer on street food Latin America style, and so much more!
We’re big fans 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?
This is a hard one but I would have to say Vietnamese. I’m slightly biased here being Vietnamese but the use of fresh ingredients and balance of flavours can’t be beaten anywhere. Stir fries, braises, pork rolls and the coffee are all just phenomenal. Also Pho (Vietnamese Beef soup) is my go-to dish when I’m feeling tired, run down or hungover. It is the ultimate comfort food: it’s got the broth, the noodles and the greens, and you can eat it anytime. Breakfast, lunch or dinner. It’s my death row meal!
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 would say Kenya. I love my meat but there was meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner when I was on Safari. I wasn’t that surprised as I knew most Africans loved their meat, but this was next level meat consumption. By the end of the week I was just craving some lettuce and cucumber.
What’s the most exotic/adventurous edible you’ve sampled and what did you think about it?
I was once tricked into eating dog in Vietnam by my relatives. It didn’t taste that much different to beef or lamb to be honest. I’ve also had snake there: We got to choose the snake we wanted from the cage and had a three course meal prepared from it. A salad, main and a soup. The blood was also drained into a bottle of rice wine and I did a shot of it with the snake’s warm and pulsating heart. As with most cultures, it’s supposed to be good for the sex drive. All it gave me was a severe hangover.
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?
I try to visit ‘Maccas’ as well just to see the variations in the localised burgers. I had a Mega Mac in Tokyo which was like two Big Macs in one and I was instantly in a food coma from the calorie overload. I also see what the local fast food equivalent chain is like. In Guatemala, the KFC equivalent is Pollo Campero and in my opinion the fried chicken is better. Guatemalans really know how to do fried chicken!
Sometimes you don’t know a good thing until it’s gone! If you could eat one food from back home RIGHT NOW, what would it be?
Dim Sum at a Yum Cha restaurant in Sydney. I would have the prawn and pork steamed dumpling, chicken’s feet, and salt and pepper squid, washed down with a Tsing Tao beer.
If you knew we were coming to visit you in your hometown, what would be the one food you would make sure we tried?
I’d take you to the Eating World food court in Chinatown in Sydney. I wouldn’t recommend a dish but we’d have a session where we could try the Malaysian laksas, Vietnamese beef noodle soup (pho!) and Singaporean chicken rice. Maybe the Thai crispy pork if you have space… 😉
One of our favorite things about visiting countries we don’t know that much about is getting to discover all these new dishes that we never knew existed—what’s been your favorite food discovery you’ve stumbled upon on this trip?
Pozole! I was in Playa del Carmen hanging out with Sarah Somewhere and Tell Them I Said Something and this was the dish that stood out the most. It was a soup dish with braised chicken and beef in tomato and corn soup, topped off with onion, coriander and chilli peppers. It was filling, and comforting, and just plain good.
You’ve done an admirable amount of cooking since starting your trip and you even share recipes on your site to inspire other vagabonds to get into the kitchen. For you, what’s been the greatest pleasure about cooking and preparing meals while traveling? Have you found that self-catering rather than dining out has saved you quite a lot of money? What do you say to critics who claim you’re missing out on the local eating experience if you’re cooking for yourself?
It’s the easiest way to meet people for me. Being a solo traveller it’s difficult to cook for one so I tend to overcook and offer some to others. Who could say no to something delicious home-made vs packet soup? If I stay in a place for more than a few days then it definitely saves me money. Also being in Central and South America, there’s been a lack of vegetables in my diet so I need to supplement it into my home cooking.
Self-catering hasn’t been a detriment to experiencing local food because from the money saved, I can spend on MORE local food. I’m constantly eating so if I see something on a menu, I will still order it at whatever cost, and it’s good to treat yourself every once in a while.
One thing that keeps us from cooking as much as we might is that we’ve always wound up with really limited kitchens with poorly stocked pantries—are there any dishes that you find particularly easy to adapt to even the most basic of environments?
Mince meat is so versatile and in my opinion you don’t need much to cook it—you don’t even need oil because proper mince has enough fat in it to fry properly if you take your time cooking it. Once it’s properly fried then you can either turn it into a chilli con carne, bolognese or add stock to it to make a meat sauce.
My tip is to scope out the pantry of the hostel before you go to the markets. A lot of hostels will have some herbs and spices or a free box of ingredients that other travellers leave behind. I would do a stock take of this and then base your shopping around this if you’re tight for money.
What’s been the most ambitious meal you’ve attempted? What’s been your biggest kitchen/cooking-related disaster during your travels?
My most ambitious meal was a roast chicken with a beer can up it’s bum. It was an improvisation as it was still semi frozen on the inside so I wanted to steam it with the beer from the inside.
My biggest disaster would have been making a spaghetti soup with chorizo over a camp stove in Patagonia. I put way too much soup powder (turns out it was enough for 5 people) so everything became gluggy and burnt on the bottom of the pot. That meal was definitely for fuel and not for pleasure.
We are real lovers of street food—it’s cheap, fast, and almost always delicious! We know Mexico has a thriving street-food scene, but what about South & Central America? In your opinion, what are some of the best street food staples that travelers to this area should seek out?
I would say that Empanadas are something everybody should try. They are so cheap and vary from country to country. The ones in Colombia are made from a maize casing whereas in Argentina they are baked in a doughy pastry. My tip for the best street food would be to always start at the markets. Every town and city has a ‘Mercado’ and there is always a food section where all the locals eat. Also if you meet any locals, ask them where they eat. They will love that you take an interest in how they live and eat.
Let’s end with something sweet: From tim tams to lamingtons to vanilla slice to fairy bread, it seems like Australians have something of a sweet tooth. In your mind, what is the quintessential Australian dessert and what does it involve?
Pavlova! I don’t have a huge sweet tooth but I love the sweet and crunchy and chewy texture of meringue combined with the acidity of fruit is more in line with my Asian palate.
Massive thanks to Jimmy for being game for this interview and dishing up such delicious answers. Now that he’s traveling through South East Asia, it’s our fiercest hope that we can sit down over some steaming bowls of pho and Chew the Fat in real life!
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.