Chewing the Fat with the Cultural Xplorer

It there’s one thing we’ve learned over and over again on our travels, it’s that there’s nothing like food—whether you’re sitting down to a meal or simply just reminiscing about some of the great dishes in your past—to bring people together. I think Chewing the Fat does a great job of accomplishing the same thing...

It there’s one thing we’ve learned over and over again on our travels, it’s that there’s nothing like food—whether you’re sitting down to a meal or simply just reminiscing about some of the great dishes in your past—to bring people together. I think Chewing the Fat does a great job of accomplishing the same thing (albeit in a virtual space), and it’s been pretty incredible to see so many foodie travelers come out of the woodwork since we launched this series, all of them eager to talk about two of their favorite things: traveling & food! One of the best feedback we’ve received from you, our beloved readers, is that you’ve discovered a lot of great new blogs written by fellow kindred spirits through this series; I hope that today will be another one of those instances. It certainly was for me!

You see, today I’m chatting with Chanel, the founder and head blogger behind Cultural Xplorer, a site where she writes about culture, off-the-beaten-path attractions and destinations, and—of course—all the delicious food she has encountered in her travels. After spending two years living and teach English in South Korea, Chanel is currently a graduate student who resides in New York City and writes quite a bit about the ins & outs of living in the Big Apple (and eating her way through it!), as well as the ‘foodcations’ that she’s able to squeeze in here and there. Prior to receiving her request to Chew the Fat with us, I wasn’t familiar with Chanel and her site, but I’m so glad that is no longer the case! I love the way Chanel dives into the local cuisine of all the destinations she visits without any hesitations or judgment—she is a fearless traveler through, and even when she’s not writing about food, she always comes up with a fun & unique way to put her own stamp on her adventures.

Read on as Chanel talks about why Korean food makes her taste buds tingle with joy, the beauty of NYC brunches, her top foodie destination in the United States 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?

I also love trying different foods when I travel! If I had to eat the food from only one country, I would choose South Korea. I might be slightly biased because I lived there and had the opportunity to try so many delicious foods, but it is high on my list. I enjoyed everything from bibimbap to dakgalbi to ramyun. Everything just tasted delicious!

Scorpions in Wangfujing, Beijing, China
Hard to believe these scorpions on sticks aren’t the weirdest things Chanel has eaten!

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 have to say out of all of the countries that I have visited to date, I was least impressed by the food in China. There were certainly a number of interesting things that they offered (such as bugs on a stick in Wangfujing in Beijing), but it was a little bit too greasy for my taste.

What’s the most exotic/adventurous edible you’ve sampled and what did you think about it?

I have tried a number of different foods on the road such as fugu (poisonous blowfish) in Japan, to chicken anus and ostrich meat in Taiwan. I really enjoyed eating the fugu and I would certainly do it again!

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 am not a huge fan of McDonald’s or Burger King, but I will admit that I have stopped in a few abroad to see what their different menus offered and to try foods that are not offered in the States (such as Pineapple Pie at McDonald’s in Bangkok and turkey sausage at Burger King in Singapore). I would not say that I really have a guilty pleasure when traveling however as I am always really interested in eating local.

If you knew we were coming to visit you in your hometown, what would be the one food you would make sure we tried?

New York has SO much great food to offer. One thing we are known for is our bottomless brunch. You must do brunch if you visit New York City; it is THE thing to do on the weekends. If I have friends in town on the weekend, I bring them to brunch at one of my favorite brunch spots, like Dojo or Café Mogador.

Dojo Spring Rolls
When brunching at Dojo on NYC, the spring rolls can’t be missed.

Sometimes you don’t know a good thing until it’s gone! Now that you are based in New York, if you could eat one food encountered during your previous travels RIGHT NOW what would it be?

Again I will have to take it back to Korean food. I really loved dak galbi—a spicy stirfried chicken dish—when I was living in Korea and it is not available anywhere here in NYC, which is quite unfortunate. When I traveled to London recently, I found out they had it there, so I went on a hunt for it and found it! I was so happy!

You spent several years living in South Korea before moving back to New York—what did you like best about the food you encountered there? What was the hardest adjustment you had to make when it came to food? What’s the one food that travelers to Korea should go out of their way to try and what’s the one you would warn us to avoid?

Two of the things that I liked best about Korean food (and can now appreciate that I am gone) are the flavors and the spiciness of the food. At first it was a little difficult to get used to how spicy the food was, but now I actually miss it and end up adding spice to a lot of my foods. If in Korea, I would try dakgalbi in Chuncheon, since it is relatively difficult to find on the east coast. I hear that you can get good malgogi (horse meat) in Jeju, although I have never tried it. I would say avoid dog soup (unless you are into that sort of thing).

Jeonju Bibimbap
Bibimbap: A classic Korean dish!
Dak Galbi in Cheongju, South Korea
Dak galbi—so spicy, so good!

You currently live in New York City, which we all know is one of the world’s best food cities but also one of the most expensive places to visit as a traveler as well. What are some of your best tips for visitors to the Big Apple who want to eat well but don’t want to go broke (are there specific restaurants or perhaps types of cuisines or districts known for great cheap food)? Also, for those of us who want to splurge on one meal, where should we go and what should we order?

New York City is a VERY expensive place to live, work, eat, etc. If you want to eat on a budget, your best bet is to get on Yelp and Foursquare. I have found a number of low-cost food options that way. My favorites places to eat in the city include the neighborhoods of the Upper West Side, Hell’s Kitchen and the Lower East Side. If you are looking to splurge on a meal, I would recommend going to Miss Korea in K-Town (for Korean BBQ) or to Ed’s Chowder House (for seafood).

Many people don’t realize just how diverse a country the United States really is—the topography isn’t the only thing that changes dramatically when you move around, the local foods can also vary a lot and different regions have their own distinct cuisines. If you had to pack your bags tomorrow and move to a new state and your stomach is calling the shots, where would you move and why?

I would choose New Orleans if my stomach were choosing where to go. I actually recently took a foodcation down there just because I heard how delicious the food was. I fell in love with everything I ate down there and I cannot wait to get down there and try more!
Chanel, the ultimate Cultural Xplorer!

Website: Cultural Xplorer


Twitter: @CulturalXplorer

Thanks so much to Chanel for taking the time to take us on some of her best food adventures with her! I have to admit, one of the few foods that we weren’t all that crazy about prior to our trip (perhaps because we hadn’t yet developed an appreciation for spicy foods!) was Korean cuisine, but now we are legitimately excited to explore its unique dishes and see if our tastebuds can withstand its fiery flavors! We know we’ll be back to Asia again some day, and clearly there’s a whole new country out there that we need to devour our way through… I’ve no doubt that Chanel’s passion for Korean food will be one of the important stepping stones on our journey!

ATTENTION FELLOW FOODIES! 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! 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.

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6 comments Leave a comment

  1. “Foodcations”?!?! Where do I sign up!?!?!

    Oct. 14 2014 @ 12:40 am
    1. Tim | UrbanDuniya

      Foodcation = a vacation in which you travel for the sole purpose of eating good food 😀

      Nov. 19 2014 @ 5:32 am
  2. Scorpions! OMG! And I thought I’d seen all the bugs a person could eat in Thailand. 🙂

    I agree, sometimes it’s tempting to go into Maccas or a similar Western fast food restaurant just to see how its different. I get frustrated when people are always going to these places because they don’t want to try something new – but I also think that trying out the different menu is something new in itself.

    Oct. 15 2014 @ 7:29 am
    1. Karyn @ Not Done Travelling

      Haha yes, those scorpions were very interesting! I was not brave enough to try them 😀

      Nov. 19 2014 @ 5:35 am
  3. I’ve only ever heard really good things about Korean food, and I’ve never actually been to Korea but there are some Korean BBQ places near where I live that our pretty awesome. I can’t believe someone wouldn’t like chinese food! Real chinese food, and especially sichuan food is amazing though I agree it can be heavy on the grease. The tea that people drink here helps filter it out of their system but unless you start guzzling tea, it can be a bit of a stodgy experience.

    Oct. 17 2014 @ 2:40 am
    1. Yes, Korean food is so amazing 🙂 – good to know that the tea helps to filter the grease down, I would definitely like to return to China on a visit and give it another go!

      Nov. 19 2014 @ 5:37 am

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