Collecting juice in Penang – challenging yourself to try new things on your travels

Do you make a deliberate effort to try new foods (and drinks) when you travel?

I have to admit that when I first began travelling I was a bit of a food conservative. I was raised vegetarian so trying to avoid meat was one of the issues, but I think in general I was just a bit of a scaredy-cat!

But then I moved to Japan and being wary of new foods became an impossibility – there were so many new things (and often barely any familiar ones), the people were so friendly and polite about offering me them, and then I discovered that nearly all of them tasted great – and since then I’ve been much more open about new tastes and flavours.

In Penang earlier this year, trying all the food was easy because it is SO delicious (and not that unfamiliar since we have a lot of Asian food available in Perth). But this post isn’t about the food; it’s about the drink, and more specifically the juice. Now we drank endless amounts of freshly-squeezed juice, at least once a day – and I was happy to see my son choose a new flavour nearly every time, stringing together a list of new juice experiences which he can still name a couple of months on. His three-year-old memory is so much better than mine and he can tell me he had carrot juice at the curry place in George Town and lemon juice upstairs in the big shopping centre. But this little tale is about a different kind of juice.

I had a secret evening treat in our hotel room in Penang, after my son had gone to sleep: my mystery juice box. Most days we would walk across to the convenience stores near our hotel (there were three virtually next to each other, all selling nearly the same goods – each with virtually no customers!) and I would always pick up a new box of juice (or two) to try later on.

There was some delicious ones and some that I could get used to and a couple that really I just had to switch off my taste buds and drink fast (you may ask, why didn’t I just stop drinking, but I felt I needed to give each juice a chance!). I never found a new favourite, but I’m glad I tried them all. Although I already knew that south-east Asian countries have all manner of fruits that we’re not used to back home (I’m not sure why, as our countries are so close in location) it was eye-opening to taste so many of them in a box!

And while consuming a bunch of random juices isn’t exactly a scientific way of exploring a culture, to me it’s symbolic of making a deliberate effort to seek out new things. Ten years ago, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have done that. These days, I’m much more aware of making the most out of my travel opportunities. For me, that especially means doing things that are different to what you do at home, whether that’s eating or drinking, or visiting different kinds of places, or being braver about talking to strangers; whatever the situation, making a deliberate effort to learn and experience what can only be learned and experienced in that place.

What’s your “juice box collection” equivalent when you travel? Is there something you do that’s braver or bolder than you would normally do at home? Or perhaps even something that you regret not doing on a trip in the past?

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