I am here to tellyou: Do not always eat like the locals!
Yes, eating like a local is great for cultural immersion and appreciation. BUT, only let this go so far. Sometimes, you are better off ordering the regular than adventuring where you do not want to be.
I was eating lunch after class with a few other exchange students one day in Bangkok, Thailand. In the cafeteria there are about 5 stalls to select from, and nobody speaks English – so we typically select the few dishes we know how to pronounce. Today, Fredrik from Sweden decided he wanted to expand his taste horizons and simply pointed at somebodys meal (a local Thai) and said “I want what she has”. He figured he’d try something new and with the signs all in Thai, pointing at something that looks good is our best bet for finding better local foods. Fredrik ended up with what appeared to be a soap.
So we sit down, me eating my padthai, and Fredrik starts eating his soup, with what appears to be noodles and meat chunks. He eats this one dark brown red marshmallow looking piece, and gets an odd look on his face. I start to laugh at him, simply due to the look, which explains “tastes weird, with a strange texture and very strange taste, like nothing I’ve had before”.
We all ponder what it could be because they eat some food, coming from a Western Culture, we consider “strange”. Yes, Asia eats dog, but only one province of Thailand eats dog, and the rest of Thailand mocks them for it. We were fairly certain it could not be Dog.
One of our Thai classmates sits down with us and Fredrik asks him, “so what is this thing?”, referring to his soup and the marshmallow pieces. The Thai student laughs and replies “Thats deep fried Pork Blood”.
So Fredrik was eating Pork blood soup essentially. Definitely not for the weak stomached. He wanted something new and he certainly got it! But for me, I think I will stick to my padthai and other vegetarian friendly foods and watch in amazement as the other students venture into territory they may regret.
Food is Thailand is delicious. Explore. But do not think you have the stomach to eat like a local. But be adventurous!