Thursday, January 7, 2010

Udon and Soba

Ernie and I had the wonderful fortune of traveling to Southeast Asia for two weeks in December. I was looking forward to the time off from work, school and cold weather. On our way to Bangkok, we had a layover in Tokyo – a place I’ve never been before! While this won’t be a re-cap of our amazing trip, I’m thought I’d share with you my travel experience.

On our 14 hour flight to Tokyo direct from Chicago on Al Nippon Airways we were served two meals. The first meal was Japanese styled food with rice, veggies and salmon. Ernie doesn’t like salmon so much, but he ate it anyway. There was also a side of Soba or Udon noodles. I don’t know the difference between the two. Anyhow, the airplane food was alright as far as airplane food goes. I passed on the noodles because I wasn’t so sure what they are made of. Best part was the ice cream dessert!

The second meal was not as easy. My assumption is that ANA was trying to appease both consumer bases – eastern and western travelers. The second meal was: Lasagne. Not only was it lasagna, the side was bread and cookies for dessert. Ernie asked the attendant if there were any other food options, but there were none. I stared at my plate in disbelief. Usually there are two options! After choking down the frog in my throat, I felt a few warm tears on my cheek. I took one moment of feeling sorry for myself and when I finally got over it and looked up, I could see that Ernie was upset too. I ended up eating the one inch by one inch square of “excuse for a salad” lettuce and a spoonful of ricotta cheese from the center of the lasagna. By then, I had lost my appetite and was not in the mood for my gluten free snack bars.

Once we arrived in Tokyo, I was hungry. We figured, "We’re in Japan! Let’s eat sushi!" So we went to the nearest airport map and located a sushi restaurant. With hungry eyes, we bought three trays of sushi, the size of the trays at your Jewel or Kroger. Neither of us knew the exchange rate of Yen to Dollar, but we figured the sushi wouldn’t be too expensive. Later, we discovered that we just paid over $80 for the sushi! I much prefer my all-you-can-eat option at Sushi Para Too for $17 bucks.

The vacation itself was a breeze in terms of eating. Everywhere had rice or rice noodles, as wheat is not as rampant in Asian countries. I ate mostly pad thai, glass noodles and white rice. Of course, the continental breakfasts in our hotels served toast and waffles, but there was always an option for me. As for our travel locations, we LOVED Siem Reap in Cambodia where Angkor Wat is the main tourist attraction. I thought Thailand’s beaches were beautiful, but I could have done without the prostitution being so visible and abundant. Neither of us cared much for Bangkok as we were scammed by a wily tuk tuk driver who left us in the middle of a busy intersection.

On the trip home, Ibasically slept the whole way from Bangkok to Tokyo. I was so groggy that I didn’t even remember the food. Maybe I didn’t eat any? I snacked on trail mix I had brought along from the US. We decided to forego any $80 sushi during our second Tokyo layover. The return flight also had two meals. Again, the first meal was Asian style chicken and rice. There was a small roll that I passed over to Ernie. Before the second meal, I continued to munch on the trail mix.

The flight was scheduled to land at 9am Chicago time, so our second meal was breakfast at 6:30am. Pancakes with a sausage link. Oh and a side of those Japanese noodles… I ate the sausage, I passed on the pancakes (it’s obvious those are made of wheat) and opted for the noodles hoping they were made of rice. After all, they looked white!

Once back in the states and after Christmas and our new year’s get away to Galena, I googled both Udon and Soba noodles since I wasn’t sure what exactly I was eating. Wouldn’t you know that both are made of wheat.

I don’t know if it’s the one serving of gluten, or the lack of a steady diet for two weeks, or just being stressed from my non-ideal job situation… but for the next 2 weeks, I was not regular. And I did not like it.

Is it normal to feel sorry for yourself because you can’t eat something? Maybe, but it’s pathetic to cry about it… which I have done on more than one occasion. Should I have anticipated the excessive gluten and packed a meal? Maybe, but how would it stay chilled for a 14 hour plane ride? Will this prevent me from traveling? No way. I’ll just bring tastier protein bars next time – or peanut butter on gluten free bread. Besides, when I went to Africa, South African Airways actually had gluten-free meals for me. Maybe ANA didn’t know what gluten-free meant when I requested it during booking.

Lesson: When traveling, request gluten-free meals AND pack your own snacks or you’ll be hungry & crying!

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