12 More Things I Learned from a Year (Eating) Abroad

After my first year in China, I wrote about 12 things I’ve learned from living abroad. Here are 12 (tastier) things that I learned while eating my way around the world.

Hot Pot!

1. Food always tastes better when it’s on a stick.

Always. It’s obviously a law of nature. Pineapple on a stick. Tofu on a stick. Deep fried vegetables on a stick. Doesn’t matter what it is. It will instantly taste better when you are eating it off of a stick.

2. Sometimes you just need to buy peanut butter.

I feel guilty about buying peanut butter. It is expensive. And I should be experiencing traditional Chinese dishes. But every once in a while you just need a piece of home.

3. Never underestimate the power of a rice cooker.

Seriously. These things are magical. I don’t always have access to a kitchen, but I have gotten very creative with my rice cooker. You can make SO MANY things with a rice cooker!

4. Just eat the street food

Get your vaccinations, remember to pack the anti-diarrheal meds, wash your hands, but don’t be too afraid to try the street food.


5. You have never had tofu until you have been to China.

So. Delicious. Tofu in any other country just isn’t the same.

6. Don’t let one bad experience hold you back.

I tried papaya once and instantly hated it, vowing to never let it pass through my lips again. And then I found myself in India where I decided to give it another try. I was instantly converted and it has become one of my favorite fruits. Bottom line: sometimes you just need to try things more than once before judging too harshly. Don’t be afraid to give second chances.

7. Chopsticks are more useful than you may realize.

I’ve certainly come a long way since first awkwardly fumbling around with chopsticks and slippery noodles. I’ve really grown to appreciate how useful they can be. Sometimes a fork just won’t cut it (pun intended =D ).

8. But sometimes you also just need to eat with your hands.

Or specifically your right hand in many countries. It just tastes better that way. (Also see # 1)

9. Never underestimate the magical powers of garlic soup.

While I was trekking in Nepal, I experienced horrible altitude sickness. My excruciating headache and nausea were so paralyzing that I started to fear I would be medically evacuated. A little Diamox and some garlic soup and I was a brand new person the next day.

10. Sometimes bananas are red and oranges are green.

Life is strange. Just go with it.

11. Food still has calories in other countries.

It is possibly to eat well, be healthy, and enjoy traveling. But if you are eating too much and not moving around enough, it is also very possible to gain weight.



12. Dumplings taste so much better when you make them yourself

Kind of like how fresh, garden tomatoes that you grow yourself are so much more flavorful than any tomato you could ever buy in a store.



Ex-Expat Life with a Side of Ketchup

When I talk, I sound just like everyone else. Nobody stares at me in the produce aisle. Taxi drivers don’t ask me where I’m from.

To everyone else, I appear like I belong here. After all, I’m an American in America. The majority of my life has been spent here. So why is it that not being an outsider makes me feel more like I don’t belong? Why is it harder to adjust to living here than it was to leave everything familiar behind?

Just the other day I was eating something with ketchup. Except after the first bite I almost spit out my food. The ketchup didn’t taste at all like what I was expecting. It wasn’t as sweet as what I would find in Asia. Although I had enjoyed ketchup many times before in the US, I was disgusted with what I had just put in my mouth. This must have gone bad, I thought to myself.

In reality, there was nothing wrong with the ketchup. It was exactly the same as the ketchup I used to eat. The only real difference was me. It’s been 15 weeks since I left China (and about 14 since returning to the US). Yet somehow I still find myself struggling to adapt to certain things. Some days I am taken aback by a bottle of ketchup. Some days life just has a different flavor than I’ve been accustomed to.

When I talk, I sound just like everyone else. (Was my accent always this horrible?)

Nobody stares at me in the produce aisle. (I’m the one staring at everyone else.)

Taxi drivers don’t ask me where I’m from. (But I’m expected to drive myself everywhere anyways.)

Walking with Lions


Those eyes!

It has already been a month since I left South Africa and I’m still trying to figure out how time has gone by so quickly. Sometimes it all feels like a dream. I had an absolutely amazing time in SA and can’t wait to go back. There is so much more that I want to do and see!

I will be working on a huge review of all of my most recent travels – South Korea, Cambodia, Thailand, and England to name a few! In the meantime, I thought I would share a few awesome pictures from SA. I had an opportunity to meet some incredible people.. and lions.




Waking up in London

**Currently blogging from South Africa! Which is super exciting, but also means I have limited Internet connection. Later this week I hope to have more reliable Internet. Until then, this post might be a little unorganized. Please bear with me! And happy MoFo-ing!**

I was back in Chicago just long enough to get that overwhelming itch to travel. The great part about being involved in global health is there is always some conference in a faraway place that offers the perfect excuse to do so. Back to the airport I went – this time heading towards Johannesburg, South Africa.









The Flight

A few airlines fly to Joburg from the US. I found a Virgin Atlantic flight with a long layover in London. A lot of layovers I’ve had before were either too short or occurred overnight, which meant I could only experience a country from the airport or hotel room. Luckily, my layover was from 8:00 am to 9:00 pm, so I had the whole day to explore the city. The only thing I didn’t enjoy about the flight was the duration – it was actually too short! Flight time was about 7 hours, which meant most of that time had passed once the meal was over and there wasn’t much time for sleep. This might be a good thing for some people, but I have gotten accustomed to long flights and can also sleep almost anywhere. I wouldn’t have minded a few extra hours on the plane, but I imagine most people would disagree.

The Piccadilly Line

After clearing customs, I hopped on the tube to get to central London. The process was simple and straightforward. There are a few different transportation options, but I wasn’t pressed for time so I chose the cheaper route. A ticket into the city from the Heathrow airport was under £6 each way. If you are taking the tube during a layover, do allow sufficient time to return to the airport. Although the Piccadilly line can be reached from within the airport, keep on mind that it’s also a bit of a walk to get there. Some trains stop and terminal 5 and some stop at terminal 4, so you may need to wait for the appropriate train. There is also an 8 minute stop at terminal 4 before arriving at terminals 1, 2, and 3 and some of the gates also require a bit of walking (10-20 minutes). Give yourself enough time to get there.

The Food

I stumbled upon a restaurant just outside of the South Hampton station. Turns out it was actually a chain with locations all over London. They offered many healthier and fresh choices – lots of soups, salads, and sandwiches. I found another one later in the airport and grabbed a veggie sandwich. My stomach wasn’t quite convinced that it was time to eat yet, so I also grabbed some fruit and a few naked bars at a grocery store to snack on while I was out.

(Note: As usual, I didn’t really know where I was going and hopped off a random stop in central London. (It sounded English enough. And I knew I could always hop back on the tube or catch a bus if it didn’t work out.) This took me to an area near a few museums, including the natural history museum. But if there is something in particular that you really want to see, there are plenty of stations that can get you close to where you want to go.)

A Walk in the Royal Park

Just when you’re starting to feel overwhelmed with all the people, buildings, noises, and fast pace of the city, you can easily find a tranquil moment in one of London’s beautiful parks.

How cool is this tree?

In Search of the Muffin Man

Is he the muffin man?

I found myself strolling down Drury Lane. (Ok, I followed a map to get there. And it wasn’t easy because I’m horrible with directions. But naturally, finding the residence of Mr. Muffin Man was a top priority.) As I wandered down the street, I kept my eyes (and nose?) peeled for any signs of freshly baked pastries. Unfortunately, there was no sign of the muffin man. Someone really needs to open up a bakery over there. Drury Lane Muffins. Any takers?

Oh yeah, Happy Vegan MoFo!

If you’re here for Vegan Month of Food, welcome to Chreese on Toast! If you have no idea what that is, you can read more about it here. But basically, it gives me a chance to repeatedly say “MoFo” for 30 consecutive days, while also blogging about vegan eats and adventures. I jumped into it a few years ago when I first started this blog and I’m excited to be back again! This year I’m combining Vegan MoFo with another passion – travel!

If you haven’t noticed already, I get around.. So far this year I have been in 15 different airports in 10 countries on 4 continents. And in the last two years I have circumnavigated the globe twice – once in each direction. Throughout my travels, I have have come across so many delicious and unique dishes. My hope during this month of food is to share recipes, lessons, tips, and stories from around the globe. This week I will be blogging from South Africa! I hope to see you around!

And a question for all of you MoFo-er’s: What would you like to see more of this month (recipes, travel, nutrition?) and what countries or regions would you like to explore?Leave me a comment and I’ll try to incorporate your responses! It’s going to be a great month!

Bits and Pieces

A lot has happened in the last few months. I finished grad school (feel free to call me Master Nicole). I traveled around China with my family. I traveled to Cambodia by myself. I returned to the US. And now I’m trying to find my place in the world. There have been far too many challenges, accomplishments, struggles, surprises, reunions, and separations to contain in a single post. So for now, I’ll leave you with a few pictures and a promise for all the details later.

Street Food

Enjoying street food in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Killing Fields

Bracelets left at the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Siem Reap

Wandering through the streets of Siem Reap

I’m still in the process of sorting through all of my pictures, but I can guarantee that there will be plenty more. (And if you really can’t wait, you can also check out the Chreese on Toast Instagram page) Here are a few posts in the works:

  • How to (survive) long distance bus travel
  • Reviews of my recent travels in China, South Korea, Cambodia, and Thailand
  • The truth about living abroad (and why I’m leaving again)
  • A letter to my successor
  • Things I learned from eating abroad

South Korean MarketThailand Sky











The key goes in the ignition.

Turn. Breathe.

Seat belt. You’ll need that here.

Adjust the mirror, holding your own gaze for a brief moment.

Readjust your seat.

And then the mirror again.

This car doesn’t feel like the close fit you remembered.

Right foot gas. Left foot break.