Travel Blogger Awards Interview: @legalnomads

Jodi Ettenberg from Legal Nomads

In 2008, Jodi Ettenberg quit her job as a lawyer in New York and hit the road – she’s been travelling and blogging ever since!  Legal Nomads follows her adventures around the world and how Jodi learns about countries through their food. She recently won our Travel Blogger Nom Nom Award for Food Reporting, awarded to the travel blogger whose reports from the frontline of restaurants, food carts and home cookers leaves us drooling on our desks.

Your blog features food quite prominently and you have now released a book about how to find cheap, safe and delicious food anywhere in the world. How did you get into food writing?a Legal Nomads Mezze Lunch in Jordan

It happened by accident, really! I ended up travelling and finding food more and more of a priority. But it wasn’t just to eat, it was also how that food tied back to the culture and the history of the places I was visiting.

For example, how the old spice routes left trails of new foods in far-flung destinations, or how colonisation or migration affected what we eat today.Spicy Somtam Salad

It soon became THE focus instead of just an afterthought, because I realized that food was the most enjoyable lens through which I could learn about the countries I was visiting. And also, you know, delicious meals. No complaints there!

Who’s writing (food, travel or otherwise) inspires you?

There are some wonderful writers out there, many of which are unknown to the travel blogging world because they are on the fringes of our industry. But they put out incredible, thoughtful pieces.

  • Nicola Twilley from Edible Geography is one of my favourites, combining history, anthropology and food.
  • I love Roxanne Krystalli from Stories of Conflict and Love, one of the best writers out there and a woman who has been through Darfur, the Balkans and other places telling the stories of the women and men who have been abused and tortured by war. Her writing is so incredibly human and so moving that everything she does – be it post-conflict analysis or just going to the store – is worth reading.
  • Roads and Kingdoms is a travel site run by Nate Thornborgh and Matt Goulding, who wrote for Time mag and others sites and now run their great compendium of food, politics and slices of life. Longform writing, great photography and a wonderful wit. Well worth reading. And I was thrilled they asked to interview me for my book, too!

What destination would you recommend to your readers, food wise?

Almost any destination has plenty to learn from and taste, even if it’s not traditionally a ‘food paradise’. I love China for its food, primarily because it has every province has a different set of food traditions, tastes and ingredients. Saying “Chinese food” doesn’t make much sense because the country is a patchwork of incredibly disparate tastes. I also tell people who are celiac like me that it’s great to go to Italy – not only are their food basics (the ingredients themselves) simple and delicious but the country tests its kids for celiac and has a required option that celiac-friendly eats be present in public places. It was amazing – I never got sick once.

A Legal Nomads Lunch in Italy

How do you find the best food in a new city? What are your tips for finding delicious and authentic local cuisine?

Asking around to taxi drivers for where they ate lunch or breakfast (NOT where they’d suggest you eat) is a good one, as well as going to a big university in town at lunchtime to eat as local kids do – always fresh, fast and great food available near them.

People can be a little squeamish when it comes to foreign foods. What is the weirdest thing you have eaten on your travels?

It’s not weird, but I really don’t love Durian. Many others agree with me! I think it’s the smell – it tastes fine but I just cannot get over the smell. There’s a reason it’s banned on many trains or public transportation routes – it smells terrible! Think dirty, smelly, rotted socks. Otherwise, I’ve eaten grubs and bugs along the way when with locals who do the same (not at markets, but when dining with a family or tribe who is doing so – when in Rome!). I don’t mind them much when they’re small and seasoned, but the bigger bugs I can’t get behind; the guts are a bit too goopy for my tastes, even when cooked.

Legal Nomads eating Oysters in DenverAny tales of being sick from eating abroad?

Holy hell yes. Many many, thought not many from food. A terrible food poisoning from a llama empanada in Chile and Bolivia, the same in Northern Myanmar from stupidly drinking contaminated river water. Most of the sicknesses haven’t been from food though.

What ‘must-see’ destination or attraction sticks out as genuinely worth it, and which are overrated?

I don’t think this is a question any of us can answer. Every place is worth it, if you just take the time to talk to people and learn about how they live their lives. Even the countries that didn’t resonate as thoroughly with me as others provided wonderful backdrops to learn about a place and about traditions I didn’t know before. The focus on getting “off the beaten path” is frustrating to me because you don’t need to do that to have a great travel experience, and conversely if you’re obsessed with a “secret place” you’re probably not even paying attention to the wonder of your present. Sometimes that beauty is right in front of you; just stop and take a look. I wrote a whole post about this because I was getting so many reader emails about finding that ‘non-touristy’ place. Yes, tourists can be annoying but at the same time there are sights worth seeing even if they’re crowded – they’re just that beautiful.

Legal Nomads in Bangkok for Songkran

So, to answer: I think the overrated places are merely the ones where we don’t look hard enough or don’t learn enough about what makes a place tick. As soon as you start getting under the skin of a place, even the most popular sights take on a different feel.

Any tips for women travelling solo?

Same as for men, really. Don’t leave a drink unattended, don’t tell people where you are staying unless you trust them, etc. I do travel with both a safety whistle and a doorstop, both of which have come in handy numerous times! The safety whistle mostly to scare of monkeys (THIS IS A REAL PROBLEM. Seriously. Monkeys are not friendly), and the doorstop to put inside my room to keep the door closed, so that I’ll hear if someone is trying to get into my room at night. For women specifically, I would urge them to dress as conservatively as locals do. I am disappointed in how many women wear skimpy dresses or outfits in a place like Myanmar where the culture does not allow for it. Yes, it’s warm out but really it’s not appropriate – try to look at what women are wearing locally and mimic some form of it. I don’t mean covering everything, always, but you will be respected much more as a tourist if you are dressed in a way that respects the local culture.

You’ve stayed in hostels all over the world. Which one has been your favourite and why?

I loved Riad Baraka in Chefchaouen, Morocco. Not only was Chef one of the most beautiful cities I’ve visited, but the Riad was great and I truly enjoyed their enormous, delicious breakfast. It’s family-run and well-decorated and very comfortable. Great place.

Legal Nomads in Morocco

What are your plans for the future?

I’m planning to head over to Vietnam in the coming weeks, as I’ve not spent enough time there. I want to eat and learn as much as possible! So my plan is to go and rent a place in Saigon and get to it! I’ll hopefully get back to writing more on my own site too, since the book has taken up so much of my brainspace and time (understandably), and then likely make my way back to North America for summertime to see my family.

Thanks Jodi and congratulations on your win!

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