By Emma Krasov, Travel Writer and Yuri Krasov, Photographer
Let me disclose it right away that I will never be 50. Even if I live to be 100. When asked about my age, I tend to stumble – not because I am so old that I don’t remember how old I am, but because I know that I am 23, and on some days 19, while my driver’s license shows something incomprehensible.
My credo as a travel writer has always been, “Unless I see it, feel it, experience it, it doesn’t exist.”
I have to walk in every jungle, swim in every body of water, and try every weird thing people are eating in places I choose to explore. I travel to remote destinations for exotic foods as well as for many other splendored things to see, hear, smell, and touch.
My trip to the islands of Palau was as much about culinary adventure as it was about swimming in a jelly fish lake, kayaking in a shark nursery, and chilling in a bat cave.
Located in the Western Pacific, Palau absorbed culinary influences of Japan, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the USA, creating a fusion cuisine of rice and seafood, barbequed chicken and pork, root vegetables, fresh fruit, and spices.
I liked the look of a toy-like leaf basket filled with rice and suspended on a long string for dipping and pulling out of boiling water. I didn’t like it much, but can brag now about having a full serving of stinky tofu. Thankfully, the serving was rather small. It smelled like garbage during garbage collectors’ strike, and looked and tasted like fresh asphalt. (Not that I’ve ever tasted the asphalt).
Out of 21 species of spiny, seedy, and sweet-fleshy tropical fruit growing in Palau, I can now easily identify jackfruit, breadfruit, starfruit, dragon fruit, mangosteen, rambutan, soursop, and my favorite passion fruit.
During an improv hands-on demo provided by a local volunteer, a fruit of areca catechu palm (the betel nut) was cut in half, stuffed with a tiny amount of lime from dead coral, and wrapped into a piper betel leaf. I put the thimble-size package in my mouth, and started to chew. It was bitter and puckering. Soon I was foaming at the mouth with bright-orange betel juice, which I was warned not to swallow. I had to run off, hide and spit. And spit, and spit, and spit some more. Suddenly I felt flushed, dizzy, and too warm even for the Palauan 85-degree weather. Was it because of the betel nut or because of embarrassment at my unladylike behavior, I might never know.
P.S. Palau’s Rock Islands Southern Lagoon has been recently inscribed onto the World Heritage list of (UNESCO) United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as a mixed site for both cultural and natural properties.
Emma Krasov is travel writer based in San Francisco, California. Her blog, Art and Entertain Me, covers art happenings, restaurant openings, fun local events, and international travel.