One of the most enjoyable experiences of my crossing cultures from the U.S. to visit Indonesia and the jungles of Papua includes sampling local foods. I recently traveled to Papua for a three week trek through the interior with only 30 packets of oatmeal, 30 protein bars and 60 electrolyte drink mixes, intending to procure the remainder of my foods in the villages I visited. I admit I was a bit intimidated by the “taro in the morning and sweet potato at night” diet stories I had heard, so I also brought four freeze-dried dinner meals just in case!
As it turned out, I didn’t need most of what I brought with the exception of the electrolyte drink mixes (the jungle is so hot & humid and I was vigilant regarding hyponatremia!) I was able to eat local, native, traditional and indigenous foods throughout my entire stay.
That said, I am by no means hyper-adventurous when it comes to ingesting strange foods. Neither am I careless with regards to food & water safety protocols for travelers. I also realize, however, that almost all diarrheal illnesses are caused by infectious microorganisms which are ingested and are more common in parts of the world where food or agricultural hygienic practices are compromised or not reliably safe. So I definitely watch what I put in my mouth & where it’s been before I put it there!
Plus, contrary to popular belief, traveler’s diarrhea is not caused by food or drink to which the gut is “unaccustomed.” It is also true that most Americans have grown up with pretty good sanitation & food handling practices, and so have little or no immunity to help protect against what might in other places be considered “normal” practices.
Finally, it would without a doubt be exceedingly cumbersome to import a full menu from home. Practically speaking, with the severe weight restrictions on flights into New Guinea (often a 20 kg max) or the associated exorbitant costs of additional baggage to do so, and the limited variety of familiar foods, even if one shops at commissaries preferred by the expat community, eating at least some local foods becomes a necessity. Let’s be real, though, it’s just plain tasty, interesting and fun to do so.
I hope you’ve enjoyed a taste of Papua!