Travel unvarnished: The Not-So-Happy Meal.

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Roast pigeon in Hanoi

This is the fourth in a five-part series on travel situations we’ve encountered that are never part of anyone’s plans but you’ll be sure to remember long after you return home. 

Without fail, on every international trip I’ve taken my stomach eventually betrays me. After days of hungrily attacking the local cuisine, I’ll suddenly stall as my stomach says “Dude, what the hell are you doing to me? I’m not some digestive punching bag!”

And at that moment I give up on being a culinary adventurer and start craving Italian food. Specifically, spaghetti bolognese. Don’t know why, but it seems to calm my little gastric Benedict Arnold right down. I guess you could call it pasta-seltzer.

The funny thing is, I can usually find some place serving spaghetti bolognese. Or at least their take on it. And that’s where things can go wrong.

Because when you find the perfect meal to appease your wimpy stomach, you expect it to be prepared based on your memories. That’s why you’re craving it.

So when, as happened to us in Cozumel on our honeymoon, you’re suffering from your first experience with Montezuma’s Revenge and you get excited because you’ve found a place to order non-Mexican food it’s heartbreaking to realize you were better off sticking to tortillas and frijoles. In our case, the offending creation was a club sandwich slathered in warm, oily mayonnaise and topped with a fried egg.

After two weeks in Southeast Asia sampling strange fish, runny eggs, bizarre fruits and buckets of rice, Julie’s stomach finally waved the white flag in Nha Trang, Vietnam.

One night we headed to a large outdoor restaurant filled with locals. After perusing the book-like menu, passing by items like Goat’s penis and sea cucumber, Julie’s eyes brightened when she found fried chicken. We placed our order and she leaned back, relaxing with visions of southern U.S. comfort food soothing her troubled tummy.

The waiter came out and set a plate down in front of her piled with nothing but bird flesh. As she picked at this rough-and-tumble presentation, she realized that this was no Colonel Sanders special recipe.

She held up one chunk with a familiar shape that just seemed out of place. It was the head, or half of it because they had served Julie an entire half of a chicken. You could see the unfortunate fowl’s little brain stuck in the skull cavity like a pale raisin. And of course there were the feet.

Julie nibbled and toyed with the meal and soon pushed it to the side. “I’m done,” she announced with sadness. The waiter came over and asked “You not finish?” She again repeated, “I’m done,” and handed him the plate.

The waiter walked away shaking his head.

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