Vietnamese Dinner Dishes

9 Crazy Things I Ate Around the World

Hello! Hola! Sawatdee-ka! As I am sure you’ve all noticed, I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus during the course of this past year. Why, you may ask? I volunteered to take an 11-month long journey to 11 countries to serve in orphanages, villages, and churches. My travels took me from Central America, Southeast Asia, and Africa. This chapter will certainly be one of the most rewarding and heart-transforming of my life.

If you’d like to read more about my travels and epiphanies I experienced, you can check out my other blog here! If, however, you’re more interested in all things strange, traditional, and delicious, then stick around here on The Thrive Life!

Those coconuts were on those trees behind us about 30-seconds before we drank them. #nowthatisfresh

To kick-off the mouth-watering and mesmerizing array of foods, here’s a fun list of some of the crazier things I ate around the world:

1. FRIED TARANTULA // Siem Reap, Cambodia

12743616_10156562348180525_5798225656330473208_nThis was one of my more surprising foodie adventures. Known for their affinity for creepy crawly delicacies, Cambodia offers various bug cafes where you can push your palate’s limits. Tarantulas, scorpions, and crickets are widely available on the streets of Siem Reap via market stands and carts.

One bite into the tarantula and I was totally freaked out by the eight hairy legs within view.  After a few crunchy bites, it actually proved to be pretty yummy– salty and crunchy, with a slight furry texture.

2. JICARO HORCHATA // San Pedro Sula, Honduras

12346456_941518082608957_5650511031471855666_nIn Honduras, you’ll often find the traditional Horchata made with jicaro seed as the primary ingredient. Our lovely host whipped up a batch of horchata for a birthday party we were attending and the results were as follows, from the words of my friends:

“I feel like I’m drinking a plant.”
“This tastes like we’re sipping on dead leaves”.
“You guys, I just threw mine out the window.”
“Well, I like it.”

A number of things could have gone wrong here. Jicaro is not something I would personally consider delicious, coupled with the fact that our host used water instead of milk, and I don’t think any sweetener was added. I would probably give horchata another try in other circumstances, but I’m with the girl who described it as “dead leaves”.

photo source: beedeephoto

3. SNAILS // Da Nang, Vietnam

Vietnamese SnailsMy lovely Vietnamese friend walked in our hostel with a bag of shells in her hand. It looked like she had just gone shell collecting by the ocean, until she doused them in chili sauce and took a little twig to start pulling out the meaty insides.

As a good Vietnamese friend, she quickly offered my friends and I some snails of our own. The challenge of yanking out the snail, paired with the spicy, salty flavor– I was hooked. Best described as, “They taste pretty oceany.” And the ocean is pretty freaking delicious.

4. SACHA INCHI // Battambang, Cambodia

12715834_10156562224270525_5943915734925880358_oAlso known as the “mountain peanut” from South America, sacha inchi seeds grow on beautiful vines and are now cultivated all over Southeast Asia. As part of our volunteer program, our team spent hours cracking open the shells of these beautiful pods of happiness.

Literally, I had these things stuffed in my pockets, I could not get enough. All day long I dreamt of a day I could smash these seeds down into sacha inchi butter (Is this a thing yet, Internet?!). Smooth, nutty, and creamy, these seeds blew my taste buds’ minds. The only downside: too many = diarrhea. Nosh with caution.

5. FRIED CATERPILLARS // Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Zimbabwean CaterpillarsEven with channelling my inner “Hakuna Matata” and envisioning Simba gobbling down a delicacy of assorted bugs, Disney magic couldn’t help me here. My friend Anna picked up a small bag of fried caterpillars from the market to share with our group.

I stuck to my “you-gotta-try-it-once” policy and went in for the kill. No surprises here; it was as horrible as I imagined. They basically tasted like crunchy, burnt twigs that disintegrated in your mouth. Thanks for trying, Anna.

6. FRUIT ROJAK // Sungai Petani, Malaysia

Malaysian RojakOn return from a day at the waterfalls, our Tamil friend grabbed this Malay treat from a roadside stand. Pineapple, cucumber, green mango were all tossed together with a BBQ-like sauce and topped with crunchy peanuts.

Overall, the dish was pretty tasty and a suitable cool, crunchy snack after a day roaming around nature. We split the dish between the four of us and I could only have a small amount due to the richness of the sauce. This could be a fun dish to try to recreate for a BBQ or pool party!

7. RAPE // Blantyre, Malawi

“Yes, rape… like the crime.” — My Local Malawian Friend

As odd as it sounds, I could eat rape for days. Rape greens were served to us daily while in Malawi. The best way to describe the taste was like a mild version of kale, or more potent version of spinach.

We had them served steamed with diced tomatoes and onions, and occasionally minced garlic when we were getting fancy. A super easy dish to make and eat. This will be a side dish I try to recreate at home.

photo source: beedeephoto

8. NSHIMA // Lusaka, Zambia

13737523_10157253084290525_8172068603041058735_oPop. Sadza. Nshima. You’ll hear all kinds of names in Africa to describe this cornmeal staple. Often eaten with greens and a protein, you cannot walk too far in a Zambian village without setting your sights on some nshima.

At first glance, I thought it was mashed potatoes. Unfortunately, besides first glance, it’s nothing like our beloved mashed spuds. The amount of sadza, nshima, and nsima I ate ranged from grainy to smooth, and salty to bland. Quite honestly, it didn’t taste much like anything other than the sauce or foods it was paired with. I’m not going to miss this.

9. BALUT // Manila, Philippines

balutBalut is a duck egg with a partially formed fetus inside. It is also EASILY the most horrendous food item to ever make contact with my stomach. We purchased a few at the market and from the outside, it looks completely harmless. Crack it open and suck down the warm, salty broth and you’re still thinking, “Man, this can’t be that bad. That broth was delicious”. Dive into the peeling process, take one bit of that parboiled egg and if the mini duck beak and small hairs don’t freak you out at that point, gobble it up!

It’s one of those, “you-gotta-try-it-once” situations. So, I’m officially on the Been There, Done That team as far as balut goes. #neverforgetneveragain

The amount of incredible foods this world has to offer is outstanding. Trying new foods was one of my favorite ways to experience new people and their cultures. Now, back in the States and there’s a lot of fun food ground to cover! Let’s do it!

I’m also fairly confident I ate my weight in Pad Thai in Thailand. #noshame
Zoodles & Buffalo Mushroom Meatballs

Buffalo Mushroom Meatballs

One thing I absolutely love about Whole30 is how it challenges me to try new things. When I made eggs for breakfast every day, around Day 5 I started to switch things up! I was making sausages with sides of leafy greens or ground pork skillets filled with veggies and fruits! Chicken is cheaper and I most familiar with ways to cook it, but when something interesting goes on sale, I challenge myself to figure out how to cook it– for the sake of variety and for new tasty, healthy food experiences!

So naturally, when I saw Maverick Ranch’s Ground Buffalo on sale, I was rather intrigued!
Buffalo meat, also known as bison meat, is a leaner, more nutritious variety of meat than traditional beef. It can be used as a replacement for beef in recipes too!Zoodles & Buffalo Meatballs

Buffalo Mushroom Meatballs (makes 9)
– 1lb Maverick Ranch Ground Buffalo
– 1/4 cup tomato sauce + extra 1/4 cup set aside
– 1/4 cup chopped baby bella mushrooms
– 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
– 1 large garlic clove, minced
– 1/8 cup coconut flour
– 5-6 large fresh basil leaves, chopped
– 1 tsp dried oregano
– 1/2 tsp garlic powder
– 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
– 1/4 tsp salt
– 1/4 tsp pepper
– extra virgin olive oil, for coating the pan


1. Pre-heat oven to 425-degrees.
2. Coat bottom of a baking dish in extra virgin olive oil.
3. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, mix together ALL ingredients (except the tomato sauce that’s to be set aside). Be careful not to overwork the meat, just until thoroughly mixed.
4. Divide mixture into nine equal pieces then ball up and place into baking dish. Coat with remaining tomato sauce.
5. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes.
6. ENJOY!🙂

This time I enjoyed my meatballs over some freshly prepared zoodles with a homemade roasted red pepper sauce– sprinkled with extra fresh basil, of course!Zoodles & Buffalo Mushroom Meatballs

What kinds of new creations have you attempted recently? Any new delicious discoveries?

Whole30 Days 10 & 11: Survival Tips for “The Hardest Days”

If you’re also at Day 10 & 11 of Whole30, welcome.
If you’re not here yet, get ready.
If you’ve already passed Day 10 & 11 successfully, CONGRATS!

As stated on the Whole30 blog Day 10 & 11 are the most difficult days during the Whole30 program. Here’s an excerpt from their Revised Timeline:

By this point, the newness of the program has worn off. You’ve made it through most of the unpleasant physical milestones, but you’ve yet to experience any of the “magic” the program promises. You’re still struggling to establish your new routine (read: you’ve eaten eggs prepared ten different ways over the last ten days), and while you’ve been trying really hard to have a good attitude, today you are incredibly aware of all the foods you’re “choosing not to eat right now.”  Everywhere you look, you see the things you “can’t” have: the melted cheese on a greasy burger, the creaminess of that double-scoop cone, the cold beer in your best friend’s tailgate cooler. Dammit, this is hard! And right now you’re wondering if the results will really be as good as “they” all say it is.

Look At All the FoodThis could not be more true. SEVERAL times over the past two days, I noticed an increase in my awareness of all the foods I “can’t eat”. The psychological hold my food habits have on me came into full effect. I haven’t seen many physical changes yet. My body is tired after all my workouts and I’m still waiting to start feeling strong.

All this being said, as Day 11 comes to a close, there were a few things that helped me make it through. Hopefully, you’ll find these tips as helpful!🙂

1. Exercise in the AM: I know this is difficult for some of your schedules, so better to exercise at any point than not at all. When I exercise in the morning, first thing, it sets the tone for the rest of my day. Intentionally starting off with a workout, even if it is just a quick one, can lay the foundation for a healthy day. So if your Day 10 & 11 are approaching, make sure to get to bed early the night before, just so you can tear it up in the morning! Doing this can be a HUGE motivating factor to stick with your new eating habits throughout the day.

2. Drink LOTS of Water: Throughout these days, you’ll start to feel hungry at random times throughout the day when you’re not actually hungry. More than likely, you’re actually dehydrated. Keeping a constant source of water handy and sipping throughout the day will aid those craving battles. What if water isn’t doing the trick? Grab a LaCroix Sparkling Flavor Water! Not only are these sparkling beauties #Whole30Approved, but it also adds some flavor and bubble to your water routine.LaCroix Waters

3. Do something FUN: Squeeze a little fun time in your day. Play a sport with a friend. Dance in your living room. Find a playground and get on the swing. Read in your favorite comfy chair. Whatever it may be, use this fun time as a chance to fully immerse yourself in an activity that doesn’t revolve around food. I would even shy away from meeting a friend at a coffee shop– hang out at the pool or park instead. This allows you an opportunity to engage in life and not stress about those foods haunting your dreams.😉

4. Make yourself accountable: Chances are by this point a few people know about your Whole30 Challenge. Pick one or two of those people and keep them around close on these days. Having others around you will alleviate some of the pressure you feel when you’re alone. If they cannot physically be around, make sure to shoot them a text or call them up for a good pep talk when things are getting hard!

Just remember, STAY STONG! You GOT THIS!
You’re already a third of the way there and now is NOT the time to give up, friends! Zoodles & Ghee

Chipotle Salad

What I Ate Wednesday #4

Well folks, it’s Day 6 of my second round of Whole30! (Technically it is about my fourth attempt at Whole30, I’ve successfully completed one, but once again, I’m going for a successful round two— it’s wedding season, you guys…)

More importantly than that, today was the last day of school!😀
:::insert cheers and tears:::funny-school-signs Thankfully, this sign is not from our school, but the giggles are wonderful.

The last day, I knew, would consist of extra goodies and treats. I took extra precaution to fill my lunch box with delicious, healthy things to ward off the temptations sure to be lurking.

Breakfast: Running late to work, I quickly threw three eggs in boiling water to prep my Hard-boiled Eggs while I ran around my house trying to get ready. My Green Smoothie was also prepared, but devoured before it was photo time. Oops!eggsThe students got out of school early today, so the teachers were celebrating with an Italian Feast after school. During my break I opted to snack a little bit and wait to bring my Whole30 Italian Lunch to the feast.

Snack: Simple and delicious. An Apple Pie Larabar and 1/2 cup of Strawberries did the trick! Along with copious amounts of water.Larabar & StrawberriesAs I planned, the Italian Feast was overwhelmingly delicious looking AND smelling. And so NOT Whole30! I’m talking bread, cheese, and more bread… and cheese. With this in mind, I intentionally planned my lunch to be “Italian-themed”.

Lunch: Incredible. Say hello to Fresh Zoodles with homemade Roasted Red Pepper Sauce and Ground Buffalo Italian Meatballs. Can’t forget the Fresh Basil! Presentation, people.Zoodles with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce & Ground Buffalo MeatballsDinner, on the other hand, was an absolute mess. For starters, there was a piece of fish I was itching to cook, but apparently I waited too long since buying it. I also wanted to make some plantain chips. And you can see how that turned out…Burnt Plantain ChipsDinner: Chipotle saves the day!! Carnitas Salad with TomatoesHot Salsa, and Guacamole! Thank you, thank you, Chipotle!Chipotle Salad Chipotle Salad2And so, we end another scrumptious Whole30 day! Please say a little prayer for me as my roommate sings, “I love feta cheese! It’s delicious! And it’s yummy!” for the rest of the evening. Okay Sarah, I get it, cheese is delicious and not Whole30 approved!😉

Happy Wednesday, everyone!🙂

Sweet Potato + Bacon Hash

Sweet Potato + Bacon Hash

The school year is coming to a close, ladies and gentlemen. I’ve always been told that as a first year teacher, your main goal is to survive. “If you finish with your head above the water, you’ve succeeded!” as they say.

Well… I MADE IT! On top of that, I feel confident that I got to show lots of love to my students, aid them in their learning, and challenge them on their way of thinking and doing life. Does this mean I get extra credit?

The downside, however, with “just surviving” the school year is that I let many of my healthy habits slip. Exercise was a nice treat once a week, if I was that lucky. Healthy eating only happened if I meal prepped on Sunday– and if I didn’t? Well, let’s just say the people over at Wawa started saying “See you tomorrow, Victoria!” as I walked out of the store with my usual breakfast order. #whatamidoingwithmylife

Here we are now. I’m getting back on track after falling off the wagon a bit. I might as well celebrate with a new mouth-watering breakfast dish! Which brings us to the star of this post…Sweet Potato & Bacon Hash

Sweet Potato & Bacon Hash (serves 3-4)
– 2 small sweet potatoes
– 1/2 yellow onion (about 2 cups diced)
– 1 green bell pepper
– 3 slices Maverick Ranch Sugar-Free Bacon
– 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
– 1 tsp paprika
– 1 tsp rubbed sage
– 1/2 tsp salt
– 1/4 tsp black pepper
– 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakesSweet Potato & Bacon Hash

1. Peel sweet potatoes and finely chop. Also, finely chop green bell pepper and yellow onion roughly the same size for more even cooking.
2. Heat 3 tbsp EVOO in a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add in potatoes, onion, and green bell pepper.
3. Add in all spices listed and stir to coat veggies.
4. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, heat a separate skillet to medium heat and cook bacon to desired crispness. Once bacon is to your desired crispness, take off pan and blot extra grease with a paper towel.
5. After the 10 minutes has passed, lower the temperature to medium-low and pat down hash into the skillet. Let it cook for another 5-6 minutes without stirring to allow potatoes to crisp up on one side.
6. Check potatoes for tenderness. If ready, give one last stir and take off heat. Then, chop bacon into similar-sized pieces and sprinkle onto hash.

Sweet Potato & Bacon Hash

Today, I enjoyed my hash topped with scrambled eggs, chopped scallions, a dash of hot sauce, and an extra sprinkle of chopped bacon😉
Hash & Egg BreakfastSweet Potato & Bacon HashNow if this doesn’t inspire you to a healthy breakfast, then I don’t know what will! The tenderness of sweet potatoes mixed with the salty crunch of bacon will make you rejoice! The best part about this dish too is it’s Whole30 compliant! (As long as you use approved bacon) BAM! Now get cooking–you can have this dish anytime of day!🙂

Sweet Potato & Bacon Hash