The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

RANDOM NOMAD: Mark Wiens, Traveling Entrepreneur and Street Food Addict

Place of birth: Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Passport: USA
Overseas history: France (Albertville): 1990–91); Democratic Republic of Congo (Tandala): 1991–94; Kenya (Nairobi): 1995–2004; Thailand (Bangkok): 2009 – present.
Occupation: Freelance writer, blogger, video blogger, and food lover.
Cyberspace coordinates: Migrationology — Cultural Travel and Street Food Around the World (blog); Eating Thai Food (blog); @migrationology (Twitter handle); Migrationology (Facebook); and Migrationology (YouTube channel).

What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
I grew up traveling and living overseas with my parents, who are Christian missionaries. So after returning to the United States to attend university, I was ready to get back to traveling again.

Is anyone else in your immediate family “displaced”?
My parents are now residing in Tanzania. My father is now in leadership so he ventures into remote parts of Africa frequently and gets to see some pretty cool things!

As a Third Culture Kid, you’ve grown up living in several different countries. Tell me about the moment when you felt the most displaced.
What makes me feel out of place? Showing up at the airport, train station or bus station of a new city and not knowing how to get to the city center. That happened a lot when I first began solo traveling. I didn’t do enough initial research before arriving in a country.

One time I flew into Clark Airport in the Philippines thinking it was in Manila, but in reality it’s located about three hours from the city, and there’s no easy way to get to Manila center. I should have known this before arriving and getting lost!

I now still don’t do a lot of planning, but I always do a bit of research to figure out the best way to get from the airport (or station) to the city center!

Wow, you sound pretty comfortable in the big wide world out there, if you don’t even bother doing research before a trip. When have you felt the most comfortable?
Whenever I’m eating delicious food cooked by a local — that’s when I feel the least displaced. In Sri Lanka, for instance, I got into the habit of stopping to eat food along the side of the road. I would always be greeted by genuinely friendly and hospitable people. So in addition to delicious food, I would be connecting with others. That’s how I feel at home in a foreign place.

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from your travels into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
Durian from Southeast Asia — the most amazing fruit in the world! It makes me very happy!

And now you are invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other members of The Displaced Nation. What’s on the menu?

Appetizer: Poke, the Hawaiian sashimi: cubed pieces of raw fish marinated in onions, soy sauce, and sea salt.
Main: Sichuan fish hot pot, known as Shuizhuyu. It’s the signature dish in Sichuan cooking.
Dessert: Either Thai-style sticky rice with durian, or just plain durian fruit.
Drink: Stoney, a strong ginger soda from East Africa that burns going down.

I wonder if you could also add a word or expression from one or more of the countries you’ve lived in to The Displaced Nation argot.
From Kenya: Sema boss, a slang term for greeting the person who is in charge. It’s a good way to connect.
From Thailand: Mai pen rai, how Thais say “don’t worry about it” or “no problem.” It’s a polite phrase.
From Mexico: Pansa llena, corazón contento: “Stomach full, heart is happy.” When I lived in the US, I had many friends from Mexico who would use that expression with me as they knew I loved to eat. I also have visited northern Mexico a number of times.

This month we’ve been exploring the idea of organizing one’s travels around the wish to try particular foods. I understand that many of your travels are motivated by food interests?
Yes, nowadays just about all my travels are motivated by food. I do travel to see other countries and meet new people, but my main passion is food and that’s what I enjoy searching for. I would be very happy to fly to a destination and not do any of the normal tourist attractions, but just eat. A few months ago I took just a short 24-hour trip to Malaysia with a strict mission to eat. It was an amazing food binge!

Are you more motivated by the idea of trying new foods or by finding the very best of particular foods?
I’d say I’m equally motivated to try new foods and to find the very best foods that I’ve already eaten previously. I’m always excited to try something I’ve never seen or heard of before, but at the same time if I hear about the best bowl of Thai boat noodles, or the most amazing seafood restaurant, I’m quite tempted too!

If you were to design a world tour based on food, what would be your top five stops/foods to try?
I couldn’t narrow it down to five, so here are six:
1) Thailand — try the gaeng som (sour spicy soup), som tam (green papaya salad), and boo pad pongali (crab yellow curry).
2) Malaysia — try the nasi campur (mixed curry and rice), nasi lemak (rice and toppings), and roti canai (roti bread with curry).
3) China — try the Sichuan hot pot and all kinds of exotic delicacies.
4) India — try the thali (rice with a variety of curries), dhosa (pancake with curries) and home-cooked curries.
5) Mexico — try the tacos, burritos, mole (chocolate curry), carne asada (grilled meat), and ceviche (seafood salad).
6) Ethiopia — try the mahaberawi, a platter that includes injera (white spongy bread) topped with a variety of spicy curries.

Readers — yay or nay for letting Mark Wiens into The Displaced Nation? He’s an adventuresome eater, that’s for sure, but can you stand the smell of what’s in his suitcase? (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Mark — find amusing!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s episode in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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img: Mark Wiens in the act of trying, for the first time, to cut open a durian fruit, on his balcony in Bangkok.

5 responses to “RANDOM NOMAD: Mark Wiens, Traveling Entrepreneur and Street Food Addict

  1. Jan Paul September 20, 2012 at 5:42 am

    OMG haha i had exactly the same experience flying to Clark when I thought the flight was going to Manila. Did you happen to book with tiger airways also? I luckily didn’t get lost because I had my girlfriend who is from PI with me.

    • migrationmark September 21, 2012 at 10:07 pm

      Hey Jan,
      Haha, funny to hear that happened to you as well… from then on I’ve always researched where the airport is located wherever I travel. Great that you had your girlfriend to pick you up!

  2. ML Awanohara September 20, 2012 at 11:04 pm

    (Holding my nose) Hey, Mark, do you think you can put that suitcase over there — I can’t abide the smell of durian, let alone contemplate eating it for dessert! And I don’t think I’m so unusual in this. Don’t some airlines ban people from carrying these fruits? Other than that, though, I’m giving serious consideration to your bid to join the Displaced Nation. I’m inclined to vote “yay” simply on the grounds of your proposed world food tour. You know, I wrote a post last month about my nostalgia for living in curry-loving countries — so was pleased to note that quite a few of your recommended dishes involve curry. The only country I wasn’t sure about was #6, Ethiopia. I have to say I’m not a big injera fan — a bit too spongy for my tastes! And filling: sits a bit too heavily in the stomach, rather like the Japanese rice cake, or mochi.

    One question (I’m sure I’m not the first to ask it): how do you stay fit if you eat so much?

    • migrationmark September 21, 2012 at 10:11 pm

      Haha, yes, I don’t think you can ever bring durian on a flight and many public transportation and hotels don’t allow the fruit – it can take 2 weeks to remove the smell from indoors – awesome! The balance of flavors in any variety of curry is just the best, thanks for sharing that post.

      I actually wrote a post not long ago about that very subject (, despite eating a lot, I also do a lot of walking and eat lots of fruit and vegetables.

  3. Anne October 19, 2012 at 10:32 am

    Sema boss! Great to read you left Kenya with at least one or more expressions!

    I tend to think in Nairobi, we do not have loads of street food apart from the roast mtura (sausage made from tripe and blood which I passionately hate!) and roast maize which are basically snacks.
    In Mombasa, that’s a different story. Did you manage to visit the coast?

    I agree with ML Awanohara about injera, a bit too different for me!

    Did you try Somalian cuisine while you were here? They do have good food which is surprising since their hobbies are not very friendly (pirating and war).

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