Am I the only one out there who LOVES food courts? I seek them out most everywhere I go. Some of the best of them, of course, can be found in big shopping malls, which is why I inevitably end up wandering around such places when traveling. The basements of department stores in Tokyo are particularly mind blowing. But food courts come in many different shapes and sizes. The “hawker centers” in Singapore – food court! The SPARK Social gathering of food trucks in San Francisco – food court! Pretty much any night market in Thailand? Food court! In other words, any time you have at least 6-10 micro restaurants jammed together in one place, in my book that’s a food court. Why do I like them so much? In short, it’s the variety. I love that feeling of being bombarded with options. Hmm, what do I feel like eating today? Chinese, Thai, Indian? Momos, dimsum, empanadas? Pretzels, cookies, tiramisu? What a pleasure it is, wandering through a great food court, asking my taste buds, “What would you like to eat today?” It’s like visiting an international food expo for my tummy!

I could go on and on about great food courts around the world (shout out to the hidden food court in Singapore Airport) but one of my all-time favorites is the Hirome food court in Kochi, Japan. This place is insane! Here you find dozens and dozens of food stalls selling every kind of Japanese food you can think of, from the usual yaki tori (grilled chicken skewers) to ramen to the local favorite, “katsuo no tataki”: seared skipjack tuna seared over straw-fueled open flames. What I love about Hirome the most, however, is the organized confusion. There are people everywhere here – in line, at tables, milling around. I’m sure there is some sort of organization to this chaos – perhaps a system where you order good here, buy tickets there, have the food brought to you…something! But this isn’t a food court for foreign tourists. There are NO English signs. No instruction boards. No anglicized menus. It’s just a full-on melee of food and people and kanji – and somehow it all works. Folks are getting fed; no one is pushing or shoving or cutting in lines. Hirome exemplifies what the Japanese do best: accommodate large crowds while still maintaining courtesy and protocol. Call it a safe stampede, a mosh pit without the pit. Using a combination of broken Japanese and gestures, I eventually manage to procures a seat and a delicious plate of veggie sushi and gyoza. Organized chaos and great food. Now this is my kind of food court!

(I have a love-hate relationship with variety. Although I love having options, I hate the paralysis that kicks in when I have to actually make a decision! What’s your relationship with FOMO – Fear of Missing Out? It seems to me that there are two ways to live life: 1) keeping your options way open, and 2) making purposeful decisions and thereby narrowing your options. Parents always tell you, “Make a decision and stick to it. Choose one career and master it. Be an expert.” But is this the only way? Who’s to say what constitutes a good life? Perhaps your path is to have 10 different careers. Perhaps your way is to have a traveling life, living in a dozen different countries. My point is, YOU get to choose whether you want quality or quantity, whether you want to go narrow or go broad. In other words, if your nature draws you to variety, go for it. If you prefer stability and certainty, do that. It’s your life! Live it!)