Hi again Brad,
What a great question. Living in Asia was truly life changing in every possible way. To be honest, I was quite sheltered growing up and naively thought that the fact that I had spent a year, 1980, in Paris studying art prepared me for living anywhere overseas. Ha! Real life jumped up and smacked me and it was the best thing that had ever happened to me.
My outlook on food was forever changed when I first found out that my eggs were grown on the Leper colony down the street and that butter and milk products were nowhere to be found. I would beg my friends to bring me suitcases of butter back from their business trips to Japan. You cannot imagine how it was for me, a simple western girl, to go to the market hall in Pusan, - no, not a beautiful farmer's market, but a foul dark cavernous warehouse-like building lit by hanging bulbs where wrinkled women would squat in front of their piles of unidentifiable roots - and have to bargain for these delicacies, developing my nascent Korean language abilities. I must say that these experiences helped me to learn to read and write Korean. When they found out that I could speak with them, they were delighted to explain how to prepare their favorite dishes and were always more than willing to share their family recipes. Thus emboldened, I would embark on my journeys throughout Asia, and would always learn how to ask "How do you make this", and "May I watch". 100% of the time people would take me into their kitchens and show me their recipes and methods of preparations.
Regardless of whether the kitchen was an open fire on a packed clay floor, a smoky room fueled by charcoal, or a modern kitchen with the latest of appliances, the warmth and feeling of sharing their heritage was always the same.
This provided me with unbelievable glimpses of insights into many people's cultures and stood me in good stead throughout my journeys through the islands of the Indian Ocean, the countries of Africa, and the depths of the Asian Continent.
In the entire world, one of the most common denominators is the desire to be nurtured around the stove and table. It is the same from Paris to Portland to Pusan.
As far as foods and flavors which opened my eyes, I must say that the second time I lived in Paris, in 1990, while a student at the Hotel Ritz was truly lifechanging. My classic training at the Ecole Ritz-Escoffier grounded me in techniques which can be used for preparing all cuisines. Being a part of the French love affair with food was incredible.