Eating abroad sounds fun and exotic…except when you have the palate of a 5 year old. I live off of coffee, donuts, and Mac & Cheese. My tastes have not changed much since childhood. Vegetables? Bleck. Fruit? Eh. Candy? Now you’re talking.
Sure, I’ve had great food. Other times I questioned why the “pea soup” was red instead of green. I asked my traveling partners what meat we were consuming and they simply shrugged because they couldn’t identify it either. On the other hand, I’ve had fresh fruit off the trees that made my mouth water and crepes on the streets of Paris that made me promise to return one day.
However, as a traveler, it’s very difficult to not offend the culture but also eat something you’re not familiar with or even like. So what should I do?
- Know what You’re Ordering. Ah, the days of Google Translate are here folks and with a touch of a button. Although Google has been ridiculed at times for it’s accuracy, it is now better and smarter at converting what is needed. Luckily, there is even an app for that. Download the Google Translate app. Word of advice: Once you pick the language you will need on your journey, download it so you can use it offline as well. When I was in Mexico with my husband, we were lucky enough for most menus to be translated into English as well. Not the case when I was in Europe. Although we used a translation tool, it wasn’t much help. With the Google translate app not only can you type in your phrases or words, but you can also take a picture as well! If you’re unsure or have dietary restrictions, use a tool to help you figure out what you may need or want. If you’re feeling adventurous, go for it. Yet for my Vegan, Kosher, Gluten Free, etc. amigos, look up what you’re ordering first to make sure it’s what you need and avoid the added stress.
- Grow a Pair and Try New Foods. “Just try it!” my mother used to say to me over and over again. Although I hate to admit it, some of my favorite foods are due to simply tasting the food. Pesto sauce–it’s green why would I like it? Tried it. Loved it. Calamari–that sounds weird no thank you. Tried it. Delicious. There are so many foods that I fell in love with because I simply tried the food. In new countries, it’s always a bit nerve wracking when trying and tasting new foods. However, I gave myself a strict rule–eat what the locals eat. If that means eating tacos that may in fact have burned my mouth and I began sweating in my seat and drinking a pitcher of water…hey, I tried it. Eating locally can also mean getting to know the locals. Through food I was able to learn more about English customs and what they ate on a daily basis. So what were some things I tried? France–Escargot. Germany–Wienerschnitzel and mashed potatoes (oh Mylanta, yum). England–Chicken Tikka Masala. Dominican Republic–Goat meat. I found that items I hated at home were scrumptious abroad. Sure, I found things I disliked, but I found I had a culturally sound experience through the food.
- Learn about the Eating Customs. Sure, we like to think that our proper ways of eating are applicable to all countries. Nope. Sure, slurping your food here is not acceptable, but in Japan it is encouraged! Find what your country customs include so you don’t stick out like a sore thumb. As I was researching for my own trip to Rome, I found that drinking cappuccino (or any form of milky coffee) after 10 AM was pretty much a big no-no. Good to know since I’m in a constant state of drinking coffee! However, the more you stick out, the more people will know you’re a tourist. Learning about the eating customs may help save you some embarrassment. Burping in China? Shows your appreciation of the food. Thailand–don’t even think about putting your fork in your mouth. Don’t pass food between chopsticks in Japan. South Korea only wants you to eat when the oldest member has begun. This list continues for various countries. Even if you were in French club in high school…learn the customs.
- Research Beforehand. If you are traveling to a country and unsure of the foods do some research ahead of time. For instance, my husband and I are going to Italy in the summer. Although I am an avid fan of Italian dishes, I began looking up what items I may like or things that will be new to my palate. With the ease of modern technology, we can easily find simple food items that we like, want to try, or meet our dietary needs/restrictions. Not sure about a restaurant? TripAdvisor will give you tons of information about what is available, pricing, and reviews. Sure, we like to think that we can find something the same, but in reality, we are out of our comfort zone. Do a little research before your trip to find what you want, restaurants to try, and cuisines to blend in with the locals.
- K.I.S.S. When in doubt, keep your ordering to something simple. Do not be “that person” who orders tons on the menu to only find you hate it and waste platefuls of food. You like chicken–look for a plate that offers chicken. You like sweets, check out a local bakery. Tea time in London? Try a cup–trust me, it’s way better in England. No wonder they have a specific time of the day designated for it. Try new things, but keep it simple and your expectations realistic. If you have a sensitive palate (or an immature one like me), keep your eating simple and you can gradually work your way up.
You may not like the food. You may love it. You won’t know until you try.
“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” ~Clifton Fadiman
Talk soon folks!