Find your place to eat
Feeling great. Having just showered you feel like you have just washed off the last 20 hours of traveling and you are destined to do something. Room is great, receptionist was nice, shower felt good… now what? Well, all that airplane food was great, but now you are in your dream place so why not eat what the locals eat. Since this is your dream vacation I presume you did find out what to expect on the plate here. Enjoying your food experience abroad is a delightful part of traveling. Maybe it’s something you have been looking forward to forever.
With your newly acquired transportation card in your pocket, you head for a bus or metro stop. Maybe you want to stretch your legs and do some walking. Whatever you choose, you hit the town in search of that restaurant that you have read about.
Leave your comfort zone
The best places are away from tourist traps. Restaurants in downtown and in the main square are maybe great looking and great for photos, but food…. not so much. They don’t have to try so hard to impress you. Those restaurants know that their main crowd are tourists. As a tourist, we will not be a repeat customer, we don’t know what it is supposed to taste like, and we are paying higher prices unknowingly. Not to mention service is not always spot on. But then again, that can happen anywhere.
One thing I never understood is how some people will go to a foreign country and end up eating at a restaurant that is readily accessible in their own country. Fast food or Chinese while in Europe does not make sense either. Hello? For real?
Just because you had Swedish meatballs in IKEA or Polish sausage from your local deli you have no idea.
Pizza in Italy is fantastic. This was said by someone (ME) who does not like pizza in the US. Get the one with the egg on it. Sardines in Portugal, meat pies in England, bangers and mash in Ireland and so on and so on. Some foods might have the same name at home but that’s about all the similarities.
When we were in Austria just a regular looking diner for locals served us the best garlic soup we ever had. In Evora, Portugal purely by chance we ate the best ever fish soup in a local tiny diner again. Quito, Ecuador had delicious empanadas with orange salsa. This is not a culinary post. Just letting you know how great traveling can also be a savory retreat for your taste buds.
Drink with measure
Another thing I do is try the local beer. While in Rome I discovered the sweet taste of Peroni Rossa, a red smooth amber lager. Don’t be a hero and try them all at once, but over time. We don’t want to get plastered and we do want to remember the trip.
I remember once in Athens, Greece, while searching for some morning coffee which was located in the bar area, a couple of ladies struck a conversation with me. Judging by their speech I could tell they had a few drinks already. This was in the morning people. Soon I have learned that they have been in Athens for almost 2 weeks and have not even seen the Temple of the Zeus, which was directly across the street. None of my business and not my vacation, but I don’t need to go to Greece to sit at the bar. I can do that home, but then again, we all seek different things from traveling so who knows.
Know local customs
While finding that perfect dining place might take little time, we eventually get there. The waiter gets your drink order and you start looking over the menu. A lot of restaurants in Europe have bilingual menus, their language and English translations. Not all, but you will find some that do and if not just ask and see. Also, most of them display the menu on a board or by the front door so you are not obligated to enter. If not, then be adventures and try something new. Mystery meals can be a nice surprise or you will still feel hungry when you leave. At least you will know what it is next time.
As you are waiting on your drinks waiter swings by and leaves bottle of water, cheese, olives, bread and butter. You clearly don’t recall ordering that. That is just their ploy to squeeze more of your dough but it is also customary. You should find out if it’s part of the meal. In Greece for example they always show up with bottle of water and unless you tell them no thank you it will show up on your bill. Kat and I loved the bread and olives and different cheeses in Portugal but were also aware that we will pay for them. Why not? You are on vacation. Some spots offer small snails or fried pickles and peppers. Perhaps even a local snack that you will never get a chance to try.
Enjoying your food experience abroad
When you get your meal, it will be like another vacation. This time for your taste buds. Even simple things like tomatoes or eggs will taste different. Then you might find yourself at a peculiar crossroads as it happened to me many times. I love this and I’m here for a week. Do I eat this everyday so I get sick of it or do I try something new tomorrow?
You are on vacation, so don’t be in a hurry, trust me your waiter won’t be either. In Europe people take time for dinner. It is normal to spend at least an hour at the table. No one is rushing and no one will be rushing you to get out either. In fact, sometimes it is even hard to get your check. You are supposed to take your time to enjoy it.
Tipping in foreign countries varies so much from one country to the next there is no definite answer. In some countries it is included in your bill under service charge. So, before you offend your waiter by over tipping check first. (Guilty as charged.)
In the end
Writing this post made me hungry, very hungry. Our next trip is not going to be here for another few days. In the meantime, I better raid the fridge.
As usual don’t forget to rehydrate and support your local brewery. Comments are greatly appreciated. At least I’ll know some of you read this.
Now pack and get out there!