Monday, January 17, 2011

How to eat like an authentic tourist

Planning to visit foreign countries, but worried you won't stand out enough when ordering and eating food? Here are some great ways to eat out like a genuine tourist, wherever the heck you are.

Find familiar names

Even if you're in a weird country (e.g. one where they don't speak English), take comfort in the knowledge that you'll never be too far from a McDonalds restaurant. Seeing those ubiquitous golden arches as soon as you set foot in a foreign country may upset people looking for a more 'traditional' experience of other lands, but what doesn't upset them? Whining hippy environmentalists.

Don’t risk spewing your guts out by eating pigeons and octopus brains or whatever they eat over there (I haven't done any research, obviously). You know where you are with a healthy Big Mac and fries. Watch out though - some places have the option to swap your fries for salad, so don't get caught out! (Edit: Apparently this is an option back in the civilised world too. It's political correctness gone mad!)

Tasty Mos rice burger

If you can't find a McDonalds close by (unlikely), some countries have tried to make their own versions, which can be humoured if you're feeling optimistic. Mos Burger is a good example, which you'll see in Japan and other Chinese countries, but be careful to avoid some of their weird foreign experiments - like burgers made of rice instead of bread. It's political correctness gone mad.

A picture is worth three words

You don't have to learn daft-sounding words so you can correctly order an 'unga-bunga burger' or whatever they call things over there (I haven't done any research). Just make sure you only eat at places where they have handy pictures and varnished representations of what your dish might conceivably look like, and you can simply point and speak normally until they understand.

This means you won't be able to eat at many of the more traditional eateries favoured by locals, but that's probably for the best. Who wants to look at foreigners when they eat anyway? It's enough to put you off your fries.

Bring your own fork

Oh dear, ironic laziness has blended with the real me now. How easily that happens. I admit it, I've never been able to learn how to use chopsticks, no matter how many times and how many people have taught me. After five minutes of getting frustrated by the fiddly, highly efficient cutlery, I have flashbacks to unpleasantly difficult school Maths lessons and my dad impatiently teaching me how to tell the time, and I give up in despair.

Some places recognise this deficiency even before it's brought up, and handily serve meals with an optional fork, but in the cheaper and more exciting local places (which I eat at pretty much all the time), I've found that a pocket fork is the best solution. Don't worry about losing the fork either: you will definitely forget about it and leave it behind, all the time, but they're cheap to replace. You could even buy disposable plastic ones, if you're six.

Just guess

These fries taste unusual... but I like it

I don't eat at Mos Burger every day (though their seafood rice burgers are fantastic), and I only ate at McDonalds when I was in Xindian City and it was the only place open after midnight. Instead, I compensate for my lack of language skills in a different way when ordering food - I choose randomly.

Pointing with false confidence at a menu option on the wall that falls within your price range will usually be enough to convince whoever's cooking it that you know your stuff, and any questions they ask in a concerned tone of voice can be dismissed. Of course I'm aware that those two contradictory dishes aren't traditionally chosen together, I don't play by your rules!

This wouldn't be safe if you're a vegetarian, have allergies or have food preferences, but I'm very open when it comes to amazing Taiwanese cuisine, and haven't met a marinated animal I didn't like. Even that time I had intestines and duck blood wasn't too bad.

Optimistically ordering random food is an exciting way to stay alive, and surely I must be learning at least some of the words for common foodstuffs the more I do it.

You'd think so, wouldn't you?

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