28 Feb Travel Tuesdays – No.8 – Travel eating tips edition
So with the reviews bit done, now for something completely different. Well not completely, it’ll will of course still be within the food related realm, but I saw a chance at a Python reference and I took it!
My top tips to avoiding the touristy, rip off places that ravage the culinary landscape of many cities (too dramatic?)
1) Don’t talk to strange men wearing bow ties
As well as being a brilliant life lesson, this tip will also help you steer clear of rubbish restaurants: avoid strange men wearing bow ties. Ok, more specifically the men (and yes they are always men before I’m labelled the sexist food critic, what with this and my controversial comments about lists just before (see previous post!)), whose job it is to stand outside their restaurant and sell it to you. How? Well the hard sell. I would measure them akin to the Sirens of Greek mythology; they look and sound like the real deal, but like the Sirens, the bow-tied men are sinister and deceitful. These restaurants are usually un-authentic and soulless tourist traps.
This tip comes with a two for one deal; avoid main squares. The bow-tied men, bad food and main square are intrinsically linked. It’s like walking in gentrified East London; it’s all very nice, until you take a wrong turn! There will always be a street full of these bow-tied men and once you go in, its very hard to get out. Usually you eat somewhere you don’t want to just to shut them up.
2) Lost in Translation
Now I was very grateful for restaurants for providing English menus as often as they did, however, I would warn against certain restaurants that offer translated menus. When a restaurant offers menus in English to Spanish to Japanese to Swahili (well maybe not, but I think I’ve made the point), you can’t help but feel the restaurant is trying to appeal to the masses! When restaurants do this, the food on offer is usually generic concoctions, trying to cater to foreign tastebuds. On a tangent to this, I must recommend the App ‘World Lens’. You place your phone, ITouch, IPad and so on above some text and, in what must be magic, the text translates the words into English, or the language of your choice*. Use it on road signs when lost, but it was menus that I used this most on. It was particularly useful in Germany, when I didn’t know what was going on (more than) half of the time!
*To anyone from World Lens reading, just to reiterate, I am open to sponsors.
3) Not just a pretty picture
On a similar vein, avoid restaurants that place pictures on their menus. They are either stock images found on the web and not what can be expected of the restaurants own food. On the other side of things, the pictures will usually be of pretty awful looking food, in which case, you don’t need me to tell you to avoid such places! The aim of these pictures is to attract the tourists; you know the sort, ‘Hey look they serve spaghetti bolognese, we must try that while we’re in Italy’. These picture using restaurants then will usually serve food that they believe us tourists consider to be the regional cuisine. Note – this rule does not usually apply to Asian restaurants…
4) Jack of all trades, master of none
Avoid restaurants that offer ridiculously extensive menus. Jack of all trades, master of none. Say no more.
5) WiFi can wait!
I realise the offer of free WiFi may seem attractive. The temptation to log in to Facebook to upload a selfie of you at the Eiffel tower or the ever hilarious manipulation of proportion, making it seem as if you are the cause of the Leaning Tower of Pisa’s lean. However, if a restaurant has to openly advertise WiFi to entice their customers, one must wonder if they are not confident enough in their food alone. If the restaurant offers WiFi, grand, but only if you stumble across it yourself; scrolling through your phone to try and look busy and important perhaps. There’s nothing wrong with trying to lure customers in, there’s too much competition to sit idle if the customers aren’t flocking in, but if the reputation of the food is nothing to shout about or enough to bring you in then this is usually a hint.
Of course these observations are solely my own findings from what I could discern from my time in each of the cities I visited and realise they are not blanket rules. However, the best and the worst meals of my trip were in accordance to these rules. You were warned!