This is a guest post from Jessica Carilli, who writes “Jessica’s Blog of Bad Advice,” at jessicacarilli.blogspot.com.
When my husband and I travel together, we spend half the time hungry because we become petrified with indecision when it comes time to choose a restaurant, or picking something to order once we sit down. Here are some tips to make eating abroad a more pleasant experience, so you don’t end up yelling at one another and/or eating something disgusting because you are too darn tired.
Picnic in the parking lot of a fancy restaurant for views without the price
Choosing a restaurant. Deciding on a restaurant is difficult, especially in a tourist-friendly area. There are sure to be establishments offering picturesque views or attractive outdoor seating areas with nicely-appointed potted foliage. These are the places that I always vote for, because I am a sucker. Unfortunately, it seems that a nice location often guarantees inedible offerings. Here are a few tips for this step of the process:
1. Head a block back from the waterfront. Restaurants without views are more likely to stay in business because the food is good.
2. Avoid places where servers stand outside and harangue you to try their restaurant. They may serve perfectly good food, but I find it so irritating to be harassed that I am hoping this practice will die out if we all avoid caving into the pressure.
3. Aim for restaurants without English translations on the menus. Sure, you will be more likely to order entrails by accident (unless you follow my advice below), but at least you’ll know you found somewhere that caters to locals. This should translate to tastier food.
4. Choose an eatery that is busy with people, but not so packed that you will never get a seat and/or any food. Aim for around 75% capacity—assuming you are eating at the correct time of day, and others are also eating. If it’s 5 pm in Spain and you are looking for dinner, you may find it a touch difficult to find any restaurants in which other people are eating. Get a snack and wait until the dinner hour.
5. Similar to point #4, be sure to choose somewhere in which other people have plates of food in front of them. It’s embarrassing (and dangerous if you are very hungry and prone to blood-sugar-crash-induced mania) to be seated at a restaurant only to learn that you are actually just at an upscale bar with no food.
Washing down much too fishy-fish with a good white wine
Ordering your meal. By now you have settled into a seat in a bustling but not quite full restaurant with no view and menus you probably cannot read. How do you place an order? You have several options here, depending on how adventurous you are.
1. Randomly pick something on the menu via pointing or trying to pronounce it. This is probably the most dangerous option if you don’t know the language very well.
2. Discuss with the waiter, in any way possible (pantomime, perhaps?), and ask for a suggestion. This is the second-most-dangerous option, because you may end up with a local “delicacy,” which is another word for “disgusting parts and/or preparation method of certain local animal.”
3. The safest option is to do a little walk-through of the restaurant and surreptitiously look at what other people are eating. If you see something that looks good, try pointing to that person’s plate to order.
4. Be sure to obtain some sort of beverage with your food, ideally one that has a strong flavor that you enjoy. This way, if you do end up with a plate of food you don’t particularly like, you can chase bites down with your drink and spare yourself the embarrassment of not eating your meal and offending everyone in the restaurant.
I'm still not sure what this actually was, but it tasted fantastic
I hope these suggestions will help reduce the incidence of arguing, having to choke down quivering plates of innards, and other hazards associated with eating on the road. If all else fails, a stash of granola bars is always helpful.