Friday, December 24, 2010

The spice of life; hold the spice

A survey done by revealed that U.S. travelers are not that adventurous when it comes to eating local cuisine while they're traveling.

The survey found that almost two-thirds of travelers make it a point to try the local cuisine when traveling. Only six percent surveyed said they would not stray off the beaten path, and would only eat cuisine that they were familiar with. Of those polled, 13 percent were not even willing to try any local cuisine at all. Twenty-nine percent had chosen a destination because of its cuisine, and 18 percent prefer to eat at an American fast food chain instead of a local restaurant.

So almost two-thirds of travelers try local cuisine, but then you have to deduct those who chose the destination specifically for its cuisine. That's why they're there. That leaves about only about a third of travelers who think it's a good idea to eat locally.

American fast food? Cuisine that you're familiar with, like marinara sauce? Food is one of the few real pleasures that you get in travel that doesn't need to be translated for you. If you're avoiding surprises, then you're kind of missing the point of leaving your neighborhood.

Trying to eat familiar dishes while you're away is a triple problem. The first is that you're missing out on the cultural experience of travel. The second is that a burger made in another country isn't anything like the burger you're getting at home. The bread is different. The meat is different. The other ingredients (like bread crumbs or who knows what else) are different. Even the fast food places have different menus than they do in America (McCroque, anyone?) And the third problem is that what you think is Chinese food isn't what they serve in Greece or Croatia as Chinese food. And, by the way, neither of them is anything like the food that people actually eat in China. If you want to try Chinese food overseas, go to Beijing.

I admit that I'm more adventurous in, say, France, like the above shellfish starter that included something called bigomeaux (translated to "winkle" or "periwinkle") than I'd be in, say, Syria (where I once had a terrible burger and a fabulous milkshake). But eating real Turkish ice cream (the one I tried was flavored with some kind of tree sap), which has an odd malted flavor, helps you understand your childhood Turkish Taffy candy. After all, one of the joys of travel is that you come back with a better understanding of yourself.

So put down that pizza and try the dish that everyone is eating around you. Even if it's tripe.