Monday, July 8, 2013

On recipes and receipts

As a traveler, you're limited in what you can know about a restaurant to visit. Guidebooks tell you not to patronize places that post photos of the food (a notion I find ridiculous on a tourist trail). But it is true that you might not know enough about the language to scope out ingredients or preparation. (I had my eyes open before I tried tripe soup in Turkey, but disliked it anyway. Sorry, Turkey.)

Furthermore, restaurants in tourist areas, after all, don't have to worry too much about repeat business that they'd get from providing great experiences to diners.

Knowing something about local laws can provide a window into what you're getting. In Italy, it sometimes happens that a policeman will stop someone leaving a restaurant to inspect the receipt (the proof of restaurant revenues for later taxation.) But the receipt doesn't have to show up until the meal is finished.

In Greece, a reputable place won't bring even a bottle of water to the table without providing a receipt (often rolled up in a little Lucite holder.) Again, this is to ensure, upon inspection by a visiting authority, that the restaurant is obeying laws.

Greeks have a long history of caring about freshness from the sea

Greek restaurants are also required to state on the menu whether the ingredients in a dish are fresh or frozen. In my anecdotal experience, this doesn't happen as often as it might.

Why do you care, as a traveler? Because in lots of places you can't do your own inspection of the place. To me, whether the eatery follows the rules in the dining room provides an insight into how it works the rules inside the kitchen. That matters to me.

I wish I'd thought about this idea that time in Acapulco when I petted the restaurant's monkey and then ate my lunch.

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