AKA how to save your trip abroad by ordering french fries
Being a picky eater sometimes sucks and it can seriously affect your physical and mental health when traveling. Food is comforting and life giving and you need it when traveling becomes very very stressful. When food also becomes a point of stress you are on your way to having a bad time.
You’ll be happy to know that I’ve discovered some tricks to remaining well fed while in a country of scary foods. These tips can also easily be applied to people with dietary restriction and allergies as well.
LEARN THE MENU LANGUAGE
You don’t have to know everything, but being picky means that ordering the wrong thing could be catastrophic. So, learn the buzzwords. Learn the words for foods you hate (I watch out for onions and tomatos) and the words for different meats, especially if you’re a vegetarian or are in a country that eats more than just chicken and beef. If you go to Peru and don’t know the menu language you could end up with Cuy (guinea pig).
Even if you don’t know exactly what the name means, remember what it looks like and if you liked it. I don’t know what Soupa Criolla means but I know it’s soup and I know it’s bomb af.
Work restaurant phrases into your lexicon as well. Something as easy as knowing how to say ‘no meat!’ can save you a lot of pointing, frowning, and lamenting.
ORDER A SAFETY NET ITEM
French fries. My secret to eating abroad is French fries. Whether is papas fritas, frites, or plain ole fries every country fries potatoes and sells them cheap. Order them as a side and if your main course ends up being less than pleasant, don’t be distraught because you’ll have fries! And fries are always good!
If you’re not a fry person (gtfo btw) try to find your own safety items on the menu. This could be salad, vegetables, or just white rice. Anything to guarantee that at the end of the meal you’ve eaten something. There’s nothing more disheartening than leaving a restaurant hungry.
BE A RETURN CUSTOMER
Find a place you like? That’s your place now. You live there. That’s your home. Get a job there. Move.
Go back there for every meal if you have to. The owners will not be upset, I promise.
Sometimes if you are having an especially hard trip food-wise it’s nice to have a trusted food haunt. A place that you know is vegetarian or gluten free or serves something uniquely pleasant to your picky palate.
MAKE GROCERY STORES YOUR BEST FRIEND
Seeing a grocery store is like nirvana for me. What treasures does this magical building hold? Dr. Pepper maybe? Microwavable rice? Oreos?!?!? Only one way to find out.
If you find out that the country you’re in doesn’t make food that you love or after a month of traveling you’re tired and just want to make macaroni in the hostel kitchen, a local grocery store can be a haven for you, the weary traveler.
Grocery stores are the easiest way to get food that you know you can eat. Even if that’s just sour cream and onion potato chips.
In Peru, we found a grocery store in Cuzco that sold ready-made food like fries and fried rice and oh my god we lived like kings for a week eating nothing but grocery store french fries and coke.
If you’re a vegetarian/vegan or are gluten-free (or have any other dietary restrictions) and are having a hard time coping in a country this is also a good option for you.
KNOW YOUR BOUNDARIES
If you have a food allergy you know what’s safe for you so just be careful about possible cross contamination.
However, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan this could be a complicated thing for you especially with the language barrier. When you get a meal with meat in it, you may not be able to send it back like you would if you were home so you need to decide your boundaries right away.
When I started traveling I was a strict vegetarian and I realized very quickly that I was not tough enough to survive vegetarianism abroad. I got tired of arguing with waiters and picking around bacon bits. So, when I’m home, I enjoy an environmentally friendly majorly plant based diet and when I’m abroad, I’m a little more lenient with my diet.
This may not be an option for you, morally or otherwise, so be prepared for some frustrating moments. The country you’re going to may not be as understanding of your diet as your home country is and you need to be understanding of that cultural difference.
TAKE A CHANCE
Picky eaters, take a chance. Take a bite of that onion, eat that spicy wrap, and taste that weird sauce that’s on your sandwich. The worst thing that can happen is, gross gross gross that was a mistake, and you may just broaden your horizons a little bit!
I hate letting food go to waste which is why I’m so careful with the food that I order abroad. I try my best to get food that I know I’m going to eat and even when I get something that I am immediately put off by I try and eat as much of it as I can. Sometimes I discover that I don’t hate eggplant as much as a previously thought and sometimes it’s just, gross gross gross that was a mistake, again. But I did try!
FINALLY, KNOW YOU ARE NOT “MISSING OUT”
Don’t let the foodies convince you that not loving the local cuisine makes you less than as a traveler. Traveling isn’t always about the food. Not trying snails in Paris does not lessen the fact that you’re in freaking France. It’s better to order a meal you know you’ll like than to waste a bunch of food you knew you’d hate. Make decisions based on what keeps you happy and healthy. At the end of the day, you’ll have better memories to look back on if you’re well fed and happy the whole trip.
Let me know if you have any specific questions about eating abroad and follow me on twitter for daily travel advice @tired_travelers!