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S7 E3 –Have you really ‘been’ to a city if you didn’t try the local cuisine?

This topic revolves completely around travel and holidays. Can you say you’ve really been to a destination if you sat in an all-inclusive hotel all week? Is tourism damaging to culture and heritage? Jamie reads some triggering statements out to Ben and Mike as they decide where they sit on the topic…

Best soundbite: “This is my holiday, I do not want some mint and I would not like a rug”- Mike Huttlestone

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  1. blencashire

    Sadly I don’t get to travel too often but I definitely agree with trying local foods and experiences wherever possible. I love a Pret coffee but hey, I can just get one when I get home!

    However I would say when it comes to pushing your boundaries, there are definite caveats for different people.

    I, for example, am a single disabled woman. As much as I would love the experience, there is no chance whatsoever that I would feel safe wandering around and getting lost in Morocco for example.

  2. I think Ben is a little closed minded when it comes just trying traditional foods. Cultures adopt other elements of each other and make it unique and thus a part of their future culture. Like Tikka Masala, or queso dip, or hamburgers! I mean come on, Potatoes and tomatoes didn’t exist in any culture outside of the Americas until the 1500s and now look how ubiquitous they are in food all over the world! We adapt and adopt.

    Japan and Korea (places I’ve lived) do western food in a really unique way that I think is worth trying. Pizza for example since you mentioned it. You guys need to try Japanese or Korean pizza! It’s a totally different thing. It’s not like a pizza you have in the UK or Italy. It’s softer, not greasy and often covered in a plethora of ingredients. The best one I ever had was a sweet potato, pumpkin and cinnamon savory pizza. You can’t get that anywhere else! Japanese coffee is also really good. Korea has its own unique take on Chinese food that’s delicious! I think you are stereotyping what you think a culture is or was and not looking holistically at what it is now. I’m not saying is wrong to eat the traditional foods, but don’t diss on other foods too.

    I do totally agree with trying to buy local though! I always try when I’m traveling to get food from local places. Except when I need WiFi, then I go to Starbucks because every Starbucks around the world has free WiFi and I can depend on that. Starbucks WiFi has saved me several times when I was lost in a foreign city with no data

  3. theanita1

    Have travelled with various tour companies G Adventures is definitely the best one. Random idea, but what if Ben worked with G Adventures to be a spokesperson for his ultimate foodie tour?! I would totally do that tour!

    On one positive note about Starbucks being everywhere, you can always guarantee free wifi and clean toilets…

  4. vsotardi

    Hello all! Newbie to SortedFood and brand new member. 🙂

    Great discussion! After listening to the podcast, it seems to boil down to two types of travelling: (1) those who are travelling for comfort and relaxation, and (2) those who are travelling to broaden their life experiences.

    These are not necessarily mutually exclusive, as one can stretch beyond what is typical to them while having a totally content and enjoyable experience. Furthermore, the same person can aim for the former on one holiday and the latter on another. I think it’s important to keep in mind a few things.

    Neither type of travelling is good or bad per se; however, it can be easy to judge one another. For instance, Ben and Jamie voiced their general preferences to travel for cultural exploration and education whilst seeming (lovingly) critical of Mike’s all-inclusive holidaying. Meanwhile, Mike clearly described this as a comfort/relaxation/Senor Frog (!) experience. On occasion, I will go on a holiday just to change the scenery and kick back in a lounge chair, with book in-hand and cocktails on order. Hedonistic? Hell yes. But that’s why I came in the first place. I can’t say I’ve been to an all-inclusive anything, but sometimes I’m there to do nothing, intentionally.

    More frequently, though, I travel for purposes of cultural exploration and education. I do the best I can to familiarise myself with social customs, practices, and language. I do this to respect the culture in which I find myself and, to be honest, try avoid sticking out like a sore thumb. I wonder if this is case for you, but I find it extremely irritating while travelling abroad to encounter a person from my home countries demanding service (usually those who travel for comfort/relaxation). I’ll leave you with the impression of enjoying world-class wines in the French Bourgogne and hearing a (very, very loud) American couple who asked the waiter for a non-alcoholic beer. *sigh*

    The podcast reminded me that whether we travel for comfort, exploration, or both: we are ambassadors of our own country, culture, and background. It’s easy to forget that merely being able to leave our city, country, or hemisphere is such a rare fortune.

    I’d appreciate others’ thoughts. Cheers. Valerie

    • vsotardi

      On a somewhat related note, I’m curious about the Sorted team’s (and fellow members’) opinions about the social etiquette around phone use at restaurants.
      I feel as though I can’t go through a meal without a person feeling compelled to snap a photo of his or her food. At a fine dining restaurant, I recently saw family of six, all in silence, with their phones out. It didn’t bother me *per se,* but I asked the owner about his opinions and it almost certainly affects the ambience and atmosphere. How might phones affect people’s experiences with food, especially in public settings? Do images on Instagram, for example, create certain expectations about food (e.g. appearance)? Does the potentiality of photographing every meal add pressure on the kitchen crew? Should there be restrictions on phone use in restaurants? Cheers! Valerie

  5. Susesui

    I travel a lot and love trying local foods but I’m terrified of getting sick while on work trips or holidays, so unless I’m with a local and my guide is sure the food is safe, I don’t really eat street food. I believe street food is the way of living the culture but I’m terrified of it.

  6. nroundtr

    This was a great episode! I take a middle of the road approach to food when traveling. I’ll always try to find and eat the foods the country/city is best known for because it is absolutely a part of the experience. I will also eat from chains in a pinch, but it does feel like cheating. But one thing you guys mentioned – and it’s probably my favorite option – is trying a local take on an international import. It’s both comfortable and new at the same time. I’ve had pizza in Bulgaria with local cheese, pickles, and other delightful toppings that I’d never find in the US. I ate a burger in Finland that I couldn’t hope to replicate at home (and wouldn’t try as it wasn’t for me). I had crepes in Estonia filled with local seafood and cheese. So good! My second favorite option is to buy food from a local store and cook it myself (I always stay at places with kitchens). The challenge of cooking with unfamiliar ingredients is an adventure in itself that adds to the experience of travel!

    • Sorted

      Crepes with seafood- Amazing! (And you have travelled A LOT!)

  7. alm477

    Caveat to the following: Most of my travel, especially international, was done in the early 2000’s with my parents when I was a minor and in a time before smartphones or even easy internet access. Needless to say, smartphones and wifi have drastically changed the way people travel.

    I’m not going to poke too much fun at people who have familiar (maybe) chain food in another country. I’ve definitely done it and for me usually it was a case of either 1) I am getting a little homesick and would like to eat something familiar now or 2) I have had several unsatisfying meals in a row and I want something that is 100% guaranteed to be tasty enough that I can fill my stomach. It is also possible to travel to places where local flavors are a bad fit for your tastes, even if the sights and other experiences are a joy.

    I also don’t want to knock trying different (transplanted? for lack of a better word) adaptations of food. That is, some foods get imported, adapted, and become a part of local food culture. If I ever went to Japan I’d definitely want to try Japanese curry, which is a completely different thing from curry from India or Thailand. Even local adaptions fast food companies make can be interesting, though I can’t say I’d want to have Japanese McDonalds unless they were offering something REALLY interesting. Don’t worry Mike, I have Opinions about British McDonalds’ cheeseburgers too 😉 Incidentally, one of the best bacon-cheeseburgers I’ve ever had was in a local restaurant in Hanoi….go figure.

    Picking where to eat was mostly a matter of convenience for my family–and still tends to be. We almost never go anywhere other than the hotel/B&B for breakfast because usually it’s part of the cost of our stay and it feels foolish/wasteful to not eat food we have already technically paid for. Other meals/snacks are usually based purely on being near where we are visiting a museum/historical site or just wherever we happen to wander. We did make a point of having tea at the Pump Room in Bath though. After a bad experience or two we also tended to identify a restaurant as “safe” and eat dinner there most nights–in Vienna we ate in the same restaurant every night. After a day or so there we also developed a routine where in the afternoon we would get a preferred sweet from specific merchants we liked, get coffee, and go to our hotel room for a snack/rest. So that was the same every day, but a very lovely same.

    How much local food my family and I ate also depend on access–especially walk-ability of a city/town or quality of public transportation (if any). Hanoi was incredibly walkable from our hotel, but where we stayed in Bangkok was not. So we rarely repeated where we ate in Hanoi (except for breakfast) but I ate almost no Thai food in Thailand and didn’t discover I even liked it until years later in the US (the hotel had an Italian restaurant and was beside a Thai chain pizza place). But in that particular trip there were other factors: we had a LOT more time in Vietnam than in Thailand (days vs 36 hours) and we had a friend who could guide us in Vietnam. I was also way more adventurous food-wise in Vietnam (more so than I ever was in any European county, frankly), so it was possible my sense of adventure had been exhausted by the time we got to Thailand.

  8. Anita

    I’m the kinda traveler that cannot sit still for a long time in her room. Even if I promise myself that I’ll just spend a couple of days relaxing, not going anywhere, I end up thinking about the experiences I would miss if I didn’t leave my accommodation for days. I can sit in my room at home, too, I don’t have to pay Airbnb hosts for that. This is how my train of thoughts usually goes.
    Exploring local, authentic (what is authentic, btw? that’s a great question in terms of ingredients, preparation, the inevitability of change; and what about the observer’s paradox? okay, maybe I’m overthinking this one 😀 ) cuisine, dishes that have a history, a story behind them, places to eat (popular ones, old ones, and yes, ones with great marketing, too) is a crucial part of my idea of a great trip. When I travel, I usually loosen up my rules a bit but I still have to stick to a few dietary restrictions. But never fear, I find enormous pleasure in making the ones I travel with experience the results of my prior or on-the-go research 😉 (A few days ago we visited Buffalo and made my hubby eat wings 3 days in a row to find out which restaurant’s version he prefers. I’m positive I was much more excited about these dining experiences than he was 😀 ) I love tasting the atmosphere where we eat, too. Food and nature are my jam 🙂
    However, I still think that all-inclusive resorts have the right to exist. They just serve a different purpose. If I ever choose to go there I will certainly opt for something with great amenities situated in a very boring area (still, I’ll probably be googling ‘horse-riding near xy’ on day 3 – speaking of googling: what do you think about digital detox holidays?) 😀

    • alm477

      I also have a limited threshold for sitting in a room on a trip, but most of my “recharge” vacations like that have been at families homes in places where there is a really limited number of things to do. As a result they usually ended up being what I call Reading Vacations, since I didn’t really have internet or significant access to TV (or at least nothing I wanted to watch) that’s what I’d spend most of my time doing. I could chew through a book a day on some of them. Kinda could use one, I have a monstrous stack of books I’ve been meaning to read…

      Love your thoughts on authentic, because I think it’s become something of a buzzword now. As you point out, things change–humans like to experiment and restaurants like to stand out. Things can also be very tasty even if they are not “authentic” too. Actually…this reminds me of a funny story an acquaintance of mine had. She is German, but via a program run by Disney, lived in Florida and worked at Disney Epcot World Showcase in the German food pavilion. At said pavilion they have (or had when she worked there) a buffet of German food, including bread dumplings. The realities of the place meant that most of the food was frozen and reheated and one day the cooks asked her how to make the bread dumplings for real. She proceeded to read (and translate) from the German packaging of the frozen dumplings before they stopped her and asked “no, no, how do you make them from scratch?” To which she replied that she didn’t know anyone who actually made them from scratch, but the frozen packaged ones they used were exactly the brand that most people used at home! So…authentic? 😀

      • Anita

        That authentic bread dumpling example is excellent! It was authentic, indeed, but things like that still make me disappointed. We might have to redefine what we are looking for. Authentic minus 50-100 years, for instance 😀

        • Bebbrell

          So, traditional (as in how they were traditionally made before large scale food production) maybe rather than authentic?

          • alm477

            I’d even be careful about using “traditional” too. Traditions can be newer than people think (and how old does something have to be to qualify as a tradition?). For example, green bean casserole is a traditional dish served at Thanksgiving and often Christmas in the US. However it is a corporate recipe from the 1950s or 60’s and if you are making it traditionally it is made with mostly canned ingredients that largely only became available once large scale food production existed.

            You also might find yourself splitting hairs over when an addition/cheat/change stops making something traditional, or even have to specify where/when it is traditional to.

            Mind you, expectations play into it as well. If I go to a restaurant that touts its food as “like grandma used to make!” and they serve frozen processed bread dumplings I would indeed feel annoyed, even if most grandmas actually use that brand of frozen ones. With Disney I was just kind of impressed they were even that level of authentic…

      • danielahitstheroad

        Frozen bread dumplings??! 43 year old German here and I never came across frozen ones. Dehydrated, yes, but it is sooo easy to make them from scratch.

        • alm477

          Maren did say frozen–granted it just might be a case where no one SHE knows made them from scratch. Also, I’m not sure how much she cooked at home before coming to the US–she would have been just out of high school when she worked there.

          Kinda fascinated by the concept of dehydrated bread dumplings–can’t wrap my head around what re-hydrating them would do to the texture.

  9. JoRo

    Totally agree with Mike, we are very fortunate to be able to travel, also agree with what he said about 2 different types of holiday, but if I’m going for a rest and relaxation type holiday I can guarantee I’ll be booking it somewhere where I know for a fact I won’t want to leave the resort because all that’s outside the resort is stuff I can find at home and an overcrowded beach. If I’ve gone to a resort in lets say Benidorm and haven’t ventured out of the resort, or haven’t managed to find anything other than a pub full of beers and snacks we get back home, I wouldn’t say I’ve been to Benidorm, I’d say I’ve been to a resort in Benidorm.

    That being said when I go away it is usually to places where I know people or there is something interesting nearby and I can explore, then I eat where locals eat and get to try foods that I wouldn’t normally or that are made in a much more traditional way. One the favourite sayings in our family is “a change is as good as a rest” we always say it if we’ve had a particularly busy holiday, and it’s true, but like Mike I’m a much better person when I’ve had a chance to recharge, even if it’s just a couple of days.

    No matter where you go always find it helps to either know someone who speaks the language or speak enough of the language yourself that you can impart information about food allergies, because no matter how ‘mild’ the reaction it can really spoil a holiday… so yes sometimes I might seek out those golden arches and have some nuggets because I know it’s safe and I need fuel, wouldn’t go there for a mind-blowing culinary experience, but for fuel when I’m struggling to find something safe to eat of course I would.

    • Anita

      I love your family’s saying! I totally feel re-energized right after a busy holiday. The long-term effects can sneak up on me, though. So for me, it is a good idea to save at least one day for post-vacation rest before getting back to work.

  10. joeyM613

    For me it mostly depends on who I’m on a trip with. When I’m with like minded people I love to go out and try more local food.

    Last summer we went on a trip through Germany, Italy and France. And we really took the effort to find good local restaurants. Which resulted in a lot of fun.

    In the past I have visited two all inclusive resorts in Turkey. Which was fun, for a week. But after a week a really had the urge to go out and explore.

    But to go back to the main point. For me, a holiday must include good local food. Otherwise I just could have stayed at home.

  11. Nettan_Juni

    For me it depends who I’m traveling with (or to). The last trip I did was to Rhodes last year with my family and my sister-in-laws family (we were 14 ppl total, 5 were children and 3 of them were my nieces) and we went to an all inclusive at the beach and we left the hotel only once to experience the old part of the town, where we got lost 😛

    There were things that I wanted to experience, but I knew that I wouldn’t have the energy to experience that, at least not on that trip, since it was a family trip and I focused on spending time with my nieces. Because of my disabilities I had to manage my energy, so if I spent the morning with my nieces, I had to rest on the afternoon to join them again on the evening. Some days I rested on the morning to spend afternoon and evening with my family.
    I knew this was what the trip was about and we had a great time and I finally bonded with my youngest niece who was 3,5 years old at the time and very reserved and I count that as one of the best parts of the trip.

    I’ve also been on trips to visit someone and they’ve showed me around and ate some local foods. I wish I had traveled more, but I haven’t partly because of money and partly because I rarely had someone to travel with and as a woman with classic Scandinavian looks (blond hair and blue eyes), I’ve been afraid to travel alone. Which is something I’ve gotten over the older I get, so I hope that in the future I’ll be able to save up some money and travel more, because I have a really long list of things I want to experience 🙂

  12. Annie1962

    Just wanted to add – that as a woman in her 50s , it would have been much harder to eat foreign, unknown food when I was a person in her 20s – so IF we did, we’d have to ask for translation (if they spoke English) or pretty much , wing it. Maybe they’d have English translation on the menu but I would assume you’d get that luxury if you were in a very popular place. Not in the smaller towns etc.

    Nowadays we are lucky enough – we have google translate and we can associate weird food with pics at the touch of our fingers ..

    • Sorted

      Such a good point that travelling nowadays is a completely different experience! We’re able to explore and be open to so much more!

  13. SammiJMB

    I remember when I was 17, my mother and I went on holiday to Majorca with my aunt and my 12-year-old cousin and ended up being the exact kind of people Annie mentioned in her comment – the times we ate out were almost exclusively at the British café and Irish pub down the street from our holiday apartment. I look back now and I think that was such a shame. I’m not exactly one to get too far outside of my comfort zone, but I’d certainly be more adventurous with my food choices these days. We went to Gibraltar three years ago and I took the opportunity then to try the local paella, since most of the businesses there are run by people living across the boarder in Spain.

    One of my bucket list items is to visit every state in the US, even if only for a few minutes just to say I’ve been, and one of the ways I plan to achieve this is through visiting local restaurants featured in ‘Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives’ or ‘Man Vs Food’ – the best places to have, for instance, a lobster roll, or gumbo, or southern barbeque, that kind of thing. If I was going to other places, like Paris or Venice, I might also check out the travel guides that give similar focus on where the locals eat.

    Should I find myself at a loss for where to go, however, and in need of eating *something*, I don’t see anything wrong with giving in and ordering some chicken nuggets though! 😉

  14. marityne

    For me, having “been” in a city is more than just experiencing local cuisine. The food is just one part of the experience. You also need to experience some of the local culture and yes, that might mean some of the more touristy spots. If you spend all your time staying in your hotel and only go to familiar restaurants then no, you haven’t “been” to that city. You could do that in a hotel five miles from your home.

    As far as the food portion of travelling, I’ve tried to expand my horizons. I spent ten days in Mexico when I was in high school and the only meal I ate at a familiar place was the first one. None of us kids wanted to try and translate a menu at an authentic local restaurant so for our first meal we ate at McDonald’s. I’m pretty sure we all ordered the same thing, too. Numero tres, sin hielo, por favor.

    20 years ago, I was in Amsterdam for a few days with my mom and the closest thing we got to local cuisine were stroopwafels. They are still one of my favorite treats.

    More recently, I’ve been to Chicago and Los Angeles on solo excursions and did my best to eat as many meals in different places as possible using recommendations from various sources. I wouldn’t say I had anything that could be considered local cuisine in Chicago as I had a pastrami sandwich, fish tacos, and chilaquiles, but everything was within walking distance of my hotel and it was all delicious. In Los Angeles, I took recommendations from the Lost & Hungry tour, Donal Skehan’s best of LA series, Jamie’s appearance on GMM for savory donuts, as well as a couple things I found online. I would say the closest thing I came to “local cuisine” in LA were the fish tacos from Ricky’s Fish Taco Truck (I love fish tacos!). I did not get to a Korean BBQ place, but that just means I have at least one thing on my list for my next trip.

  15. Annie1962

    If I were lucky enough to travel to other countries, I would always try out their national/typical cuisine. Like Ben said, the residents are proud of their cuisine and it’d be absolute madness (and in a way, an insult) to the native inhabitants to at least not try their food.

    I’ve heard of British people holidaying in Spain and refusing to eat the local cuisine, opting instead for typical English meals which are served in restaurants owned and run by English people who live in Spain.

    I don’t get that. Mind you, if the local cuisine is serving monkey anus unwashed (I’m quoting Gordon Ramsay , who got offered that to eat)_ then I wont’ be eating that.. sorry. But if I say go to Spain… I will definitely be trying the Paella. In my opinion, going to visit a country and not trying their cuisine is like buying a music cd and not listening to it.

    As for the set up today – I like the camera angle as I can see your faces – question.. are those microphones extremely sensitive , but only at a certain angle as there were quite a few times that Mike’s voice was really quiet and at times when Mike was talking, Jamie’s voice went quiet too.

    I am thinking that Mike and Jamie were sitting too far back from their respective mics. Ben too at times ..Getting the seating positions and mic positions seems to still be a bit of trial and error. but you’ll get there. I thank Mike for looking at us the viewers and acknowledging us.

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