Eating Abroad: Tips for Budget Travelers
Some of us are just picky eaters. Food is fuel, nothing more.
For everyone else who has a more adventurous palate, foreign travel provides a unique opportunity to taste a new culture. I am not talking about fine dining, though it certainly has its place. Street food and small restaurants offer something for everyone, even those on the tightest of budgets. Here are a few tips that will ensure gastronomic success while abroad.
1) Point, nod and smile. I can’t order off a menu written in Burmese. Can you? If it looks good point to it, nod and smile. Never mind what it IS. Appearance is everything.
2) Eat often. Stop to eat or have a snack whenever it strikes you. Don’t save all your eating for a single big meal. This will save you from devastating culinary disappointment. Hedge your eating bets.
3) Pay attention to the locals. Don’t eat with other travelers. They are clueless, bumbling, buffoons. Eat only at places packed with locals. In Hanoi I once walked around for over an hour at lunch time to find the busiest spot. It was a stand that sold only Bun Bo (Beef and noodle soup). Did we stand out? Yes. Did we have any idea what we were ordering? No. Was it the most delicious thing we ate for 3 months in SE Asia? Absolutely!
4) Street food is THE best. I love a deal and street food is always cheap and delicious. There is a lady in La Paz right now selling saltenas (empanadas) for 25 cents that will blow your mind. On a small island off the coast of Southwest Myanmar you can get a bag of the BEST fried bananas on planet earth for a pittance. Truly great food is sold on the street. Forget the warnings about street food induced diarrhea that are repeated ad nauseam by fear mongering, weak stomached cry babies. Because an eatery has four walls does not mean it is sanitary. EAT THE STREET.
5) A tolerance for heat (spice) will allow you to enjoy so many more dishes and snacks while abroad. The “I just don’t handle spicy things well” excuse is weak. It is about conditioning. You must train your palate to withstand the heat. Don’t be afraid of jalapenos or chili garlic sauce, work up to it. You will be pleasantly surprised by the layers of flavors hidden beneath the chili burn that you have never experienced before.
6) Meat on a Stick. Can’t go wrong. Ever.