Enjoying the Local Cuisine, by Rich Paschall
Imagine getting on a plane and flying for eight hours, landing in another country, to go to McDonald’s. The premise may sound a bit absurd, but it is the sort of thing many people do. When we stayed in London recently, we found a street nearby that has a Burger King, Subway sandwiches and a Kentucky Fried Chicken. In fact, there is no shortage of American fast food places near the tourist-laden Paddington area. These familiar sites attract many tourists, largely American, as well as some others and some locals. We walked past these familiar stops in favor of local businesses.
For some the familiarity is the thing that drives them into the establishments they know from home. They will certainly get food they can eat at prices that are still reasonable. To me, it does not matter. I did not go all that way to eat at someplace I can visit walking distance from my house. If I want a Whopper with Cheese, fries and a diet Coke, I know where to get it.
On the same street with the American fast food giants were local coffee shops and restaurants, a pub or two and even a London Chicken stop that looked like they may be providing fast food. We skipped it too. Of course, if you are on a limited budget, you may wish to go places where the food is cheap. However, local business may also have food at reasonable rates.
My friend from France has a motto by which we travel. “Eat local, drink local.” That does not include local fast food. We always skip those. If we are unfamiliar with a location, we pick out something that looks good and we give it a try. Sometimes you must have a sense of adventure. It does not mean you have to spend a lot of money.
Within walking distance of our London hotel, we found many shops and small restaurants for breakfast and lunch. At dinner time we checked out the local pubs, never going to the same one twice. In a spot called the House of Paddington, where they served Fish and Chips all day, the edge of the awning advertised Beer, Food and Beds. Since we passed it everyday, our curiosity was finally aroused enough to visit it on the last night. As I did not yet have Fish and Chips on the trip, I went ahead and ordered. And yes, they do have beds for weary travelers or maybe for someone who has stayed too long. They run a hostel on the floors above.
Some think that food in England is rather bland, but the only thing I found to be that way was the fish (cod) and chips. Everything else was tasty. We washed down dinner with local ales, taking recommendations from the bartender at each stop. “Nothing too bitter” was my request each time, while my travel companion was content to drink the dark and bitter stuff. We had plenty of selections that we had never heard of before.
If you can not afford to eat at local spots, no matter how reasonable, then you may consider dropping into local markets for your breakfast and lunch and picking out items that are easy to make or you can eat on the run. Some years ago when I visited Paris with a friend, we discovered that our tiny room also came with a tiny refrigerator. We pushed aside those hotel items to make room for some yogurt, water and whatever we could make fit. In that way, we ate out less often and did not pay for the mini bar items. In fact, I have used this trick a number of times.
I love the food and wine in France. I am fortunate to have a close friend in the Alsace region and we have toured there a lot. Of course, he took me to some of his favorite spots, and at other times we tried something that was new to us both. It is good to know someone who knows all the good wine tasting locations as well.
Once we met in Frankfurt and travelled to Stuttgart by train. We attended the Cannstatter Volksfest in Stuttgart during the traditional Oktoberfest season, but I have wisely decided not share any of those pictures. Let me just say the food and drink were excellent. We have a pastry shop picture instead.
When my friend from Alsace makes the long trip to Chicago, he does not want to see the Burger King or Ronald McDonald when there are so many good restaurants and sports bars. I could name locations in this country as well as others, where we avoided the fast food for the local fare. When you are on the road, find out what is good to eat at your destination city, and skip the fast food you can get at home.