If you’re a picky eater and you’ve traveled before, you probably know more tips than I’m about to give. (I hesitate to even use the word ‘picky’ because it carries a negative connotation. These eaters simply like what they like and that’s it! Yet, they’ve been given the label ‘picky.’ I’ll use the term particular, which is a little less loaded, but still….) For some people, it’s a matter of survival and only those who are truly particular eaters can really understand what I’m about to write. My son is a particular eater, so when we travel, we’ve learned how to navigate eating out so that it’s enjoyable but not stressful.
Traveling to a foreign country where there is a language difference can be a little daunting for many first time travelers, but for people with eating restrictions or specific foods they eat or don’t eat, it can’t be downright scary. However, with a little forethought, dining out in another country can be almost as easy as dining at home. Here are a few suggestions to eating while traveling abroad.
1) Do your homework
Do a little homework and look up the cuisine of the country you’re about to visit. See what types of food they eat there and how they’re prepared. This way, you’ll know what you’re in for. Going to France? Get ready for lots of cheese and butter. My son who doesn’t love cheese isn’t thrilled with that; however, learning that mussels and fries are practically a staple there, and he’s thrilled. If you are prepared for the food of the country you’re about to visit, you can make better choices. If I see ‘soupe l’oignon,’ you better believe I’ll stay far away because I don’t like onions, so onion soup is a big No for me.
2) Scout out restaurants
It’s easy these days to find the best restaurants in town. It’s also easy to look up the menus. In other countries, this is true as well. If you know what town you’re headed to, take a minute to look up some restaurants to see which ones look best to you. Utilize review sites like Yelp to find out what other people are saying about a restaurant or café you’re interested in.
3) Learn the language
I can’t emphasize this one enough. Learn a few words so that when you sit down at a restaurant, you can order your food exactly how you like it. “Senza pomodoro.” That was our catch phrase when eating our way through Italy. My son hates tomato sauce, so we ordered his pizza “without tomato” by saying “senza pomodoro.” It worked like a charm and they never got our order wrong. In fact, we were happy to find out that pizza without sauce is actually a regular menu item in Italy! Pizza Bianca (white pizza) has its own column on most pizza menus—perfect! We’re headed to France soon, so guess what we’ve learned? “Sans tomate.” Yup, it really makes a difference. Look up the words for the foods you don’t like or the way you like your food prepared. I’d suggest looking up “on the side.” That’s always a helpful phrase.
4) Bring snacks
We always carry snacks with us whenever we travel. Sometimes we bring entire meals like sandwiches and chips for international flights when you can pretty much guarantee that a particular eater is not going to like the two choices of airplane meals they serve. I pack all kinds of snacks for the plane or just walking around town because you may not find a place that has food you like. Be prepared—that’s always best.
5) Eat before you eat
I know this sounds counterintuitive, but if you’re going to a restaurant with a group or going to a fixed meal where there are limited options, eat something before you go. There’s nothing more miserable than sitting at a table starving but there not being one thing you can eat. And to those people who would say, “Just eat it,” the particular eater would say, “Hell no. I’ll wait.” So in order to not be miserable at a meal like this where you may not be able to order food the way you like it, have a small snack just before you head to the restaurant—just enough so that you won’t be hungry if there isn’t a single thing you like but not so much that you can eat if there are things you do like.
6) Consider trying something new
Every country has a unique cuisine that may have foods you’d be surprised you like. This is not an urge to ‘try it, you might like it,’ which I know particular eaters have heard their entire lives. No, that’s pushy and I wouldn’t say it. Only, I know I am likely to try something else in another place versus home just because when I travel, everything is different. I’m different. I’m more adventurous, outgoing, less stressed and uptight. So, I’m more likely to say, “sure, I’ll give that a whirl,” than when I’m here. My son, who as I’ve mentioned doesn’t eat most cheese or any tomato products, tried escargot in France (yes, he knew what it was, and no I did not try to trick him) and he absolutely loved it. At home, he is more tentative, perhaps because he knows there are lots of other alternatives; abroad, it’s a little different. Anyway, it was a good experience and he still talks about those escargot to this day.
Traveling abroad is one of the most amazing things you’ll ever do, and with a little forethought can be one of the most delicious ones as well. Eating in a foreign place doesn’t have to be intimidating, if you take some time to be prepared. Hope your next trip is a great one and bon apetit!