25 April 2017

Food on the Road

The other day, I was exiting the metro station when I saw a group of three Chinese tourists (I am pretty sure they were speaking in Mandarin, and they had cameras and suitcases with them) eating at one of the fast food outlets at the station. It happened to be an "Asian" fast food counter, those types that offered fried noodles in a wok, with some random sauce and some random meat on it. For a moment I did a double take, because that somehow looked odd to me. I never really understood the idea of eating [insert ethnicity X here] food when you're traveling in a foreign country, and you happen to be [insert ethnicity X here] yourself.

It isn't the first time I saw this happen. I remember seeing Japanese tourists go for sushi in places outside of Japan, for example. And somehow that struck me as rather odd; after spending hundreds of euros on a flight ticket so that you can check out a new place different from your hometown, you'd go and eat in a restaurant serving food you are very familiar with? I suppose in my head that just defeats the purpose of travel.

I don't know, but for me, travel is a complex multi-faceted experience, which includes food. When I was in Tuscany, I ordered parmigiana di melanzane and crostini toscani over and over again, to see how different sub-regions make their local dishes differently. When I was in Georgia, I ate the various different types of khachapuri. And when I was in Guatemala, I ate beans and tortillas almost every day. It is after all part of the experience. So I really find it slightly bizarre that I would be eating food I am extremely familiar with whenever I am on the road.

There are exceptions, I suppose. I rarely eat in McDonald's. In fact, I only eat in McDonald's when I am on the road. I think the last time I actually ate in one was in Coban, Guatemala, when I wanted a break from beans and tortillas. After that I probably grabbed a coffee somewhere when I was in a hurry but I don't recall me ordering another meal in McDonald's after that.

I guess it all has something to do with the push and pull between a sense of familiarity and a sense of adventure. And some people are just not adventurous when it comes to food. So you go to a place that is unfamiliar and foreign to you, and sometimes you just want to eat something that you know you can eat. I guess I am fortunate in that sense, as I do not have any food restrictions whatsoever.

I am pretty sure those Chinese tourists had their own constraints that made it such that eating in an Asian fast food place was the best decision during that time. But nevertheless it makes the observer do a double take and think about it at least. After all, I cannot imagine myself eating in a Filipino or German ethnic restaurant when I am traveling elsewhere, but if that is the fastest choice and I am in a hurry, then I wouldn't say no to it.


  1. I often walk past a big Chinese buffet-style restaurant around noon (... it's on the way to a much-needed cup of coffee at this time of the day!) and there is always a Chinese tour bus parked in front of it. The restaurant is pretty meh, mostly Chinese/Canadian food, and I wonder why Chinese tourists stop here and what they think of the food. They would have a better meal pretty much anywhere. Mind you, French are the same, they tend to be obsessed with eating French food abroad.

    1. Zhu,

      Perhaps it's an antidote to culture shock. Since the things they're seeing are different, they want something that is familiar to them at least when eating.