Sidewalk Cafe
28 Jul

How To Avoid Food Culture Shock

Sidewalk CafeWhen you’re in a foreign country, confidently ordering food can be a substantial barrier if you’re unprepared. Do you feel overwhelmed by your choices when visiting a new country? Are you worried about ordering something you won’t like? Are you afraid of having an allergic reaction to unfamiliar food? Relax and read on. By doing a little prep work, you can set yourself up for a trip full of wonderful food and less stress at the dinner table.

Learn the Basics
Every culture’s traditional cuisine has some distinctive characteristics; Greek food features olive oil, herbs and Mediterranean vegetables while Thai food blends spicy, sweet, bitter and sour and makes use of rice as its primary ingredient. Familiarizing yourself with the basics of the local cuisine will go a long way toward preparing you for your travels. Pay special attention to the staple ingredients used.  Travel health insurance will often cover emergency treatment of allergic reactions, but not preventative treatment, so keep on the lookout for problem ingredients. Many travel insurance providers make pre-trip destination information available, as well as translation and travel document assistance. Any information you can find before your trip will reduce the likelihood of culinary disaster. If you’re allergic to peanuts, you might have trouble with some Thai dishes, like Pad Thai, that include chopped peanuts. If you’re gluten intolerant, however, then you’ll have no problem with Thai food, since few dishes contain gluten and the noodles are made with rice.  You should also be on the lookout for any ingredients you would object to eating. Tarantulas and monkey brains might not sound appetizing to someone from the United States, but they are a part of certain Cambodian dishes.

Get To Know Food Specialties
One of the best things about the modern world is the spread of cultures. You can easily find a dozen or more restaurants serving foreign food in any large city. Before a trip to Greece for instance, why not visit a local Greek restaurant to familiarize yourself with the cuisine? Make sure it’s as authentic as possible; generally, someone who has emigrated from another country and opens a restaurant dedicated to their native cuisine will very proudly display that fact. Talk to the owner or chef and ask questions about the food in general and any dishes you like in particular. What variations of dishes might you encounter? Are there any foods that exemplify their food culture? Ask for tips and customs that most visitors to the country wouldn’t know. Maybe they can even recommend an excellent restaurant at your destination. Try a variety of dishes to find several foods that you enjoy. Many restaurants will provide smaller portions if you ask, so you can sample several at once. Once you’ve figured out which meals you enjoy the most and have gleaned whatever interesting facts you can, write them down so you’ll be prepared during your trip.

Know (some of) the Language
Hopefully you’re already preparing for your trip abroad by brushing up on the local languages, but you should spend some time in particular learning food names and ingredients, especially if you need to deal with allergies. Your focus should be on the words for different types of meat, such as beef, chicken or pork, and types of dishes, such as bread, pasta, soup or curry. If you know the basic terms, you can substitute ingredients to better suit your needs and tastes. Work on your pronunciation, as well. Everyone likes being spoken to in their native language and you may end up with better service if you show that you’ve taken the time to study the culture and language of the country you’re visiting.

Visiting a foreign country can bring a great deal of stress, even in the midst of fun. With careful preparation dining doesn’t need to be a trial,   you can impress the people in your host country and ensure that you always get a plate of food you’ll enjoy. By developing a taste for the food before you arrive, you make it easier to relax and enjoy yourself during your travels.

Article by Guest Author:  Kenneth Brothers


  • Thai Translation
    07/30/2011 at 1:25 am

    Knowing how to read the local language might be a tall order for the casual tourist. But Thai menus often have at least an attempt at romanizing the names of the food. Makes for entertaining reading sometimes.

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