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A Guide to Dining Abroad

One of the most pleasant aspects of holidaying abroad is being able to experience the sights, smells and tastes of foreign food. It might be unfamiliar territory (especially if you're a 'weekly meal' kind of diner) but introducing our taste buds to unfamiliar foods can be an illuminating, transcendent experience. Try not to do too much internet based reading before you go away (trip advisor especially tends to be full of untrustworthy reviews, most likely posted by competitors) but a cursory knowledge of the area you're visiting might help. Knowing what foods and drinks the region is famous for and which areas and specific restaurants are held in a particularly high regard is certainly recommended too (after-all, you wouldn't travel all the way to Rome for a hamburger right?).

The Road Less Travelled:
Just because a restaurant is heaving doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be a wonderful meal. It might just be in an incredibly convenient and visible location or the restaurants might be offering some awfully cheap (and awful) pre-priced menus, which are designed specifically to trap gullible tourists. Some of the best meals I have ever had abroad have been in small, subtle, out of the way places that don't look like much on the outside but serve some of the finest, fresh food. A good example would be Cannes in the south of France. Whilst many of the most famous restaurants are stationed on the seafront, some of the most exciting restaurants are tucked away in the cities many side streets on the hill-side overlooking the harbour. Wherever you are though, a good idea is always to ask the locals where they would recommend, locals generally love being asked for their advice and a local recommendation usually means far more than a guide book or trip advisor recommendation. Sometimes it pays to be a little bit risky.

The Universal Language
Thankfully for English speakers, in the majority of European countries, most servers will have at least a cursory understanding of the language. This is especially true in more developed, 'tourist' areas. It can be embarrassing though to force your waiter or waitress to speak in a tongue that is uncomfortable for them and speaking the native tongue adds to the whole experience of being on holiday abroad. The universal 'bill' signal (index finger and thumb pressed together and swiped across the bare palm of your other hand) is generally understood across the world but can come across as condescending so if you're going to learn at least one word before heading abroad on your culinary adventure, at least learn the local word for the bill or 'cheque'. It's also far from a stretch to learn simple, 'catch-all' words such as 'chicken', 'beef', 'vegetables', 'wine' and 'beer', all of which are words you will undoubtedly be using at some point on your vacation. Really how much you choose to learn and to what extent is very much down to how much you feel is necessary but take it from somebody who spent a year working abroad in the continent, the locals always appreciate it when you make an effort!

The British are notoriously bad tippers. The culture for tipping our servers simply isn't as strong in the U.K as it is elsewhere in the world. Even when 'service charges' is added to the bill as standard we're likely to leave it at that, paying the bare minimum. In general it's expected (polite) to leave a gratuity of between 15% and 25%, any less than that could be taken as an insult. Of course if you were unhappy with your meal or your service for any particular reason, feel free to dock your tip accordingly.
Don't Be Afraid To Look Stupid
When you first arrive, be sure to familiarise yourself with your surroundings and take mental notes about how food is ordered and what others are eating. Use the most simple language possible when ordering (especially in countries where fluent English in not common) and don't be afraid to ask the waiter to double check what you've ordered, even refer them to a travel dictionary if you're really not sure.

Don't let this article intimidate you though. Just relax. You're there to enjoy yourself after all. Don't let one bad meal put you off either. It's unlikely that you'll enjoy every meal but you won't know unless you try!
This post was put together by Crispin Jones, the blogger for the Gourmet Society. If you want to find out more have a look at their site or download their app.


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