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Classy dining; second-guessing your choices

I used to really over-plan my itinerary. On a trip to Paris, I decided long ahead that my first meal would be lunch in Montparnasse at one of the iconic old artists cafés, like La Rotonde or Le Døme, because I wanted to align myself with neither the elite nor the demimonde but with the creatives, the Modiglianis and the communist ideologues, the big-gesture makers of the previous era.

But my flight was delayed and I was more jetlaggy than I anticipated, so instead I decided to seek consolation (or compensation?) by wangling/wheedling my way into the restaurant up top the Eiffel Tower - and I did. They had dragged another table into place to accommodate me, so why wince at the prices? The cuisine was pretty good, call it classic rather than conventional. I enjoyed myself, but frankly in part because it was going to be a good story to tell later -- I got a same-day table reservation at the restaurant in the Eiffel Tower! Score one for me. But also frankly, I could've gotten a better meal for less money if I hadn't been so tied emotionally to making the first day in Paris special. Nowadays we might call it instagrammable? (i.e. looking for confirmation of my specialness in the positive reaction of others)

Just as we here in the forum wring our hands often over tourist vs. traveler and light/smart packer vs. heavy/dumb packer, many of our food discussions have an aspect that remains mostly unspoken, which is that where we choose to eat is part of the identity we want to imagine for ourselves and project for others. I've been to places where I felt like I had to watch myself, be on my best behavior, because the establishment was a little above my station (as the Brits might have said decades past), and OTOH I've also been to places where I looked around and thought I'm too good for these people -- but those aren't the same as pretentiousness and slumming respectively, because maybe we want to play up in the first case (workout/play with a partner who's a little better than you so you can get better) or you want to see how the average Jacques gets his dinner in the second.

I'd like to feel comfortable about feeling comfortable in my own skin -- have it be ok to seek my own level. On every trip I do want to get to a Michelin-quality restaurant and I also want to stumble across a local pub or hole-in-the-wall that the neighbors enjoy. But the bullseye, the center of the target, for me is a spot where I like the food, the folks, the atmosphere, and feel like I got value for money. And then not to worry about whether that spot says something about where I fit in the class hierarchy of American travelers. (This makes me think of Conde Nast's Traveler magazine and how much I despise most of their articles, but also of The New Yorker and how I have to flip quickly past the ads in the special issues so I don't get reminded that I'm not in the same economic class as their target audience.)

Rick Steves finesses this issue as the guidebooks have changed/aged with his audience over the years -- back when he was focussed on economizing and value; over time he has started including pricier listings, and he often says that he's more open to a splurge now than he was then, but some of that I do think seems to be about esteem more than money -- the company doesn't want to fall behind the growing prosperity of its customer base.

Those of you who tend to tell us here on the forum that you just stroll along the block looking at menus until you find one you like -- is it really just the menu that has to look right to you? Isn't it also the clientele and the situation and, as the French say, the name? I'm not trying to play gotcha, I'm trying to bring out more aspects of what we discuss here.

Posted by
1499 posts

I don’t need Michelin-quality but I do like authentic French food while in France. I hate eating just anywhere. I look for atmosphere, quality for a reasonable price, and a bit off the tourist areas.
I definitely don’t care for fast food but have no issue with an occasional quick bite in a small cafe for lunch.
I also like the local pub type places as well.

Posted by
10942 posts

I want good food and not food I can brag about. That means I don't really care if it has a Michelin star or a famous chefs name on the door.

I find restaurants by...

1) Asking at the reception desk at my hotel. I will ask if the person has actually been there or if a friend was coming to visit would they go there.

2) If I walk by and the place is not busy during normal meal times but other places are, I skip it. Locals know what's good and what isn't. The same goes for street food.

3) If it is in a guidebook I tend to stay away. These places are usually catering to tourists. However, if a restaurant is on a travel based cooking show--mosty found in the UK--they can be very good.

4) I look at the menu. If it seems appealing, I go. If it has "tourist" dishes--like Spaghetti Bolognese in Italy--I move on.

5) If it is directly in the middle off a tourist area, I might be hesitant and try to find something a little further away. Sometimes, it is very difficult to find a place not catering to tourists.

6) If there is someone posted outside the restaurant trying to get you to come in, I keep walking. If the place was good, it wouldn't have to try to grab people walking by.

None of these methods are 100% fool proof but they have served me well after years of use.

Posted by
2678 posts

I have 3 categories of food choices when I travel and I’m comfortable with all of them

1 is the “special meal”. It may be a $$$$ Michelin style place, it may be a hip, trendy style, or it may be a wine bar with food but the focus is on the wine. The point is that I make it a point to go there. It’s a plan, it’s a “sight” in itself. In the way I’d plan to go to a museum or historic sight, I plan this restaurant. I’ll make reservations weeks ahead, take transit to a different neighborhood, basically go out of my way to eat here.

2 is the place I’ll go if I’m in an area and vaguely trying to have the best meal reasonably conveniently. This is the most common. It’s lunchtime. I finished seeing the museum, I’m hungry, but have no specific reservations. I’ll go online and see what’s in the area, see if I made note of anything on my personal map. I’ll walk a bit, look at menus, and make the best choice within the constraints of the area and the fact that I don’t have reservations at the high demand place. I will judge on the menu, and the atmosphere. I don’t really judge the clientele, except in extreme cases. If it’s full of people that are falling down drunk and rowdy, that’s probably not my scene. Unless it is that day! If I’m out touring and feeling a little casual, a place packed with business lunch meetings in formal suits is not ideal. If the food looks ok but it’s a great setting I might choose setting/atmosphere and know the food will be secondary. Maybe it has a great view. Maybe the style/architecture is great. Maybe it just has a fun vibe (clientele, music, whatever). The atmosphere or the focus and that’s ok by me, a good atmosphere is sometimes what I want and as long as the food is fine, not actually bad, I’m happy with the trade-off.

3 is the I’m hungry, give me any food option! LOL. It’s the corner sandwich shop, it’s McDonalds, it’s the overpriced museum cafe with bad pastries. Maybe I’m in a hurry to make it to a sight with a timed entry. Maybe my blood sugar is crashing. Maybe I’m jet lagged and no actual restaurant is open. Sometimes food is just fuel, and that’s ok too. I’ll eat my Big Mac, get on with my plans, and try to make my next meal a little more memorable.

To me food is a PART of the experience of the trip. However it is not usually the most important part. I can’t plan every day around meals and reservations because there are other things I want to do and the logistics don’t work.
This can vary, I can certainly imagine a trip where I did plan mostly around food. But that isn’t my norm where food, art, street life, architecture, nature and other things are all important and I need to balance.

Posted by
153 posts

We hardly ever eat in places that post a menu in English. If a restaurant is crowded with locals enjoying their meal that's good enough for us. This has resulted in some food adventures that have allowed us to participate in the local culture. We have found that neighborhood holes-in-the-wall generally provide better food at a better price, and since we tend to go back to the places we like we have developed relationships with the restaurant staffs. We also appreciate genuine street food, which may not be "classy" but then neither are we.

Posted by
6508 posts

I believe RS has always stated in his guidebooks for independent travel, that the number one criteria for recommended restaurants (and hotels for that matter) is location. That is, they are targeting streets and neighborhoods nearest where the main attractions are, and you will likely be. The tours are a different story, because the restaurants (and hotels) have to be big enough to accommodate the number of people in the group, and that implies a certain level of service and willingness to negotiate ahead of time. I've talked to some of the guides, and I know one of their "free time" duties is to scout out new sights and restaurants for future use.

If we're looking for somewhere to eat and dont have a specific recommendation (from a human), we will indeed look at the menus, but also the general appearance of the place, and what our appetite level is. I am not worried about eating where the local clientele are, since I dont know how to tell. I'm just not going to walk miles from out hotel. We ate at a couple of those Montparnasse restaurants, because we thought they looked cool and were convenient, not because we had heard of them and their cultural history beforehand.

Posted by
13392 posts

Okay, this is not to pick on anyone. There is basis of truth in my mind in all the comments. But I love to push back on generalizations. So, intended in good fun and nothing personal or critical:

1) Asking at the reception desk at my hotel. I will ask if the person has actually been there or if a friend was coming to visit would they go there.

The receptionist at the Ritz will send you to the nearest Michelin Star restaurant. The receptionist at a Motel 6 will send you to a street vendor whose food requires a whole different set of stomach bacteria to help digest. I was once sent to a restaurant by a desk clerk, who unbeknownst to me, loved Head Cheese.

2) If I walk by and the place is not busy during normal meal times but other places are, I skip it. Locals know what's good and what isn't. The same goes for street food.

All the tourist restaurants on Vaci utca are full during normal business times; and most aren’t that good. And this way you miss the opportunity of good inside dining unless you look inside each door (in the US once could judge based on the number of cars out front, but that really doesn’t work in most of the world). Here in my neighborhood (off the tourist path) the busiest lunch place is McDonalds.

3) If it is in a guidebook I tend to stay away. These places are usually catering to tourists. However, if a restaurant is on a travel based cooking show--mosty found in the UK--they can be very good.

A few of my favorite places in Europe have ended up in guide books because ……. Well ………. Because they are good and someone noted it. But the good “tourist” places are hard to get into because the locals know to book reservations and steal all the seats from the tourists.

4) I look at the menu. If it seems appealing, I go. If it has "tourist" dishes--like Spaghetti Bolognese in Italy--I move on.

Or Toltott Kaposzta in Hungary. But of course, I love Toltott Kaposzta even if it is Hungarian wedding party food.

5) If it is directly in the middle off a tourist area, I might be hesitant and try to find something a little further away. Sometimes, it is very difficult to find a place not catering to tourists

Yup, and the locals have that problem too. So they eat at the tourist places. Some of my favorite places off the beaten path now have tourists (thanks to pesty guide books and my posts here I guess), if memory serves me correctly they all have English menus, a couple serve Toltott Kaposzta and I cannot imagine a hotel clerk recommending any of them.

6) If there is someone posted outside the restaurant trying to get you to come in, I keep walking. If the place was good, it wouldn't have to try to grab people walking by.

Okay, I don’t have a good comeback for that one.

7) If the menu is in English I stay away.

In Hungary they recognize that maybe 10 million people in the entire are fluent in the language, so most menus are in English too (for the Chinese trade diplomats and visiting government officials from other countries … and the tourists)

8) I want good food and not food I can brag about. That means I don't really care if it has a Michelin star or a famous chefs name on the door.

Well, it can be an experience and for many travel is about experiences. Oh, most Michelin Star restaurants are run by chefs not known outside of their city or region. So “famous” is relative.

9) I prefer street food like a local.

But street food can attract a certain type of local that may not share your tastes and hygiene requirements. I am almost over the results of some street food I recently “enjoyed” in Central America about 10 days ago. But I will do it again. (actually one of my fondest food memories was sitting in a gutter with a soldier eating chicken that had just been cooked in a trash can in Tegucigalpa)

10) we tend to go back to the places we like we have developed relationships with the restaurant staffs.

Again, I have no comeback on th

Posted by
2396 posts

I have to admit to not being a big foodie when we travel. I have a very limited palate. I don’t eat any spicy food (pepper being a spice), anything with a cream sauce or too much cheese, and I try to avoid any food that is fried but make an exception for a good schnitzel. But we always manage to find a nice place to eat. I find the more expensive restaurants usually have food I wouldn’t eat so they are never on my radar. Street food is usually a good choice for me, but that is usually a snack or quick lunch, not a full meal. In Croatia many good restaurants have English translations on the menu so that is not a deterrent. Like James, I watch food shows to get an idea about some places to eat. I have a few picked out if we ever get to Japan, curtesy of Paul Hollywood’s City Bakes show.

Posted by
2396 posts

Aimee, another “problem” I have - my meat must be well done, no pink and certainly no red color. From the many food shows I have watched set in France I don’t believe I will be ordering too much meat.

Posted by
684 posts

I loved reading this thread. Food is a big priority for me when I travel as it is a link to the culture and often the history of a place. That is true for me whether I am traveling in the US, Europe, Asia.

There are a couple of things that I try to experience:

  • Taking a food tour. These are a great way to have a meal and learn about the local places to eat, the local foods, and customs.
  • Taking a cooking class. I have taken classes in Spain, Turkey, Italy, China, Vietnam, US, UK, and France. These have been some of most memorable experiences. I often remake the recipes at home and it instantly reminds me of my travels. The added benefit is you get to learn about the local markets, small little places to eat from the chef instructors.
  • Research Eater and local food blogs. Eater is one of my go-to-sites for finding great places to eat when I travel. They have good international as well as US coverage and they look at a multitude of price points. Local food blogs are also great places to learn about what is need in the local food scene.

Sandy

Posted by
1028 posts

Food plays an important part of planning for my trips. My parents come from Appalachian farmer stock and I grew up with the simple tastes of beef/pork pot roasts, dried beans, biscuits/cornbread etc.
I like to have a good idea of what the traditional local foods (like Hakarl in Iceland) are as well as what current popular dishes are. This includes local flavor profiles and ingredients. Before each trip I identify a few foods that will either challenge me or that I have never had before. Such foods have included lamb, herring, octopus, Minke whale, reindeer, and kokoretsi. I spend time clicking on restaurants on Google Maps and looking at photos. I look for recommendations on this forum and other sources and if a place looks good I "save" it. When I am on the ground, some of those saved spots may come in to play, or I just play it by ear.

I will usually pick at least one high end restaurant each trip and make reservations. If it looks good to me I don't really care what the price is. As mentioned above this pick will be a "site" and a "travel experience". I am not drawn in by Michelin stars because it seems they tend to be awarded to experimental techniques rather than the food itself (IMO).

I try to eat at an Indian restaurant on every trip. I love Indian food and it is fun to compare.

I don't economize on trips, but I also don't spend extra to suit someone else's taste. I might skip a free provided breakfast to save calories for lunch and dinner. I enjoy putting together a meal from a food market. If I am in a hurry and hungry I try to pick up a premade sandwich in a bakery or sample some street food.

side note: @James E, I am not sure why, but I have started picturing you as the Raymond Reddington character from Blacklist. Do you wear a fedora?

Posted by
288 posts

I am generally travelling with my family. 2 older teens. We love food and think of it as a lens to where we go. But with 4 of us budget is a concern.
We research pretty heavily. Finding out how ti eat well but sticking to a budget. In spain it was easy. In expensive cities research is key. Local food blogs, local customs, ethinic foods in places like London, reviews and looking at menus. Combinations of off the tourist track restaurants, street food, markets and the occasional tourist spot all end up on the menu.

Posted by
13392 posts

side note: @James E, I am not sure why, but I have started picturing
you as the Raymond Reddington character from Blacklist. Do you wear a
fedora?

Cant imagine why the resemblance?

Fedora? Yes, you could consider my Silver Beaver with the brim trimmed down to 3 1/2" a fedora. But only when I dress up; otherwise my old beat up Hitelmacher on hot summer days or my ratty looking sheep Ushanka in the winter.

Posted by
1836 posts

These are interesting comments, thanks everyone so far, but please can I direct us back to the deeper issue that I am hoping to discuss: isn't your choice of where and what to eat influenced by your sense of identity, by how you want to be seen/considered by others and by how you want to be able to think about yourself?

Clearly that is part of what we are chewing over when we go into yet another traveler vs. tourist debate, so I'm asserting that it is part of the back-and-forth we have here about the term 'foodie' as well -- our choices are how we express ourselves, and place ourselves relative to others.

I don't like the pejorative term 'virtue signaling' - it points more often to the facile cynicism of those who use it to label others - but I have a friend who doesn't eat most shrimp, and doesn't eat it theatrically :-) so that everyone knows they aren't doing it for religious reasons or environmental reasons but because the shrimp industry is exploitative of labor, especially BIPOC labor, and they want to be known as an ally of labor, especially BIPOC labor. In the same vein, I once unnecessarily corrected someone who was telling about a paella they had in Madrid by showing off my own savoir faire about where 'real' paella is found. I was being a food snob, and I should have been the one to lose face in that interaction, not the person who was back from their first visit to Spain.

I'm inviting us all to be a little more open and thoughtful about the motivations that underlie our dining decisions. At least some of the motivations.

Posted by
13392 posts

isn't your choice of where and what to eat influenced by your sense of
identity, by how you want to be seen/considered by others and by how
you want to be able to think about yourself?

i guess you could go that deep in analyzing something but it comes close to putting people in boxes and that never works out well.

Sure there are times I dine for the experience and that can mean a suit and tie (I am one of those odd tourists that travels with a sports coat in his carry on). Other times its the gutter with the soldiers. Also a unique experience. I am not ashamed of either and am secure enough not to care about how I am seen by others.

Two of the best meals I have had were in that gutter (really, really good food) and in the home as a guest of a Bulgarian family I had met. Food was not that good, the moment was irreplaceable. Of course each trip I try and find at least one Michelin restaurant or an equivalent.

How do I think about myself? I think I am secure and comfortable enough to enjoy both ends of the spectrum equally; and I look for and welcome both ends of the spectrum. But mostly what i want is a good unique or excellent experience based on a good balance of atmosphere/people, setting, quality of food and relationship to where I am at the time.

But that's just me and I dont have one critical comment for anyone that relishes other avenues of experience, taste or comfort. Its all good in the end.

Its a good topic. Enjoyed it. Thank you.

Posted by
10942 posts

James E.

I sent you a PM and remember its ", intended in good fun and nothing personal or critical"

BTW, one of those Folded fingers is a thumb.

Posted by
2180 posts

isn't your choice of where and what to eat influenced by your sense of
identity, by how you want to be seen/considered by others and by how
you want to be able to think about yourself?

Not at all. My wife and I are all over the map when it comes to choosing a place to eat from high end to a pub. She does like to research in advance, but it comes to down to what looks good, not where it's served. She also likes to post photos of where we are and what we eat; the latest was of a pepperoni pizza in a microbrewery in Banff, Alberta, so far from a status symbol meal.

Posted by
1836 posts

Regarding Aimee and Allan's proximal comments, I don't have a good way to respond, so let me try this:

A colleague of mine, of a certain age, divides his time between coastal Georgia, where he was raised, and northern Kansas, where he works. He is broadminded so he enjoys trying "ethnic food" because there wasn't any when he was coming up.
-- That's literally how he expresses it: he had no ethnic food then, likes it now, and that shows how he's open-minded.

I've heard some people who go even farther, and insist that they don't have an accent, they just speak normal.

It's as silly as it sounds, or looks when you write it down, and I wonder that you don't have the same reaction to saying that there's nothing involving identity about posting a photo of a pizza from a pub in Banff.

Another: I buy more than a hundred avocados a year and fewer than ten bagels. In an entire year. Relatives of mine on the east coast do the reverse. Which of us is normal, and not exhibiting an aspect of who we are, and which of us is defining ourselves by our choices?

Posted by
1209 posts

I'm with Aimee and Allan.

I never order spaghetti bolognese, because I make a mean one myself, but there are highly rated restaurants in Rome, Florence and elsewhere which have spaghetti bolognese on the menu. My wife's favourite meal is a simple spaghetti marinara. She's a cheap date, though I have to watch her waistline for her, and I keep the parmesan wheel under lock and key.

Posted by
10942 posts

isn't your choice of where and what to eat influenced by your sense of identity, by how you want to be seen/considered by others and by how you want to be able to think about yourself?

No, I just want good food. I'm not out to please anyone but myself. And I'm also too old to worry about what people think.

Posted by
1836 posts

I should mention that the comments that were only up temporarily were just as, if not more, interesting than the ones that are staying up!

Unlike Jean and other cooks here I don't have the chops to make good croissants but I do think I know a good one when i eat one. I also enjoy a good plate of biscuits and sausage gravy, too, and can tell one that was made with éclat from one that was just slinged out. But note that I am more likely to take pride in my discriminating palate regarding croissants than regarding biscuits. Doesn't that mean something? Many of you have protested-too-much about it being just about the food and not about what anyone being judg-y might judge -- if that were really true why would it be worth the effort and expense to get a cooking class in Paris but not in Manila or Abuja? Why do WASP and WASP-derived communities tend to prize French cultural products? That's not a rhetorical question, there are answers and those answers have to do with how we all think about ourselves and where we fit in.

Regulars here on the forum are often sharing alternatives to the best-known spots of any type -- if it were just about the food, or the whatever (views, art, antiquities, novelties, etc.) then wouldn't they all be getting a distributed share of the visitors?

Posted by
8265 posts

I learned some lessons about this forty years ago. Just before moving to the US, I volunteered at a Paris cooking school in return for demo lessons. The next year, five of us who had met at that school, moved to LA, including a woman who went on to be a writer for LA Times, Bon Appetit, Gourmet, an overseas newspaper and numerous cookbooks. In the early days, she gave demo classes at an upscale kitchenware store in Santa Monica. When the wealthy students would ask her what her favorite restaurant was, expecting to hear the names of the expensive restaurants in LA and Beverly Hills they frequented, she didn't hesitate to tell them it was an Indian restaurant no one there had heard of. I think there's a lesson here.
Number 2: a food testing job opened at Bon Appetit. The others urged me to interview. BA's first question was: what other cuisines did I know in addition to French? Did I know Thai? No. Indian? No. Turkish? No. I knew nothing, nada, rien. Of course I didn't get the job, but I learned a lesson.
Conclusion : People who really know food, like my food writer friend, appreciate good food from falafels to filet mignon. She'd be asking the chef and servers all about the cooking methods, preparation of the sauces, vegetables, and desserts and not even notice if it's a food truck or white tablecloth place. I can see where the post is coming from, in a culture where well-to-do take pride in being part of a restaurant's in-crowd and having chefs make special off-the-menu dishes for them. But from what I've gathered, we have a down-to-earth crowd of people on this forum who don't consider prestige but do appreciate what they are eating just as they appreciate other travel experiences.
In our family, the first consideration is whether we want to spend money on something upscale, and if so, how much and how upscale. But my husband has made many a U-turn to get back to the Routier (truck stop) he spotted on the other side of the rural road. As he sits there licking his chops, he always says that he likes that food as much or more than an expensive place.
As for others: we never discuss having gone to a Michelin restaurant. Maybe that's the "what others think of us" part, but nearly no one we know in France has ever been to one, and most people, except for a couple of diehard food fans, would be bored by the conversation.

Posted by
2678 posts

The identity question is fascinating. Above I mostly responded to the more travel or logistical points - how I select restaurants etc - mainly because this identity piece was kind of percolating in my mind and I didn’t have a great answer. I still don’t but I do have some thoughts.

Yes, food is a part of identity. What and where you eat does say something. Choices of where to eat aren’t made in a vacuum. What we choose is reflective of something, and the reasons that this place “looks good” and this one doesn’t are because you bring certain values or preferences to the table, so to speak. It’s usually not a conscious “I will look cooler if I eat here”, which is why many of the comments resist the notion. It’s more that ones life experience, culture, and priorities shape our tastes.

As for me, I do get a bit judgey about a certain type of old-fashioned pretentious semi-formal dining. I love some modern Michelin star places, I love some food trucks or hole in the wall places with unfamiliar-to me-food. I love some mid-range modern/trendy restaurants with a fun hip feel. I love some old school working-class clientele diner/cafeteria/whatever the local equivalent is, because this category especially varies by region. I can give all sorts of reasons to justify my preference, reasons that deal with food quality or atmosphere or other respectable reasons. However you could argue that on some level my preference stems from the fact that “eclectic taste” is very much a status symbol in certain circles, so Michelin and hole-in-the-wall. French and Burmese cuisine. High end and every day. Somehow the “old-fashioned” semi formal places didn’t get the memo and are pushing a kind of judgmental paradigm of “our way or the highway.” While the $400/plate Michelin place is busy experimenting (I do have a weakness for weird experimental and conceptual dishes in these places) and the hole in the wall is being authentically itself. Which is kind of a ridiculous argument, and not accurate. But that’s the way our subconscious can work when it comes to identity.

Posted by
298 posts

isn't your choice of where and what to eat influenced by your sense of identity, by how you want to be seen/considered by others and by how you want to be able to think about yourself?`

That is a pretty weird concept. I like to eat , I like food, I don't cook on holiday. So I eat in all sorts of places, fancy hotels, literally in the gutter in Vietnam and everywhere in between. I try to avoid eating in "tourist" places particularly in Asia - I hate restaurants which cater to what they think are Western tastes ie tasteless.

Normally what I will research is a good area to eat (I normally choose a hotel which has lots of food nearby too), but will then just wander around until I see a busy place with locals - that's where I'll eat. I never eat in empty restaurants, and rarely eat in restaurants which I can't see inside of from the street.

I can't even understand why anyone would think anything about me eating anywhere? Why would where I eat have anything to do with what I think abut myself? I guess if I was trying to pick up a date I'd pick a bar which may appeal to the type of person I want to date ... but I'm not in that place in my life anymore

Posted by
10942 posts

Avirosemail.......I truly think this has to do with your own self esteem and how you want others to see you rather than anything else. (I'm not trying to be nasty).

But when it comes to food and eating on vacation, I can''t relate to anything you said. I don't worry about how I'm seen by going into one restaurant or another. I'm not trying to align myself with any particular group. I never feel as if "the establishment" in which I chose to eat was above me. (I'm a customer there. If they don't want me, fine, other places do.)

I choose my restaurants because I like the menu, perhaps the ambiance, the fact that it seems popular. Or perhaps they were recommended to me because others enjoyed the food.

And yes, there are cooking classes everywhere. Just because you don't know about them, or take them, doesnt mean others don't.

I heard a saying many years ago and I truly believe it.......

No one is better than me, and I'm not better than anyone.

Anyway, when I'm on vacation, I don't want to think that deeply. I just want to enjoy myself.

Posted by
2678 posts

Aimee, exposure is definitely part of it. But exposure is partially culturally based. That’s culture in the sense of nationality (obviously someone from India or with Indian ancestry would have a significantly greater exposure to Indian food, to use a very obvious example). But it’s also class based. Having the funds to try new foods. Yes, much of it isn’t expensive but still it’s a risk if paying $10 to try the new food might mean you hate it and go hungry vs if it means you shrug and go eat something else. Over time that can compound. Also being exposed to people who eat new foods. That’s less monetary and more based on where you live and what’s available. And who you know. Live in a major city and work with and befriend a diverse group, you get to know a variety of foods. Live in a tiny town and unless you actively try to find new things, your options are more limited. So some people will be classist and judge those with limited exposure to (and therefore interest in) new foods. Clearly not a good thing to do, but I’ve seen it unfortunately. Which is why being an “adventurous eater” can be a status symbol. And of course what is adventurous is very culturally dependent. I ate crickets in Mexico. That’s adventurous for me, but everyday food for some people who live there. And so forth.

We all can say - and mean! - we just eat what we like but what we like is at least partially determined by identity factors like nationality, class, region, culture.

Posted by
13392 posts

Okay, not wanting to be judgmental I had a well respected, published, philosopher look at avirosemail's post. This gentleman has a degree in philosophy from the most highly regarded university in the U.S. if not the free world so he should know. His response:

"Dad, avirosemail appears to be the sort of person you should hang out with. He/She would be a good influence on you. Most of us experience life on the surface, avirosemail goes a number of layers below. Some minds just need that exercise, like a retired runner still needing to run every day. Because others can't begin to go down that rabbit hole, they often misinterpret the intent and the basis of the discussion. Read it a few more times with an open mind and I think you may get it."

So, avirosemail thank you for giving me something to think about.

Posted by
1028 posts

OK, so I will try answering the question again.

I want to identify as a person that that can afford an upscale restaurant, can behave properly in an upscale restaurant, and have the palate to enjoy an upscale restaurant.

I want to identify as a person willing to go outside of one's comfort zone to have new experiences, including food.

I want to identify as a person that will defend eating one's standby, culturally based, comfort foods even if they are not fancy, expensive, new, or healthy.

I want to identify as a person that hasn't missed out on something due to ignorance or unwillingness.

Most of the time, this is a private exercise. Meaning, I don't frequently talk about where or what I eat on a trip with others. This is mainly true because nobody else seems to care. BUT, I can definitely think of several instances in which I felt proud based on what or where I ate and other times I stubbornly defended a choice (I ate at McDonald's in Rome).

Posted by
6508 posts

avirosemail, I struggled with the question you put forth, and respect you for sticking to it. I think your point is not about the information you use to make a decision, but what is behind your making a decision. Clearly, we all bring our own preferences and experiences to make any decision, but it seems you're suggesting that in these food-decisions while traveling, our self-image is a bigger factor. I like vandrabrud's response.

Experience gives one a sense of whether a place is appealing or not from more than just the menu. But being a tourist throws that off. I know I've stepped into establishments home and abroad, and knew immediately I was in the wrong place (on both ends of the spectrum). But I've decided that second-guessing is a waste of time, and only leave in case of self-preservation. And a recognition that, at most times, as Don Draper (Mad Men) observed, "the universe is indifferent".

Posted by
1836 posts

I think today's comments got this discussion into gear and out on the road, thanks for your thoughts everyone.

I wish I could keep better track of what is withdrawn but I will just add in that both being 'an adventurous eater' and a 'cultured diner' are desirable status markers depending on a particular context --- maybe decades ago it reflected well on your upbringing or sensitivities to know which was the proper fork for eating the sorbet palate cleanser and that today knowing how to wrap and add condiments to your Thai larb or properly put a piece of sashimi in your mouth is what rings the same reward bell.

I'm not so much concerned about the specific constitution of savoir faire as the recognition that savoir faire is worth something to us. It's good to have it and not as good if you don't. And of course it's also worth it to play off that situation and be contrarian sometimes, too -- to proudly wear socks and sandals and so on and insist that I'm in the mood for McD's so McD's is what I'm having. That's another way of showing you're better than all those poseurs who are making themselves anxious over where to place the cloth napkin. You win by losing. (A very xtian tactic)

Posted by
87 posts

The OP wants to focus on the identity part of the eating experience while traveling. That is reflected in the penchant for eating like the locals and despising anything related to the tourist trade, of which they are a part. The exact focus of this is so often listed as do not eat in the tourist area, no English on the menu, and crowds must equal locals and good food. If you follow these mantras you can assure yourself that you are not a run of the mill “tourist”. That you are a “traveler”. This is highly important to some people.
You make your own identity while traveling. You are anonymous in a foreign country. You can be anyone. When the food focus begins and ends with you acting in a reactive manner by adhering to places that fit the above parameters to the end that you now have your “traveler” identity, you must wonder on the validity of your travel eating as genuine or just reactive. However, when you get home you can portray yourself as seasoned and not one of a kind in the tourist world. You can one up the others. And perhaps that is of no account when you pick the places to eat that you do, but it comes to the fore after the trip and in the telling.
We are all subject to this. The more frequent one travels and the more experience one gets, the harder it is to avoid an account of our trip without that edge of superiority sneaking in.
Identity is our self assessment of the experience and its impact on us and the societal pressures we all face in this overrun tourist and trade to make ourselves unique in some fashion that permits that identity to foster itself.
I am guilty also.

Posted by
1836 posts

Thanks for sharing your observations, treemoss2 -

It reminds me of a favorite short quote:

This intense conviction of the existence of the self apart from culture is, as culture well knows, its noblest and most generous achievement.
-- Lionel Trilling

Each of us acts from our particular will and position, yet it's easy to make valid generalizations about, say, first-time tourists to Rome or vacationers looking for fun in the sun. We need to revivify sociology's place in general understanding/discourse, imho.

Posted by
3140 posts

I totally agree with Frank II about the advantages of being old. I am provincial and non-adventuresome in my food tastes and you can probably guess my favorite fast food chain based on my location. I loved a Secret Food Tour of Paris and a Walks of Italy food tour of Florence. The fact that I enjoyed them so much probably means they are geared to have broad appeal to tourists. As you can see, I waste no time, thought or energy trying to not look or eat like a tourist. Locals can laugh at me all they want-I'm always happy to give someone else something to smile about. (And yes, in one of my locations, we make lots of comments about tourists and transplants.)