In America, we serve a diverse array of international cuisine. It’s easy to find Mexican food, Chinese food, Greek food, Italian food, Indian food, and many other ethnic cuisines in most cities. We become so accustomed to the American versions of these foods that if you traveling to a new place, it’s easy to forget that these countries may prepare the dishes we have come to know quite differently.
I am a very picky eater, so I have sometimes found this to be a harsh reality when traveling. I love Greek salads…in America. I love the large green leaves of lettuce with crumbles of feta. This summer when I was in Athens, I was very excited to try an authentic Greek salad, especially because it is very affordable.
When it arrived, it was very different from what I was accustomed to. It was essentially a bowl filled with sliced tomatoes, onions, and olives with a huge slab of feta on top (pictured to the right). There were a few itty bitty pieces of lettuce at the very bottom of the bowl, but only enough for about two bites. I thought maybe that’s just how this one restaurant prepared Greek salads. When I went to a second Greek restaurant and ordered another Greek salad, same thing; a bowl of veggies with dressing and a large slice of feta (no lettuce at all). I asked for a bowl of lettuce to add to it, and while they looked at my strangely, they brought a bowl of finely shredded lettuce. I laughed when I realized how silly it was to expect Greek food to be served the same in both Greece and America.
I have encountered a similar situation in Rome. Most of the food I ordered on that trip was similar to what is served in the States, so I had few problems. But one day I ordered a plate of shrimp risotto thinking it would be like I would expect in America; creamy white risotto with pieces of unshelled shrimp mixed in. The dish came out and I almost screamed. The risotto was bright orange, and sitting on top of it was an enormous shrimp in its full orange shell with antennae and beady black eyes staring back at me. Not exactly what I had imagined.
Moral of the story? Remember that while we think we know what ethnic food is, we eat watered-down versions of it in our home country. When you are traveling and order a dish in the home country of that cuisine, remember that it may not be served the way you are used to. This may be old news to seasoned world travelers, but if you are still somewhat new at traveling abroad, it can be easy to forget. Don’t hesitate to ask the waiter how it a dish is served before you order it. If you get the dish and it’s something you don’t think you can eat, let the waiter know; they want you to be happy and they want a good tip, so they are usually willing to bring you a new dish or add/remove something from your current dish.
Have you had any food surprises like this when traveling abroad?