I’ll never understand those who travel only to spend their time and energy looking for the familiar. I recall when living in Heidelberg, Germany, another American student girl complaining how difficult it was to, and I quote, “find a good burger”. I was 21 and thought to myself “seriously? Is that why you are here?”
I get it, we were young and it was some of our first experiences outside of our comfort zones (age 21, but already on my 5th year away from home, so perhaps this is why I was so annoyed) and perhaps a burger satisfied a kind of home sickness. And we weren’t exactly traveling; we were living there for our studies. I always ate in the student cafeteria, the kind where you shuffled along in line, pushing a metal partitioned tray along the food line while you pointed to the selections you wished the large person behind the counter to ladle into a specific rectangle. I can’t recall what these dishes were, which might be for the best, because I do remember that they were not exactly delicious and I always left feeling heavy. But it was very cheap, I think we even paid with tickets that came from somewhere (the school?), and all the university students in town frequented this place for lunch and sometimes dinner. So perhaps this fellow student had her reasons and maybe I’m being too harsh – but I do remember being annoyed.
So a more appropriate and actually travel related example is: A few months ago, while dining with my BF in a funky French/Spanish/Asian restaurant (it’s called Ménage a Trois in reference to the strange mix of 3 cuisines), next to us was a table full of a visiting Italian family. Mom, dad, older daughter, teenage sons. Perhaps a random aunt. The waiter spoke to them in Italian because they couldn’t manage a word of Spanish. I eavesdropped, bewildered, as the man asked the waiter if the restaurant could make a pasta dish, as there were none on the menu – which you would likely expect in a French/Thai/Spanish fusion restaurant. None of the three are renown for their farfalle or tagliatelle dishes (though the Catalans do have a paella like dish with tiny short noodles instead of rice called Fideuà).
So why, whyyyyy, would you travel however many miles to visit a place only to eat the exact same thing you eat every day of your life at home? I wanted to lean over and say to him, sotto voce: “You’re doing it wrong”.
I’ll give you one more annoying example that, unfortunately, is not uncommon as I am witness to varying degrees of it all the time. But this one particularly stands out. The setting is one of the few American cuisine restaurants here in Barcelona that are not trying to be some kind of 50s diner. A nice place with kind of hipster food and great decor in a trendy part of town. I am actually sitting at the same table as some Irish visitors, who are friends of friends. As they receive their orders of burger and fries, one lass of approximately 35 years of age, calls the waiter over to question what was wrong with the ‘chips’. When the waiter informs her that they are thick cut potato fries, as indicated on the menu, she loudly whines that she wants (and this is a direct quote) “normal chips”.
The confused waiter wanders off after being tongue lashed for a while, and I bear witness to this miserable girl moaning over the appearance and size of her ‘chips’ throughout the entire meal. Is that all you can focus on in this beautiful city at a table full of friends? Your effing ‘chips’ that, by the way, weren’t even on the menu? I can understand if he served you fried chicken feet instead, but these where cut and cooked potatoes that happened to be a different SIZE than you were used too. Girl, please.
Part of traveling is being open to new experiences, especially culinary experiences. If the lass can only consume chips that are identical to those she gets in her chip shop in Hackney, then perhaps she should have told her host she preferred to dine in one of the many, many British pubs in the center of town. Italian Joe maybe should have chosen one of the many, many Italian restaurants all over Barcelona if his pasta levels were running dangerously low. Kudos for getting out of your country to see the world, but try to experience the culinary side of it a little bit too.