It should probably come as no surprise that I spend a lot of time surfing the Travel subreddit. Whether it’s just to look at nice pictures of different places, get tips and ideas for traveling somewhere new, or trying to help others with my limited knowledge, it’s one of my favorite places on the internet. And one of the threads that popped up there recently has had me thinking quite a bit.
The basic gist is, if you’re looking for the best food to eat while you travel, and somewhere like Vietnam has the best Italian food, why not eat Italian in Vietnam?
I know there can be a lot of variables to what you eat while abroad—sensitive stomach issues, allergies, fear, palate fatigue—but I’m going to take this from the perspective of someone with none of these issues who just loves food. And for me, this would be a huge no-no. Have I done this before? Of course. Is this why I go to other countries? Not even close.
When I go to a country, I want to experience their culture. I want to know everything about their food and try it all. I never have enough time, of course, but I try my damnedest. For me, there’s no time to really try Italian food in Vietnam, because I just want to eat all the Vietnamese food. And not just one time, either—I wanted to try pho in the north and in the south. We went to small places, had it at our bed and breakfast, had it at a hotel, and had it at a chain. And they were all different.
When we were in Bratislava, as well, I was researching restaurants and there was a great-sounding sushi place. Highly rated, one of the best restaurants in the city. But I just couldn’t bring myself to eat sushi when I was in Slovakia.
It really comes down to what you’re traveling for. If you just want the best of the best, you’ll go for it. But personally, I want to try the best of the best of what the culture has been making, because I can tell you from experience I can get great, top-of-the-line Italian food in Philadelphia, but I’ve never had pho that matches what we ate in Vietnam. I’ve never tracked down half of the food we had in Hue. The stuffed cabbage in Hungary was next level.
My former wife would always mention opportunity cost vs opportunity lost, which is something I still keep in mind when planning trips. The opportunity cost of going to a Chinese place in Germany—no matter how good—is the opportunity lost of trying another, different German dish or getting someplace else’s spin on a dish you’ve already had, both of which can give you deeper insight into the history and culture of a place.
I also realize this could have sparked something in me because the first comment mentioned Italian food which I find, by and large, to be incredibly boring. Yes, I’ve had some amazing Italian food, but I would also feel the same way about Chinese or Vietnamese food, which is probably my favorite. At home, I could eat it anytime or anywhere. Just don’t expect me to eat it in Italy.
Would you eat a “foreign” cuisine while traveling abroad?