Cibo, nourriture, comida – whichever way you say it, food is a language everyone speaks.
With spring break soon approaching, many students are preparing to travel, both abroad and domestically. Among all the packing and planning, students may find themselves daydreaming of the landmarks they will see, people they will meet and a culture of new foods to try.
I get it – you’re a tourist in an unfamiliar place, jetlagged, don’t speak much of the language and are in need of food so you head to the closest place with foreign men in serving uniforms ushering you in. If you don’t care about your meal, you can skip this article and move on to the Top 10 Sights to Visit in your designated travel destination. But I however like to do some research into what I can learn and taste from culinary tourism.
In preparation for my own trip to Italy with the English department to participate in a travel and food writing class, we were discussing a traditional Italian dessert, gelato, and how to distinguish the homemade kind from the mass-produced.
1. Bright Colors
When you blend bananas together, is it usually a pale white or a florescent yellow? Bright colors are a sign of artificial coloring rather than natural ingredients bought at the market. The colors, especially with fruit flavored gelatos, will be the same color as the fruit if you mushed it all up.
2. Piled High
Most authentic gelaterias make all of their flavors for the day, and once a certain type is sold out – that’s it. Come back tomorrow. Also, gelato, like ice cream, will melt down over time. So that high pile of deliciousness is actually being held up by added chemicals.
3. Chunks of Fruit
The gelato that is piled high often has chunks of coconut shells, lime wedges, umbrellas, drizzles and other additional fluff that makes it look more like a margarita than anything else. It looks tempting but simple is usually best in this case.
1. Seasonal Flavors
Not only will the color of fruit flavors cue you as to the quality of the gelato, but also if the flavors match with what is available in the market. Strawberries in May? Yum! Strawberries in December? Not so much.
2. Stainless Steel Containers
Oftentimes with a lid covering the gelato to keep it fresh. You might not be able to see the colors, but a good gelateria won’t have to convince you of their product. They know it’s good and so do the locals. Plus you can always ask for a little taste.
After my training in gelato-spotting, I started to wonder if this false-food idea was apparent in other countries as well. Here’s what I figured out:
How to Find Authentic Parisian Restaurants:
Look at the way the waiters are dressed. If they are wearing fluffy berets, neck ties with all the bells and whistles and amuse you with magician-like tricks, you are probably in a tourist restaurant. Again, good restaurants will not have people standing outside trying to coerce you to come in.
2. Menu in English
Parlez-vous francais? Maybe not fluently if you are just visiting for a short time, but not to worry. The waiters should be able to translate the menu for you. But if there is English translation on the menu outside, it is most likely a big place for tourists to eat.
3. Beware if anything on the menu is followed by the word “fries.”
Signs you are eating real Mexican food and not Tex-Mex:
1. There are no low-fat options.
As a general rule, if there is a low-fat option for any menu item of any cuisine, it’s not the real (or good) stuff.
2. It’s not covered in cheese.
Hear it from the number one fan of queso, excessive cheese is no bueno for original Mexican food. The dishes are so flavorful themselves there isn’t a need to hide it all under a layer of cheese.
3. Your taco isn’t stuffed with ground beef.
Some ingredients, like ground beef, yellow (cheddar) cheese and wheat flour, are much more common in the U.S. than in Mexico and have been adapted into our own “Tex-Mex” dishes.
Not to say some things aren’t delicious covered in queso or artificially colored, but you can go to Olive Garden or Chipotle when you’re back at home.
Even in America food wars are fought over who had the original Chicago pizza and other regional favorites. As a traveler, be equally adventurous in the foods you eat as the places you go to. Do as the locals do and experience the culture to the fullest extent.
Happy travels, Butter Lovers!