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countries that just don't have good food/overlooked national cuisines

On the DC/Baltimore board, I recently was in a discussion about an Ecuadorian restaurant in town. While some people really like it, I think it's perfectly skippable; someone once told me that Ecuador is just not a place one goes for the food.

I travel to SE Asia often, and while I could very easily and happily subsist on a diet of South and SE and East Asian food, the food in Cambodia, for some reason I've not quite figure out, just isn't good. (Especially when considering how fantastic the food in near/neighboring countries.)

On other travels, I've been delighted and amazed by the food in Bulgaria and especially in the Republic of Georgia, countries that don't immediately come to mind when discussing great food.

So, what are your picks for countries with not so great food, and those who have cuisines that tend to get overlooked?

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  1. Difficult one to answer. Some of the worst meals of my life have been on trips to the USA, as have some of the best.

    But, I suppose I don't instinctively think of the Netherlands for haute cuisine.

    18 Replies
    1. re: Harters

      Of, I'm so not a haute cuisine type of 'hound. I'm a real street food type of eater. And, oh, c'mon, I think the Netherlands had really fabulous pea soup! ;-)

      1. re: baltoellen

        As well as great cheeses, herring and pannekoeken. Their olie bollen and other sweets/pastries are pretty tasty, too;) I really liked the food I found in the Netherlands. I'd actually put the Netherlands in the overlooked category.

        I'd put Tibetan cuisine in the not-so-great category.

        1. re: phoenikia

          I can't remember the exact name of it, but the rice, vegetables and meat dish that is popular in NL from Indonesia is pretty good. The coffee in NL is good as is some of the beer. I don't recall that they have an indigenous high end cuisine...they have brought in food specialities from other countries as NL is a land of traders etc.

          1. re: WelcomeBack

            You're referring to Rijstaffel. Also try the Nasi Goreng and the Bami Goreng. Lots of Indonesian restaurants in NL, it's almost become a national cuisine.

            1. re: dpan

              Rijstaffel is the multi-course meal where you are served 20+ courses but only a mouthful or two of each. Flying UK to Holland to eat one is the furthest I've ever travelled specifically for dinner (meant stopping overnight of course). Worth every penny for the experience. I believe the concept is not native to Indonesia but was developed by Dutch colonialists and imported back to the Netherlands.

              1. re: Harters

                Just look for a restaurant that says "Chin-Ind" on the outside.

          2. re: phoenikia

            I was just going to say that - Tibetan food. Although, I did have incredible momos and thentuk in Dharamsala (the exile community in India) and in Tibet, but I think the reason is mostly that there isn't the variety. Tibetans aren't really known to be foodies, just using food to survive.

            1. re: phoenikia

              >>I'd put Tibetan cuisine in the not-so-great category.

              It appears Mindanao has Tibet beat, by a mile.

            2. re: baltoellen

              Let's not forget cheese (more than just Gouda), boereworst (and other sausages), chocolate, black licorice, game (venison and hare come to mind), beer, kroketten, and of course fries with mayo and hundreds of other toppings!!! And all the Indonesian influenced dishes, such as rijstafel and babi ketjap. Yes, I miss the food of my childhood! But to be honest I wouldn't pick it as the national cuisine for the rest of my life.

              1. re: waver

                Gingerbread and stroopwafels also come to mind...buut as for non-ethnic everyday NL cuisine, yeah, I'd have to say most of it was pretty bad. At least where I was - wilty salads, veggies steamed into submission, overcrisped tater tots and strange-tasting chicken and meat...during my 5 months living there I think I mostly survived on tostekaas and tomaat soup (and the lovely bakery and cheese shop down the steet)
                - alright, the fries stands were lovely, but curry ketchup is still foul.

                1. re: Jeters

                  The entire national cuisine of the Netherlands can stand on the able shoulders of the stroopwafel in my opinon!

                  1. re: WCchopper

                    And the summer meal of white asparagus, fine ham, diced boiled egg and a few tilts of Genever! New herring,lekabekka, mussels, smoked eel, fine cheeses, great beers, and then the Indonesian on top of that. Sure as hell beats a Big Mac

                    1. re: Passadumkeg

                      Ah yes, now you're really reminding me! Panenkoken mit spek was also delightful, and don't even start on the cheeses!

                      1. re: WCchopper

                        I lived in the Netherlands before it changed its name from Holland :)

                        If, for whatever reason, you get the munchies, then off to the pannekoeken huizen for a bacon, egg and tomato pancake followed by a strawberry, cream and Grand Marnier pancake.

            3. re: Harters

              But there's a wonderful Italian place in Amsterdam, Casa di David.

              I wonder if Java is one of those overlooked countries for cuisine. I never hear much about it, but someone (Sam?) mentioned recently that there is a bunch of good food there, and I think I saw some stuff on a Bourdain 'No Reservations' that looked good. (He did go there, didn't he?)

              1. re: Cinnamon

                Java is an island which is part of Indonesia. Yes, they do have great food there - very exotic by American standards. Here, you won't find the depth and breadth of ingredients as well as dishes that represent this cuisine, but there's a very good Indonesian cafe in the Palms area called, Simpang Asia. Give it a whirl if you get a chance.

                Simpang Asia
                10433 National Blvd 2, Los Angeles, CA 90034

                1. re: bulavinaka

                  :) Been there on quest for kaffir lime leaves, stayed for the soup. I'll need to stop in some more and make my way through the menu. Any favorites on there to try next?

                2. re: Cinnamon

                  The food on Java is indeed good - and changes from western, central, and eastern. Not everything is good; but what is good, can be really good.

              2. I find Somali food to be very plain and boring. Occassionaly there are some treats, but mostly imports from other countries, like Somosas.

                6 Replies
                1. re: churchka

                  Two of the best meals of my life were at The New Bilan, a Somali resto in Toronto- are you sure you just haven't had good versions of it?

                  Now real Mongolian food- that sounds despicable! Mutton and more mutton.

                  1. re: John Manzo

                    I've eaten in two or three restaurants and A LOT of home cooking. It is just boring.

                    1. re: churchka

                      I side with John Manzo on the Somali question. I reviewed New Bilan a couple of years ago, and really liked it. I've also started cooking some Somali dishes (my favourite so far being a crab stew). It's not haute cuisine, but very satisfying.

                    2. re: John Manzo

                      real Mongolian food is NOT despicable---its yummy!!!! For a blissful short period of time, we lived walking distance from a Mongolian restaurant in LA. While the cuisine is heavy on root veg and lamb based dishes, they were VERY tasty.

                      Alas, the real mongolians running the restaurant were not vvery business oriented and they failed.....

                    3. re: churchka

                      one of the most exciting meals i've ever had was by somali caterers. admittedly it owed a lot to indian cuisine, but it added a lot too. I particularly remember a wildly intense chili paste of which you should take no more than a fork tine's worth.

                    4. baltoellen, I know just what you mean--and funny you should mention Ecuador and Cambodia. In the Americas, I love Mexican, Guatemalan, followed (by quite a distance) Peruvian and Brazilian. I'll get in trouble, but our food in Colombia and that of Venezuela and Ecuador has some good things--but overall and unfortunately not at all on or near the level of Mexico or even Peru.

                      I lived in and worked in south and southeast Asia for donkeys and have to agree that Cambodian, filipino, and even Indonesian don't stand up to Lao, Thai, and Vietnamese. India and Pakistan are great for food. Much of sub-Saharan Africa is not (although AB looked like he ate very well in Ghana).

                      I go to Laos, Mexico, India, and Pakistan to eat while acting like I'm working. Other countries I know how to find and really enjoy food, although then I eat nomral quantities.

                      32 Replies
                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                        Cambodian food is the great mystery to me. I mean, same climate, same French colonial heritage as Laos and Vietnam, yet really mediocre food. Honestly, Cambodia is the only place in the region where I eat in those restaurants for Westerners. While it goes against my ethos to do that while traveling, eating bad food when there're other options goes against my ethos as well. (I'm just happy that I planned a stop for a day in Singapore where I can see some friends who take me to their favorite hawker stalls. Then, I'll just have to suck it up when I get to Phnom Penh....) My trip ends in Vietnam, so, with hope, the bad food in Cambodia will be a fading memory.

                        And, to my own question: I think the food of Trinidad is the most overlooked GREAT cuisine on the planet. (Although the food in Tobago is more or less run of the mill Caribbean.)

                        1. re: baltoellen

                          Your Cambodia comments brought an odd idea to mind. There was a enormous disruption to Cambodian cultural continuity due to the genocide; I've read, for example, that perinatal mortality was very high afterwards because midwifery skills were lost. So, could that loss of culture have something to do with Cambodia's current status as a culinary outlier in the region? I guess I'd have to ask someone who ate there before the genocide.

                          1. re: optimal forager

                            I, too, have wondered about that. But, as the country tries so hard to both come to grips with the not too distant past and move into the future, I think they are trying to revive all the culture that was lost. Of course, given that so many people are so young there, maybe no one remembers what the food tasted like. Frankly, I have a feeling that it just wasn't good before the genocide either.

                            1. re: optimal forager

                              great answer. The worst of British food is also due to discontinuity of tradition following from the industrial revolution and migration into urban centres remote from agriculture. Thankfully really great food (try real - I mean real - cheddar, stilton cheese the dark beers and some great sausages and stews) is still valued, but food in the industrial ciites of the north can still be about filling up cheaply and getting it over and done with.

                              1. re: johntonta

                                "The worst of British food is also due to discontinuity of tradition following from the industrial revolution and migration into urban centres remote from agriculture."

                                Would have to disagree. IMO, the worst of British food (home not restaurant) can be directly linked to (1) the effects of rationing during WW2 and afterwards, until 1954 when it ended (2) poverty.

                                1. re: Harters

                                  Would have to agree with you.

                                  However, the effects of rationing continued after rationing finished. School milk & meals, concentrated orange juice, cod liver oil and so on.

                                  1. re: Paulustrious

                                    Exactly my point. My mother, who was not in poverty but who was a lousy cook by today's standards, learnt her cooking skills in that period. Obviously it fashioned her cooking style for her whole life.

                                    I suspect that further discussion about how any nation's cuisine is fashioned would be best on a different thread - but I suspect that for those nations in the "developed world", there will be consistent themes - poverty, social change, the way food is sold, etc - and I suspect it will be the second half of the 20th century that brought about those changes (broadly speaking)

                          2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                            Re: Ghana: I spent a few months there a long time ago, and although it is one of the more stable countries, it still had a bit of the subsistence level feel to the cuisine. That being said, I think there are some really great dishes from this very rich culture. I have a few cookbooks I picked up while I was there, and there are some very interesting recipes. I also love the groundnut stew with fufu, the palaver sauce, and I had some really great kebabs made out of all sorts of things. The jollof rice was great. I also had a wonderful snail stew made by a lovely woman I met there. We went into the Kumasi market and bought the snails from a stall. At first the women at the stall were very hostile towards me. But as soon as they realized I was really excited about the snails, and not just morbidly curious, they became very friendly. All I had to do was remind then that "Asians eat everything!" The snails were the size of a canteloupe. They were really delicious in the stew! I look forward to the day we are talking about all the great chow in the continent of Africa, and not about how to deal with children going hungry.

                            1. re: moh

                              moh, you perfectly describe the type of food experience I love. Thank you.

                              1. re: moh

                                Funny that you mention all those foods in particular. I too spent a few months there and found the food basically inedible, especially fufu and jollof rice. I pretty much survived off of plantains and tea biscuits the entire time. The worst part was walking through the markets with the dried fish all covered in flies in the hot sun and thinking "Yep, there's dinner..."

                                1. re: Olallieberry

                                  Olallieberry, we had the great fortune of being in a place where lunch was supplied by a woman who was known as one of the best fufu makers in the city. She made her fufu from scratch, and she also made a fabulous groundnut stew. She would pound the fufu with a large stick and the sound would reverberate throughout the building, reminding us than lunch was around the corner. Weekday lunches were a real treat, as this lady could cook! We had a lot more trouble finding food on our own. Some of the other students would take pity on us, hence the kind offer to cook us snail stew.

                                  I would agree that finding a regular source of really great food in Ghana takes a lot of work, and also a bit of luck. As I mentioned in my other post, food is still about subsistence, even in a fairly stable country like Ghana. But the problem is not the cuisine, the cuisine is quite interesting, and the flavour components are complex and delicious. It is more a problem of availability and quality of ingredients.

                                  I recall eating a lot of plantains as well. Thank goodness for fried foods! I also recall drinking a lot of Bitter Lemon, with the added bonus of quinine, thought to have anti-malarial properties.

                              2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                While I agree that Ecuadorian food is not on the level of Mexican food, particularly in terms of regional variety and complexity, I was quite pleasantly surprised by the food in Ecuador: had no expectations, but discovered that it was always fresh, well made, heavy on the fruits and vegetables, and the soups were uniformly delicious...

                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                  Would be interesting to see Anthony Bourdain visit Cambodia in an ep of "No Reservations". I looked up the episode history on IMDB and apparently he has not yet filmed a show there. Maybe there's good reason for this?

                                  1. re: MysticYoYo

                                    It's been a while since I read it, but I think he was there, or at least in the border town of Poipet, in A Cook's Tour.

                                    1. re: baltoellen

                                      In "A Cook's Tour" he didn't have anything particularly great to say about the cuisine of Cambodia either.

                                      1. re: Blueicus

                                        I believe that in the book he regarded his trip to Cambodia as one of the most horrible places he's visited. Not only was the food bad, he was somewhat frightened on the people he met...and there was a rather disgusting passage re: the blood on the walls in his hotel bathroom. He did travel beyond the border but regretted it. I doubt he plans to go back.

                                        (somewhat vague as it's been years since I read the book, apologies for any mistakes)

                                    2. re: MysticYoYo

                                      He keeps circling in on SE Asia though. I'm getting the impression he really is shopping for his retirement dream locale. I'm completely OK with this, as the shows now help me pare down my must-visit list.

                                    3. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                      Hello, Hawaii? That's on my not-for-the-cuisine list, right next to Nebraska. Granted that while I've been to Hawaii and eaten in Hawaiian restaurants there and in California, I've never had their raw specialties.

                                      I haven't had much from Ethiopia, but what I had - especially the soured bread - I didn't like. I didn't like it even more than Prague, Czechoslovakia.

                                      With so many cuisines it's hard to tell whether one is missing the perfectly-prepared version that like an old language got messed up into something far less eloquent along the way. I've had bizarrely good food of all kinds in Bermuda, and can't quite figure out why. I've been to Amsterdam but couldn't tell you a single Dutch dish. Did find a terrific Italian there.

                                      1. re: Cinnamon

                                        Funny, I always think of Hawai'i as a food paradise. First, there's the produce: from lettuce and tomatoes to guavas, mangoes, lillikoi, jackfruit, rambutan, and durian. Huge avocados there for the picking, fresh young coconut, citrus, macadamia nuts, coffee, and on and on.

                                        Then there's the fish - the variety and quality is unlike anything I've seen elsewhere. And some of the best beef I've ever eaten was raised on Maui.

                                        If you don't have a kitchen at hand, there are restaurants that range from basic plate lunch shack to the finest of fine dining. And if you enjoy SPAM, that's just an added bonus! ;-)

                                        1. re: alanbarnes

                                          I would love to run into some of the food quality you mention there in some restaurant fare. I did find Kauai to be quite an agricultural wonderland, in that scenic way that American croplands are not. (But I'm from Florida and live in California, so while they've got really great dirt vs. Southern California, the proliferation of beautiful fruit, etc., didn't make as much impact as perhaps it might have if I had been from somewhere else. Where I grew up, you watch your head for falling coconuts and mangoes anyway.) Hanalei Bay is gorgeous, though.

                                          We ate at several places on that island though I don't recall any specific names - one was a rather festive, nice-environment longtime sushi-and-more place down near Kapaa I believe. Granted, and this is a huge granted, I haven't been to the other islands yet.

                                          But on Kauai no food was exquisite or really even remarkable to me. And worse, around west L.A. we've got several Hawaiian restaurants that just must be the Denny's and Panda Express of the islands, in terms of the taste of what they serve... middling kalua lumpia, lau lau, boring white rice, spam rolls, greasy cutlets (not tasty grease, either) and macaroni salad everywhere, occasionally with the random flat egg on top. My vision of Hawaiian food became 'what happens when you strand mid-19th-century middle America on an island' and give it pineapples and wannabe ham.

                                          1. re: Cinnamon

                                            I don't know Kaua'i at all, but O'ahu, Maui, and the Big Island can each deliver food that's remarkable and maybe even exquisite. Alan Wong, Bev Gannon, Peter Merriman - these guys are some of the best-regarded chefs in America, and their uniting philosophy is the simple preparation of top-quality local ingredients.

                                            Here's Alan Wong's take on tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich:


                                            1. re: Cinnamon

                                              Cinnamon, your very objective and well written analyses makes me sit up and take notice. Thanks.

                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                Thanks but that's really just my touristy impression. (By the way I meant to say mid-20th century middle America.) I'm going to have to plan another trip to debunk my viewpoint and find some of the places Alan was talking about. (Nice 'basics' list in that cookbook table of contents, by the way.)

                                                But since Hawaii is after all 1/3 of the way to Asia, I reserve the right to extend my trip to Vietnam/Thailand.

                                              2. re: Cinnamon

                                                >>My vision of Hawaiian food became 'what happens when you strand mid-19th-century (sic) middle America on an island' and give it pineapples and wannabe ham.<<

                                                With no refrigeration to speak of coupled with humid weather, one learns to make do with what one has. Canned meat was a god-send to Islanders - otherwise, protein on the hoof was a rare commodity.

                                                1. re: Cinnamon

                                                  The last time we were in Hawai'i, we had the benefit of "connections" from a kama'aina who was high up at a major resort - a rarity for us and something for which we are eternally grateful.

                                                  He set us up with a list of recommendations and itinerary for four islands. On that trip we ate at a number of top shelf places. What we found - despite the fact we were often being treated "above and beyond" - was a "sameness", not just in ingredients, but in presentation, menu and accompaniments. Didn't matter if it were sashimi in one place and a fillet in another - there was something distinctly Stepford-ish about the experiences at the higher-end places. The main exceptions was Merriman's (which almost seemed as if we were dining in another country) and Pacific'O.

                                                  Neither my wife nor I has had a hankering for mahi-mahi or macadamias since that trip. Maybe next time we'll do the choosing.

                                              3. re: Cinnamon

                                                Living in Hawaii for the better part of a year now... and having lived in L.A., Sonoma County & Mexico City before... I have to say that Hawaii both lives up to its reputation and doesn't. Let me make several points:

                                                1) Locals definitely still consume lots of the food for which Hawaii is stereotyped... the Spam Fried Rice, Spam Musubi... and there isn't a whole lot of quality in the typical plate lunch place.

                                                2) If you move here after living in L.A. or the Bay Area... at least on Oahu you will not notice a major, deal breaking difference in the availability of high quality produce & animal flesh. Avg. produce in Hawaii is just as bad as in California.... meaning your typical Haole or Local middle class, white collar Asian who shops at Safeway, Foodland or Times picks up the same mediocre, tasteless out of season Chilean produce as the avg California middle class / Suburbs dweller.

                                                Both places have ethnic markets that yield similar good quality produce at cheaper than Supermarket prices. And both have mediocre famer markets cultures... in the same sense... there are farmers markets with more or less top notch ingredients at good prices (FM in L.A. & HI are very reasonable in comparison to Northern California's ridiculous, whimsically marketed Farmers Market produce)... expect that in HI as in CA they are the exception, they represent a miniscule portion of the produce trade.

                                                In general, given that Honolulu is at best 1/7 the size of L.A. its offering high quality local produce & free range proteins is very comparable to L.A.... and even the Bay Area. Although, the Gastronimic IQ in Hawaii is much lower than the Bay Area or L.A. I have this theory that ugly Urban spaces (particularly those with limited outdoor activities & highly stressful lifestyles) breed the highest Gastronomic IQs as people have little else to obsess about. Here in Kailua... its hard to find knowledgeable food enthusiasts... but who can blame them? Why spend your time fantasizing about food when you can be kayaking & hiking in paradise?

                                                With all that said... neither Hawaii nor California compare to Mexico City for depth, breadth of year round available top notch locally grown produce consumed en masse... its not even close.

                                                3) Back to the restaurant infrastructure... the availability of Ethnic food in Honolulu / Oahu is certainly comparable to L.A. & Bay Area per Capita... yes the Mexican sucks here, and the Chinese is not close either... but the Japanese is very comparable, as is the Vietnamese... and then when it comes to Thai... its not close, Oahu's neighborhood Thai places are eye opening. They are sparse enough that they don't have to bargain each other down to the $5 for a 3 course lunch like in L.A.... and are well regarded.. my god its eye opening. When you eat Thai in California, Chicago or NY its hard not to conclude that Thai's can't cook protein very well (think toughish, lean meats etc.,) but here in Hawaii even Chicken Satay is wonderful with juicy dark meats etc., etc., Thai food is better in Oahu than in L.A without ANY doubt in my mind.

                                                At the high the best restaurants in Honolulu / Oahu are certainly comparable to the best in the Bay Area & L.A. Alan Wong's for example, even though I particularly am not that impressed by it, is in the same league as Cyrus (which I am not that into either) in Healdsburg or Melisse in L.A. Then there are the Sam Choy's etc., which price point vs price point also compare favorable to their California Cuisine equivalents in either L.A. or the Bay Area. And then further down to the creative, neighborhood mid level places... the Honolulu restaurants in the Kaimuki / Kahala area are pretty much in the same league as their counterparts in West L.A., San Francisco, Sonoma & Napa. Granted they may be a few years behind on the trends... and they lack the marketing prowess of their bretheren in the Bay Area but in terms of food, plating & decor stripping away fashionableness / trendiness..... they are very equivalent.

                                                Back to the produce... the produce IS different... don't expect good peaches or stone fruit.. or apples etc., but what Hawaii does have (and there IS a fairly substantial breadth of produce) is reasonable Top Notch to California standards. Ah the roasted Hawaiian purple potatoes I just had the other day.... marvelous there are no potatoes in California in their league.... and the availability of impeccable lettuces & herbs is impressive for such a tropical location.

                                                Hawaiians don't have the Culinary IQ of the Bay Area foodies, and certain things like good cheeses or Mexican stuff is nearly impossible to find... but there are other Asian, Polynesian & Micronesian stuff that balances it out on a per capita basis... Hawaii (or at least Oahu as I can testify for other islands) is materially comparable to California.

                                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                  Fantastic descriptions, thank you. And very interesting about Mexico City.

                                                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                    Eat Nopal's summary is excellent, and I would agree with his assessment of Hawaii's cuisine. One of my best Thai food experiences was on the Big Island in Hilo, I was very impressed. I would though mention that I've not been to Thailand, so, perhaps I'm not the best person to comment.

                                                    I love the blend of Japanese/Korean/Polynesian cultural elements that pervades the entire culinary culture of Hawaii. This fusion is easy, fun and tasty, and so different than the mainland culture that I am used to. I can see that if you are from California/LA, where Asian food is fairly mainstream and accessible, you might not find this blend as original or impressive. But as an Asian from Canada (and not from Vancouver), it was a revelation to find such fun, oddly familiar food in every strip mall, in street trucks, and in fancy restarants. Familiar, yet with a twist. I loved it.

                                                    One other wonderful item I found was super fresh mangosteens in a farmer's market, an entire gigantic bag for $5! I have never had such fresh beautiful inexpensive mangosteens. Now I could be wrong, and they might be available in California, but I was under the impression that fresh mangosteens are not grown in California, or anywhere in the U.S. and Canada. It was worth the price of the airplane ticket to have those very fresh mangosteens! We nearly sliced out hands off, as we usually have to saw away at the tough outer peel when we buy sort-of-fresh mangosteens here in Montreal. The knife flew through the peel like butter on these mangosteens in Hawaii, and I've never seen such beautiful green leaves like these fruit had (usually they are all brown and hard when I buy sort-of-fresh mangosteen). The mangosteen is such a delicate fruit, it really doesn't travel so well.

                                                    1. re: moh

                                                      Slightly tangential.. but you should see & smell the Mangos in my back yard. Not since been a teenager on vacation in Acapulco had I experienced the complex floral bouquet of a fresh cut mango.. my wife who never had the experience (only used to 6 week old mangos in California) was absolutely floored.

                                                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                        I'm drooling Eat Nopal! I adore mangos, and that sound awesome. I liked all the fruit i had in Hawaii. I ate a crazy amount of Papayas. Unfortunately, mangos were not in season when we were there.

                                                        1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                          The key is harvesting them all so you don't get a not so beautifully fragrant slip-n-slide carpet of them on the ground.

                                                        2. re: moh

                                                          The next time you have the opportunity to relish ripe mangosteens, squeeze them in between the palms of your hands (or your SO's if his palms are stronger). The husk should split open and you'll end up with a little purplish dye on your palms, but it's a small price to pay for the lusciousness that lays inside.

                                                  2. My vote would have to go to Costa Rica. Granted, it's been a while since I was there, plus I don't eat fish so that limited my options, but it just wasn't very exciting. I ate a lot of rice and beans and scrambled eggs (particularly after two occasions of being served chicken so undercooked it was bloody - best way to turn me into a temporary vegetarian). and now that i think about it, I don't know that I've ever seen a Costa Rican restaurant in the U.S. Good tropical fruits though. And of course there are many great reasons to visit that have nothing to do with eating.

                                                    10 Replies
                                                    1. re: cookie monster

                                                      I was going to say Costa Rica too. Terrible, bland food -- and we ate where and what the locals eat. There was no escaping hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken fried rice (sometimes good, sometimes terrible, but always misleading with its Spanish name "arroz con pollo," which draws up entirely different imagery if you are familiar with the dish). We were once asked in a tiny restaurant if we wanted "las tres salsas." Sure, why not! Maybe this would be the authentic food we were looking for. Well, the cook took out 3 squeeze bottles and squeezed mustard, ketchup, and mayo all over our shredded cabbage. Blech. Casados were always made with Knorr products, so they were actually blander than a similar dish I could get at a diner in the U.S.
                                                      We learned to get our fuel through 3 simple things: pupusas (when in an area with Salvadorean immigrants), gallo pinto, and pollo rostizado. You can hardly mess up the last two.

                                                      1. re: maestra

                                                        I don't remember the food being too bad in Costa rica (this was maybe 5 years ago). Simple, but not as bad as it sounds like you had. I certainly didn't find myself clamoring for tourist food, as I did in certain other places I've traveled...
                                                        I just remember a lot of rice, beans, meat and plantains...Though I was mostly in the NW corner. Perhaps there was some Nicaraguan influence that improved it?

                                                        1. re: maestra

                                                          Which version of 'arroz con pollo' are you familiar with? 'Rice with chicken' is a perfectly good description for 'chicken fried rice'. But then, 'arroz con camarones' brings to mind the popular Ecuador dish, which might be described as a simple 'shrimp fried rice', in the sense that lots of small shrimp are fried with rice (along with peas).


                                                          1. re: maestra

                                                            I ate at Taco Bell and Subway when I was in Costa Rica. After 3 months in Nicaragua, at age 22, and eating no "American" food, it was heaven. I will always have a special place in my heart for Costa Rican Fast Food.

                                                            1. re: maestra

                                                              Have to go along with the Costa Rica choice, I love the country and the people, but the food just isn't there. That said, I could live off the roast chicken, one thing they have figured out.

                                                              1. re: Scrapironchef

                                                                add Lizano sauce. That makes two good things.

                                                            2. re: cookie monster

                                                              Chicago has one Costa Rican restaurant: Irazu. There was a second one, but it didn't last long. Comments from JeffB in both threads note that food at Irazu was better than most of what he has had in Costa Rica, though.

                                                              1. re: cookie monster

                                                                I've always wanted to visit Costa Rica but have been scared because of the talk of boring bland food. Perhaps I should visit when I'm on a fast. How easy is it to get fresh fruit and vegetable juices?

                                                                1. re: cookie monster

                                                                  Second the Costa Rican experience, outside of seafood and steak it is a very uninspired cuisine albeit in a beautiful country with great people.

                                                                  1. re: jetlag

                                                                    I'd put Honduras on a lower peg than Costa Rica. That probably has mostly to do with the difference in incomes (Honduran per capita income is about 1/4 that of Costa Rica). The only thing that saves Honduras from a complete culinary wasteland is the coast, which borrows liberally from Carribean cuisines in use of coconut (and I'm not even a big coconut fan, but pollo coco is pretty good).

                                                                    And while we're at it, Panama's "national" dish is a lousy fake bolognese pasta number from an old time restaurant in Ohio - the Johnny Mazetti. Blame the canal workers.

                                                                2. Well, I lived in Ecuador, and while it isn't someplace people go for food, it also isn't difficult to find simple stuff prepared quite well.

                                                                  The true winner here is easy for me--Uruguay. I have lived and traveled all over Latin America, and you would think sandwiched between Argentina and Brazil, that they would be able to cook something but it just aint true. All the good meat is exported, and despite the fact that many people are of italian and swiss heritage, as my mother put it, "somewhere down the line, they just forgot how to cook". If I log on from home I will attach a blog post I wrote expressing my frustration at having no food options. Comically bad food. Seriously, actually humorous.

                                                                  4 Replies
                                                                  1. re: dagoose

                                                                    I really loved Uruguay, and visited a lot of coastal towns. At some point, I made the comment that we were eating like kids every day: pizza, french fries, burgers, but I just thought that we were eating like that because we were traveling during the off-season!

                                                                    But, surely, that meat market place in MVD has some good meat that hasn't yet been exported?!?

                                                                    Look forward to reading your blog post.

                                                                    1. re: baltoellen

                                                                      Balto Ellen--Yes, the coastal towns are quite lovely. This was based on living with a family (and eating with the families my friends were living with). Often the restaurants in Coastal towns are catering toward vacationing teenagers or students (in town to, actually)...So they essentially are eating like kids. I ate one meal, the day I arrived in that meat market, and it was the best thing I ate the whole time I was there.

                                                                      Two other interesting things: One tasty, if health defying Uruguayan dish, is the national dish, the Chivito: Hamburger bun holding a large piece of flank steak (occaisonally milanesa style), topped with fried egg, ham, cheese, and mayo. These were quickly ruined for me when I bit into a slug in one...

                                                                      The other interesting thing that I found was that they don't eat fish, despite being completely surrounded by water. Turns out it just isn't in their culture. Fish is expensive because nobody eats it, so nobody fishes, so it is hard to find. So nobody eats it. Was very confusing to me, but the moral was...No fish for me. Was probably too light and healthy...

                                                                    2. re: dagoose

                                                                      Here is the post: I wrote this back in college, long before I got into food and learned that a well prepared version of many of these things (milanesa, dulce de leche) can actually be good.
                                                                      THE 4 FOOD GROUPS OF URUGUAY
                                                                      1)Good foods ruined--this includes cheese (which is only served in 1 kilo or more quantities...I once ordered a grilled cheese that was inedible due to the fact that I was unable to find the bread contained between the cheese), Bread (allowed only in the ¨wonder¨ form). and pasta (served only with enormous amounts of greasy ham and or hot dog on top)

                                                                      2) Things in tort form--this includes...well...everything. Ham, cheese. Ham and cheese. spinich. spinich and ham and cheese. Tuna fish. Egg. Egg and Tuna fish. Must I continue???

                                                                      3) Meats I used to like--I was never a fan of ham, but before arriving I did quite enjoy steak and chicken. Though rarely served outside of ´milenesa´form, I have managed to get sick of these two previously delicous foods. Milenesa is Uruguayan for ¨dropped in a sickly vat of boiling oil¨

                                                                      4) things involved in every meal. Previously harmless foods that have been at the table at every single meal. They include ham and potatoes. sometimes the ham is in my potatos. and some times the potato is in my ham. Often they are both on my pasta. or my milenesa. Either way, they are very heavy.

                                                                      There is one more bonus group, that is Postre, or dessert...one of them even involves cheese, though you could probably skip the details there. Most of them involve dulce de leche, a caramel like substance made of milk and sugar designed to cause pain in the teeth...

                                                                      1. re: dagoose

                                                                        Paraguay is not known for it's cuisine. I lived there for a year in 1980-81 and visited again in 1987, both before I went vegan and gluten-free and before I cared much about food. Both Milanesa and dulce de leche are common there. I did bring back a cookbook and have managed to de-gluten and veganize the sopa paraguaya (it's not soup, it's moist cornbread with onions and cheese, I substituted almond or sunflower seed cheeze) and chipa (a manioc bagel of sorts).

                                                                        Otherwise food consisted mostly of beef, chicken, rice, beans, manioc, bread, carrots, bananas, lemons, bread, papaya, guava, and eggs. At the time I was there people generally didn't eat corn, it was considered animal food. Peaches and peas were among the few foods my family bought in cans. I'm sure things have changed there some since I was there. In 1980 there was reportedly a KFC. :-P

                                                                        Beverages included Coca Cola (including in baby bottles), guaraná, yerba maté, wine, beer, and other forms of alcohol.

                                                                    3. Botswana and Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe's more understandable, given the political situation, but Botswana not so much.

                                                                      Boiled beef (no spices), boiled cornmeal, a lot of boiled... kind of like British cooking used to be, with less vegetables.

                                                                      I love Doukhobor food, which is closely related to Georgian, but that could be because I grew up with it,

                                                                      I once when to a Nepali restaurant in Baltimore that pleasantly surprised me.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: sailrox

                                                                        Nepalese food is delicious, especially the curries. There are some good Nepalese restaurants in certain parts of the UK (Reading has a Nepalese community and several fine restaurants).

                                                                      2. I tend to agree about Cambodian, Laotian, Tibetan, Filipino food - very deeply rustic and unfamiliar to most foreign palates.

                                                                        Filipino food has a western/eastern dichotomy that I find intriguing. I love adobo, and Spanish influenced dishes (various rellenos, etc). But I also love the Straights and Chinese influenced foods.

                                                                        Indonesian food holds the same interest for me...Rijsttafels are often classified as touristy - but I like eating them as a culinary survey.

                                                                        13 Replies
                                                                        1. re: fmed

                                                                          Regarding: "I tend to agree about Cambodian, Laotian, Tibetan, Filipino food - very deeply rustic and unfamiliar to most foreign palates."

                                                                          Again, Lao is at the top of my list.

                                                                          The others unfoortunately near the bottom. I really dislike yak butter tea and sun dried pig fat in Tibet. Some filipino food is really good (fresh lumpia, bulalo, fish (especially kanduli) soup, dino-gu-an, some of the plates from Pampanga and Bicol--but what do you do in a country where in general one chile is good for 60 million people for a week, where almost everything is fried, where most food is served at room temperature, and where the amount salt will stagger a donkey? At sayang kasi kahit medyo pilipino akoy sa loob!

                                                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                            My sister in law is from the Phillipines, and I love ponsit and lumpia - when we had family things, all the Flilipino women would eat the Italian food and all the Italians would eat the ponsit and lumpia...go figure...

                                                                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                              "I really dislike yak butter tea and sun dried pig fat in Tibet. "
                                                                              Now Sam, we both know there is more to Tibetan food than that---for example, what about momos? We happen to be frequenting a Tibetan buddhist place and very often, attendence involves eatting and eatting involves Tibetan food. Over the year, I've found a number of tasty things to eat in Tibetan cuisine though alas, I can never order them because nothing is labelled.

                                                                              1. re: jenn

                                                                                Obviously! I love momos so much I learned how to make them from my Nepali grad students. We had a lot of momo parties. I love emmadashi and most foods in Bhutan, but there and in Tibet, I don't like yak butter tea and sun dried pig fat - maybe the only two things on the planet I don't like. I like everything else. I have to really search hard to find stuff I don't like. Well the piranah my reseach team had way back in the Amazon had at one indigenous village was pretty bad - cold, congealed snot filled with a thousand little bones - and not nearly enough snot.

                                                                            2. re: fmed

                                                                              Filipino food, for me, always ends up being much blander than it appears. It is just not worth trying anymore. I do love their desserts, though. That's a completely different animal.

                                                                              1. re: maestra

                                                                                My feelings about Filipino run pretty much the same as yours but without the fondness for desserts.

                                                                                1. re: maestra

                                                                                  The desserts are tasty. Halo-halo, ube, and their breads are great! Fresh, hot Pandesal are WONDERFUL!!!

                                                                                  1. re: avena

                                                                                    Hot pandesal is as good as all other "breads" in the Philippines are vile. And you like ube ice cream in a hamburger bun?

                                                                                  2. re: maestra

                                                                                    I've never been to the Philippines, but there is a wonderful Filipino restaurant (Cendrillon) in Manhattan that I've never had a bad meal at. Their Pollo Adobo is one of my favorite comfort foods, and we've used the recipe many times to make it at home.

                                                                                    I also love a very tasty noodle dish they do called Pancit Bihon.

                                                                                    1. re: Nehna

                                                                                      while not strictly "authentic" (and y'all know i'm not a stickler for authenticity - i would pick good over authentic any day of the week) there is a filipino-fusion-tapas place on ludlow street in manhattan i had a great dinner at last week - kuma inn

                                                                                      here's the review i posted on yelp:


                                                                                      1. re: Nehna

                                                                                        Cendrillon closed recently. It's a shame, it was a very good restaurant. Owners wrote a cookbook, Memories of Philippine Kitchens (by Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan) which I've looked though but not yet bought. Was treated to delicious Filipino food by coworkers when I lived in the Bay Area and worked for a steamship line that brought (among other things) canned pineapple from the Phils to the US. Nothing beats pancit and lumpia Shanghai the size of my little finger made by loving Filipino moms!

                                                                                        1. re: buttertart

                                                                                          Cendrillon closed, but the owners are opening up a place closer to home in Brooklyn.

                                                                                          1. re: JungMann

                                                                                            Great! closer to me! Looking forward to its opening.

                                                                                  3. cuisines that have passively made bad impressions on me: filipino, ethiopian, moroccan, (overy-hyped?), turkish, egyptian, east african, colombian, puerto rican.
                                                                                    as to the 2nd question I have enjoyed the following: a great cambodian restaurant that has topped any s.east asian i've had (never travelled there), lebanese, persian, spanish (which doesn't always get a great rep), brazilian, dominican, jamaican, trinidadian, norweigian, swedish, russian, ukrainian, polish, german (the food in germany can be amazing), bosnian, romanian, west african, and I am such a fan of good chinese food I think it's underrated.
                                                                                    as to the brazilian naysayers, there is so much good brazilian food along with the weird, unappetizing to foreigners, creations they have like mayonnaise pizza -shrimp stroganoff, sizzling garlic steaks, fish stews, yucca sauced meats. i've never had a bad meal at a brazilian resto in the U.S. though didn't eat that well in Brazil actually.

                                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: fara

                                                                                      Ha. I love almost all of the cuisines you hate.

                                                                                        1. re: quimbaya

                                                                                          Yeah, I may be with you on Egyptian--it is one of the Middle East's weaker cuisines--but Moroccan, Turkish, Ethiopian? Pure amazingness, in my opinion.

                                                                                          And I'm of Polish descent, and while pierogi and stuff cabbage are comfort food for me, I am not going to pretend it's really good, esp. if you have to eat it for more than one meal in a row. That is a great way to throw a wrench in your digestive system...

                                                                                    2. Not overlyimpressed with the food in England. I know there are some rated chef's there but in general the place is a wasteland.

                                                                                      44 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: duck833

                                                                                        My impression is that there's great newfangled food to be had in England, and great traditional food, but the stuff served by and to your average everyday Brit is just flat vile - uninspired ingredients negligently prepared, thrown onto a plate to be slurped down without tasting it. I have to say that the goodness of a country's cuisine is like the goodness of a country's healthcare or educational system: is the good stuff available to everyone on a regular basis? I can wander into almost any greasy spoon in the US and get something pleasantly edible - that's ALMOST, mind you - and the same goes for France or Italy, and I'm told for Mexico as well. But I've heard horror stories about the grub at motorway stops in the UK...

                                                                                        1. re: Will Owen

                                                                                          I was living on an American military base in Frankfurt. The food in the local modest cafes and lunch counters was very good. I have fond memories of bratwurst, koenigsberger klopse, koenigen pastaetchen, bauern omelet, goulasche suppe etc.

                                                                                          The American food on base (hot dogs, sandwiches, fries etc. was pathetic by comparison.

                                                                                          1. re: Sharuf

                                                                                            Sharuf, I am glad you say that -- and also prove me wrong about Americans never leaving their base to venture out...

                                                                                            German food is always talked about in such a one-dimensional way: wurst, pork & potatoes. It completely ignores the many regional specialties we have.

                                                                                            Especially in the Southwest of Germany -- I am sure neighboring Alsace/France has to do with it, you will find many Michelin star restaurant with fantastic cuisine.

                                                                                            Also, Berlin (here I am pimping Berlin again) is totally underrated as a food city.

                                                                                            1. re: linguafood

                                                                                              Agreed! I am fortunate enough to have family in Baden and have consistently had good food at restaurants, snack stands, and at people's homes. I also agree with the assessment that many folks have of German food being all sausages and potatoes. Not the case at all!

                                                                                              1. re: nofunlatte

                                                                                                The baked goods in Germany at any random place always seemed amazing to me. I still remember the bakery at the train station in Munich.

                                                                                                1. re: choctastic

                                                                                                  Agreed. The cakes and breads in Germany, especially in the markets at Christmas, are delicious. The bakeries in Dusseldorf, yum! :-)

                                                                                                  1. re: FoodieKat

                                                                                                    I lived in both Germany and Austria as a young student and as a soldier. German and Austrian cuisines are amazingly good. I am salivating just thinking of the various iterations of schnitzel, kloesse, the various forms of roast meats (pork, ham hocks, goose, chicken, and on), the simple salads, pickled vegetables, and soups. You can walk into just about any Stube, Imbiss, or Gasthof in both countries and have a very good meal. I wasn't as fond of the baked goods, except for the sweeter fruit-based pastries (Rhabarberschnitten, Himbeerschnitten, usw.)

                                                                                                    The non-Germanic restaurants in both countries are also very good: Balkan, Greek, Hungarian.

                                                                                                    However, and forgive my bluntness, the majority of Chinese restaurants in Germany are terrible.

                                                                                          2. re: Will Owen

                                                                                            UK motorway stops are notoriously still vile. You have a choice between the vile fast food joints - like McD and Subway or their own vile food in the self-service restaurant. Cheap, mass produced stuff kept warm for hours (think cheap all-you-can-stuff-yourself-with Amercian buffet place) . Anyone with any sense uses an off-motorway website (like www.5minutesaway.co.uk) to easily find a decent meal. Although beggars cannot be choosers if you need food at 3am travelling.

                                                                                            However, I would generally disagree with your generalisation about the food we serve and have served to us. Unless, of course, your view is conditioned by visits to London tourist traps. Check out the UK board and, perhaps, reflect.


                                                                                            1. re: Harters

                                                                                              I would actually say UK motorway stops are better than US motorstops (my husband is British and we're over several times a year). While the fast food joints and the self-service food is crap, on the other hand you can get reasonably fresh prepared packaged sandwiches at all the road stops, some of which even have micro versions of Marks and Spencers. Personally, I wish driving around the motorways in the US, that I could quickly get a healthy sandwich, typically even on brown wheat bread. They DO tend to over mayo them, but I look for the no mayo options.

                                                                                            2. re: Will Owen

                                                                                              Will, your impression matches my experience-- kind of. That is, I don't live in England, but Scotland, and in a small town which makes things all the worse. There is some excellent food to be had at a price. However, basic fare is on the whole a dismal experience. Again, there are some exceptions- like some lovely haggis fritters with a pepper mayo-- but that may have been the only occasion of affordable food served with some kind of seasoning. There is wonderful produce here, and the meats are local-- and then they do terrible things like overcook, refuse to season, and serve with flavourless mayonnaise.

                                                                                              Although I'm a fan of black sausage, the blood pudding here is jammed with oats and thus not the pleasurable experience granted by a boudin noir.

                                                                                              Salad can be a frightening experience in these parts because it doesn't seem to be a choice of many. (A plate of chips is called a 'glasgow salad'). Only recently, it seems, have Tesco and Boots offered ready salads along with sandwiches, and even then, these are typically loaded with mayonnaise and grated flavourless cheese at the same time. One salad I ordered came with bits of coleslaw and peach slices. I think they just put whatever seemed to be a fruit or a veg on a plate.

                                                                                              Of course, that said, there is wonderful produce, great cheese, and lovely fish in my area, so I can cook, I suppose.

                                                                                              But inexpensive good food is just not a commonplace in these parts. I could complain on and on. But of course I could: I moved here from NYC where diverse and affordable cuisine was plentiful. *Sigh*

                                                                                              1. re: Lizard

                                                                                                It always gives me a good laugh when I read here of Americans criticising the downmarket tasteless food in the UK (like a Boots sandwich).

                                                                                                You forgotten Subway? You forgotten Pizza Hut? You forgotten your cheap and nasty buffet restaurants?


                                                                                                1. re: Harters

                                                                                                  Sorry my dear. Wasn't criticizing the Boots sandwich-- was simply noting how long it took before there was even the option of a take-away salad. (This was in response to my own observation that salads were not a thing typically eaten in these parts,) In fact, Boots offers more taste than most places. It is that depressing here.

                                                                                                  I'm afraid I didn't express myself clearly. The food I was describing came from the restaurants in town. Sorry to disappoint, you, and take away your laugh. Keep it if it makes you feel better about a cuisine that is mostly depressing. Heaven forbid you learn I am not American-- simply a former New Yorker!

                                                                                                  1. re: Lizard

                                                                                                    Not criticising a sandwich bought from a pharmacy, dearie? Why ever not? It'd be like saying the best on offer was a sandwich from CVS.

                                                                                                    And if that is truly the best on offer in your Scottish town, then what a surprisingly depressing place in the UK you must be living. And what a shame that your local retailers arent selling you the local produce at an affordable price. Perhaps we're just more fortunate in northern England.


                                                                                                    1. re: Harters

                                                                                                      Why so defensive about English food? Do you think its bad reputation arose from thin air?

                                                                                                      I've been there several times. In all fairness, I haven't been to a truly upscale English place. However, in my experience the only food I had that was not dreadful was the ethnic food (of course Indian, but Italian too).

                                                                                                      Defend all you want but you're unlikely to change the minds of millions who have travelled and eaten there.

                                                                                                      1. re: filth

                                                                                                        No - I think it's bad reputation arose from tourists who visited 30 years ago and who never ventured outside the tourist traps in London and Edinburgh. It is, frankly, nonsense to suggest that a whole country's cuisine is "dreadful", although I accept that this was your experience on your several visits.

                                                                                                        Of course, I don't know which cities or regions you visted or, for that matter, what sort of research you undertook to find good places to eat. In similar vein, when I first visited, say, the USA (in the early 80s), there was no internet, precious few guide books outside of the major cities and no easy way for a tourist to know about the "great little place round the corner where everyone goes". It meant we ate some dreadful food. Times have changed and now its easy to find good food.

                                                                                                        However, to address your final point, I have no particualr interest in changing the views of the "millions" who find our food dreadful. It is unlikely that a tourist will ever come to my town - therefore why would I bother telling you of our good restaurants. But, hey, here's an idea for your next trip. Do what you did last time and then go home bleating about lousy the food was - or ask for some assistance from the Chowhound UK Board - we''ll be happy to help.

                                                                                                        Oh, yes - I havnt been to truly upscale British restaurant either. Too expensive for most of us over here.

                                                                                                        1. re: Harters

                                                                                                          I agree with you. I have always eaten well in the UK, but that's because I go to see family and friends, and they take advantage of the excellent local produce and butchers and fishmongers, and know the good local restaurants. The typical British supermarket is better stocked than the typical American supermarket, and to top that, the British know how to throw a truly enjoyable dinner party.

                                                                                                          I will have to concede to the other posters and agree that it is perhaps too easy to find mediocre food as tourists, especially in London. Overpriced and mediocre restaurants abound-however, you are correct it's the same tourists who frequent these places who refuse to try one of the numerous ethnic places or take some initiative to find a decent restaurant.

                                                                                                          1. re: Roland Parker

                                                                                                            I was on business in London with a group of my American colleagues, and of course they wanted to eat out together. We ended up in the Aberdeen Steak House off Trafalgar Square. It was truly one of the most vile dinners I've ever had. I figured I'd be safe ordering the grilled sole, thinking (foolishly) how could they mess that up in London. I was wrong.

                                                                                                            On the bright side, I've had many delightful cheap meals in London (on my own) in Chinatown, at Queens Gate, and in the East End on Brick Lane.

                                                                                                            1. re: dpan

                                                                                                              dpan - you mention THE tourist trap in our capital. The chain has absolutely nothing to recommend it - it was lousy 30 years ago when "steak houses" were a new thing for us. I've not been back in 30 years.

                                                                                                              But, I have to tell you my wife recently met with a Dutch colleague who had eaten there and said he'd really enjoyed it. She's still unsure if he was serious or joking.

                                                                                                              And, as a general point, I am happy to agree that London restaurant prices are expensive - much more so than the rest of the country. I am usually horrified how much I'm having to pay on my infrequent trips south. Must be a real shocker for American visitors with the exchange rate - all I can suggest is folk check out the UK board where they'll find lots of recs. for good food and good cheap food (it's very London-centric - but if visiting other parts of the UK, still ask).

                                                                                                              1. re: Harters

                                                                                                                There was an interesting followup to that experience. A few months after that dinner, one of my dinner companions called to tell me about a TV show he saw. Apparently there is a show on one of the cable stations called "World's Worst Restaurants" or such. He said he swore they had a piece about that particular Aberdeen Steak House. I wouldn't be too surprised by that, but it was humorous nonetheless.

                                                                                                              2. re: dpan

                                                                                                                Aberdeen Steak House is about as representative of true British cuisine as McDonald's is of American food. The best food in the UK is outside central London (only exception being Soho). Anyone who's lived anywhere near the capital knows this.

                                                                                                                1. re: FoodieKat

                                                                                                                  England has some excellent food, but I wouldn't say this is a great country for ethnic food. New age, some ethnic, etc are all here and are all high quality, but a "cheap" meal at an "ethnic" restaurant will set you back about 5 times what it would in the NY (but I'm nitpicking and bringing currencies into the picture.) Also, hole in the wall joints that dominate the ethnic food scene in New York or San Francisco are almost unheard of here (in London at least. Central and greater.) The quality of South Asian food in London is also vastly overrated and I shuddered violently when an above poster mentioned eating on Brick Lane (unless they were eating at Sabuj Bangla which is an excellent little restaurant on that stretch of pseudo-Bengali hell.) I hear Birmingham has amazing Pakistani food, but I haven't gone there yet. I've been considering going just for some food over a weekend.

                                                                                                                  By the way, I think Bengali (and I mean purely Bengali, not the British idea of Bengali) especially Bangladeshi cooking is vastly underrated and neglected. Most eaters of "Indian" food seem to flock to Southern dishes or the Punjabi-esque stuff that infests most restaurants, but home cooked Bengali food is amazing. All you need is fish, rice and vegetable for a memorable meal. Again, we're talking home cooking though.

                                                                                                                  1. re: JFores

                                                                                                                    Um, not a great place for ethnic food? England is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the entire world, and the huge selection of ethnic cuisines reflects that. I happen to have recommended Brick Lane to quite a few visitors to London. I never had a bad meal there, but to be fair I am not an expert on particular South Asian regional cuisines. Home cooked meals that are well prepared are always going to be better than what you can find in a restaurant, so to me that's not really a fair basis for comparison.
                                                                                                                    The meals in a top Central London restaurant will of course be more expensive than NY - prices are higher there than nearly any other city in the world. But go anywhere outside of Central London and you'll see a big difference in the prices. Actually, there are plenty of those 'hole in the wall' places in Greater London and the outer boroughs (I've been to more than my fair share of them- how else could I afford to eat out there? :-)).

                                                                                                                    1. re: JFores

                                                                                                                      I'm joining in so late to this revived thread, but I must say this:

                                                                                                                      In the UK, one can find lovely food: Mostly, this refers to the non-British restaurants that I visit. That is, I've had great persian, chinese, south asian, etc.

                                                                                                                      I've also been to top restaurants that serve excellent high end cuisine. These are very expensive, however, and while a demonstration of new developments, hardly wide-spread, or part of a 'national cuisine'.

                                                                                                                      Overall, no matter where I go, I find the food in Britain to be a constant mix of meat and starch, mostly under-seasoned and often quite greasy. I have travelled around quite a bit, but the sampling of the 'national cuisine' is pretty much the same, save for when one goes really high end.

                                                                                                                      On the plus side, the cream teas are fab here, and tea in general is really good (by which I mean there are decent options in the main, and not simply at the high end).

                                                                                                                      And there is a decent takeaway sandwich culture, which can be nice (although I'd disagree with the person raving about M&S; it's ok, but nothing brilliant).

                                                                                                                      But this is the issue that Harters missed: whether cooked well or not, the inventions of the national cuisine leave a lot to be desired. A British pasty tends not to have the flavour of the Jamaican patty. I love my meat pies across the world, and by a basic benchmark I've set for this border transcending cuisine, the British versions have fallen at the bottom of my scale.

                                                                                                                      This is a personal impression, but in terms of places I have lived and travelled, Britain has fared the lowest-- even as I've had some great meals here.

                                                                                                                      But bear in mind, this is my opinion. No amount of raving or scolding from Harters or other hounds will change my mind or palate.

                                                                                                                      1. re: Lizard

                                                                                                                        I couldn't agree more! I have lived in the UK for over 7 years now and although the availability of amazing foods is fantastic (in and around the big cities) the local staple diet is not. High-end British food served by Michelin-starred chefs is not representative of the typical diet which consists mostly of a lot of fat, sub-standard meat and beige, processed foods.

                                                                                                                        If it wasn't for immigration and the gorgeous foods they have introduced to this island, I wouldn't have survived here. However, there are some good exceptions like fresh seafood in some areas, sweets and cakes and good homemade massive Yorkshire puddings.

                                                                                                                        1. re: Paula76

                                                                                                                          "the availability of amazing foods is fantastic (in and around the big cities) the local staple diet is not."
                                                                                                                          But Paula76, this is true for the diet of most Americans as well. Its dreadfully easy to find lousey American food most places. As a "foodie" I have prepared for my long road trips along the west coast and I have to say, once I get outside major cities, it can be darned difficult to find yummy things to eat.

                                                                                                      2. re: Harters

                                                                                                        Harters, bite your tongue. There's nothing better than a nice plate of beans on toast (for strangers, this is hot buttered whole wheat toast with hot pork & beans poured over it, ketchup and pickle on the side and a big mug of tea along with). It's kind of an English joke, but it makes a lovely lunch on a cold day.

                                                                                                        1. re: Querencia

                                                                                                          It may be a joke, but I must admit I love beans on toast. I haven't done the ketchup and pickle on the side though.

                                                                                                          1. re: Querencia

                                                                                                            Saucy Beanwiches
                                                                                                            Toast bread on one side. Lay slices on cookie sheet.
                                                                                                            Top with baked beans, a slice of tomato, and two partially cooked slices of bacon.
                                                                                                            Put under broiler until bacon is sizzling.

                                                                                                            Top with cheese sauce.

                                                                                                            I grew up on this.

                                                                                                      3. re: Will Owen

                                                                                                        I think it's safe to say that food at motorway stops in any country is going to be dodgy. I personally have experienced excellent British food, but then again, my SO & family are Brits, and good cooks, so this may have something to do with it. But there was rarely a time I did not experience decent grub while dining out in the UK, traditional or not.

                                                                                                        1. re: FoodieKat

                                                                                                          I've had decent experiences in Italy, France, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

                                                                                                          1. re: FoodieKat

                                                                                                            I'll stop for food on the AutoStrada anytime.

                                                                                                            1. re: Scrapironchef

                                                                                                              I've had some insanely great meals off of the AutoStrada, but this is more of a 10-15 minutes off (at least.) I can't say much about the rest stops. They had those airy crisp chip things that I was hooked on during my younger trips to Italy and that's all I needed! One place that I was taken to was "just off the Autostrada" according to my host family. 45 minutes later after driving through a dirt road in a forest outside of Parma we came to a cottage in a virtually abandoned hill top village. Can you say amazing trattoria? I can! It was owned and operated by an ex-pro motorcycle racer. The number of courses was astounding and I saw more goat than I have seen before or since in Italian cooking.

                                                                                                              1. re: JFores

                                                                                                                I'm speaking of the rest stops themselves, the italian version of HoJo. I'm sure here is some variability across the country, but the ones I stopped at all had great fare made from local ingredients.

                                                                                                          2. re: Will Owen

                                                                                                            Not to pile on the Brits... but the English pub food served in the U.S. is telling. That is the stuff they choose to reminisce about... English breakfast with canned beans & the whole schpiel, Fish & Chips, Brum Fish Cakes, Mushy Peas etc., most of it is pretty mediocrely prepared... and quite similar to what you get at the laymans Pubs outside of tourist traps in England.... pretty uninspired stuff... fairly comparable to the appetite destroying food I had in the Peruvian Andes.

                                                                                                            I haven't experienced the Gastropubs or the Gordon Ramsay places etc.,... but the traditional food of Brittain certainly seems to be in the bottom 25% of major countries. Its not just Americans that complain about its dismal state also gets discussed in Mexico... which is a country that is overly polite & forgiving when it comes to judging other cultures.

                                                                                                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                                              Pretty absurd to think that just because the US version of traditional british dishes tend to be crap, that the dishes themselves are crap. Mushy peas for instance....when I was in Wales a few months back, I had a truly transcendent version of mushy peas and a higher end restaurant. I've also had both exception fish and chips, and mediocre. All of these things are about the person preparing them.

                                                                                                              1. re: Nehna

                                                                                                                Now I am talking about versions in England. Like I said... Mexicans - when it comes to judging other countries - are exceedingly relativist and will always find something great about another country or culture... but when it comes to Traditional Brittish food... 99% of Mexicans either people I know or public figures who have lived there... can't seem to find much positive to say.

                                                                                                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                                                  Perhaps the yardsticks you hold up for Mexican food could be applied to food in the UK. There as in Mexico one needs to eat in the homes of families who cook and have cooked well for centuries. Traditional housewives and cooks in the UK don't produce one kind of standard stoge known by outsiders to be bad, but are of varied talents, who overall produce tons of varied--depending on community and individiual family traditions and region!--ways to make many, many great dishes. As you might observe about Americans making comments about Mexican food, perhaps your acquaintances and public figures aren't familiar with real and authentic food from the UK.

                                                                                                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                                    Okay... but what I am pointing out is the relativism. You know Mexicans, I presume, a very polite people that try to find the positive about most other cultures / countries.... you have Mexicans come back from India, China, Thailand, Switzerland, Poland etc., and always have something good to say about the food... but when they come back from England its a very different result. Now granted it may merit a more in depth analysis of how readily available to tourists various cuisines might be.... and that is valid.... I am just pointing out how members of a gregarious, less judgmental culture consistently have bad food experiences in England.

                                                                                                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                                                      We didn't have traditional English food while in London but did appreciate their vegan options.

                                                                                                                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                                                        As a baseline: I accept travel to Mexico, Laos, China, and Italy (among others) much more readily because of the food. I don't travel to the UK for the food. Having said that, I consistently have good food experiences in England and Wales. But it is because with English hound friends, I've learned how to look for and find good food. Look at what intrepid said below; and FoodWine's response concerning two Europeans' view of food in the US. And I hope you can now respond with greater experience to Cinnamon, above, who's been to Hawaii and eaten in a Hawaiian restaurant in SF.

                                                                                                              2. re: Will Owen

                                                                                                                Classic English food in terms of "ick" factor I can only second with "classic" Irish food. I had the fortune to spend some time living with a nun and her brother (a catholic faith healer - it was an interesting situation) in rural Ireland, and I have never dreaded eating that much. Everything was boiled to death, and serving meals with knives and forks was entirely useless - a spoon worked for everything.

                                                                                                                That being said - both countries know how to fry food well.

                                                                                                              3. re: duck833

                                                                                                                Try visiting the English countryside sometime. The cities might be crumbling into an urban wasteland but the countryside is some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever seen.

                                                                                                                1. re: duck833

                                                                                                                  Oh man. You didn't try the amazing beers and hard ciders? Meat pies? Cornish pasties? Mincemeat? Steak and kidney pie? Fish and chips? Smoked fishes? Bangers and mash? Yorkshire pudding? Cheeses galore? Spotted dick? Sticky pudding? Toffee? Tea? Scones? Shortbread? Lemon curd (amazing stuff)? Clotted cream? Custards? Bread and butter pudding? Creme anglaise? And that's not even addressing the ethnic foods which are admittedly not 100% British, though they've been throughly embraced. Not anywhere near a wasteland!

                                                                                                                  1. re: sfumato

                                                                                                                    Yes, I did. But I am not a fan of a high meat, high starch, high sugar, low seasoning diet, so yes, I'm not a fan of the national cuisine. Why the freak outs? I could also say that on the whole, what I've seen of the Tibetan diet also doesn't entice me back very much,

                                                                                                                    My guess, also, sfumato, is that you have only visited here. Imagine if these were basically your only choices, and they weren't from high end places or they were only mediocre.

                                                                                                                    And the beer? Eh. I've had better (grew up with the Belgian stuff, so hard to shake the taste). And without a decent culture of wine, I'm often lacking for something to drink with dinner.

                                                                                                                2. Elbonia for sure..but really - I'd have to vote Cuba....and of course Germany..I will say here I am Vegetarian and both places were tough to be veg....but I have also been to both countries while a carnivore and so...the vote stands! Now of course, I am POSITIVE there are GREAT things in both cusines but unfortunately I never got served any...

                                                                                                                  12 Replies
                                                                                                                  1. re: jbyoga

                                                                                                                    Cuba?!?! I've always found Cuban food to be nothing short of incredible.

                                                                                                                    1. re: JFores

                                                                                                                      Have you eaten in Cuba? I think the poster was referring to the food eaten in Cuba. My husband travels there pretty regularly on business, and overall, unfortunately, he says the food is pretty lousy.

                                                                                                                      1. re: MMRuth

                                                                                                                        Aww nope. That's dissapointing...

                                                                                                                        1. re: MMRuth

                                                                                                                          I visited Cuba prior to becoming a U.S. citizen and found good food. Of course I wasn't staying at any of the touristy hotels dominated by Canadian biz travelers... I lurked around in the unofficial, illegal underground capitalist world... i.e., staying & eating in people's homes.

                                                                                                                          Cuban is not particularly exciting as there are is not a terrible amount of variety... but what is cooked there, is done with very little resources & equipments but long on love.. and I have to say everything I had tasted good... there were just no complex sauces, relishes, spice & herb blends etc., straight up food roasted pork, fried fish, garlicky beans, fried plantains, rice, tomato sofritos, sweet, strong coffee.

                                                                                                                          All in all, you can do much worse than Cuba... Andean cooking, Norwegian cooking, many places in the U.S. interior where the fast food chains are an actual improvement over the local cooking etc.,

                                                                                                                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                                                            "Cuban is not particularly exciting as there are is not a terrible amount of variety... but what is cooked there, is done with very little resources & equipments but long on love.."

                                                                                                                            I would agree with this statement. I think there is an issue with availability of ingredients. But if you look hard, you can find some real gems hidden in random areas (rarely in high volume tourist areas though). I recall a particularly delicious coconut pastry that we picked up in a tiny bakery in Havana over and over again after the first time! Didn't look like much, but it was flaky and fabulous. But we really had to work to find good tasty food, and we quickly developed several rules after some particularly horrible food experiences in the hotel resort.
                                                                                                                            1. Stick to Cuban food. Don't bother with other cuisines. So rice and beans were always delicious, ropa vieja was a good bet, etc. But attempts at French, Italian, Asian, etc. were often much less successful in the resorts. Now,we didn't get to try the restos in Chinatown in Havana, and i wish we had (it is one of the oldest Chinatowns in the Americas). But in the resort it was terrible. And don't get me started about the pasta...
                                                                                                                            2. Vegetarian meals, fish and chicken, sometimes pork, were a better bet than beef. There is not a lot of beef raised on the island, and it wasn't great quality.
                                                                                                                            3. Avoid the pickled products: they were a bit odd tasting.
                                                                                                                            4. Avoid the cheese. Very odd texture.

                                                                                                                            With these rules in place, we ate pretty well. We also made a lot of trips into smaller neighbourhoods to eat well, and for the most part, we did.

                                                                                                                          2. re: MMRuth

                                                                                                                            Isn't your husband Dominican... maybe some carribbean rivalry there... as there isn't much of a difference between the two cuisines (from what I have tasted, and read here in Chowhound).

                                                                                                                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                                                              Trust me - my husband is an equal opportunity chowhound when it comes to eating, Dominican or not! He has eaten at some of the unofficial places (paladers? - I'm sure I'm butchering that). My only point was not about Cuban cuisine generally, but the food he's eaten in Havana over the past seven years (he was the first person to sell US rice to Havana since the embargo started). I'm not saying every meal he had was bad - and I'll check in w/ him tonight - but that overall, the food was not great.

                                                                                                                              1. re: MMRuth

                                                                                                                                Paladares... close enough. The thing is... I know a number of NY based foodies (not Chowhounds) who have said Dominican cuisine (in R.D.) is pretty terrible but I am confident your husband could prove them wrong... I was with an insider who has relatives in Cienfuegos and in Havana... and I wasn't taken to a single bad meal. That is also where I developed my taste for Medianoches... and disdain for the Cubano (which my hosts at least equate with "The Miami [insert typical Cuban expletive here] traitors" and I quote)

                                                                                                                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                                                                  I'll ask him tonight ... promise ... and I'm sure there's lots of lousy Dominican food to be had in Santo Domingo as well. My husband's general comment, when I ask for suggestions for people who want "Dominican food" in Santo Domingo is that the best food is had at home, as most Dominicans - rich or poor - don't "go out" for Dominican food. His observation is that the "rich" go out for (usually lousy, given my experiences) non-Dominican food at "trendy" places, and eat Dominican food at home.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: MMRuth

                                                                                                                                    OK - I asked him. He said that the food at the government run hotels/restaurants is terrible, but that he has had some good meals at the paladares. He said that the best paladar, though, serves "international" cuisine. His favorite is the rotisserie chicken at a place called the Aljibe. When I asked him if he would go to any of the paladares if they were in our neighborhood, though, he said no.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: MMRuth

                                                                                                                                      So you are implying that anything that wouldn't be standout in your New York neighborhood belongs in the "bad" food category? While I think NY is substantly overrated I think its food is definitely well above the global average... I really wouldn't put Cuba's everyday dining experiences in the bottom 25% of the world.... like I said the food was generally tastier than the average dining in the U.S. interior.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                                                                        Absolutely not.

                                                                                                                                        The point of my post this morning was to correct the erroneous information I posted yesterday. The neighborhood comment (and I live in a not very good neighborhood for food in NYC) was just a way for me to get a general gauge of what he thought of the food, now that I understood that he thought some of the food he had there was, in fact, good, and his answer was that he wouldn't go to any of the places he's been to in Havana if they were miraculously transplanted into our neighborhood. I think he would say the exact same thing about the restaurants we've been into in Iowa and northern Wisconsin (ducking now) as well.

                                                                                                                                        I'm glad that you enjoyed the food that you had in Cuba and I hope that one day I get to go there and try it myself.

                                                                                                                      2. While I wouldn't rule out entire countries' cusine, there are quite a few that I can't enjoy simply because they're so meat-centric. I'm sure that to omnivores, they're very tasty, but for me, most Eastern European and South American cuisines are too limited.

                                                                                                                        That said, the veg dishes I've had were fantastic.

                                                                                                                        15 Replies
                                                                                                                        1. re: piccola

                                                                                                                          Reminds me of the Ukrainian restaurant scene in "Everything Is Illuminated":

                                                                                                                          Jonathan: I'm a vegetarian.
                                                                                                                          Alex: You're a what?
                                                                                                                          Jonathan: I don't eat meat.
                                                                                                                          Alex: He says he does not eat any meat.
                                                                                                                          Grandfather: Not even sausage?
                                                                                                                          Alex: I know.
                                                                                                                          Grandfather: What is wrong with him?

                                                                                                                          1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                                                            This also reminds me of the flyers my parents get from various supermarkets in Romania: the first pages always include endless types of meat, anything from wild boar sausages, tripe, brains and livers....and so does their fridge, much to my chagrin :)

                                                                                                                            At the same time, navigating the local cuisine as a vegetarian has consistently exposed me to new dishes that I probably would not have tried had I stayed with the standard meat + side combination.

                                                                                                                            1. re: jeni1002

                                                                                                                              Oh boy. Were you a vegetarian in Romania? That must've been HARSH. When I was learning Romanian (from a Transilvanian Sasi) we started discussing the food. I was heading out to Romania for a while in a few weeks and she said to me with a scared look on her face and a dire tone in her voice "You're not a vegetarian, right!?!?" If I was, I would've starved there and offended maaany families that I dined with.

                                                                                                                              1. re: JFores

                                                                                                                                It's definitely not easy (especially trying to convey that you don't mean to offend anyone): I usually try to go for the side dishes without making any other claims/asking any questions. It also helps that I absolutely love bread and I could survive on bread and butter alone.....(and veggies). I do get perplexed looks once in a while, but I try not to bring up the topic (it frustrates my dad to no end, first of all, and I find it easier to avoid awkward conversations this way....)

                                                                                                                                1. re: JFores

                                                                                                                                  A friend who is vegan traveled Europe, and got cards in various languages that read "I have a terrible disease and can not eat milk, meat, eggs, etc."

                                                                                                                              2. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                                                                This reminds me (in a very tangential way) of a story a friend told me regarding Georgia. The Georgians take great pride in their hospitality. (Reading the marvelous novel Absurdistan will give you a good sense of what it's like, actually.) Part of this hospitality has to do with plying guests with wine---great amounts of wine. At some point, my friend just couldn't take drinking with any more people, so he told them he was Muslim. And, the potential Georgian hosts said: Well, drink half as much then!

                                                                                                                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                                                                  Wasn't that a scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding?

                                                                                                                                  "He's a vegetarian, mom. He doesn't eat meat."

                                                                                                                                  "Oh, that's ok, we'll have lamb..."

                                                                                                                                  1. re: janetofreno

                                                                                                                                    I think it was a scene from my life in South America. In attempts to get anything without ham in it. "No, I'm vegetarian" "Oh, here have some beef" no, no I don't eat meat..." "Oh...How about some chicken?"..."No, no dead animals what so ever." "Maybe we can get you some fish?"

                                                                                                                                    1. re: dagoose

                                                                                                                                      Reminds me of a party at a Peruvian anthropology professor's house. He served only chicken wings and spiral cut ham, and told a vegetarian that, "You can't be a vegetarian AND an anthropologist! Eat!"

                                                                                                                                      1. re: optimal forager

                                                                                                                                        this conversation reminds me of the time my sister went on a field trip from her school in florence to rome. when they went to go eat the restaurant was informed that there some vegetarians in the bunch. when the food came out the vegetarians got courses and courses of just steamed vegetables!

                                                                                                                                        1. re: trolley

                                                                                                                                          Funny, I've never had any issues in Italy - though that's probably because I speak the language. Yes, some people think you're weird, but they won't bring you meat.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: piccola

                                                                                                                                            i forgot to mention that this was back in 1992 and i would think that italy has progressed a bit since. i'm sure that has a lot to do with it. my sister attended an international art school based in florence and the instructors were all fluent in italian or native italians.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: trolley

                                                                                                                                              Oh, that makes a huge difference, you're right. Though I'm sure there are still lots of places in Italy where they look at you funny if you say you don't eat meat.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: piccola

                                                                                                                                                Yeah, that is odd, as traditionally most Italians didn't eat much meat (unless they emigrated to Argentina). Ironically, it is easier for vegetarians in meat-heavy places like Britain and Northern Continental Europe.

                                                                                                                                                As a not-big-meat-eater but not-really-vegetarian I was fine - I ate a primo and then a contorno - saved money as well that way, as meat was expensive there. Piccola, it wasn't always easy for truly vegetarian friends, though all of us spoke Italian.

                                                                                                                                                Big steaks not the problem, little bits of ham or anchovies in veg contorni were...

                                                                                                                                    2. re: janetofreno

                                                                                                                                      Older generation Italians are also confused by vegetarians, and especially by flexitarians. I remember travelling with an American friend who only ate white meat. To the Italians, the true white meat is veal.

                                                                                                                                2. I traveled in Venezuela once and was not particularly impressed (with the food; the country was fine :-)...especially in the more remote areas. The menu was chicken, chicken, and chicken...and eggs for breakfast. There must be a lot of chickens in Venezuela! Now, in all fairness, the chicken was always well-prepared (often on a spit over an open fire) but how much chicken with arroz on the side can one girl eat, anyway? The beer was surprisingly good however, and cheap. So all was not lost.

                                                                                                                                  When we went to Tunisia last year we were all very pleasantly surprised by the food. I was expecting lots of couscous and standard North African fare. I think I ate couscous once while I was there. What I ate every day was delicious fresh fish, perfectly prepared. And there the local wines were quite drinkable and inexpensive, another pleasant surprise. Or maybe we shouldn't have been surprised by that, after all the French taught the Tunisians wine-making.....

                                                                                                                                  Tunisia also had very good olive oil and wonderful, wonderful dates. I would love to taste some of those dates right now!!

                                                                                                                                  4 Replies
                                                                                                                                  1. re: janetofreno

                                                                                                                                    This is funny... when I came back from Venezuela, I raved nonstop about how you could get great food everywhere - I had great empanadas at a bus stop... the best chicken soup ever in a funicular station where there were no competing restaurants and there was no reason for the food to be as good it was... a delicious pasta sauced with tomatoes and chopped roasted chicken in the jungle on my way to Angel Falls... oh and the piranha! fish that tastes like bacon! ...the most flavorful beef I've ever had in Los Llanos... lots and lots of arepas...

                                                                                                                                    1. re: daveena

                                                                                                                                      You know, it was a long time ago and maybe I just wasn't as chowish then as now....but I went to the jungle near Angle Falls and all they served was chicken. And rice. And bananas, except I don't eat bananas. I never had piranha...

                                                                                                                                      And about arepas: I never ate arepas in Venezuela. I was with Venezuelans for a good deal of the time, and none of them ever suggested arepas, nor do I remember seeing any. In fact, when I think of arepas, I think of them as being a Central American specialty. Am I totally off base here???

                                                                                                                                      In all fairness, I was there a long time ago. Maybe 25 years ago. And memories fade.....

                                                                                                                                      But I DO remember coming back and not wanting to eat chicken for a long time!

                                                                                                                                      1. re: janetofreno

                                                                                                                                        Expecting a variety of good food in remote parts of any country is unrealistic. When we visited friends by small plane in Alaska, we brought with us a big box of groceries, things as basic as celery and carrots. I'm not surprise that your diet in the jungle was mostly chicken. Bizzare Foods documents how laborious it was to collect grubs and other local delicacies in the Ecuadorian jungle.
                                                                                                                                        Most tourists would be repulsed by the looks a fire roasted (burned) monkey.

                                                                                                                                        There are remote lodges in Canada and Alaska with great food, but most of that is flown in, and lodging does not come cheap.


                                                                                                                                        1. re: janetofreno

                                                                                                                                          Chicken was definitely the only protein we got on the way to Angel Falls (I do remember the Australian men in my group complaining about that - "if it doesn't have four legs, it's not meat!") but it was always well-cooked and well-seasoned.

                                                                                                                                          Arepas were everywhere - they're split and stuffed (with cheese, or shredded beef, or chicken salad with avocado, or whatever) - two of them were usually enough to make a very filling meal - a godsend when you're travelling on a budget but don't want to compromise on food.

                                                                                                                                          (My trip was more recent - maybe 5 or 6 years ago?)

                                                                                                                                    2. Of the few places I've been to, Korea gets the vote for best food.
                                                                                                                                      I enjoyed some pretty good food in the Philippines, my favorites there was a wonderful fried rice made with smoked meat and cooked on a griddle type plate over a charcoal grill, lumpia, and a variety of char grilled meats on a stick (did not ask what kind of meat).
                                                                                                                                      I also enjoyed some good eats in Swindon and Fairford, England.
                                                                                                                                      The worst that I encountered was in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia but I won't say that what I ate there was representative. A five star hotel had contracted to provide meals for a small cadre of U. S. military, and I believe that they were providing what they thought of as western food.

                                                                                                                                      1. I think the answers to both posed questions are bound by subjectivity.

                                                                                                                                        For example, I read that Georgian food is very famous for Russians and there are many Georgian restaurants there.

                                                                                                                                        I happen to love Cambodian food. I grew up with a lot of Cambodian immigrant kids and it was a treat as to be at someone's home and be invited to eat. I have never been to Cambodia, but I know as a tourist one doesn't always know where to eat.

                                                                                                                                        I know many Pakistanis don't like Lebanese food because they say it is "flavorless" due to its relative lack of spice and chilies. But Lebanese food is thought of very highly in the Arab world and is popular in the US.

                                                                                                                                        I would also say that I have had many, many a bad American meal. And many a good one. So I wouldn't dare condemn an entire nation's cuisine. Especially since my knowledge of it may be limited, and having been to a place on vacation or tried out a couple of restaurants doesn't qualify me as an expert.

                                                                                                                                        17 Replies
                                                                                                                                        1. re: luckyfatima

                                                                                                                                          Yes, replies are subjective but not necessarily based on tourist visits. I lived and worked in south and SE Asia for 14 years and in Latin America for 17. We had an office in Phnom Penh and ate everywhere in Cambodia, for example.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: luckyfatima

                                                                                                                                            Chowhound is all about the subjectivity. That's why it's fun and interesting here. In my case, I've going on my forth trip in as many years to SE Asia, and I know some locals places, so not all tourist restaurants for me. (Although, it will be restaurants catering to ex-pats when I'm in Phnom Penh next week......sad, but true.)

                                                                                                                                            1. re: luckyfatima

                                                                                                                                              I'm with you on Cambodian, luckyfatima - my Cambodian coworkers always know to invite me when they're having potluck lunches - I can't get enough of thuk krung, prahok khtiss and whatever that spicy salad is that they make with julienned porkskin. I'm actually really surprised that people who like Lao food have been unimpressed with Cambodian food - lots of similar, deeply funky, fermented fish flavors, lime, chilis... I will say I never tasted any of those things in my brief time in Cambodia - I think I ate a lot of amok, which I like. The stuff I don't like on Cambodian menus is the sort of bland, kind of Chinese stir-fry stuff. Maybe Cambodian is one of those cuisines where all the good stuff is done in people's homes, and not in restaurants?

                                                                                                                                              1. re: daveena

                                                                                                                                                Thought of something else... one of my Cambodian friends made a comment once about how there's "city food" and "country food", and how all the (pungent, spicy, delicious) stuff that they cook and eat at home is "country food". Maybe the watered-down Chinese-ish stuff is city food?

                                                                                                                                                baltoellen and Sam F - can you guys describe the kind of food you usually eat when you're in Cambodia? I just can't imagine that anyone could eat a good prahok khtiss (spicy dip made with ground pork, fermented fish, coconut milk, served with raw vegetables) and still declare Cambodian food inferior to that of Laos and Thailand.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: daveena

                                                                                                                                                  I guess I've eaten it all: noodle dishes, coconut milk based curries, fish, stuff with kroeng, losts of vegetables and fruit dishes, rice (of course). Stuff with tamarind, star anise, glalangal, lemon grass, fish sauce, fish paste, stuff steamed in banana leaves, stuff stir fried, ... I always have a good time eating for a few days; but after that the food starts to all have the same flavors--salty, often a bit oily, rarely spicy. Tastes become like Indian but not quite as good and like Chinese but not quite as good. I feel the same way in working in Central Thailand--but never in Laos.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                                                                    Rarely spicy? I'm wondering if my friends tastes were influenced by time spent in the border camps in Laos and Thailand... their food is painfully spicy for me... I've also found that some of the Cambodian food I've had (made for the Cambodian palate) is far too sour for me - tons of lime juice. I will say that the home-style Cambodian food I've had tastes far more like Lao than either Indian or Chinese. Salt is definitely an issue. I was told everything's super-salty b/c it's meant to be eaten with a lot of rice, since rice is cheap. Result... it is incredibly difficult to manage diabetes and hypertension in a Cambodian patient... add in illiteracy and enumeracy... it's tough.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: daveena

                                                                                                                                                      We helped set up the Cambodian national rice research program. In doing so we ate with our colleagues at home and a lot in the field and in provincial towns at fully local restaurants. We did similar work in Laos. Lao and Cambodian, to me are very distinct.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: daveena

                                                                                                                                                        I certainly wouldn't describe it as painfully spicy.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: xanadude

                                                                                                                                                          The thuk krung I had at Battambang in Oakland was one of the spiciest things I've ever eaten in my life - I'm not a hard-core chilihead, but I'm not a total wimp, either - charred fermented fish and chilis, ground up, served with raw vegetables - initial impression was of searing pain, followed by the most intense umami (strangely reminiscent of Parmesan cheese). I couldn't stop eating it despite the tears in my eyes. It's the flavor of the fermented fish that leads me to the comparisons with Lao food, with their use fermented crab paste.

                                                                                                                                                          This is what I find so interesting - the way Sam F describes Cambodian food, vs. the way I describe it, we could be talking about two entirely different cuisines. Here's my breakdown:

                                                                                                                                                          1) Has eaten extensively in Cambodia, both in restaurants and in people's homes
                                                                                                                                                          2) describes it as "salty, oily, rarely spicy", "like Indian but not as good", "like Chinese but not as good"

                                                                                                                                                          1) Have eaten minimally in Cambodia, more extensively at Cambodian restaurants in the US, plus the home cooking of Cambodian-American friends
                                                                                                                                                          2) describe it as salty, sour, spicy, funky. More similar to Lao/Thai than to Chinese or Indian.

                                                                                                                                                          Basically, the only overlap is that we describe it as "salty". As I doubt either of us have mutant taste buds, there must be something else going on.

                                                                                                                                                          Baltoellen's experiences have been similar to Sam's. Luckyfatima's seem similar to mine (I'd be interested to hear which dishes you remember loving, to see if they're similar to the ones I love). filth's patient's families probably used a lot of fermented fish products, given his/her description of the smell.

                                                                                                                                                          So I have a few theories.
                                                                                                                                                          1) Many Cambodians in the US spent time in camps on the Lao and/or Thai border. Could Cambodian-American food be different from Cambodian food in Cambodia because of this?
                                                                                                                                                          2) Is there regional variation in Cambodian food, with it being more similar to Thai near the Thai border, and more similar to Laos near the Lao border?
                                                                                                                                                          3) Are Sam F. and baltoellen interacting predominantly with people from a higher socioeconomic and educational level who don't prefer the super-rustic, pungent flavors that characterize the cooking of the Cambodian immigrants I know?

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: daveena

                                                                                                                                                            I've not had Khmer food in people's homes, and haven't had it in the US. There is the distinct possibility that the Cambodian food outside of Cambodia is better than in the country. For example, I think that pho tai (Hanoi beef noodle soup) has, for the most part, been better in the US, where we have good beef (in fact, I rarely see pho tai in Hanoi or HCMC, but pho ga, which is amazing at the right stall....). Despite eating banh mi sandwiches from many street vendors in HCMC, the stuff I get in the Eden Center in Northern Virginia has always surpassed the stuff from the 'source.' (Plus, banh mi contains raw vegetables, so I generally have passing second thoughts in VN when buying it from a street vendor.) Who knows why? Better wheat for baking better bagettes? Higher quality meats? Or, can it just be that I pick the wrong stalls when in VN and know where to go in the states?

                                                                                                                                                            Very interesting question, daveena.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: daveena

                                                                                                                                                              daveena, I wish that you, baltoellen and I could go to Cambodia (and Laos and elsewhere and eat together). I can assure you that in my work, my eating was with poor rural folks and our colleagues--not people of higher economic levels. Most agronomists had been trained in places like Bulgaria and Cuba--no places to be from the elite in those days. Most of the Khmer population in the US weren't in camps along the Thai or Lao borders, and if they were, there would not have been the types of interactions allowing for substantial culinary change. My hypotheses would run more along the lines of:

                                                                                                                                                              1. Hypothesis 1. Khmer food you eat in the US reflects the elite cuisine.
                                                                                                                                                              2. Hypothesis 2. Khmer food in the US has adapted to demand for healthier, spicier foods.
                                                                                                                                                              3. Hypothesis 3. American Khmer foods take advantage of ingredients not available to all in much of Cambodia.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                                                                                Thanks, Sam - these make sense (except maybe the part about the food becoming spicier in the US - does that happen? I think we're still missing a part of the story). Maybe if work isn't too busy tomorrow, I'll try asking people to describe what they ate when they were living in Cambodia, and whether or not it's changed along the way...

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: daveena

                                                                                                                                                                  I'd be very interested to learn what they say, and would love to meet up and eat with any 'hounds who happen to find themselves in Phnom Penh next week! ;-)

                                                                                                                                                          2. re: daveena

                                                                                                                                                            >>>Rarely spicy? I'm wondering if my friends tastes were influenced by time spent in the border camps in Laos and Thailand... their food is painfully spicy for me...

                                                                                                                                                            I've also eaten Cambodian dishes before since some of my friends are Cambodian and I will say that I haven't yet tried a spicy Cambodian dish. I'm not positive, but from what I've eaten it seems that Cambodian dishes generally are on the mild side especially when compared to Lao or Thai. I understand that your friends are Cambodian nationals, but I wonder if they are actual Khmer ethnics or perhaps Lao/Thai/Vietnamese ethnics who live in Cambodia? I can't speak for Thai people, but I do know that there is a Lao population in Cambodia known as the Lao Nyaw who are Cambodian nationals and speak the Cambodian language.

                                                                                                                                                        2. re: daveena

                                                                                                                                                          I've mostly spent time in Phnom Penh, with a few days in Siem Reap, So, I"ve had "city" food, and food in a tourist town, although even in SR, I tried to find where the "locals" ate. (The one place with locals just served some run of the mill version of noodles soup.)

                                                                                                                                                          Basically, when I'm in SE Asia, esp Vietnam where I travel most extensively, the great joy is in the street food and markets. When I was in in PP last year, I remember the street food being of these little pathetic bird creatures curled up on a grill, and their little eggs also being grilled. I was eager to try "good" Khmer food, and went to some restaurant (ok, it was tourist class) and honestly, it had none of the qualities, i.e., fresh ingredients with interesting spices, used in either Vietnamese or Lao food.

                                                                                                                                                          Before going to VN the first time, I was familiar with the food, so it wasn't a big surprise. But, I had never, ever had Lao food before setting foot in Vientiane. I must say, having my first laap with sticky rice is a meal that I won't forget. Throughout the country, I was treated to amazing, diverse food, and honestly, the best rice I've ever tasted.

                                                                                                                                                          I don't even remember the names of the foods I ate in Cambodia. But, I will be in PP again next week, for a week, and I plan to take good notes on anything local that I eat there. I do remember the one very good meal I had there, at a place run by an NGO that trains street kids for restaurant work, but even that was more of less food that was Cambodia/Asian inspired.

                                                                                                                                                          If you (or anyone) wants to provide some recs of good places to eat local food in Phnom Penh, I'd be grateful.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: xanadude

                                                                                                                                                              I'll concede that point. I was thinking about Thai food because of this pork skin salad my co-worker makes which tastes a lot like a Thai-Lao papaya salad (except way tastier), but Cambodian food as a whole wouldn't be able to hold up against the complexity and wide range of Thai food.

                                                                                                                                                      2. I did my intership in a hospital in an area with a large Cambodian population. Of course, at that time, I was used to smelling a lot of foul odors.

                                                                                                                                                        That being said, more than once, I nearly puked at the smell when I entered a room where Cambodian food was being eaten (having been brought in by a relative).

                                                                                                                                                        No, I never tried it.

                                                                                                                                                        1. I was in the Ukraine a few years ago and stopped at a little cafe for lunch one day. On the menu was a dish that was translated as "Grey Peas with Sour Milk." I was convinced, for some reason, that something that sounded so vile must really be delicious. Much to my husband's dismay, I ordered it. It was unlike anything else I've ever eaten, but absolutely wonderful. Sometimes you just have to take a chance.

                                                                                                                                                          1. My husband regularly travels to Finland on business and dreads the food. He describes it as fish w/ mustard sauce and potatoes. Bland, bland, bland. He also travels to Sweden & Norway, which has more options but still somewhat lacking. Perhaps it's a Scandinavian thing.

                                                                                                                                                            20 Replies
                                                                                                                                                            1. re: lynnlato

                                                                                                                                                              Being of Swedish heritage, I actually have to agree. We're talking about a culture that lets their fish rot -- on purpose!

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Terrieltr

                                                                                                                                                                "Being of Swedish heritage, I actually have to agree. We're talking about a culture that lets their fish rot -- on purpose!"

                                                                                                                                                                Ummm.... did you actually ever live in Sweden?
                                                                                                                                                                I am of both Swedish an Finnish heritage, and had to scratch my head - really hard- here, because I do not have a clue what you are talking about!?

                                                                                                                                                                Are you talking about PICKLED /CURED fish/herring? (Which is not limited only to Scandinavia, btw)

                                                                                                                                                                You are also limiting a whole country's (Sweden) cuisine into one item, "rotting fish"? That is a) very unfair and
                                                                                                                                                                b) a really unfair picture to paint about cuisine in Sweden...(or Finland...)
                                                                                                                                                                c) I am STILL scratching my head, and not sure what on earth you are talking about!

                                                                                                                                                                Just some of numerous links with recipes how to make pikcled/cured herring:

                                                                                                                                                                See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herring :scroll down to pickled herring.


                                                                                                                                                                1. re: FoodWine

                                                                                                                                                                  I'm thinking of Surströmming. But, to be fair, yes, |I've had other Swedish food. I found it to be heavy on potatoes. I like potatoes, but it's too much of a good thing.

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Terrieltr

                                                                                                                                                                    Oh, surströmming- ooh boy :-DD - I totally forgot that that vile thing exists! (maybe for good reason, Yikes! )
                                                                                                                                                                    I think that is something that I have once had a tiny bite out of, but do not like (to put it mildly).

                                                                                                                                                                    But seriously, I think that is a specialty "delicacy" and is eaten pretty rarely.
                                                                                                                                                                    My guess is that it is one of those dishes that was handy before there was refrigeration, and then these kinds of "foods" just stayed on, as "traditional" dishes.

                                                                                                                                                                    Even cured salmon and pickled herring (which are really tasty, and actually not limited to Scandinavian food tradition) are not staples of everyday food in these countries. You mostly see them as choices at buffets / smorgasbords (smörgåsbord) -and gravlax "pops up" in sandwiches more often than anywhere else.
                                                                                                                                                                    Having said that, in the summer, especially between midsummer and the end of June, when "everyone" in Sweden and Finland spends time at their country homes by the lakes or in the archipelago, people tend to cure their (minutes ago caught) salmon, and enjoy it with the best, small or tiny new potatoes you can get anywhere. Slightly nutty in flavor, tender (almost melting in your mouth), they cook in just few minutes (with dill) and are best enjoyed alone, or fish or/and with a tiny piece of butter on top, maybe with some fresh summer tomatoes.

                                                                                                                                                                    Sometimes you can get cured salmon in fine restaurants in Finland, but I guess that is acceptable even for a broader public, since I have had it many times in fine New York restaurants, including ILO, where the brilliant Rick Laakkonen (of Finnish descent) made his magic in the kitchen (after he left River Cafe to open ILO).
                                                                                                                                                                    I think last time I tasted cured salmon in a restaurant, was at Le Bernardin in New York, and was not impressed. Eric Ripert should ask the Finns or the Swedes how to make it good. Maybe he could visit Aquavit to ask Marcus Samuelsson. Or to contact chef Laakkonen.

                                                                                                                                                                    But really, potatoes are not the dominant starch on the lunch or dinner plate anymore, either. Yes, in old days it was, but not so for decades anymore. Rice (all kinds of rice) and pasta (al kinds of pasta), etc., is just as popular and abundant. (Maybe in small towns in rural areas, restaurants serve more potatoes than other kinds of starch).

                                                                                                                                                                    In a restaurant in Helsinki the sides / accompaniments of a dish are basically the same ones you get all around the western world, including the States. Sometimes no "starch" at all, instead something else, vegetable puree, etc.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: FoodWine

                                                                                                                                                                      The one negative thing about eating well in Helsinki is, that even though there are good bargains around, it has never been a cheap place and with current exchange rates it can get quite expensive.

                                                                                                                                                                      I want to post just a few examples of some of the restaurants (and choices of cuisines) in Helsinki:

                                                                                                                                                                      First, Demo, a tiny, casual place, that was a hit from the start.

                                                                                                                                                                      Maxill.- A super popular, small and casual restaurant. Here you find mostly locals, lots of members of the "cultural crowd".
                                                                                                                                                                      http://www.maxill.fi/index_en.html menu: http://www.maxill.fi/alacarte_en.html

                                                                                                                                                                      Sundman's Krog (such a cozy and relaxed place):
                                                                                                                                                                      the menu: http://www.royalravintolat.com/sundma...

                                                                                                                                                                      Tony's deli (Italian fare). Also a popular place, so popular, that it had to move and expand, from the tiny space it occupied at first:

                                                                                                                                                                      Nuevo,the best "bang for the buck". We liked it a lot. (the weak dollar really makes everyhing so expensive)

                                                                                                                                                                      Mecca, a pretty recent, joint effort of several parties, including a Michelin star winning Helsinki chef. Very popular from the start:

                                                                                                                                                                      For seafood lovers, who feel like splurging a bit:
                                                                                                                                                                      (check out the idfferent menus).

                                                                                                                                                                      A popular Lebanese restaurant. = http://www.farouge.fi/

                                                                                                                                                                      Santa Fe restaurant, which is serving pretty good tex mex food, has mostly had a full house since it opened, decades ago:

                                                                                                                                                                      "Olo", an instant hit:

                                                                                                                                                                      Just in general:
                                                                                                                                                                      Nowadays, if you ask people what Finnish cuisine is, you will get very different answers, depending of age/ social group/ geographical location.
                                                                                                                                                                      I think the correct answer is that there really is no one "Finnish cuisine" anymore.

                                                                                                                                                                      Finnish cuisine has been heavily influenced both by Russian and Swedish cuisine (because for long stretches in history, Finland has been under both Swedish and Russian rule),
                                                                                                                                                                      and then (as the world got "smaller") Finland got influenced by trends all around the world. For example, the "nouveau" (anything) phase got popular -and a bit after that fusion food, molecular cooking, etc., just to mention a few.
                                                                                                                                                                      - basically any "wave" that was popular elsewhere, also found its way to Finland.

                                                                                                                                                                      Now the "New Nordic Cooking" (fresh, local ingredients, clean flavors), all over Scandinavia, is the "definition" of the overall cuisine.
                                                                                                                                                                      But all kinds of ethnic cooking are very popular.

                                                                                                                                                                      The thing is that in any country there tends to be more good (and varied) restaurants in the biggest cities and smaller places do not have that.
                                                                                                                                                                      A small town in any country is more likely to have bad or boring food in their restaurants -if there are any (With the exception of places such as Yountville...). Or less variety, less sophisticated cooking in those restaurants. This goes for the US as well as Finland or Sweden and any country in the world.

                                                                                                                                                                      There is a lot of awful food served in many a small towns. But that does not define the cuisine of the whole country. I have been served really nasty food in some small places in the US, but I do not declare food in the US bad. There is glorious food here, and lots of it. Same goes for Finland -and Sweden.
                                                                                                                                                                      Also: I have had really tasty food in small towns in Finland (and other countries as well), you just have know where to go.

                                                                                                                                                                      Just in general: last, but not least:

                                                                                                                                                                      Michelin rated restaurants in Helsinki right now:

                                                                                                                                                                      -Restaurant Chez Dominique **
                                                                                                                                                                      -Restaurant G.W. Sundmans *
                                                                                                                                                                      -Restaurant Demo *

                                                                                                                                                                      "Bib Gourmand":
                                                                                                                                                                      -Restaurant Serata
                                                                                                                                                                      -Olo Restaurant & Bar

                                                                                                                                                                      "Rising Star":
                                                                                                                                                                      - Restaurant Postres

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: FoodWine

                                                                                                                                                                        Because my family left Sweden in the early 1900's, most of what we eat is "traditional" food. So when I think Swedish food, I think the stuff that has been served for hundreds of years. Additionally, my family comes from Northern Sweden, close to the arctic circle, so not exactly city folks. And every single time my Grandmother goes to visit family in Sweden, they break out the surströmming. Every single time. And they all love it.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Terrieltr

                                                                                                                                                                          My husband lived in Sweden for 7+ years and speaks Swedish. He actually liked surströmming when he had it [says you just need to get beyond the smell] but says in his experience its a like it/hate it kind of thing. I would imagine if you grew up eatting it--like maybe stinky tofu or durian or that rotted shark they make in Iceland--you would like it and teach your kids to like it and if your family didn't eat it, well its not often an aquired taste.....

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: jenn

                                                                                                                                                                            I still have my surstromming wooden bucket that I now use as a sauna water bucket. I never had it before Finland and it was love at first bite (smell?).

                                                                                                                                                                2. re: lynnlato

                                                                                                                                                                  I often cringe when someone has been to Finland (or any country) and visited one or two bad or boring restaurants (there are bad or boring restaurants in every single country in this world) - and then they feel they know the whole country's cuisine, and see fit to exclaim that that country's cuisine is bad.

                                                                                                                                                                  Here is the real deal:

                                                                                                                                                                  Finnish cuisine is excellent
                                                                                                                                                                  -and the HELSINKI DINING SCENE ROCKS! There is an abundance of different cuisines and styles. The food in Finland is some of the freshest and most skillfully prepared food that I have ever eaten. And I have eaten in lots of places (and live in NY now).

                                                                                                                                                                  If one lets themselves to be lured into a theme restaurant ("national, traditional, Lapland, etc") (in any country) they can only blame themselves, not a country's cuisine.

                                                                                                                                                                  "He describes it as fish w/ mustard sauce and potatoes."
                                                                                                                                                                  OK, so your husband went to some bad, boring restaurants. Too bad for him.
                                                                                                                                                                  But what you are trying to present here (with second hand knowledge, btw), is that that is the general trend in Helsinki restaurants. That is plainly false.
                                                                                                                                                                  My husband and I do not even remember when we had that kind of a dish last. (= Not that there is anything wrong with, it - a simple dish of well prepared, super fresh fish and good potatoes with some mustard sauce can be very tasty.)
                                                                                                                                                                  Yes, Finland has a lot of seafood & fish (thankfully so!), but there is also lots of meat and game, too...

                                                                                                                                                                  "Sweden & Norway, which has more options... " That is incorrect, too. Stockholm is larger than Helsinki, so it has a larger number of restaurants, but that does not mean necessarily has more -or better- options.
                                                                                                                                                                  "...but still somewhat lacking." That is quite a statement. A sweeping generalization that is totally void of meaningful content and tells us absolutely nothing.
                                                                                                                                                                  "Bland, bland, bland."
                                                                                                                                                                  You do not name a single restaurant where your husband ate, nor do you describe the dishes, and what made them bland. Btw, it is totally possible for two diners to eat the same dish, when the other one finds the dish bland, and the other one finds it is full of wonderful, subtle, refined flavors. (That actually happened to me yesterday at Gramercy Tavern. I could not get over the beautiful flavors,), while my guest thought it was mono-dimensional and bland. I could not help but wonder (in my mind) what the state of my guests taste buds was....

                                                                                                                                                                  Helsinki has so many excellent restaurants - large and small, formal & casual - including some that have been awarded with “Michelin stars” & so called Michelin “rising stars” & Bib Gourmand mentions - several years in a row. (Not that I really care about Michelin stars, I often disagree with them).
                                                                                                                                                                  One of the very reasons my husband and I travel to Finland often, is its excellent food & great restaurants. Every time we go there, there are always new, very good restaurants to eat in. As my husband and I have vacationed in Finland throughout all these years, the food scene has just gotten better and better. Right now, I miss Finnish cuisine -a lot!

                                                                                                                                                                  Numerous Finnish chefs are super-talented, and while
                                                                                                                                                                  internationally trained and experienced, as a general trend (in all of
                                                                                                                                                                  Scandinavia now) have the so-called “New Nordic Cuisine” as their guideline.
                                                                                                                                                                  (= "Clean" lines, local fresh ingredients, etc, etc).

                                                                                                                                                                  Unfortunately, because of the current exchange rate, traveling to Finland (and the rest of Europe) is very expensive for us Americans right now, but we cannot wait to get back there again.

                                                                                                                                                                  Just in case,
                                                                                                                                                                  if someone is interested, I will include this non-commercial Helsinki link:


                                                                                                                                                                  This site includes 3 pages of Helsinki Restaurant "reviews", some with
                                                                                                                                                                  photos. Even if some of the reviews are a few years old, they still stand.
                                                                                                                                                                  There are links to all the restaurants, and links to other restaurant lists.
                                                                                                                                                                  The site also provides other very useful Helsinki info, on it’s other pages.

                                                                                                                                                                  As my husband and I have vacationed in Finland throughout all these years, the food scene has just gotten better and better. One of the very reasons we travel to Finland is its excellent food & great restaurants. Every time we go there, there are many quite a few new & delicious restaurants to eat in.

                                                                                                                                                                  Unfortunately, because of the current exchange rate, traveling to Finland (and the rest of Europe) is very expensive for us Americans right now, but we cannot wait to get back there again.

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: FoodWine

                                                                                                                                                                    Sorry for all the typos and other mistakes in my post above; I wrote and posted that really fast, before going to have lunch. Sometimes I also feel that changes and corrections I make to my text here in Chowhound, do not "stick". (Maybe it is my "overburdened" computer?)

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: FoodWine

                                                                                                                                                                      Question: how easy would it be to eat as a vegetarian in Finland? Because I'm kind of fascinated by Scandinavia, but I'm scared it'll be a hassle to find food.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: piccola

                                                                                                                                                                        SO says that they have lots of potato options! Fins eat a lot of fish, potatoes and salad. Lots of cheese, cold cuts, breads & yogurt(breakfast). He enjoys the breakfasts most. They often eat a slice of bread topped w/ cheese and a tomato. Hard-boiled eggs. Smoked salmon, herring.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: lynnlato

                                                                                                                                                                          I know many Finnish vegetarians. When I live there I used to have lunch in a few of them pretty regularly, maybe once a week, but now I have not kept up with those restaurants, since I like eating everything when I am there. Too many delicious choices.
                                                                                                                                                                          But I will try to find out for you.
                                                                                                                                                                          Like Lynn said, there is a lot of salad available, also a lot of vegetables, etc, even in non-vegetarian restaurants.

                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: piccola

                                                                                                                                                                          I tried to find some vegetarian restaurants in Helsinki for you, and have included some. Not all of them have web sites, and to my disappointment, my favorite vegetarian ("Aurinkotuuli", "Kasvisravintola") restaurants are not there anymore.

                                                                                                                                                                          Also, as I already mentioned:
                                                                                                                                                                          Most "ordinary" restaurants have vegetarian choices, or have so many vegetarian ingredients (salads and different vegetables) that you can in effect have a vegetarian meal there.
                                                                                                                                                                          The potato so is not the only option for "starch". The Finns love 'their" pasta (various selections) and rice (various selections), polenta, noodles, etc,. Especially in Helsinki, the selection is just as varied as in most of the western world.

                                                                                                                                                                          Ok, so
                                                                                                                                                                          Here are the addresses or web pages to a few vegetarian places:

                                                                                                                                                                          -Restaurant Silvoplee,
                                                                                                                                                                          Address: Toinen linja 3, 00530 Helsinki
                                                                                                                                                                          Tel: (09) 726 0900, silvoplee@kolumbus.fi
                                                                                                                                                                          Serves both "live food" and warm food. Mostly vegan, except some dishes and desserts contain honey.
                                                                                                                                                                          I have been told that this one is quite good.

                                                                                                                                                                          -Vegetarian Restaurant Zucchini,
                                                                                                                                                                          Fabianinkatu 4, Helsinki

                                                                                                                                                                          Aurorankatu 13 B 16, 00100 Helsinki
                                                                                                                                                                          Tel: 045 652 0787
                                                                                                                                                                          A small vegetarian cafe, that serves both vegan and non vegan sandwiches, salads and soups.

                                                                                                                                                                          -Café Ateneum
                                                                                                                                                                          (Great location: in the Helsinki art museum, in the center
                                                                                                                                                                          )Address: Kaivokatu 2-4, 00100 Helsinki, FINLAND
                                                                                                                                                                          phone: kitchen and orders: +358 9 1733 6201 Restaurant +358 9 1733 6231
                                                                                                                                                                          eMail: cafe.ateneum@fng.fi

                                                                                                                                                                          -Restaurant Vegemesta
                                                                                                                                                                          Address: Vaasankatu 6, Helsinki, tel: 044 9385 212
                                                                                                                                                                          (close to the "Sörnäinen" Metro station
                                                                                                                                                                          )not quite in the center, but not too far either. There is a great public transportation system in Helsinki. Buses, trams and the subway (metro).
                                                                                                                                                                          The (Finnish only) web page brags that they have the best veggie burgers *), etc,
                                                                                                                                                                          Here is an example of prices:
                                                                                                                                                                          Tofu-burger 4e
                                                                                                                                                                          Soy-burger 4.5e
                                                                                                                                                                          Vegan schnitzel 5e
                                                                                                                                                                          Hamppu-burger 6e
                                                                                                                                                                          Fried potatoes and ja Thai-"meat"balls 6.5e
                                                                                                                                                                          *) Voted by City-magazine, to have the best veggie burgers

                                                                                                                                                                          -Restaurant Hima & Sali
                                                                                                                                                                          Adrress: Tallberginkatu 1 C, 00180 Helsinki
                                                                                                                                                                          tel: (09) 694 1701
                                                                                                                                                                          Located in the cool cultural center, the "Cable Factory".
                                                                                                                                                                          --- While there is a separate lunch menu, the cafe is open from morning (serving breakfast) to evening (drinks and such), the cafe offers freshly baked goodies, baked goods, sandwiches and coffee/tea all day long. Even after the lunch hour, there is soup, salad, all kinds of stuffed sandwiches. You can also take out the food.
                                                                                                                                                                          There is a Mac with free Internet connection for the customers to use, and w Wlan connection. Changing art exhibitions in the restaurant space.
                                                                                                                                                                          I could
                                                                                                                                                                          not find a menu in English, but all dishes marked with a V, are vegan. Here is an example of a lunch menu:
                                                                                                                                                                          A link to all contact info, also to the "culture factory":
                                                                                                                                                                          (The "Cable Factory": Five hectares of culture: events large and small, concerts, exhibitions, festivals and fairs. The unique Cable Factory is the home of three museums, 9 galleries, dance theatres, sports clubs, art schools, ateliers, rehearsing studios, radio stations, a popular cafeteria and more besides).

                                                                                                                                                                          -Suomenlinnan Panimo
                                                                                                                                                                          A restaurant in a gorgeous setting on the Suomenlinna Fortress Island (which is on the world heritage list
                                                                                                                                                                          )A list of all restaurants on Suomenlinna: http://www.suomenlinna.fi/index.php?m... This is a destination worth visiting anyway, so check them out.
                                                                                                                                                                          Most of them have some vegetarian options.
                                                                                                                                                                          http://www.panimo.com/ (= they do not have a menu page, but they are supposed to have vegetarian options).

                                                                                                                                                                          A link that shows several vegeterian restaurants:
                                                                                                                                                                          (some of their info is outdated


                                                                                                                                                                          Here is a link(in Finnish only) published by the a vegan organization. It list different places that offer, if not only, but some vegan food: http://www.vegaaniliitto.fi/ravintola...
                                                                                                                                                                          (under the word "Helsinki" at the top part of the page, there is a list of restaurants and cafes that offer vegetarian and sometimes vegan food). I would translate this page but do not have time right now, sorry.


                                                                                                                                                                          As I mentioned, in most "ordinary" restaurants you can have a vegetarian meal, as is the case at this very nice Lebanese restaurant (with toting service). You can for example build a nice meal out of their veggie appetizers/small plates: http://www.farouge.fi/appetizers My friends have done that.

                                                                                                                                                                          If you do go to Helsinki and there is a restaurant that interests you, just call them and ask what kind dishes they have for vegetarians. You can also ask for substitutes (I do it all the time over there), while in a restaurant.

                                                                                                                                                                          Also, like the Indian restaurants in Helsinki, also this tiny Nepalese has a lot of
                                                                                                                                                                          vegetarian options.
                                                                                                                                                                          http://www.ravintolaopas.net/mountain... restaurants has good vegetarian selections: http://www.ravintolaopas.net/mountain/
                                                                                                                                                                          (scroll down the menu, "KASVISRUOKIA" means vegetarian dishes.

                                                                                                                                                                          By the way, in my experience, Indian restaurants in Helsinki tend to serve food of better quality than Indian restaurants in New York. (The food safety people in Finland are "nuts' about cleanliness, freshness, etc).


                                                                                                                                                                          -Restaurant "Viidakkorumpu" (jungle drum) - A surprise in the Linnanmäki amusement park.
                                                                                                                                                                          Tel: (09) 733 5455 or (09) 733 5456, email: tapahtumaravintolat@restel.fi.
                                                                                                                                                                          Address: Tivolikuja , 00510 Helsinki

                                                                                                                                                                          You can choose the ingredients for you own Wok-plate. The choices are abundant.

                                                                                                                                                                          Contact info for the amusement park: http://www.linnanmaki.fi/fi/linnanmak...


                                                                                                                                                                          I got most of this info from my acquaintance, who maintains the Helsinki web site I mentioned in another post.
                                                                                                                                                                          Sorry I did not have a chance to be more thorough, but maybe this is a good start. And while there, ask around.

                                                                                                                                                                          If you go, do it in the summer.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: FoodWine

                                                                                                                                                                            Wow. I'm speechless. Thanks so much!

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: piccola

                                                                                                                                                                              Here's a link to veg-friendly restaurants and health food stores in Helsinki.

                                                                                                                                                                            2. re: FoodWine

                                                                                                                                                                              Paiva, Paiva, hoova hoamenta! FoodWine, thank you for the thorough, thoughtful, well written posts above. It made me nostalgic for the 5 years that we lived in Helsinki. We lived a block from the Kaliastorpa in Munkieniemi in the 80's. I loved all the foods of the sea and forest. I really miss some of the street food; rissi (Karilian) pirraka, lija pirraka w/ nakia, and balkan makkara. I've posted once berfore for Finnish food in the New York area but came empty handed. Do you know any?
                                                                                                                                                                              I use my old syrstromming bucket for lurla in our sauna.
                                                                                                                                                                              After nearly 20 yrs living overseas, I find that all cultures that use fresh and natural ingredients, the food is good. What I can't stand is the processed international corporate fast food that is spreading around the globe.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                                                                                                HI Passadumkeg! Päivää, päivää! :-DDD

                                                                                                                                                                                Glad that I could bring some old memories back!
                                                                                                                                                                                I really, really miss the sea and the archipelago (and the forest), too.

                                                                                                                                                                                Unfortunately, right now I do not know of a Finnish restaurant in New York, but if you are interested in organic Rye bread (ruisleipä), here is a baker (in Port Washington, NY) that ships the bread to your home. Maybe you can ask him if he makes "karjalanpiirakka" (the riisi-kind).

                                                                                                                                                                                Here is their page about how super healthy 100% rye bread is:

                                                                                                                                                                          2. re: FoodWine

                                                                                                                                                                            Okay, WOW. You like Finnish food, good for you. My SO have traveled to these countries regularly for 15 years... he's been to many, many restos there. As you mentioned, everyone's tastes are different. However, having many friends and colleagues in Finland & Sweden, they agree that food is not fabulous, generally, there. They have game (reindeer, elk, bear, etc) but SO stands by my post that the food is not exciting. Period. So sorry this upsets you. As he rightfully pointed out, if it's so fabulous why are there not Finnish restos popping up around here? I'll tell ya why, b/c no one would eat there that's why.

                                                                                                                                                                            SO says Helsinki is where you are likely to get the most decent meals, b/c it is a large city. But again, he's never been wow'ed.

                                                                                                                                                                            And Sweden does have better food, period. That is SO's assessment. I'm not going to ramble on endlessly as you have...

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: lynnlato

                                                                                                                                                                              Lynn, You say: "As he rightfully pointed out, if it's so fabulous why are there not Finnish restos popping up around here? I'll tell ya why, b/c no one would eat there that's why."

                                                                                                                                                                              Putting aside the erroneous (and chauvinistic) assumption that opening a restaurant in NY (or the US) is proof that a cuisine is good, the reality is that talented and award winning Finnish chefs are busy with their own restaurants in Finland -which your "SO" will tell you is a small country. Now, against the population of only a little over 5 million people, the amount of Michelin stars and other Michelin awards in Finland, is quite impressive. But I guess the Michelin guide has it wrong, since your "SO" disagrees.

                                                                                                                                                                              Also, though this might come as a shock to you, Lynn, the truth is that Finns tend to be really happy where they are, living in Finland. And if they do want to move abroad, the US is not their first -or even second or third choice.

                                                                                                                                                                              However, if you had a chance to dine at River Cafe in the late 1990's or at ILO ("Joy" in Finnish) in Midtown, you would have experienced the sparkling talent of an American born Finnish chef, who, consistent with techniques employed by great Finnish chefs, presented a broad range of foods with a pronounced Finnish accent.

                                                                                                                                                                              Now, as to your comment:" I'll tell ya why, b/c no one would eat there that's why."
                                                                                                                                                                              Oh, Lynn...!
                                                                                                                                                                              You have obviously made up your mind about this issue even though you have no knowledge about it, and do not want to be confused with facts. But, really, why make a comment like that about food you have never tasted...?

                                                                                                                                                                        3. cannot think of anything that stands out in the food from Belgium Holland or Luxembourg. Had good meals there and yes Holland has good cheeses but they are not known for their cuisines

                                                                                                                                                                          12 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: dagoose

                                                                                                                                                                              And I've heard good things about those waffles that are cooked with lumps of sugar right in the batter. I've completely forgotten the name of them. From all I've heard, Belgium is great for street food. I'd love to go there.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: spellweaver16

                                                                                                                                                                                Belgium is good for French food - particularly around Brussels.

                                                                                                                                                                                However, I know the Flemish part of the country much better. Good solid cooking. Stews and "moules frites" are my favourites (I know "moules frites" is French, but I can never remember what to call it in Dutch). Street "frites" are served with a topping of mayo, ketchup or peanut sauce - wonderful!

                                                                                                                                                                              2. re: dagoose

                                                                                                                                                                                fritten mit vles sauce en mayonnaise.
                                                                                                                                                                                Frites in a meat based gravy with mayo on top (think thick all beef stew).
                                                                                                                                                                                Eels were also very, very good over there and I shocked my 16 yr old self by loving them so much. And that one amazing restaurant...I have no idea what the name was or even where it's located other than Flanders...those white asparagus were amazing, the sauce was amazing...and according to my visiting father, the bill was also amazing, but to this day he counts it as the best meal he's ever had - and he's no slouch in the traveling and dining biz.
                                                                                                                                                                                (Since it's been over 20 years since my foreign exchange student experience, I know that I've butchered that sentence above).

                                                                                                                                                                              3. re: smartie

                                                                                                                                                                                Where do you start with Belgian food? Ardennes ham and other smoked meats. The various pates and such in any small town grocery or big supermarket. Moules in dozens of varieties. The roadside frites stands. Waterzooi. Hot Gauffres on the street. And this is just in Brussels or any town or city in Francophone Wallonia.

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: dpan

                                                                                                                                                                                  I love waterzooi, esp with scallops. And stoemp.

                                                                                                                                                                                  I've never been to Belgium, but was introduced to the food when a college friend brought home a copy of "Everybody Eats Well in Belgium Cookbook". One meal (of waterzooi and stoemp) later, I ran out to get my own... now it's on my "most tattered" list.

                                                                                                                                                                                  I guess that makes three cuisines I really love from "countries that just don't have good food" (along with Venezuela and Cambodia) :)

                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: smartie

                                                                                                                                                                                  I have had truly wonderful meals in Belgium, and in Amsterdam....OTOH, in Zeeland (southern part of the Netherlands) I have to say that EVERY meal in the one or two restaurants in the small towns where we were staying were accompanied by three types of potatoes: frites, tatertots (I kid you not) and boiled potatoes! The Zeeland version of meat and three, or whatever....

                                                                                                                                                                                  however, there were of course lovely cheeses, as well as meats and fruits and vegies in the market, so we were able to eat well in the kitchen of the house we were staying in...

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: smartie

                                                                                                                                                                                    It seems a little unfair to call good Belgian food "French". In Europe Belgian food is often considered superior to French food.

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: waver

                                                                                                                                                                                      I had heard, in regards to eating in Belgium, that it was "French food with German portions." I've never been there, but it is on my list in the event that the USD ever stops its free fall.....

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: waver

                                                                                                                                                                                        my post doesn't mention French!!!

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: waver

                                                                                                                                                                                          No intent to offend - I was using "French" as a shorthand to distinguish the cooking style around Brussels from the cooking style in the Flemish regions. I agree that there are many very excellent restaurants around the capital and in the Walloon regions where cooking is in the French tradition which is unsurprising considering the language, history and cultural links. I also agree they are often superior to the food you'll find in France.

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: waver

                                                                                                                                                                                            I liked Belgian versions of presumptively "French" dishes (various pates, meat tarts, etc) to be superior to the Parisian versions. Think they used more fat.

                                                                                                                                                                                        2. okay then if we are accepting that this is totally subjective:

                                                                                                                                                                                          I think the food of Zanzibar is fabulous, but I have never seen it in the US. however there is a significant Zanzibari Afro-Arab population in the UK and there are some good places to try there. It is part of Tanzania so u have the East African staples like tapioca and un-sweet bananas (I don't know if they are called plaintains cuz they are small), and all. But there are all of these Gulf Arab and North Indian and Persian influences (due to the history of colonialism and occupation---Zanzibar used to be the capital of the Sultanate of Oman, and also had a lot of Indian settlers during the British occupation) so you get chutneys and achaars and basmati rice and curries and Indian style cooked beans and all of this and it is just such a perfect match of flavors.

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. Having just returned from the Philippines, where we spent the Holidays, I have to say that the local restaurants have florished. But the best food I experienced were Thai, Chinese,and oddly enough Italian.Stick with the freash sea food and you can't go wrong. One word:CRABS.

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. Belizean food I did not "get". Lots of bland rice and beans and mystery meat... I did like the fried plantains, though. I think Belgium and Argentina are underrated. I didn't have anything that wasn't fabulous in either place.

                                                                                                                                                                                              18 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: jcoz23

                                                                                                                                                                                                Argentine food is an interesting thing...Tourists rave about it because they can get cheap high end steaks. In general it is pretty good, but I don't think that it is underrated--I often feel it gets over rated because they have good meat, and people capable of grilling a steak. And that is mostly in Buenos Aires...Once you leave that area, it is pretty average. Nothing bad, I just don't think it is the undiscovered treasure. One of my favorite moments in Argentine restaurant eating: Sick of the fairly bland food we had been having everywhere, we discovered that there was a Mexican restaurant in Bariloche, where we were heading next. Envisioning salsas and spicy sauces with hot peppers, we were practically buzzing when we got there. Come to find out their slogan is "We promise there won't be ANY spice whatsoever". Turns out that is the only way to convince argentines to eat mexican food, as they are very afraid of spiciness...

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: dagoose

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Poland would have to rank "bad" for its lack of green vegetables, even in upscale restaurants. And the ever-present cold hotdogs at breakfast, termed "breakfast sausages." (Wouldn't you think "sausages" would mean something really, really good in Poland?) Had some great meals prepared by friends, but the only sure-fire winner when we went out for dinner was Chateaubriand... which I ordered just about every other night. I would also like to defend British cuisine. I only travelled there as a teenager, but the worst thing I recall was a room-temperature milkshake. Fish and chips on the street were excellent! My grandmother (now in her eighties) is Scottish and she rocks the kitchen... Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding, amazing scones of all kinds, soup, fish, and cookies called "fat rascals" that are like shortbread with currants. I think it's all in the preparation.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: sweetlikesugar

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Doesn't 'hot dog' refer to the sausage in a bun? The type sausaged use is a 'weiner', a 'Vienna style sausage'.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    I can't say whether the Polish breakfast sausages are any good, but just because they are not coarsely ground 'sage and maple' flavored American style breakfast sausages doesn't make them bad.


                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Oh, no! These were EXACTLY the kind of "sausages" you'd find on a bun. Like, Oscar Meyers or whatever. And they were cold. Not that they were heated up and then got cold before they were served... just plain pink and cold. Ugh.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: sweetlikesugar

                                                                                                                                                                                                        luckily Poland is starting to turn around a bit in terms of cluing up what visitors expect on their plates! though cabbage will always reign supreme :)
                                                                                                                                                                                                        luckily there is a very strong but tiny vegetarian community, so at least here in krakow there are a handful of delicious and affordable vegetarian bars (bar in the polish meaning of cheap restaurant) and salad bars! yummm

                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: roygbiv

                                                                                                                                                                                                          You should be kind enough to take the time to post a report on the "International" board, as many Central and Eastern European countries are very difficult for vegetarians and even those who are not heavy meat-eaters.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: lagatta

                                                                                                                                                                                                            i have to admit i'm not really into the way that was phrased, a nice "can you please post more info" would have been a bit nicer!... but... ok!! i mean i already posted in the international section offering any help for those visiting krakow, so i'll post something in there about vegetarian options too. thanks for the idea!

                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: roygbiv

                                                                                                                                                                                                              That is odd - I thought I was deliberately being extremely polite in my phrasing. We must be conscious that we come from a variety of cultures and languages. Think I was thinking in French, where that would be an extremely polite turn of phrase!

                                                                                                                                                                                                              For me "can you post more info" is a bit brusque, even with a please - first of all the "can" rather than "may" or "could"...

                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: lagatta

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Indeed, use of the subjunctive rather than indicative would work in many languages. Unfortunately, use of the subjunctive in English is tricky and not always correctly interpreted. English needs, "Might you be so kind as to...?" or, "Would you please be so kind as to...?"

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: roygbiv

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    In English "should" is often interpreted as an order though it is used otherwise in many other languages. "Could" would be understood as meaning what you appear to have had in mind.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                                                                          That doesn't make American style sage and maple sausages bad, either.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: dagoose

                                                                                                                                                                                                        dagoose- you are right, it's not undiscovered... and I was referring pretty much to the Buenos Aires area. But I ate just as well there as I have in Paris or Rome (and at about a third of the price), and it's not raved about on that level yet, so I still think it is underrated. Probably helps too that I am a sucker for a good steak :)

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Funny story...How do they make Mexican food without any spice? Lots of cheese crisps?

                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: jcoz23

                                                                                                                                                                                                          I actually remember that place being not too bad, it was just a funny slogan. It was basically Mexican food minus the peppers, so good beef in tacos, enchiladas with a more tomato heavy sauce.
                                                                                                                                                                                                          In Uruguay we were psyched to find Mexican food, but that turned out to be Uruguayan food masquerading as Mexican food. It was quite dissapointing.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          But yes, in BsAs, there is great, cheap food to be had. I love the city and would reccomend it to anyone looking for a fun, ineexpensive vacation!

                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: dagoose

                                                                                                                                                                                                            I really loved eating (and drinking) in Buenos Aires as well. What's not to like? Great steaks, terrific empanadas, good pizza, and fantastic gelato, served by great Portenos, in a truly fabulous city. Everytime I think about BsAs, I wonder when I can go back!

                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: dagoose

                                                                                                                                                                                                          agreed. A week in argentina made me crave vegetables and sauce, though I travel everywhere and they were the only people to successfully convince me to eat offal. They talk lots about their italian heritage and then give the poor italians the middle finger by making 'italian' food extra bland. I do love my argentine colleagues though--fantastic lovely people.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Georgian, azerbaijani, etc. highly underrated. I cannot understand why it hasn't been a restaurant fad yet here in the US.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: drdawn

                                                                                                                                                                                                            I told a waiter in Buenos Aires that where I come from people don't eat that much meat and he wondered if we were all poor. But if you want to crave vegetables, go to Prague. I almost starved to death in Prague. The only healthy thing you could do with the food was bench press your dinner plate.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        3. re: jcoz23

                                                                                                                                                                                                          I found the same thing, but loved the simplicity of it all...I stole my husband's plantains before he could eat them. To each their own.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        4. For everyone knocking Philippine cooking: I've never been there, but I've been cooking from "Memories of Philippine Kitchens" since it came out a year ago. Everything I've made from this book has been full of flavor and intriguingly different from other food I've tried. It's a beautiful book -- give it a look.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          15 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                                                                                                                            It is a beautiful book and the recipes are great. Unfortunately, everyday life and food is far, far different. And I love the Philippines and my fully filipina daughther there.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Sam, Why do you suppose the philippinos seem to have lost their rich food traditions? I know that this has been happening in India, due to a desire for modern kitchens and western-style meals. What's going on in the Philippines?

                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                                                                                                                                This is a personally painful issue for me. On the one hand, I don't think that a large part of of the situation has anything to do with a loss of past traditions. High salt intake, no chili, lots of fried foods, and food served at room temp are traditional. The very ambivalent attitude towards the Chinese (third generation Chinese-filipinos have to get Taiwanese passports) means less than an embracement of all good things Chinese-filipino. Most telling, perhaps, is the local justification of not eating more vegetables:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                "When the GIs [in WWII] were here they saw us eating our vegetables and asked, "Oh, you eat grass?" Combine the tale with the key concept of "amor propyo" and you have people in a difficult food position.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  "(third generation Chinese-filipinos have to get Taiwanese passports)"

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  That would be news to my 8 nieces and nephews, all ethnic Chinese, all third generation, and all carrying Philippine passports.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            2. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                                                                                                                              England...hands down the worst food I've ever had over and over....if it wasn't for Indian places I would have starved....

                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Pollo

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Oh noooooo!!!!! We'll get the Brits all stirred up again -- after they had finally chillaxed a bit *g*

                                                                                                                                                                                                                I think a way in which England/Great Britain really blew my mind was with regard to their sweets section in supermarkets. I have never in my life seen such an incredible variety of candy bars, two to three entire aisles dedicated to chocolate & candy. I am not crazy about that stuff, but for someone who is, that would certainly be a reason to visit ... at least once ;-)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: linguafood

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I didn't love much of what I ate in London--which, frankly was mostly Indian food that wasn't too special and noodles soup in Chinatown, but a trip to the fabulous Borough Market more than makes up for any of the shortcomings that London might have in the food department.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: Pollo

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Again, I can't help but wonder. Where in England did all these people eat? Central London? Trafalgar Square? Piccadilly Circus? If it was in some crappy tourist traps then of course the food's going to suck (and be overpriced to boot).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: FoodieKat

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    when I was in London (December 2007) the dollar was such that *anything* I could afford was basically still overpriced....not to mention that the tube prices were such that from our Central London/tourist area of town, the only choices were to walk in miserable weather, or spend the equivalent about $20 each (!) round trip to take the subway anywhere further afield...(we weren't there long enough to take real advantage of one of the subway passes,a nd yes, we did walk a lot, despite the cold, rain and dark)...We had good (mostly Indian) food, but the absolutely cheapest meal we could find in Central London, following recommendations from esteemed fellow Chowhouds, was still $100 per couple equivalent...we decided we just couldn't afford some of the better places we wanted to try...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    so the bottom line: yes, tourists are going to get stuck in Central London till the dollar improves. There is plenty of really good food to be had, but some of us simply can't afford it right now!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    and of course, as tourists going to London for the first time and only there for two or so days (we were in transit to elsewhere: no way under normal circumstances would I choose December as an ideal time to visit) where else would we stay but in Central London?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: susancinsf

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      thank you susan, at last a voice of reason. The dollar is very weak and it hurts to go to London and pay double for anything. Of course English food isn't all terrible, every country has tourist traps and or bad restaurants. It's all about what you choose to go to and your budget.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: smartie

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        English food isn't all terrible--it just tends to be quite expensive and therefore a poor value relative to elsewhere in the world.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: smartie

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Fair points there. I am with you on the value of the dollar in the UK. It does hurt returning to the UK after living in US (and getting paid in) US dollars. I take for granted that I lived there, and have family/friends there so know the cheaper places to find decent food (even in Central London). If you ever do decide to go back, I would be happy to make some suggestions for comparatively cheaper, good eats in Central London. I just felt the need to defend the food in the UK, since I happen to really like the food there. Now the service, that's another story!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: FoodieKat

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            actually, I had no real problems with service anywhere that I can recall. Certainly nothing that stuck out, and at several places the service was quite good.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I doubt if I will be returning to the UK anytime soon but you'd be doing other Chowhounds a favor if you posted suggestions re cheaper, good eats in Central London on the UK board....especially if you know of any that are reasonable even given the dollar...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            There was an article in today's SF Chronicle noting that many, many Europeans are flocking to SF for vacation to take advantage of the exchange rate. I know that if I lived in London, I'd be coming to SF as often as I could, and would consider it well worth the trip just to eat the great food at what must seem to be truly bargain prices!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: susancinsf

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I just came back from NYC and the place is swarming with Europeans, especially in all the department stores where they're going crazy buying everything in sight. But on the topic of England, I think even with the bad exchange rate, you can find somewhat reasonable eats especially in ethnic places.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: susancinsf

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Folk will find those recs. are already there on the UK/Ireland board. The board is extremely London-centric (not a particularly good thing for those of us who live in other parts of the islands) and you'll find every sort of place from breakfast; lunch for £5 and upto the top-end restaurants.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. A few years ago, when I was in Amsterdam, I asked the woman at the front desk of the hotel where I could go for a traditional Dutch meal. "Oh," she said, "there are no good Dutch style restaurants. There is a really good Portuguese place..." I ended up having a very good salmon in a brick-red lobster sauce that was excellent, at a brasserie.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    A word of defence for Finnish cuisine. It is a peasant cuisine at root, undoubtedly, and not big on spicing, but well prepared, it is excellent. (My Finnish grandmother was an outstanding cook.) Fish and baked goods are the highlights, but game (and lamb) can be excellent, as well, and crayfish a real treat. And a clarification: we do not let our fish rot. And to answer lynnlato's rhetorical question about the paucity of Finnish reataurants in North America, it's simple demographics: almost no immigration from Finland anymore, and those that do come are usually educated professionals, so very unlikely to get into the hospitality industry.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    A perhaps surprising nomination for overlooked: Scottish. The Scots have a notoriously poor diet, but for no good reason. All that deep fried crap is inexcusable in a country that produces such excellent beef, lamb, venison, fish. Even sides like skirlie can be quite delightful. I've honestly never had a truly bad meal in Scotland (admittedly, I am a bit picky). Most recently in 2004, I spent about 10 days in the Perthshire countryside, and it was a very enjoyable foodie experience. (The Moulin Hotel and the Meikleour Hotel were both superb.)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Not elegant cuisines, but at home I cook from the cuisines of Cote d'Ivoire, South Africa, Tanzania (doing nyama choma this week), and Somalia.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    And, further agreement about the food of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia as overlooked very good cuisines.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. yemmenite food is great, usa is infamous abroad for horrible food

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      5 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: intrepid

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        is that your opinion as well, in regards to food here in the us?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: justagthing

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          i eat fairly well here in the us, but eat better in other countries, i can easily understand why foreigners who visit the usa, often say the food is awful, that usa is more quantity over qulaity, and that americans" don" t know how to eat"

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: intrepid

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Perhaps the problem is that you don't know how to eat in America. Ask for advice from some American friends.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: intrepid

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I am originally from Europe and every time I hear a foreigner (and especially someone from my ex -country) make that statement, I just cringe - being embarrassed for the foreigner. I have lived in the US for about 15 years now. I do not eat any worse here than I have eaten anywhere else in the world.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              And, funny, but some of the most health conscious people I know, and know of, are Americans...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Actually, I love all the wonderful food & cuisine I can get in the US. The choices of foods and restaurants are vast. If I want to be super healthy, I can do that. If I don't, that is my choice, not the fault of the food or cuisine available in this country. My husband (born and raised in the US) has been health conscious for about 35 years. He does not eat red meat or fowl. He shuns butter, cream, sugar, any corn syrup, etc. I do eat meat. We eat out a lot, in restaurants, all over the US, both in very casual ones and occasionally in fine ones. Yes, sometimes it is tough for him (when chefs mix red meat products with seafood, for example, which, of course, my husband will not touch...), but the point is that you eat what you decide to eat, where ever you are in the world.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              The fact that some foreigners are not able to find decent restaurants over here does not prove a thing, except that they obviously are pretty helpless...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I also think that the foreigners that make these kinds of statements have probably heard about the obesity problems and the large fast food presence in the US, and have decided in their minds that there just cannot be any good food in the US; and -stunningly -that "the people" (all of us?) in the US do not know how to eat. Sigh.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                              It seems like some people are more than happy to fall for - and to spread around - stereotypical attitudes & opinions that are not based on much of anything - just their own attitudes & misguided beliefs. The truth is that people are getting fatter all over the world, not just here.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Most countries and most cities in the world have both terrific and bad restaurants - and everything in between. The US is no different. And just like in the US, there are fast food restaurants or other low quality restaurants in every single city I have visited in Europe, too.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              There is a lot of absolutely glorious food in this country. Not just in the larger cities, but also in small ones. Just last summer we found a wonderful little restaurant up in a tiny town in northern California.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                              We were blown away over the quality of that food. Blown away! I would have been more than happy to eat more of it (even though I was full) but guess what: the portions were not that large. This is just one example.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Yes, we wind up in very disappointing, lousy restaurants sometimes, but the same thing has happened to us all over the world, including my ex home country in Europe. And yes, also in Paris.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. "the food in Cambodia, for some reason I've not quite figure out, just isn't good."
                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I thought the food there was just fine, but maybe it was the ultra-cheap beer and the happy pizza.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: hsk

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            .....and, of course, there's the ecstatic pizza, too! (But, I have have to say that Laos even beats Cambodia in the beer department. Beer Lao is really the best brew in all of SE Asia!)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: baltoellen

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              In response to this thread, I'll drink the last can of Beerlao I brought back lat time in Laos.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          2. I'm so disappointed to hear the bad reviews on Cambodia! I'm going next month and was all excited about a new cuisine.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            At least it will be a nice change from Bhutanese. The food is actually pretty good, but the repetition of rice, dal, and some 'curry' that is at least 5o% chilies gets old after a few months. I've come to the conclusion that the purpose of the chilies is twofold: to help keep you warm, and to cover up the taste of dirt that seems to permeate everything.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I'd have to agree on Costa Rica being disappointing. Like mediocre Mexican food without any spice. I enjoyed the food in Belize much more. It is still not as good as mexican, but there seemed to be good variety and more tropical deliciousness than the rice, beans, and undercooked eggs of Costa Rica.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            4 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: babette feasts

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Bhutan? What about emadash' (hot chilis and cheese steamed in a covered pan)?. Sun dried pork fat? Yak butter tea? Buckwheat sour mash whiskey?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Oh, ema datse abounds, for lunch at least three times a week - I'm working in a hotel, and staff meal is usually good, but repetetive. The pork fat scares me, I can't eat big chunks of fat. We get fresh local pigs, and the pig heads are reserved for staff meal, they are all fat and skin. i haven't tried authentic yak butter tea, just salty tea with cow butter, not bad. And the arra (homemade rice hooch) with scrambled egg is pretty good too. I'll keep an eye out for the whiskey.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I do really love the dry meat ezays - bits of fried dried fish, pork, or beef mixed with fried chili, garlic, and onion. And gotta love momos, and the mandarin oranges are fantastic.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                But, the rice frequently has essence of dirt, the fresh river fish taste like dirt, everything that is trucked up from India is covered in dirt.. There's high points and lows, for sure.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: babette feasts

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Actually, I don't like sun dried pork fat and yak butter tea. But momos! Love em. When I worked in Bhutan there were no momos in Paro-Thimphu, few in the Terai aroung Galeiphug (sp.?). I feel bad that you find the rice bad: our work was on rice.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I'm sure your work was very beneficial. The local rices are quite good, it's just the grit that is disconcerting. I understand that when everything is done by hand you're not going to get American sanitized factory standards.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    We get pork momos in Paro at Sonam Trophel, and there is also a Tibetan cafe. And we make them at the hotel for bar snacks, but they are usually cabbage, not my favorite.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            2. Philippines. Tasteless, use more salt damnit!

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: billyjoe00

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I don't know who is cooking the philippino food for you, but SALT is not a problem. Ever heard of Patis?. I do agree however that their cuisine is not what I would call "World Class" Too salty. too oily, and tasteless in my view. By the way, If my wife, my sisters in law, nieces, and nephews ever read this blog.........

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: currymouth

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Philippino food has been mentioned several times in this post. I'm probably heading there next year, or sooner, and want to hear more about what makes it so bad, or if there's anything at all good to look out for!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: baltoellen

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I haven't had much Filipino food, so I'm no expert, BUT, the one thing that I've had that I actually crave occasionally are those cakes made with either shrimp or crab. Those can be pretty tasty, washed down with a San Miguel.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: hungry_pangolin

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      now your talking. They are called "Okoi" and they are great beer food. In Manila you hang out all night at the "Sari sari store . Which is not always a store, but a beer garden, for the lack of a better term. You drink, eat bbq, okoi, balut, and sometimes bet on the cock fights.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: currymouth

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        "Sari-sari" stores are tiny family owned stores of a few square meters and a counter, not walk in. Don't forget the BBQ chicken feet with beer.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Adidas and San Miguel! How could I forget. And the Bicol express in Paranaque was never spicy enough for me, so I keep a bottle of my homemade scotchbonnet peppersauce in Manila.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2. re: baltoellen

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      A possible indicator of the quality of the cuisine in a country might be the number of cookbooks for that country written for sale in the West. As far as Southeast Asia goes, there are lots of cookbooks for Vietnam, a gazillion for Thailand, about 3 for Laos (I have 2 of them) and I know of two for Cambodia. I have no idea if there are any Burma cookbooks out there but I have heard that the food in that country is nothing to rave about unless you really like grease.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: ThaiNut

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I keep trying to find good Cambodian food (was there two weeks ago) but it's always awful. I don't know if the cookbook theory holds. For example, I thought the food from Trinidad and the Republic of Georgia was great...but, cookbooks for those cuisines don't normally make the best sellers list!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: ThaiNut

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Burmese food is quite good, but due to it's nature as a "crossroads" country it can be hard to distinguish it from the surrounding cuisines. The ongoing political scene there means neither tourism or emigration is driving the wider acceptance of the food.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: baltoellen

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          The food is not as bad as you have read.Manila has hundreds of excellent resturants. Japanese, Thai,French,Malay,Spanish, You won't go wanting for verity or value. The hot spots are in Makati, Greenbelt, and The Fort.I always look forward to our visits, even if it's hot and crowded, there is such an energy and joy that you can't help but embrace. Just keep an open mind and go with the flow.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: currymouth

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Yes, Manila has good international restaurants.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          2. re: baltoellen

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            One warning: do not eat the spaghetti sauce. It's loaded with sugar. I mean, LOADED with the stuff.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I love the breakfasts -- a nice bowl of champorado (chocolate rice pudding), maybe a pandesal. Lots of extremely good fish (fillets, however, are nonexistent). And here in the US, tapsilog has reared its head with its cured beef (tapa), fried garlic rice (sinangag -- NOT sinigang) and fried eggs (itlog). You can get various kinds of meat in place of tapa like longanisa (sweet sausage, makes a longsilog), tosino (cured pork, makes a tosilog), dainggit (fried whole fish, makes a dasilog), etc.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              When DD was in school, she loved to stay at her friend Tina's overnight. And she raved about Tina's father's spaghetti. She did not rave about her mother's spaghetti.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Tina is Filipina and Tina's father is from the Phillippines. I remember asking him how he made his spaghetti. Ragu and SUGAR.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              No wonder the kids loved it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        3. re: billyjoe00

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I lived in the Philippines for 14 years while working all over Asia. Filipino food uses enough salt to stagger a mule, but no chilies (yeah, yeah, chilies are used in Bicol food).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Filipino cuisine have regional variations. What region are you most familiar?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            The one thing that is disappointing about Filipino food for me is the propensity of many great Filipino cooks to bring 60's and 70's style American food to potlucks. The dishes come right out the pages of Woman's Day magazine (eg Jello, etc.). When they stick to Filipino foods (of the native, Chinese/Straights and Spanish-influenced variety), the food is always great.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I think it was the American occupation of the Phillipines that struck a fatal blow to what could have been (by now) a very interesting hybrid of East and West.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I'm not sure if the book by Romy Dorotan and Amy Besa's book (Memories of Philippine Kitchens) has been mentioned yet in this thread. This book attempts to study regional differences in the food. They run Cendrillion - the "high-end" Filipino restaurant in Manhattan.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            One thing the Filipinos are very good at - picnic barbeques. I can smell a Filipino beach bbq from a mile away!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: fmed

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I lived in Los Banos south of Manilla, worked a lot in northern Mindanao where people were Cebuano and Illongo and in the northern major rice growing areas. Had Pampangeno friends.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Filipinos blame their lack of eating vegetables on the Americans, commonly saying that an American saw them eating vegetables and asked, "Oh, you eat grass?"

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I have mentioned elsewhere that certain dishes are quite good: sinigang ng kanduli, bulalo, fresh lumpia, dinugu-an, ...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Unfortuantely, over-salted, no spices, often too oily/greasy, highly sugared, and all served at room temperature are, to me, undesirable characteristics.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          2. re: billyjoe00

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Use MORE salt?! Are you INSANE? Filipino food is one of the saltiest foods I've ever eaten (right up there with Scottish, actually).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Take heart sam,The philippino people has seen the light and have adopted a new approach to their traditional cuisine. I was fortunate to eat in several resturants that featured many of their dishes where the salt, oil, and patis were replaced with herbs, baby veg, and above taste.But I still crave Lydia's Lachon and her crab backs.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: currymouth

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I've been waiting, reading, thinking. From all the above observations, the the conclusion one can make is that there a lot of opinions out there.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Here's mine for the least palatable:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  American international corporate fast food culture; the Mickey Dee's Syndrome and......................Has anyone eaten in the old Soviet Union of the Eastern Block countries? For the vast majority of the time, this was the least palatable cuisine I have even eaten. I don't mean Russian food, I mean food prepared under Communist regime restraints.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Re: food prepared under Communist regime restraints:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Would have to agree that the food was never great in various locales. I think it has to do with availability of ingredients. Our most recent experience was in Cuba, but I have also tried to find good food in the Soviet Union and Hungary before the fall of Communism. You had to really look. I won't include North Korea, as we went in on the Hyundai corporation mountain tours, and there I think they truck in a bunch of food from South Korea to feed the tourists.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I recall one meal in Moscow, in the 1990's. We went into a restaurant and started to peruse the menu. "I'll have the beef". The waiter said "Nyet". "ok, how about the pork?" "Nyet". " Ok, how about..." "Nyet, nyet, nyet". It was like the Monty Python Cheese Shop skit. Finally, he grabbed the menu. and pointed at one dish. Everyone had chicken that night. I'm not entirely sure why he bothered to give us the menu.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: moh

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Yes... when I went to Moscow, Kyiv and Voronezh right after the collapse of the Communist government, I discovered that Soviet-style menus are less a bill of what's actually on offer and more a list of what they would serve if they could.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I just learned to ask, "Shto yest'?" ("What is there?"). Occasionally there'd be a choice but usually it was soup or marinated mushrooms to start, occasionally there'd be dumplings, and fish or cutlet with boiled potatoes to finish. Dessert became a joke -- "Do you have dessert?" "We have ice cream. But you can go outside and get it from the same kiosk, cheaper."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I was a student in Moscow during that time. I was also vegetarian and there really wasn't very much to eat. I remember one trip to Kirghizstan when I was given meat stew with the meat picked out. Looking back, I don't know what I was thinking even attempting to be a vegetarian then! A friend was vegan - he ended up with an ulcer.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        We did have some good Georgian food though - a lifesaver, and were allowed to spend £30 a month in the British embassy shop. We spent it all on peanut butter, chocolate and tins of tuna.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Great for weight loss though - was the lightest I've ever been as an adult. We still talk about the Moscow diet!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: greedygirl

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          "Great for weight loss though - was the lightest I've ever been as an adult. We still talk about the Moscow diet!"

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Unfortunately for me, any advantage given by the lack of food was immediately negated by the calories consumed in the form of vodka. Skol! I have vague memories of belting out the Canadian anthem at midnight in Red Square. Fortunately, no significant negative consequences resulted.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: moh

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Skol???? Na Zdrovia, Za Vasha Zdrovia., Not skoal. I was in the good ol/ Moskva U in Lenin Hills in 1969, after being wounded in Viet Nam combat (I was a Navy Corpsman[medic]) w. 4 North Vietnamese in the adjoining room. Talk about weird! I stayed away from the US Embassy for burgers because I was so angry at our Gov't. and ate a tremendous amount of greasy cabbage soup (I still make a lot of Russian soups in Winter) and drank too much vodka. I can remember some great shashlik (lamb shishkabob) at a very few small indepentent restaurants. And warm lovingly prepared meals in private homes. But I remember it all fondly, now. Even the Russian sponsored vodka drinking contest w/ me against the 4 N Vietnamese to see "Who would win the War! It was a tie as we all passed out, but it broke the ice and we became friendly. Is there a lesson here?
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            And I narrowly avoided a Marx, Lenin & Engels tattoo on my chest, but that is another story.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Eat fresh and make love not war.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Mir, Pax, Paz, Fred, Peace

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Passadumkeg, my apologies, i was a rather uninformed 17 year old when I was in the USSR. Skol is what I remember, but the memory is made fuzzy by lots and lots of vodka. I really only remember singing the anthem!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: moh

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Hey, I have to work 12 hrs today and will not have a cook out w/ my family. I will be humming the Internationale all day!
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Markie the Red

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              2. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Oh no! "Na zdorovie" goes with food, not drink, and will out you as a foreigner immediately! :) "(Za) vashe zdorovie" is much better when drinking.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: sfumato

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Za vashe zdeovie y lubov!
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Eugin Onegin

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I grew up in communist Romania; IMO, at least two factors contributed to the terrible menus in most restaurants: (1) the lack of ingredients (like one of the previous posters mentioned; I can recall waking up at 3:00 a.m. to go stand in line for the latest shipment of chicken) and (2) restaurants were not for-profit establishments, hence the lack of motivation.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Eating at home, however, is quite a different story. Given the limited availability of various staples, one needs to become creative and gets to appreciate food twice as much. There is nothing like my grandmother's 'coltunasi cu visine' (i.e., sour cherry dumplings) .....

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: jeni1002

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Could you post that dumpling recipe, if you have it? I fell in love with sour cherries during my time in Hungary. Thanks in advance.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: hungry_pangolin

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            HP - I posted the recipe on the home cooking board. Let me know when you end up making them...btw, Whole Foods does carry some jarred sour cherries (aside from the outrageous $10/lb fresh sour cherries that I saw once in their produce area). I haven't made them since I came to the US, just because I haven't been able to find fresh sour cherries at a decent price in my area.....Where would you get them where you are?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              2. Mongolia. Hands down. I don't know where so-called "Mongolian Barbeque" comes from but not from Mongolia. There is no wood on the steppes and most food is cooked over dung fires, and its mostly boiled. There is virtually no farming so any vegetables are largely pickled and come from China. Fatty mutton is the most common, followed by goat, horse and camel. Most of it is boiled, along with the bread. And don't forget the fermented mares milk, dried cheese curd, and yogurt. MMMMM.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. Netherlands. I work here quite alot and have not found anything that stands out.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: gatun

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Start eating Surinamese food, it's everywhere and delicious.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. Most overrated food? North American food. Goodness gracious, talk about bland. I often scoff when a North American comments about food from other countries being bland or lacking in depth. It's also funny to me how some North Americans criticize a cuisine for being too salty. Why? It's because they're used to bland food.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Unless I've been to the country of the cuisine and have tasted the regional dishes there (preferably in a household setting), I refrain from saying anything bad about that particular cuisine. There's a lot of misrepresentations of different cuisines in North America. Oftentimes, there just isn't a good restaurant of that particular cuisine that is to be found. There are many countries that have outstanding food (that oftentimes are better than the more popular cuisines) but are not represented well because the restaurants are ramshackle and not focused on the real quality of the cuisine, or because that cuisine is best enjoyed through homes in the provinces and different regions of the home country.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    One particular thing that intrigues and irritates me at the same time is the propensity of some people to judge a cuisine based on the spices it uses. Oftentimes, they point to the spiciness of a dish or the use of spices in them as the element that gives the dish an edge. While I also like spicy dishes and dishes made with spices, I look more for the balance in that dish. If the use of spices overpowers the rest of the dish, then to me it's not that good. Many cuisines may seem blander because they don't use as much spices as other cuisines, but that doesn't mean they are less exciting. Balance is key. If there's no balance between ingredients (including spices), then the dish will taste horrible. Funny that some of the most popular cuisines (ie. Japanese) don't use many spices but a lot of us like them. Yet, with other less popular cuisines that also don't use many spices, we're not as impressed as we should be. It's a bit hypocritical.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: uberathlete

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      What on earth is North American food, anyway? Canadian food? Mexican food? Southern US? Midwest US? New York? California? Chicago? Montreal?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: merkay

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Good question. I had a friend whose parents came from India and wanted to eat "American food." All I could think of was pizza. It turned out that the defining concept for them was "food that doesn't touch." So we went to McCormick and Schmick's and had crab cakes and fish dinners. There are certainly some dishes that might be called "American," if not by origin then by history and identity. Things that come to mind include southern foods like catfish and hush puppies, all kinds of pies like key lime, rhubarb and apple, traditional holiday meals like turkey, hamburgers and hot dogs. But American culture is so amalgamated, and so many things find their ways in that it's hard to make a complete or definitive list.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2. Rarely have I had a decent meal in the Caribbean. Most of the food is hideously expensive and terrible. Calvin Trillin wrote about this in one of his essays wondering where the Italians were when everyone was laying claim to the various islands. He said that he longed for an island named Santo Prosciutto, where you could get fabulous Italian food. When we went to Casa de Campo we ate at a pretty good Italian place and spoke to the chef who was from Italy and who complained about the difficulty of cooking on an island due to the vagaries of deliveries.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Bermuda also has terrible food, and I remember my husband gagging on the garnish on a piece of fish. It was banana. Yeech!

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: roxlet

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Have you ever been to Trinidad, eaten Trinidadian cuisine? I think it is one of the world's--well, from where I've been and eaten--most overlooked cuisines. Amazing mix of indigenous ingredients with an Indian touch.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        But, the food on the sister island of Tobago, which has way fewer people of Indian descent, is not amazing at all, and probably more of what you'd call "typical Caribbean food" think rice & peas, and more starches....

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. My vegan husband reports that finding food in non-tourist parts of Bahamas in the mid-1980s was tough. He used to order a big vat of peanut butter to be shipped to him. He also left work early on the day the few veggies were shipped in to have a chance at getting a few of them.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. I'm hesitant to criticize an entire national cuisine here (as others point out, it's not constructive, very subjective and highly reactionary). I know I get really frustrated when I meet people who visited South Africa and they tell me they thought the food was bad in Cape Town. Upon questioning, it turns out they ate at chain restaurants and some touristy places. Aside from being irritating, I just feel sad for them. No five course fish braai on a West Coast beach? No nuanced, spicy Cape Malay feast? No meat fest and local beer at a casual township open air restaurant? What were you doing??? Shopping at the Waterfront???

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Enough about that - I have a bone to pick with America's national airport cuisine. While some of the best meals of my life have been in the States (I want to weep when I think of the distance between me and California!) - why is it so friggin' impossible to get healthy, flavourful food at airports? As someone who flies a lot, all I want is some fruit juice not from concentrate, a freshly made sandwich or a cup of soup. Perhaps even a decent coffee. Why is it well nigh impossible to find something that isn't massively huge or deep fried? You've got all this amazing food, superb produce, and I'm stuck with TGI Fridays and some pseudo-Mexican place with nachos drowned in cheese. America, if you're listening, heed the cry of one tired, jetlagged visitor. Please.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Gooseberry

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            FWIW, I live in California and wll we have in the airports is pseudo-Mexican too. I bring an empty plastic water bottle and fill it up at the drinking fountain.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Gooseberry

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I spent a month in South Africa some years ago, and ate very well, indeed. Cape Town has some fantastic restaurants from informal to rather chi-chi. The selection of fish and game was impressive, excellent beef, Karoo lamb, bunnychow after a night out, the wines outstanding, and I acquired an addiction to chakalaka. Anyone who complains about the food must have spent all their time in a Nando's. If I had a complaint, it's that there wasn't much selection for beers. My favourite was Windhoek, and that's Namibian.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            2. I know England sometimes gets a bad rap for some of its cuisine, but you have to know where to look. If you haven't had Fortnum and Mason, you don't know what you are missing. I just got back from a trip to London and had one of the best things I have ever had in my life...waffles with Fortnum and Mason Rose Petal Jelly. Fantastic!


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Get it! Its pricey but you won't be disappointed! I will probably have to order a few cases as this is going to be my Sunday breakfast from now on.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. Having lived (and loved) in England on and off over the last 40 years, I will say that there is no great native cuisine. Back in the 60's, I found great French and Italian, and these days there is a wonderful array of great ethnic cuisines. English cuisine, however, remains overcooked roasts and boiled veggies. Yorkshire pudding and fried bread are its two saving graces.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  My goodness, pika, don't ruin my new response to E_N above!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I was born in the UK, and I still have ties. I think there definitely is a native cuisine, and I think it's experiencing a resurgence - a lighter touch, more focus on the quality of ingredients, etc. but I think a lot of it is happening outside of London, and not in the city.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Jane Grigson's books put local cuisine into native context, and she's a marvellous writer. Tamasin Day-Lewis writes currently, and she cooks with local, seasonal ingredients in Ireland and Somerset. Also, if you have access to BBC Food, there's a lot of programs there showcasing the growing food movements.