HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Tourist food

Been in SE Asia the last three weeks, and food has been uniformly good EXCEPT when on tours or at some hotels that think whities are too scared to eat the local food. This irritates me in a significant way, and I gotta rant.

Are people really so unadventurous? Doesn't bad food diminish anyone else's holiday? Is a continental breakfast anyone's idea of a satisfying start to the day? The hotel who was out of chicken and subbed duck in my morning noodle soup gets an A+, while the places that claim 'breakfast included' but offer an airy white roll (might as well be wonder, but with a crisp crust) and your choice of AN egg, OR jam, OR 16 grams of processed cheese are really starting to p!ss me off. That's not breakfast!

People seem so amazed that I'd rather go to the market and get plate of pork or chicken and rice than enjoy their free prison breakfast, or that I can eat with chopsticks, or that I want the chilies and lime that come with the dish (unless you look foreign, then you have to ask).

To me, eating the local food is such a significant part of travel. Sure, on occasion I want something familiar, but for the other 20 meals a week I want something interesting and authentic. Who are the people giving travelers a bad culinary name and how can I knock some sense in to them? Are people really so scared of getting sick, or is it fear of the unknown, or fear that there might be something 'weird' like fish sauce or cilantro or innards? I've been sick, it wasn't pleasant, and it did put me off street food for a bit, but in the end, that is not too high a price to pay every few years for all of the wonderful dishes and snacks to be found.

You people who eat only pizza and hamburgers and make the rest of the world think we are all like you - STOP RUINING IT FOR THE REST OF US!!!!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Lots of people who have enough money to travel for fun are older - and many of these are set in their food ways. "Better" hotels the world over have to cater to them. In such cases, just get out of the hotel and to the market or sidewalk. Nice hotels in places like Bangkok, however, often have both "European/American" and Asian/Thai offerings. The situation varies within SE Asia - where have you had the worst (and most fun to talk about) experiences?

    1. Very good rant. Very good, indeed. I don't even have to travel overseas to experience this. I live in a big city with plenty of ethnic diversity, which in turn, means plenty of ethnic dining options. A few months ago, I went to a little Pakistani lunch counter type joint, ordered a chicken naan roll with everything. The lady at the counter handed the gentleman manning the grill the order. As the sammich was being assembled, the gentleman started choppoing up a serrano chile. The lady then stopped him, and told him no chile for this order as she pointed to me. I didn't understand the language they were speaking, but it was 150% obvious what she was saying. After the order was done and handed to me. I opened the bag, unrolled the sammich, and questioned why there was no hot chile on the sandwich since I specifically asked for "everything" that the menu listed. The grillman, and the counterlady exchanged some words, with the grillman givin her some "I told you so" kinda glances, and the counterlady pointed at me and shrugged her shoulders. In my hood, I can usually get decent Thai food, but the Indian places still err on the side of caution with authenticity.

      Also, you're simply in the minority when it comes to being adventurous. It will always be ruined for the rest of us. When travellling abroad, I always try to ask a few ppl, usually a taxi driver, or a hotel restaurant worker, where THEY eat, and make it painfully clear that I don't want tourist food. I also learn a few phrases like "I like chile," or "same way as you like it."

      Very good rant, indeed.

      8 Replies
      1. re: gordeaux

        The "chile problem" is universal. Everyone who uses chiles - even if just a bit - thinks that they are the only ones who do so and are the only ones who can tolerate them. VERY frustrating.

        And, babette, you'll appreciate this: my friend Kinlay Dorjii's (I know, which one?) mother gave me lots of sun dried pig fat - just knowing that "everyone" loves the stuff, while refusing to give me enough chiles to make the stuff palatable.

        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

          Once I went to an Indian restaurant in Honolulu and ordered a curry dish. The waiter asked me how hot I wanted it on a scale of one to ten. Being from the southwest USA I am very used to hot chiles ( in fact, boastful of my tolerance among my less tolerant friends who I dazzle by taking Tabsco sauce etc neat by the spoonfuls). Therefore I ordered the ten level hotness. The waiter replied that they would not serve level ten to Occidentals! I drew myself up and began to recite my credentials as a chile afficionado but the waiter was unimpressed and adamant. Therefore, I settled on a nine. When the dish came it was so hot I could not finish it. I have always wondered whether the restaurant staff decided to show me up as a rank amateur chile buff or whether that was really their normal level nine.

          1. re: LRunkle

            If you ever make it out that way again, solicit a "local" to go in and do the ordering on your behalf. Implore him or her not to let on to the staff that the meal is for you, wait outside and buy an extra beverage or two while you wait, in order to handle the level 10 inferno blast. If it's hotter than your 9-rated molten experience, you'll know they were honest about their rating system. If it's as hot or less hot, you can chuckle in knowing they tried to get the better of you ... and did.

            1. re: 1sweetpea

              I don't think Tabasco is very hot either, however I would not expect to be served a dish that was several times hotter than Tabasco and have it be only a nine out of ten!

            2. re: LRunkle

              If tobasco sauce is a measure of heat tolerance among you and your friends, then you are an amateur. Tobasco isn't hot at all.

              I know what you meant tho. Just giving you a little grief. ;-)

              1. re: LRunkle

                Fortunately, I have few problems in Bhutan, Nepal, India, and Pakistan. They all / often think I'm Tibetan.

                1. re: LRunkle

                  I had an unfortunate experience at a Singaporean restaurant in San Francisco a while back. I'm also a lover of very spicy food, so I informed the waiter that I wanted my order "Singaporean hot," not "American hot." He was dubious, but I was adamant. Well, the seafood dish was delicious, but by the third mouthful the top of my head was exploding and I was sweating like a pig. The laughter from the staff watching from the kitchen didn't help...lol. I manfully completed my meal with the help of much cold beer, wondering if heart failure was a possible result, and spent the rest of the afternoon recovering from the experience. I've been more cautious since, and am usually disappointed that my orders are not spicy enough.

                2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  Ap Kinlay or Aum Kinlay? You got me Sam, I'm a hypocrite, I couldn't stomach the pork fat either, especially if it still had stubble on the skin. Creepy. If there were any meaty streaks I'd carve those out, otherwise, just another reminder to ask if the pork is 'red' or 'white'.

                  I realize that there is an element of people genuinely trying to be hospitable. And some things are not going to be universally liked, it's true. I was all excited for sticky rice at the market one morning until I realized that custardy stuff the lady had spooned on top must be durian. But still, I'm glad she gave it to me and didn't edit the experience for me.

                  Maybe that's what it comes down to (after a hearty breakfast): I want to make my own choices about where to draw the line of what is too stinky or spicy or whatever.

              2. You may be unnecessarily harsh. Not everyone travels for the same reasons that you do, particularly those you encounter in international hotels.
                Many, if not most, are there on business, and even if they might love the chance to explore and experience the culture, their focus is elsewhere. They're scheduled into meetings from dawn until late at night and even their meals are often programmed.
                They can't afford to suffer upset stomachs from unusual food, even if it's perfectly safe and sanitary, that would cause them to miss the activities that they are there to participate in.
                It's often bad enough when they have "official meals" of foods that they are wary of because they might have a hard time digesting them. I've been there. You learn to pick carefully at what is set before you so that you'll be ready for the next day's events.

                Even less adventurous pleasure travelers have to be ready to catch that next bus, train, boat, or plane, else they encounter heavy financial penalties. Tours are tightly scheduled to squeeze in as much as possible and keep groups together.
                I've done trade tours both in the US and abroad and it's a nightmare when we have people missing meetings and events because they've gone off somewhere. It holds up all of the other people who depend on the cooperation of their fellow tour participants.

                This is CH and we care about food. Others often have to prioritize differently. If they were on their own time, the food might be their first concern. But sometimes, the work of the State Department or other foreign service, their companies, the UN, an NGO, their tour group, or other organization might take precedence.
                I know lots of adventurous eaters who travel internationally for business who sadly end up eating hotel and "business" food. They're not happy about that, but it's life on the road.

                6 Replies
                1. re: MakingSense

                  You make very salient points, but it saddens me when I meet some backpacker travelling abroad purely for pleasure, who is surviving on the jar of peanut butter he or she brought from home, plus store bought crackers, cookies and coca cola. Where's the spirit of adventure? Ditto for UK folks and their Marmite or Aussies and their Vegemite.

                  For what it's worth, my rant was directed at travellers who are on vacations, not business folk with tight work agendas. When work comes first, restaurants and food choices are often way down in the list of priorities. When I'm on vacation, the food experiences are secondary only to the sightseeing. Sometimes the sightseeing is a food excursion, which doubles my pleasure.

                  1. re: MakingSense

                    On the other hand, I have a friend who was, until recently, working for a large US semiconductor firm. While much of the R&D was done in the US, most of the fabrication work was done in Asia. He had to visit there often. Whenever he came in to town, as the visiting "big wig", he was taken out night after night for dinner, and everyone wanted to provide him with a lavish Asian dinner, featuring the specialties. He's not the most adventurous eater, but he tried everything. However, he admitted to me, that at the end of two weeks, all he really wanted was a cheeseburger and fries.

                    One night in China, one of the locals asked him where he wanted to go. When my friend said he was easy, the local said "How about TGI Fridays?". My pal jumped at the chance! All day long, he told me later, he was waiting for that cheeseburger, fries, onion rings, and (hopefully!) an American beer. When he got there, he was aghast to find that this was an Asian copycat, and that the big deal here was, instead of ordering for the table family style as most Chinese places do, each person ordered their own specific meal. Told me later he was so disappointed after having his sights set so high.

                    I remember a trip to Asia some years ago, where we hunted down stores before leaving to find one that sold single serving packs of peanut butter and jelly so that we would have something to serve our then incredibly picky 4-year old. (She's grown up by the way; on our last trip to Chicago, she insisted we go to either Alinea or Charlie Trotter's.)

                    So, I see it from both points of view. I generally love to experiment with local foods and customs, but after three weeks, I can see the attraction of something familiar.

                    1. re: KevinB

                      It's not only Americans. It cuts both ways.
                      Years ago, I had accompanied a trade delegation of high-ranking Asians on a tour of US medical facilities, primarily in the Mid-West, and for days we were treated to wonderful meals. On Sunday evening in a large city, they surrounded me in the hotel lobby and threatened that they would refuse to follow the agenda the next day unless I found them - NOODLES! They wanted comfort food.

                      I finally found the only Chinese place open late that evening in the downtown area. Nothing on the menu quite suited them and finally the ranking delegate got up from the table and marched right into the kitchen.
                      When he didn't return after a few minutes, I found him without his suit jacket, wearing an apron, laughing merrily, helping to chop vegetables as he directed the staff in Chinese as they prepared a special meal for the delegation.
                      He was a cabinet-level Minister of Health for an Asian country, but he helped serve one of the best "down-home" Chinese meals I've ever had. I have no idea what it was, but everyone was as happy as clams and they were all smiles for the meetings the next morning.

                      1. re: MakingSense

                        For a few years, I traveled back and forth from Japan to the states to attend conventions with a group of internationally known Microbiologists. They always brought along instant ramen, even in LA.

                        1. re: bkhuna

                          Then I had to help one visitor from Asia find a CASE of fortune cookies to take back to his kids. They had lived in the US for a couple of years and loved the things, which as you know, ain't Chinese! Put him on the plane with the cardboard box full of them.

                          1. re: bkhuna

                            I teach at an international school with a large Asian population. On the class camping trip this year, most of the kids brought 10-15 packages of ramen, which they ate for snacks or instead of whatever camp-type food we were serving

                    2. Another comment (!) My work has always been my pleasure; and that has most often involved long stays way out in the remote rural areas of south and SE Asia, Latin America, and eastern Africa. Food was always of equal interest to me as the intertwined issues of people and their food production (agriculture). But I never expected all of my colleagues to concur. I've told these before: once some filipino colleagues and I were in one of the Indian ag research institutes. The Institute food was GREAT!!! The filipinos brought along their supplies of canned Vienna sausages and the like. They were good people, but liked their own food. One of my colleagues and I were often in Laos just as Laos was opening up a bit. Even in Vientiane I went nuts - kao niyao and laab; died and went to heaven. My buddy would go with me to eat; and then off to the french restaurant for his turn.

                      But you are right! When the outsiders overwhealm the locals with requests for garbage, it does ruin it for all of us.

                      1. Some people actually like... NO PREFER... Denny's, IHOP, TGIF, Applebee's etc., what you get on tour is often the equivalent.

                        1. Good lord, you are so righteous! I've been berated for not trying the poi in Hawai'i but it was only because everyone told me it has no flavor...so then, what the heck do I want to try it for if it has no flavor??? Give me break! In Barcelona in '01, it broke my heart to see McD's and Burger King on street corners--I like trying the foods of the countries or places I'm visiting, not eating American foods--if you want to call McD and Burger King that-- in the countries I'm visiting. And I work with someone who feels Thai foods are too weird, so now our group never gets to go to lunch at this great Thai place...she ate just plain cooked rice the one time she was there with us and claimed it made her sick. <Sheesh! Holding head in hands>

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: Val

                            I know exactly where your coming from. I worked for an outfit that had our yearly conferences in Vegas and I was branded as an "outsider", "weird" etc. because I didn't eat (or play for that matter) at BK, McD's etc. Why would anyone want to eat that crap when in any area with great and diversified dining? THEY are the weird ones!

                            1. re: Val

                              Val, I hear you, but I remember taking my wife and 2 girls into a McD's in Seoul's Itaewon area. They had Korean takes on many American tastes - ubi pies, bulgoki burgers, etc. We found that a fascinating investigation.

                              1. re: KevinB

                                Kevin...yeah, someone told me that those Barcelona hot shops offered some Mediterranean twists on the foods...but, I just couldn't do it. :o)

                                1. re: KevinB

                                  I know it's kinda funny to go to a MickyD's in other countries. In Poland they had a pork culet sandwich and the fries were made in beef tallow! Loved those fries.

                                  1. re: PurpleTeeth

                                    The original McD's fries, which are still considered among the greatest fries of all time by some who's credentials are solid (Joe H and Craig Claiborn to name two), were so good because they were fried in tallow. There is said to be one store left in the US that still has them (in Seattle).

                                    No wonder you loved those fries. If I ever get to Poland I'll be looking for them.

                              2. I travel abroad a lot. Most of the people I see eating in American fast food chains are locals, not tourists. This is a very bad thing, but is not the fault of Ugly Americans. Many people in other countries see eating "American" as a step on the upward path of economic success.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: pikawicca

                                  So sad but so true. The McDonalds with the playhouse in Playa del Carmen (Q. Roo, Mex) is so packed with locals on a splurge with their kids I want to kick a brick wall and then cry. And the prices, compared with great indigenous cooking, approach the absurd.

                                2. I generally liked your rant, but a few things:

                                  1. Some of us actually like continental breakfasts. I enjoy having a light breakfast so that I'm good and hungry for lunch. Since much of my international travel is in Europe, this is right in line with how locals eat, too. That said, "continental" breakfast in a hotel in Asia is pointless. The reason I learned what little Cantonese I know is so that when travelling on business in Hong Kong I can insist on having what everyone else is having. Hong Kong is easier because they are used to seeing gwailo and so usually my request for "pay dan sau yuk juk, lai chaa!" nets me a broad smile, a wink, and the requested bowl of lean-pork-and-preserved-egg rice porridge and milk tea.

                                  I need to point out, though, that it's hardly only the Anglos who are the problem. It kills me when I see a busload of Japanese tourists getting off to eat at Todai [a low-rent AYCE sushi place that's worse than supermarket sushi]. Chinese and Korean tourists also are famous in LA for the ugly glares they give things like grilled meat or cheese.

                                  I met some Parisians in Barcelona -- a city with some of the most amazing food in Europe -- who brought down food with them because "ces maudits Espagnols font toute leur cuisine à l'huile d'olive et à l'aïl !"

                                  Also, funnily enough, in Switzerland the people with the worst reputation for food unadventurousness are not the Americans (we're apparently just fat and want twice the portions of everyone else) but the British. I can't tell you how many times I got salads with that revolting "salad cream" on it because the waitstaff thought I was British. (A few frosty words in the local dialect -- "vouah nan, j'rupe pas c'te pistouille, ce badadia du chef, y pû même pas faire une vinaigrette?" -- and the salad would be replaced with a real dressing.)

                                  7 Replies
                                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                    I'm impressed you could get salad cream in Switzerland. Funny country though, at best of times.
                                    I've never been served a salad in a restaurant dressed with salad cream - not even in Britain. Unsurprising really, it's deeply unpleasant and hardly anyone has eaten it since the 1960s (except Mrs Harters who loves it on her fish finger butties)

                                    1. re: Harters

                                      The rows and rows of salad cream at Tesco, Morrisons, etc. would suggest that there are enough people buying it today.

                                      1. re: Lizard

                                        You may be right - but neither Mrs H nor I know of anyone (except Mrs H of course). Maybe there are secret devourers of it - those who declared that the barbarians were at the gates when Heinz wanted to discontinue manufacture in 1998/9 as sales had fallen so low it was no longer particularly profitable to manufacture. Maybe it's enjoying a "retro revival" as with many of our traditional foods (although salad cream only dates back to around the 1920s, I think) - as in Danny Millar's recipe in the current series of Great British Menu - http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/dat... . It was, of course, at its most popular with my parents' generation during World War 2, as something "tasty" to add to the bland food of the times (and it was made with products that were not rationed). It was always a product mainly bought by the working class (which is why it's in Mrs H's blood and not mine) and I understand this is still the company's main demographic customer base.

                                        None of which makes it any less vile, in my view.

                                        Why folk can't just put some mayo on their salad, I don't know

                                        That's mayo as my jar of Hellmans has it - vegetable oil (77%), water, pasteurised egg and egg yolk (8%), spirit vinegar, salt, sugar, lemon juice, mustard flavour, antioxidant, paprika extract

                                        As opposed to spirit vinegar, vegetable oil (25%), water, sugar, mustard, salt, egg yolks (3%), modified cornflour, xantham gum, guar gum and riboflavin.

                                        National icons are not always a great idea.

                                        1. re: Harters

                                          Salad cream is nothing more than a thin, pourable version of Miracle Whip. Many years ago, in the mid-80's, we had a British au pair who endlessly complained she couldn't get the stuff in the US. She finally brought back some bottles of it from the UK and that's when I tasted it and discovered what it actually was. She also couldn't accept it when I informed her that Heinz is an American, not a British, company, but such is life.

                                          1. re: Harters

                                            I have to say that I was shocked to be offered salad cream as 'dressing' for the poor excuses of a salad that I was served in most pubs that I frequented when I first arrived in the UK. Granted, I was going out with a Brit whose idea of a good meal was a 2X1 Wetherspoons special but, since then, although I have not encountered it that often, if I intend to get a good salad, I steer clear of places where they serve traditional British food as this tends to translate into a few dried leaves on a plate or something smothered in cream (which kind of counters the purpose of having a salad in the first place).

                                            I agree with the fact that salad cream is a vile creation that should stay back in the 70s where it belongs.

                                            1. re: Paula76

                                              Have to agree, Paula. We Brits are generally useless at restaurant salads - particularly at pub/bistro level. Many tourists must go away disappointed. Champion as I am for our food, I think that making a good salad is simply not in our genetic make-up - it's probably the northern europe thing of not really being able to grow many decent salad crops in the normal climate.

                                              I do actually understand my wife's liking for salad cream on the fish finger butty - it's the vinegariness. Why she can't just shake a load of Sarson's on it beats me, though.

                                            2. re: Harters

                                              I am responsible for the purchase of one bottle when I was in the UK in February. Tasted it when I got home. It's still in my fridge - there's a Hopkinson recipe that calls for 3 T of the stuff (as I guess we discussed on some other thread). Thought it was pretty vile!

                                      2. We're on a food board, so I'm assuming you think everyone is like you and they live to eat. Definitely not the case. Some people simply eat to live.
                                        I spend a great deal of time researching where to eat whenever I'm in a new city. I want to try things I don't have at home. During my last visit to NYC, it was obvious that not everyone feels the same. The largest restaurant in Times Square (tourist central) is Olive Garden. Then there's Sbarro pizza on every corner. The same crappy pizza you can get in every mall in America. Some people just aren't comfortable eating "weird" food and wont even try.

                                        1. I am definitely not staying in major chain hotels, I'm unemployed and going for the cheapest guesthouses that don't scare me.

                                          It was sort of amusing to get one breakfast that was a pancake with french fries on the side, an interesting interpretation of a western breakfast. My main rant with the bread and jam is that it is just not enough, and I feel ripped off being told that breakfast is included when it is only 85 grams of white bread ans maybe an egg (but I don't much care for eggs or jam, which makes it even less desirabe). Yes, it is easy enough to go and spend $1 on street food and get something satisfying, I just don't think I should have to feed myself again 30 minutes after my 'breakfast'. Being hungry for lunch is great...at 12 or 1:00, not at 8:30!

                                          If you're on business or a tight schedule or whatever, it is totally understandable to need to be careful. Stay away from salads and ice, fine. But aren't there plenty of things besides bread that are safe to eat? Boiled soup, rice? Isn't anything you see cooked in front of you generally considered safe? If the kitchen is dirty and not handling food properly, does it really matter if you order a burger or a curry?

                                          I've decided to blame the French. They came and colonized and brought their baguettes. And to think I had been looking forward to the French culinary influence on SE Asia.... So far not that apparent, besides a few nice dessert shops and baguettes for bahn mi.

                                          6 Replies
                                          1. re: babette feasts

                                            And bo luc lac, and bo kho, and sup mang cua...

                                            It may be a European-dominance thing, but in much of the world breakfast is not a big meal... just a bite to eat. 85g of bread and 15g of cheese is a little light but certainly not out of range.

                                            But in any case, do as I do and ignore the hotel breakfast even if it's free.

                                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                              And people are really not hungry until lunch? That amazes me. Or is there some other snack at coffee break? I really don't need a huge breakfast, just a little more substance, fresh fruit and yogurt, maybe granola, is ideal.

                                              I guess because I'm trying to keep this trip somewhat low budget, I've had (unreasonably?) high expectations of my free breakfasts. Noodle soup doesn't fill you up for a super long time either, but at least it is hot, flavorful, and satisfying and seems like a little effort was made.

                                              1. re: babette feasts

                                                People tend to be very hungry at lunch. Spain irritated the snot out of me because I get up very early, so I'd eat breakfast as soon as places opened (often not until 8:30 or 9:00) and then I'd be ready to kill a pigeon and eat it, because lunch was from 2 to 4.

                                                1. re: babette feasts

                                                  Das seems to be correct that "in much of the world breakfast is not a big meal."
                                                  I did tours for international visitors for years and their most persistent complaint was about American breakfasts. We had the worst time getting plain bread, which is all they asked for.
                                                  From Coast to Coast, we were offered sweet crap, heavy foods, full spreads, and nary a simple breakfast to be found.
                                                  These were folks from every continent but Antarctica, every culture, and different economic and educational levels, and most wanted some variation on plain French bread or Kaiser rolls, with coffee or tea.
                                                  That was hard to get and hotel food service looked at me like I was crazy when we rejected their fancy muffins and the sweet rolls that Americans were snarfing. Although some of the visitors ate larger amounts, most even passed on fruit and juice most of the time, leaving that until later in the day.
                                                  This tracked with the simple breakfasts that I encountered in most places overseas except when I stayed in hotels frequented by business travelers.

                                                  1. re: MakingSense

                                                    Very interesting. I get really cranky with no food, I wonder how they do it.

                                                    1. re: MakingSense

                                                      I've never stayed at anything close to a business hotel in Germany, and the breakfast spreads there were monstrously huge. And delicious.

                                                      In Singapore and Malaysia, people seemed to eat the same food for breakfast as they did for every other meal. Ayam rendang for breakfast? Yes, please!

                                                      Then there's pho for brekkie in Vietnam. Plenty of places around the world have very hearty breakfasts.

                                              2. I think it's a bit silly to insist on eating exactly what the guy next to you eats - within any population there will be some variation on how people prefer their food (e.g. how do Americans like their steak cooked?).

                                                As a teenager, I lived in Thailand for a while and while I always enjoyed "spicy" foods, some of the Thai spice levels were way beyong my tolerance. Being of mixed Asian descent, I could pass for Thai until I actually spoke so unless I specifically asked for food to be prepared less spicy it often was melt your mouth spicy. On more than one occasion I had the embarassing experience of simply being unable to continue eating food because my hand had stopped following my brain's instructions to deliver the food to my mouth. It's embarassing because I don't want to offend anyone by not being able to eat their food and the physical reaction can be quite unpleasant not only for me, but also dining companions. When I returned years later with my mother who grew up all over Asia (including Thailand as a child), I warned her to ask for her food less spicy, just in case. She didn't and had the exact same experience I did - sweating, shaking, hand not responding. Yikes.

                                                It makes sense that you'd serve food you think the person will be able to tolerate and enjoy. If a 5 year old child came to your house and asked you to make their food firey hot, would you? Probably not - because your experience with most kids is that they can't tolerate that much spice and you want the kid to enjoy the food. This is not to say that you or other full-grown Westerners, myself included, should be treated like kids...but if you were the resto owner, how many Westerners would you want to serve authentic food to, only to find that they can't tolerate or don't enjoy it? Wouldn't you rather serve them something you think they'll like (and not waste)? It's sort of like the posts where people talk about what they'd do if asked to cook a nice steak well done. A lot of people say they'd cook it less than well done because you can always cook it more, but once it's cooked to well done, if the person won't eat it, it's ruined and there's no going back.

                                                Also, I wish you the very best of luck with not getting sick again. I am fairly careful when it comes to eating abroad (particularly in 3WCs) but no matter how careful you are, you can still get sick. People develop tolerance for things they are exposed to, and travellers can get sick eating the same things locals eat with no problems. And believe me, there is nothing quite like the special hell of having major food poisoning in a foreign country and having to endure 36 hours in transit back to the states, followed by hours in line at customs. YUCK.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: akq

                                                  It is understandable to try to be a good host and try to please your guest with what you think is your guests palate, but it is sad to me when this ends up as dumbing down your cuisine. And guessing what strangers will like has inherent problems off the bat. Shouldn't cooks be proud of their culinary heritage and want to share it? And you admit that there is a form of racial profiling going on. If people can ask me 45 times a day 'you want tuk-tuk?', why can't they ask 'you want traditional taste?' when I finally stop for lunch?

                                                  People who do not routinely eat a cuisine do not tend to be very good cooks of it, which I think is why the foreign food you get, made by well-meaning people, is often strangely put together or not very good. Eating local food seems much more likely to result in fnding deliciousness.

                                                  I'm not advocating everyone eat street food all the time, and I am not about to drink from the Mekong - or even swim in it. I had a friend who was studying in Mexico for 6 weeks and complained about how sick he was. I felt bad for him up until he told me he had decided to just go ahead and drink the water and get it over with. Dummy! An unfamiliar food might make you uncomfortable for a day, contaminated food might ruin you for much longer. If a restaurant is serving contaminated food, it's not going to matter which side of the menu you order from, or if its a contaminated omelet, contaminated dumbed-down local cuisine, or contaminated authentic cuisine. Choose your eating places wisely, for sure.

                                                  1. re: babette feasts

                                                    I guess what I was trying to say is that when a traveller hasn't had that food before he/she may not know what he or she is asking for...and many times the food may be intolerable to the traveller and thus go to waste because you can't take the spice out, etc...hence my steak example.

                                                    I don't think it's so much racial profiling - many Western-born asians will tell you that when they travel to Asia, they are treated the same way. Perhaps cultural profiling? When I introduce people to poi for the first time, I don't give them a huge serving because more often than not, people who didn't grow up with it like I did don't like it the first couple times they try it (cue the ubiquitous "paste" comparison) and to give them a full serving would be a waste of good food. And I am certainly not going to start someone off with funky 3 day old poi that I like! Is that horrible of me? I don't think so. For every person who surprises me and loves poi on the first try there are many many more who dislike it. I just go with the odds.

                                                    As for contaminated foods - I disagree that if one food is "contaminated" all the food will be. Often there are higher risk and lower risk foods even served at the same establishment. That said, hotel restos in 3WCs are notorious for being the source of much food poisioning, perhaps because people let their guard down.

                                                    1. re: akq

                                                      And this is why in 3WCs you need to eat where you see others eating, even if it means waiting for a table to be available. Places are "dead" for a reason.

                                                2. I see this often even in the US in my travels, and I LOVE it. Why, you ask? Because, well, more for me! Shorter lines, less dealing with other tourists, etc. etc. I don't really eat McDonalds or BK, and so, I search out the unique, the tasty, etc. And, I am usually alone when I do it :D I go to the areas where others refuse to go because "it's dangerous" or, my favorite, "that food is weird" "i won't like it" etc. Good riddance, I say. Eat your McDonald's and Pizza Hut, and I will go enjoy my Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Somali, and more. All the more for me.

                                                  1. Most people just aren't that adventurous especially with regards to food, regardless of where on the planet they hail from. Familiarity is security. I don't think we can blame people for this, even if it does suck for foodies.

                                                    As for hotel food ... in my experience it's very much a case of lowest common denominator for maximum appeal, with the added factor of minimum cost to maximum price. So who's surprised hotel breakfasts and hotel food is pretty much always boring crud. The truth is most people don't care that much or know that much about food.

                                                    So keep doing what you do and push aside that plate of processed sausage and rubbery egg, get out and find some good local food. I know I do when I travel, and it's infinitely rewarding. Especially in SE Asia, where a plate of cheap deliciousness is usually no more than a block away no matter where the hell you are.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: Tsar_Pushka

                                                      Lowest common denominator, oh yeah, I keep forgetting. So true.

                                                    2. Look at the bright side. While all the other passengers on the S.S. Milquetoast are happily noshing away at the tourist sites, you will be off the beaten path and eating with the locals. Whether it's a little place next to the Plaza de Toro in some Spanish city eating bull testicles or a mom and pop shop in a back alleyway in Tokyo that serves turtle blood infused sake, you will have an experience that no buffet lizard can match.
                                                      In my travels around the world, I've found that folks are genuinely happy to have others from America sit and eat the local fare. It's usually cheaper also.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: bkhuna

                                                        That's what seems so sad about it to me - that people seem so excited when a foreigner tries something or shares their food. I'm may be bad at connecting with people in other ways, but at least we can share food!

                                                        Yesterday I stopped at a travel agency to get a ticket, which took a lot longer than it should have. As the travel agent's lunch had just been brought in a tiffin from her home nearby, she invited me to share her lunch, which was so kind, and I really enjoyed it. I'm still alive 30 hours later, and happy to have had some Khmer home cooking. I wonder how many people would have said no, or made up some excuse about why they couldn't. My life is a constant series of reminders that I am not like other people!

                                                      2. It's not just Americans eating pizza and hamburgers. My husband has had occasion to escort groups of Iraqis for weeks on end around the U.S., and, invariably, their preference is for Lebanese and Turkish food. And, usually, this has nothing to do with following halal rules.

                                                        1. I have eaten all over the world, eaten only what the locals eat, and I'm happy to have the memories I do.
                                                          But I'm confused why you're thinking those who choose not to do it the way I do, for whatever personal reasons they have, are 'ruining it for the rest of us'??
                                                          It doesn't make any sense.
                                                          BTW Americans are not the only ones guilty of what you're stating...
                                                          Not by a long shot.

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: latindancer

                                                            I've had friends from Turkey- who would only eat Middle Eastern food...with the only exceptions being Greek (hmmmm wonder why? :} ) and pizza.
                                                            I had a friend whose parents were from China....who only ate chinese food.
                                                            While there are people that fit the stereotype of the boorish, unadventurous american, let's not forget that a good chunk of the world OUTSIDE of America is prone to ethnocentrism from time to time.
                                                            I also want to add that personally I prefer the local cuisine to an american breakfast any day- but I do like options. That's why my favorite hotels abroad have had huge buffets- often with american/european continental options and those with a local flavor. Also, though I wish I could try street food wherever I am, I've had enough experiences of getting sick in foreign countries where it just simply is not worth it to me. I'll take a crappy white bread roll over another egyptian mummy tummy any day!

                                                            1. re: latindancer

                                                              There seems to be a widespread impression that white people prefer to eat only bland food and bread.

                                                              Stereotypes are usually based on something, even if it is only a limited experience that is (wrongly) extrapolated.

                                                              Therefore, people who eat only toast, french fries, pizza and burgers no matter where in the world are helping to perpetuate the stereotype of bland white food for bland white people.

                                                            2. I think you are being too judgmental based on what you see in the business hotels, or the hotel breakfast. I do not like to eat large breakfasts and I will typically eat whatever they serve at the hotel for breakfast. I'm also on a limited budget and would rather spend my money on lunch or dinner. When traveling in more expensive areas, meal costs can really add up.

                                                              I think you may be lucky that you don't get sick that often, because I know many people who have a fairly regular diet and vacationing can really throw them off and make them ill. It may not even be just street food, but a change generally. More adventurous eaters are probably less likely to have this issue.

                                                              3 Replies
                                                              1. re: queencru

                                                                No business hotels here.

                                                                I suppose I am lucky. I got some wacky fever for a few days and didn't want to eat, but nothing I would blame my food for.

                                                                You might think its funny that my last job was for a hotel (luxury resort) in an exotic location (Bhutan). I should know how unadventurous people are, especially when it comes to breakfast. Most people ate toast and eggs, maybe their croissant but not the rest of the pastry basket (scones, muffins). But we would still offer local dishes, so maybe i am biased by this ideal of what a hotel should ideally offer. Now, I can't afford to stay in the sort of places I was working, but I still hope for a certain amount of generosity in the hospitality. It is strange how some people get sick while others don't. We would have 50 guests and one guy would claim food poisoning - why only him and not the other 49? People didn't eat exactly the same thing, but it would be unlikely for only 1 guest to get sick if there was really something going wrong in the kitchen. People naturally tend to blame food when they are vomiting, which makes intuitive sense, but there may be other sources of illness, or maybe like you say some people just don't travel well. That must suck.

                                                                1. re: babette feasts

                                                                  Because the one guy got the plate that had not been fully dried, or something similar--one bad ice cube can ruin a really good vacation.

                                                                  I do think it's true that some people are just more sensitive than others. I have friends who can eat Mexican food, but Thai food sends them running to the bathroom. I get sick for the first day or two almost everywhere I go, unless I have been there several times and built up an immunity. And even in my host country, where I have lived for two years, I get upset stomachs and worse significantly more often than I did in the states. It doesn't stop me from trying things, but it does make me more cautious about where I get my food.

                                                                2. re: queencru

                                                                  The change in diet may be the most important thing.
                                                                  I did international tours for years with foreign visitors to the US. They often got sick here. Not that the food was bad or unsanitary, just that it was a change from their regular diet.

                                                                  A lot of Americans get thrown off when they travel in the US because they're not eating the same things that they eat at home. Restaurant food is richer, more fat, often fewer vegetables and less fruit unless you put effort into it. You're more likely to try more unusual foods more often than you'd eat at home.

                                                                3. I agree with the fact that a huge number of people prefer to stick to what they know whilst travelling and I think this is because they don't attach any significance to food which, obviously, is anathema to all of us here! My main interest when going anywhere is what foods I'll be able to eat; the more unknown or different, the better. But for a lot of people, travelling is about sightseeing and being shown around the main attractions, not immersing themselves in local culture. Hotel food reflect this trend as they would rather serve something the majority would normally eat at home than risk losing custom by taking risks with local cuisine.

                                                                  It drives me nuts too and that's why I avoid touristy places like the plague. I don't like chain hotels and if I am forced to stay in one, I wouldn't have any food there. But I don't agree it's 'whities' who have this problem (and I dislike this term as it seems racist to me). In my opinion, being unadventurous is an equal opportunities trait: it affects all shapes, sizes and races.

                                                                  1. I was in Singapore and Malaysia for 3 weeks last Christmas and met a nice M/F couple from Australia at one of our hotel's pools. I found it interesting that Aussies seemed to have "foreign travel" experiences so different from those of North Americans- for them, Bali or Thailand was not that long of an excursion, and these folks had been all over the Pacific and SE Asia.

                                                                    This trip to Singapore was, they said, something like their 20th abroad and on this trip was the first time- the FIRST TIME- that they'd gone out to dinner outside their hotel. My mind was reeling thinking of the foodie opportunities they'd missed. I rattled off some hawker centres that they'd better partake of and they were cool about it. It seemed as if it had never occurred to them that there was anything to see beyond the walls of their resorts.

                                                                    1. I like adventurous food when I travel. But I appreciate the continental breakfast too. For some reason my stomach can just sense when I have gone over 240 miles from home and goes into shock and panic mode. And I know this is odd, but after growing up on a beef farm when I am sick for a few days I often crave a hamburger. There are always a couple days when I am so sick that normal breakfast or something touristy but safe like a sandwich, spaghetti bolognese, pizza and burgers (which fyi lots of other cultures love too) sounds just wonderful to me. I don't have to worry is it spicy, will my stomach dislike it, etc etc, and toast with butter or cereal does wonder for freaking out stomachs.

                                                                      I also have to say that after traveling across Europe eating local fair for weeks, I was delighted when my traveling companion asked if we could go to Hard Rock Cafe for dinner and I got chicken fajitas. After a long time traveling sometimes you want something comforting, something you are used to. It is part of being human, loving what you are accustomed to- it is all part of our socialization.

                                                                      So yes I also love to eat all sorts of local food and be adventurous, but every place has its purpose or it wouldn't be in business, let's cut one another some slack. We all have our reasons. In Barcelona I may eat at Pinotoxos, Commerc 24 and Hard Rock Cafe, if that means I have ruined the world for you- sorry.

                                                                      Funny enough the soil and water conservation sent my Dad on a trip to China to see the dam project and do some consulting, then he got a paid "trip" to some other places in China. My Dad doesn't like Chinese food that much, he grew up in WV during the depression he didn't eat real adventurous he didn't have the opportunity, but he wanted to see the sites. Never was that man so happy as to see Pizza Hut in Beijing. But he enjoyed seeing different things, and enjoyed the work project. They maybe should have found him a few places with continental breakfast- he loves that, he needs his normal routine breakfast daily. I don't think he is a bad person for not liking a lot of the Chinese food he ate. I know when he comes to visit me it's not the time for Thai food either, but it doesn't mean he doesn't appreciate food. If I take him to a nice French restaurant or steak house he can appreciate the difference and the higher level quality of foods he just has some he likes, some he doesn't... oh well continental breakfast for two.

                                                                      Also McDonald's has really reliable wi-fi so sometimes I go in and grab a drink or something so I can use the wi-fi. Don't hate because I want a snack or drink while I upload pictures for my friends. And I always find it interesting to see what unusual things they have there while I am on the wi-fi.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: ktmoomau

                                                                        I agree with a lot of the comments about how when traveling there are just times when you want something like home or something that you're convinced won't upset your stomach. I recently went traveling through the Balkans, and had amazing local food. And then on a 9 hour bus ride from Sarajevo to Belgrade I had the most agonizing stomach distress that I wouldn't wish upon anyone.

                                                                        My thing is that when I'm traveling, I either want to eat local or I want something as straight forward and generic and reliable as McDonald's. If I'm going to eat "American" food, I want to be sure exactly what it's going to do to my stomach.

                                                                      2. I understand wanting, sometimes needing, food that is comfortable and generic. There are times when your stomach and your palate just want a break. However, I see traveling as a unique and limited opportunity to soak in as much of the local culture and cuisine as I possibly can. I know I can get a little militant about it. I just feel that non-local food should be the exception, not the norm.

                                                                        4 Replies
                                                                        1. re: smrits

                                                                          But there are people who enjoy traveling without eating. They aren't well represented here, why would they be, but I don't think we should discourage people to travel just because they don't like eating different food. Yes food is culture, but there are tons of people who soak up other parts of the culture that foodies may overlook- the religion, the architecture, the people, the literature, the language. So ok you need to try to convey to places that you eat that you want an authentic experience- won't that help you personally gain more insight than insisting someone who is perfectly happy eating bland mediocre food beg someone to make bland mediocre food? I mean you HAVE chow to find the real deal places. Let them have theirs... I realize that is a limited viewpoint shared on a food sight people obsessed with food think food means everything- understandable. But as you can tell by the membership here not everyone feels that way. I can understand that there are people who arent as obsessed with food as me. Thank goodness or maybe there wouldn't be people so obsessed with architecture, literature, politics, religion and so many other great things photography, chess, dominos what have you. So your job is a little harder, but that's why you have places like this... So yes you feel militant- but you don't want some militant photography yelling at every picture you take because you want to take a picture of a church when the lighting isn't good- I am just saying I wouldn't want everybody to be obsessed with food think of all the other passions the time we spend on this passion would consume and how much we would lose.

                                                                          1. re: ktmoomau

                                                                            This is an excellent point. I lived in Ireland for a year, and while there are definitely some aspects of the local food I really like - in general, if I never eat "Irish" food again - that'd be ok. Despite that, I really loved living in Ireland and would have no problem living (and eating) there again. Between new ethnic foods, fresh produce to buy, and the occasional Guinness stew - I can eat very happily in Ireland. I'm just never going to be first in line at any "Irish" restaurant.

                                                                            1. re: ktmoomau

                                                                              Live and let live is a lesson that I'm slowly learning. I've generally traveled with people who were as enthusiastic about food as I am. My memories of culinary adventures are closely tied to the people I shared them with while traveling. I was genuinely taken by surprise when I traveled with people for whom trying new foods was a fairly low priority (not that this stopped me from trying to foist my ideas on them anyway). I hope I've learned to back off and accept that the company of traveling companions is more important to me than constantly surprising my tastebuds. That doesn't mean I'm not going to suggest the amazing restaurant I've heard so much about. It does mean that I bite my tongue when my friends decide that they want to go to McDonald's.

                                                                            2. re: smrits

                                                                              A lot of people are more severely limited by what their stomachs can handle. For most, traveling with an upset stomach is not really a pleasant experience and I think a lot of people would rather be safe and go with what they know than risk getting ill.

                                                                              I tend to agree with cresyd- after living in Japan for 2 years, I am not about to rush out to an overpriced Japanese restaurant here in the states for mediocre sushi that costs an arm and a leg.