Frequent traveller: Dish of the dayBack to Forum
Anonymous17 Nov 2008
In which our correspondent gets to the meat of the matter and thanks his lucky stars that he wasn’t born a vegetarian.
I’m not particularly picky when it comes to food – I’ve eaten bear in Bucharest and the worst wurst of my life in Frankfurt airport – and it’s a good thing in my line of work. Business travellers who try to stick to any sort of diet have a pretty thin time of it, in my experience.
You don’t have to venture far from home to find your dietary preferences are frowned upon – no further than across the Channel, in fact. Watching vegetarian colleagues succumb to starvation has long been a chief attraction of prolonged business trips, as is helpfully suggesting interpretations of incomprehensible or untranslated foreign menus, then waiting to see which part of a cow’s carcass will appear from the kitchen.
To chefs both experienced and inexperienced, the non-medically dictated decision to exclude both flavour and sustenance from a meal will always remain strange. That’s why even the vegetable side dishes are cooked with meat stock. Vegetables that old just don’t taste good without it.
In the great cities of the world there are choices of course, though even here you’ll find yourself eating wild mushroom risotto so often you suspect they must be factory-farmed to keep up with the demand. And this acceptance of your diet, whether it is food faddism or an honestly held moral conviction, can lull you into a false sense of security.
Los Angeles will tolerate you. But drive 30 miles inland, and you’d better have packed some sandwiches. I once drove from LA to Las Vegas without finding anywhere decent to eat on the way. A fellow traveller swears that when she asked in a Texas restaurant if they had any veggie options, she was told: “Yes – steak.” Enquiries about where the nearest vegetarian restaurant was located met with the reply: “Maybe the next state.”
It’s not just strict salad addicts who have problems. I was in a restaurant in Kazan with a Muslim client a few years ago and he ordered a dish which we were assured was chicken. When it arrived, smothered as usual in a thick grey layer of sauce, we were pretty sure it was pork. The waitress insisted it was chicken, but eventually agreed to make enquiries in the kitchen. After 15 minutes she came back and agreed that it was indeed pork, but “the chef’s new, he didn’t know the difference”.
(This level of complete ignorance can affect omnivores, of course. Somewhere in the Russian provinces I once ordered “chicken soup with egg” and got a boiled egg in the water it had been cooked in.)
The airlines are just as bad. All the veggie travellers I know are inured to finding that no special meals have been loaded on the plane, or that they have, but are based around chicken.
If you manage to get anything to eat at all, it will be cheese and biscuits, but one reputable European airline (which shall remain nameless – well, this was a while ago) had a more innovative solution. My colleague had ordered a veggie meal and got a plate of meat and potatoes. When he pointed this out, the stewardess briskly scooped the meat off his plate into her bin and handed him back the potatoes with the barked words: “Now vegetarian.” He didn’t argue.
So what can you do? Not much. Use it as an opportunity to lose weight. Airline food is not so much a joke as an insult. Hotel restaurant food is dire and over-priced, with room service identical but with another 15 per cent added and served cold.
Unless you have a local contact who not only can recommend a good restaurant, but is prepared to dine with you and order from the menu for you, my advice is don’t bother. If you want to socialise, go to a bar. They stock international brands we all recognise, and if you want to try something local, have a draught beer.17 Nov 2008
Very funny, Anonymous; do you write for a living?
I have had at least two challenging culinary experiences in Spain, a short distance from the beaten track. One was in a working class caff in Barcelona, where I ordered what I thought was pork of some description. Well, in the strictest sense it was pork: a pig’s trotter swimming in a paddling pool of grease alongside a pile of chips. I did attempt, unsuccessfully, to find some meat on the trotter, but all was fat, skin and bone. I managed to salvage a few chips from the top of the greasy pile – but it wasn’t a peak experience.
Another episode (in a locals’ restaurant in Granada) is reminiscent of your chicken soup with egg story. A delicious local speciality turned out to be a huge bowl of greasy hot water, in which floated many whole cloves of garlic and a poached egg.20 Nov 2008