The Challenge of Eating Abroad

(Photo above: Montmarte – credit: Wikimedia Commons, author Paris 16)

Eating abroad is tricky business.

Delicious, on occasion. An experience, almost always – even in a McDonald’s, there’s something sorta exotic or exciting about eating a greasy plastic Junior Chicken in Bangkok or Vienna or, fuck it, Wisconsin.

But there’s so much expectation, such high standards, every time you’re looking for a restaurant in Europe. You want something ‘authentic’ and tasty. You want something cheap. You want something on one of those charming, old, cobblestone streets. You want something popular – only with locals, not with tourists, even though you yourself are a tourist. You want something renowned, but you want something empty enough.

Basically, you want something that doesn’t exist. But you’ll always think it does – because, maybe, it’s just around the corner? Let’s just walk up to the next block and see if there’s anything else…

And you watch movies.

Nowhere is this more of a problem, more of an attraction, and more of a magical reality than Paris.

See also: ‘Paris, France: La Vie en Rose‘ VIDEO by Kolby Solinsky (September 22, 2013)

And I’m not going to pretend I have any real tips for you. I’ve been to Paris twice, and I loved it, but I feel into the same trap both times – the same trap everyone falls into there, where they spend all their half-week in one of the greatest cities in the world walking from postcard to postcard, from waiting in line to waiting in line, from eating when hungry to sleep-walking through legitimate jet lag. I’ve been to the Louvre twice, the Eiffel Tower repeatedly, Sacre Coeur twice, and on that smelly, sweaty Metro from all points between A and Q.

And I had great meals, but I didn’t eat anywhere heroic. I just picked the cheapest nice place in whatever neighbourhood I was in and tried to avoid the copy-and-pasted alleys in the Latin Quarter.

See also: ‘Kolby Did Paris: The Sights and the Sounds of the Seine‘ by Kolby Solinsky (August 24, 2013)

Restaurants are hard to find, even if you research them. You may have to make a reservation, and you may not even like the food you’re forcing yourself to be into. ‘Cause hey, we’re not all gonna be into French food and we’re not all gonna like snails or rabbit, even mustard.

Pizza’s the only universal food. Nobody hates pizza. And they make it everywhere, so you don’t need anyone’s help finding it.

Paris’s dining scene is a mash of “dignified temples of haute cuisine, new bistros guaranteed to stand the test of time, (and) out-of-the-way boîtes where you’re unlikely to lay eyes on another tourist,” writes Conde Nast Traveler.

“You can still get a lot of the good old stuff, it’s just a lot of the bullshit seems to have gone the way of the wooly mammoth,” said Anthony Bourdain (via Eater), in his last on-TV trip to Paris while shooting The Layover, remarking on the changing landscape of the city’s dining culture – from old and stuffy and marble columned, to hip and fresh and posing (sometimes).

“The food scene is Paris today in some ways feels way more like Brooklyn: independent and surprisingly casual.”

You see, it’s those sentences that get you all overwhelmed when you get there!

That Bourdain line above is intended to wipe the cobwebs left. It’s intended to say, No, don’t worry. Paris isn’t this untouchable, impermeable rich person’s food scene. Anybody can enjoy it, and there are delicious – NEW – restaurants everywhere!

The white whale still exists. It’s just younger now.

So, you know what? Screw the restaurant.

Go to a bar instead. Maybe something with a little, red door.

VIDEO: Paris Restaurant Review – L’Avant Comptoir, by Marianna Hewitt

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