As a travel consultant, these are some questions I been asked:
Is there anything to eat there? What can I eat there? Is the food weird?
I don’t answer like this:
If you are that fussy why are you going there?
Instead, I try to be empathetic. Because, in spite of my wide travel experience, I don’t know what they eat in every destination so why should they?
But I know where to find out. That is why clients come to me to get the right information and so I can explain what it means for them. Looking up websites can help but takes time and the information can be very general.
By the way, before I forget, the simplest method to find the answer to these questions can be to go to your hotel’s website and look up their restaurant menus.
At least you will be able to eat at the hotel if you have concerns. And sometimes, hotel eating is safer and easier.
Hotel staff can also make restaurant recommendations. But when choosing restaurants, your own common sense is what you need to use.
Well-travelled people get a good sense of the “right place” to eat. But sometimes you can have bad luck—in any country.
After years of no problems with food (even in “out of the way” destinations), I got a very bad case of food poisoning in the USA at a very nice restaurant. No one else in my party had a problem. We all ate from shared platters but I had the misfortune to get the bad piece of food or wrong fork. I was laid-up in the hotel for 5 days and couldn’t eat anything except toast and broth. I had to take medication – even after I returned home. Well the upside is I lost some weight but I never want to endure that agony again.
Fresh salads and fruit platters can be risky (especially if they have been washed in unclean water). You have to judge this one yourself. If you doubt it, don’t eat it.
Street food is a concern – in most places (including 1st world countries). I once had a client who was well travelled and whom I thought had common sense. She knew what not to do it but did it anyway. She ate from street stalls in China and became so sick that she spent three weeks in the local public hospital on a drip.
If you can’t resist street food, my advice is to buy food that comes straight from the flame grill to you (satay sticks) or go for anything still boiling or deep fried. (Germs get fried in the fryer!) Be careful about the eating implements. Hands might be best.
I’m wary of “hot food” stands where the food sits in warmers. It looks delicious but the wrong temperature can harbour germs.
Dietary issues like “gluten free”, “wheat free”, “vegan” and “low fat” and “low carb” are not usually a problem these days. It has been my experience that most countries have good food knowledge and offer many options. Around the world, you will find many hotels that specialise in vegan-friendly, dairy-free and raw menus.
Vegetarians could have a problem with variety in some “meat eating” countries (North/Central European countries are often complained about.) but it is not difficult in most places to find seafood, vegetable dishes, noodle dishes, pasta, pizza, cheeses, salads and desserts. In many countries, you will find Italian, Middle Eastern and Asian restaurants that offer meat free and gluten-free dishes. (In their regular cuisine.)
Cheese is a staple food in many European countries, so non-meat eaters can enjoy a huge variety of soft and hard cheeses made from cow, goat, sheep’s milk.
Asian restaurants often show you exactly what you are getting through the clever use of “fake” art food displays. This is a great idea if you are unfamiliar with the cuisine.
Organic food fresh from the farm or sea is easy to find in “traditional” destinations. You can see what you are getting and often it is fresher. In Greece, we choose our seafood from the day’s catch and they grilled it on the spot.
In Istanbul, we bought tomatoes and cucumbers at the markets and ate them for lunch with fresh white cheese and corn bread.
In Albania, we ordered grilled lamb at a farm-tavern and were presented with a freshly killed lamb to choose our preferred cuts. Organic and fresh.
Water is different in different places. Even if it is okay for the locals, you might still end up with a stomach upset.
If you are really going off-road, carrying water can be difficult but you can take water purifer tablets with you. The taste is a bit off but it can be safer than the alternative.
I drink water from the tap in places that have good government health regulations (E.G. USA/Japan/Australia/ France) but many people complain about stomach upsets even if the water is okay because the water is different and they might be a bit sensitive.
In developing countries, or “off the beaten track” destinations, don’t take the risk. Don’t drink it unless it comes out of a sealed bottle. I mean factory-sealed, not pre-opened by the waiter. No ice. No drinking from the tap.
And not from the “village well” like one of my clients did when he was invited back to a Pacific village for a feast. He drank from the well and developed typhoid. He was very sick for a long time. He had been warned not to but did it anyway.
Sometimes, the safest thing to drink is alcohol. (Yes, I know what you are thinking, but sometimes that is all that you can find.)
If you are not sure about the water and don’t want to take risks, I recommend that you just stick to bottled water.
Before you travel, I suggest consulting a medical professional known as a travel doctor who can provide vaccinations, water purifiers and medications for travel sickness and gastric infections.