I fear eating in popular tourist cities. I feel I will have a bad meal at an expensive price. I feel they will charge me for things like napkins and table water. Basically, I feel like I will be ripped off. I feel this way in New York, London, Paris, Venice, and wherever horse drawn carriages line up for tourists, like central Vienna.
This fear started on my first visit to Amsterdam. The back streets were lined with touts on the curbs inviting you into their greasy spoon dives for suspicious falafel. How old the falafel was, I do not know. But I ate it anyway. Later, I tried a delicious looking donut from a store window. It’s Barbie-pink frosting called to me, and I answered the call, even though I knew bettter. We were near the red-light district, where stoned tourists prowled for munchies. This should have been a clue that the culinary standards would be weak. I did not know the donut had been in the window since I took off from Houston–or more likely since I booked my trip a month before. Is there such thing as an inedible donut? Indeed, the world has inedible donuts. Go to Amsterdam.
I know that I am spoiled by Houston, Texas–millions of visitors come here, but this is not a tourist town. Nearly every restaurant is good. If it wasn’t, then diners would go somewhere else. There are so many to choose from. Even some of the top new restaurants don’t survive for various reasons. Expensive and average restaurants may make it by preying on tourists in London or New York, but just because you can make it there doesn’t mean you can make it anywhere.
Klara Glowzewska, editor-in-chief of Conde Nast Traveler (the best travel magazine…even if they have never published my work), reminded me how hard it is to find a great meal in a tourist city in her recent editor’s letter. On a Paris vacation, she encountered three days of “mostly unremarkable” meals, including the overpriced and the borderline inedible. If she has trouble, it is no wonder that I do, too. She needed the insider tips of one of her writers to find a great meal in (ironically) a city known for its outstanding cuisine.
I may have no stories of Montezuma’s Revenge, but I am too cheap to tolerate bad meals. It only took a few bad meals to find ways to discover good ones.