Paris: the Tourist’s Dilemma

Local food in Saigon

local food?

We love travelling. T. and I have seen most of Europe, most of both Americas, some Africa, a lot of Asia (not necessarily all of this together). The only continent we haven’t been to is Australia, although T. was close. We are not the most adventurous types (sometimes we backpack, sometimes we are in boutique hotels, but never alone in a tent in the middle of the jungle – thinking about it, we once slept in a hammock, without a tent, in the middle of a jungle, but not alone) but we try to avoid, whenever possible, and especially when we want to eat, other tourists.

The tourists’ fear of other tourists. This is a topic you could discuss endlessly. It depends a lot on what kind of tourist you are, what you are travelling for. If it is cultural/architectural highlights, there is almost no way not meeting others. If it is for nature that you are travelling, it depends if you are keen on sun/sand/sea (in which case you can discover your next door neighbor from back at home on the deck chair next to you) or forests, mountains etc. I hear you can travel around beautiful Island for a week and not meet one tourist (and not a lot more natives either).

Some people have no such fear, just the opposite, they go somewhere only if they can be sure that the people, the buildings, the language, the customs and the food are going to be the same as back at home. Like the German in the sixties who went to the Adria coast of Italy to eat Frankfurter sausages, the Russian who go to the south coast of Turkey to stay for two weeks in a hotel which is built as a miniature Kremlin, or the Turkish man whom I once met in Ankara who told me his country (which is my country of origin) is the most beautiful in the world. He hadn’t been abroad once.

We travel for food. And we believe in avoiding the tourists, if only in this context. We are so happy to be sitting between a hundred singing and beer drinking, shunkling* Germans if we are in a beer garden in Munich. But in any trattoria in Italy I want my wine drinking, forever food discussing and TV watching Italians (except in a pizzeria, there they drink beer!) around me; in a tapas bar in San Sebastian I want the loud Spaniard all talking at the same time and dropping their napkins and toothpicks and whatnot on the ground; in a Peruvian food stand in a street market I want the mate-chewing, toothless lady drop the just purchased baby pig with the slit-open belly on the stool next to me; on an island in the Mekong delta I want my husband to be the only one who gets to drink a glass of fresh snake blood with a slap on the shoulder and a “make you strong”.

And in Paris I want to be among Parisians who do whatever they do when they are in a restaurant. Talk French and eat I guess, but eat food which I believe to be authentic. Believe it easier than when I sit in a restaurant, recommended by a trusted blogger, surrounded by some 60 American ex-pats (they didn’t talk and look like they were 4-day trip tourists) and only two lost-looking french dinner guests. T. and I sat there, totally bewildered, too late to escape, and tried two french dishes all the time asking us (for lack of knowledge and comparison alternatives) if this was authentic or already Americanized. And most bewilderingly, we noticed that we were asking ourselves if the food tasted good, if we liked it. It was enormous to what great extent the circumstances were affecting our taste buds. We decided that the food was ok, not bad but not great, nothing to recommend, and continued our discussion for a long time: Does the food taste better if you are positive that it is authentic? Are we not food- but rather atmosphere-junkies?

The next day, in another restaurant, on the neighbor table I saw one of the dishes we had the night before: The meat looked more tender, the sauce thicker, darker, more velvety, a lot tastier. A Frenchman was eating it.

* shunkle: from the German “schunkeln”, to move down or over to make room. Combination of “shove”, “shuffle” and “hunker”, as in “I can’t fit on the bench, shunkle over”.

This is part four in a four-part series.
read part one – Paris: the Pilgrimage
read part two – Paris: the Food
read part three –
Paris: the Highlight


5 Responses

  1. […] This is part one in a four-part series. read part two – Paris: the Food read part three – Paris: the Highlight read part four – Paris: the Tourist’s Dilemma […]

  2. […] This is part two in a four-part series. read part one – Paris: the Pilgrimage read part three – Paris: the Highlight read part four – Paris: the Tourist’s Dilemma […]

  3. […] This is part three in a four-part series. read part one – Paris: the Pilgrimage read part two – Paris: the Food read part four – Paris: the Tourist’s Dilemma […]

  4. no, you’re not alone in this… i love to feel as if i fit in when i travel (although that’s a little difficult here as i’m very obviously asian) but i’m lucky that in some cities, i do have friends who live there and would bring me to the local places, and that’s always the best memories i’ll have from my trip…

    this trip to paris i was invited to brunch by friends of my friend, and that was a really enjoyable event… the food was simple yet delicious, and the atmosphere, of friends catching up and laughing and talking at ease, and they included me too without any reservation… this was the kind of simple pleasure that i always seek… :)

  5. Lil,
    you are right. It is always best if you know (or get to know!) someone in the place you are visiting and have a contact with the real life. We have such fond memories of being invited to “due spaghetti” (literally: two spaghetti, actually: a six course menu!) by our neighbors in Italy….

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