Problems with Tourist Menus

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Problem with Tourist Menus

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Stay away from restaurants that have menus in five languages. That’s always a tourist trap. You want to eat where the locals eat ~ Curtis Stone

This is one good rule to live by. You know what I’m talking about, the restaurants with those big shiny, garishly multicolored laminated tourist menus with column after column translating their over zealous menu in five, six, maybe even 10 different languages. These restaurants are everywhere tourists want to be. We’ve all seen them, maybe even been to one or two of them somewhere. In fact, it’s often inevitable. Sometimes that’s the only option, kind of like choosing a president in the USA, you have to find the one that sucks the least.

Having been to a few of these places out of necessity we have come up with a general theorem that still holds true after decades of travel. A restaurant’s quality level is in direct proportion to the number of languages found on the menu. The more languages the lower the quality. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but even though that 10 language menu turns out to be decent doesn’t mean it is high quality. We’ve never found one of those polyglot eateries to be holding a Michelin star, or even a mention in the Michelin Guide.

We have found some other exceptions and special cases. Some restaurants will have a separate menu card translating their offerings in different languages. These places are all over the map, so to speak, often times they are good high quality restaurants, but other times they are just as bad as if they had gone the multi-language laminated tourist menus route. Another special case is the restaurant with no menu. In almost every case with these restaurants the food and the experience has been phenomenal. However, a word of caution must be given for getting whatever the chef wants to give you. In some countries, insects are considered a delicacy. That’s all I’m saying ’bout that. (BTW, we’ve had a few bugs, intentionally, and they’ve always been delicious).

Of course, there’s also something to be said about the number of items on the menu, regardless of how many languages you’ll find. Most restaurant goers know that a menu should be fairly small, with the focus being on delivering perfectly prepared food on every plate. So you might want to keep that bit of math in your selection equation, as well (The Michelin Guide certainly does).

The next time you’re looking for a good spot for lunch or dinner, keep walking right on by those shiny, laminated wall-sized multi-flagged tourist menus; keep a sharp eye out for the one that is letting the food do the translating. And don’t worry about getting served crickets. If you’re in a locale with multi-language menus, then you’ll probably find a waiter or chef with the stand alone menu who is excited to translate and explain their choices.



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  1. I like getting recommendations for restaurants from the locals. Sort of like a concierge but more down to earth. This worked well in places like Morocco, Spain, and China

  2. “A restaurant’s quality level is in direct proportion to the number of languages found on the menu.” – lol! I don’t have quite as much travel experience but I think that’s true. It can be really useful though to have a menu in your own language. A friend who doesn’t eat seafood once ordered pulpo (octopus) in Spain, thinking it was some kind of potato!

  3. I’m sorry but I’ll have to disagree on that, Corinne. While it’s true that restaurants with menus in many languages tend to be more expensive, not all of them are tourist traps. In Romania for instance, in every restaurant we’ve eaten they had menus in at least two languages (and believe me, I know Romania!) Nowadays, almost all restaurants in cities that have tourism will have menus in many languages.

  4. I like the term “polyglot eateries.” This reminds me of the time when I went to a really good Chinese restaurant in Houston for lunch. My parents had been there a number of times and thought the food was authentic. Lo and behold, the waitress handed my then boyfriend, now husband, the single page “White Person” menu. My parents and I were handed the multipage book that was the “Chinese Person” menu. It’s interesting that they were rather presumptuous in tailoring the experience to the customer.

    1. Michele, That’s such a great example of what we are talking about. Often the “tourist” menu is watered down to the items the establishment thinks that we will like. Thanks!

  5. In St. George in Bermuda we went in to the tourist office and asked for a good restaurant where local people eat. They pointed us to a place that had tourist written all over it. Big, with sea view and a big, very pricey menu. But then I saw a guy walking up the street who looked like he probably worked nearby. So i asked him where he usually goes for lunch. He directed us to a hole in the wall (the counter where you order is so small we walked passed it on our way in). we ordered the only thing on the menu — a fried fish sandwich and rice and Beans. But it was all really good and easily 1/2 of what the tourist office’s “local” place would have.

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