I can remember the first time I heard Cantonese. I was picking up Chinese food on New Years Eve 1990-something with my mother when I heard a lady doing what I thought was yelling at her husband. When I asked my mom what was happening, she said that the woman was speaking Cantonese. I went home and picked up an encyclopedia (Yes, no internet at this point…Sigh…) and did some reading. It was really great to learn about Cantonese, and the next time I went to the restaurant, I asked the lady there if she could teach me how to say hello in Cantonese. It was this early interaction that taught me what I’d like to give to you now as we talk about foreign restaurants.
You can learn a heck of a lot at international restaurants
How to navigate
I shy away from using the word foreign here, but when I say ‘foreign restaurant’ I am implying any restaurant that serves a type of cuisine not native to the area that you are from. When you are at a restaurant that you’d like to use to learn more about the language or culture, first make sure that your are in the right place. The kind of place you want takes pride in the heritage and food of the area. For example, if you are at a Sushi restaurant and it serves many Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai dishes, the people who run the restaurant could be from any one of these places, if any. The place you’d want to use as place of reference, for the most part, serves the type of food from the area that that person is from, or aligns their heritage with. A great place would be a Korean food restaurant which you know to be run by Koreans, or a Mexican food restaurant that you know to be run by Mexicans. Unsure? Check restaurant websites..or if you are brave, ask in honesty. A simple compliment about the food and the question “Are the owners or cooks from _____?” will get the ball rolling if you then state that you are trying to learn more about the cuisine or culture. Most people will want to help those interested. If they don’t, no harm no foul. It’s also important that you assess how busy the restaurant is. If you are asking at 6 PM on a Friday night, you will most likely not get the same response as you would mid-afternoon on a Wednesday. Be aware to not be bothersome.
Globetrotter Travel Tip : Ask and you shall recieve
Let’s say you were able to speak with a person from the restaurant about cuisine or culture. Let’s say you weren’t able to for whatever reason. That doesn’t mean the adventure is over. Let’s do some homework. Choose one interesting thing from the menu to try. If you like it, write it down or take a picture of it. Don’t spoil the fun and search for it on your phone in the restaurant. Instead… go home and learn what you can about the dish. Learn where is it from, do people people cook it often or is it a special dish. The fun part will be to learn how to cook it! Now, you’ll want to choose a dish that seems within your culinary expertise, unless your extremely adventurous. You could also ask the people who work at the restaurant where the best place to look for items to make this dish may be. You may learn of a little market or grocery shop that you didn’t know existed! Oh the places you shall go… Tell us about it in the comments!