One of the problems with long term travel is you start to miss the familiar. It can be a comforting TV show, a radio station, an appliance (read: dryer), but for Mrs. Selfish and I it was more often than not food – American food.
Since we spent a lot of our days in apartments, this wasn’t a huge problem – we even brought along a knife, a cutting board, and a pack of spices just in case. Unfortunately, there were some things we couldn’t make. Whether we lacked the proper equipment, couldn’t track down the right ingredients (Southeast Asia has a shortage of Parmesan), or just couldn’t make it to begin with there were times where we had to track down restaurants to fill that need.
And most of the time, they were horrible.
At the beginning of the trip, we broke down and tried a number of burgers in London. We’d heard that a local place, the Dirty Burger, was pretty good, but their namesake was pretty lackluster and tiny (especially at something like 5 quid a pop!). I should also mention, that once you leave the States, ketchup gets weird – and I’m not talking about the different types of ketchup. I love curry ketchup. No it’s something about the amount of sugar to vinegar – as soon as you leave the States ketchup gets super sweet for some reason.
5 quid for a lackluster burger that fits in the palm of your hand! Pass.
Surprisingly (or perhaps not), the best burger we had in London was from McDonald’s in the form of “The M” a burger on artisanal bread with bacon and some kind of special sauce.
We passed by this McDonald’s everyday on the way to the gym. Not. Cool.
In Oxford, we tried a “California Burrito” at The Mission Mexican Grill. There was a heated debate between Oxford locals and visiting yelpers, but suffice it to say it DID NOT taste like a California Burrito.
Looks great, but utterly flavorless. Sounds English!
Back in London we made the mistake of trying Bodean’s barbeque after reading raves (again) on yelp. While the ribs weren’t bad, the brisket was definitely NOT brisket. It was more like a dried McRib served in a really bland sauce.
Tastes like… disappointment.
After leaving Great Britain, we got wise, eschewing American food altogether for the good part of 4 months. Once we hit Asia, however, the urge to eat Western food quickly returned!
First, we ran into Church’s Chicken (called “Texas Chicken”) in the Singapore airport. Having not had Church’s Chicken since we left Orlando, Mrs. Selfish and I quickly grabbed the Mexicana sandwich before hopping on our flight to Bali.
The Mexicana: So crunchy, so good!
In the Philippines, we ran into Bonchon – an amazing Korean fried-chicken restaraunt we tried first in NYC, then in DC. In fact, we eat it just about every time we go to DC! It was just as good in Manila, but they had a wider selection of chicken parts, surprisingly.
Bonchon: Just as good as home, but available with San Miguel beer!
Nha Trang in Vietnam was particularly surprising. We later found out it caters largely to Western tourists (especially Russians), but we were especially impressed by Far East Café, a bizzaro Welsh take on the Hard Rock café. Although their decorations were questionable, their pasties, fish ‘n chips, and Australian pies were beyond reproach.
How about these guys?
Huge portions, small prices. Their Saigon beers were $.75 each
Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that one can find a decent burger on any given beach in Vietnam, or that the British can’t make decent Texas BBQ. At the end of the day, it depends where your chef or owner come from, and whether there’s a decent immigrant population nearby. Mrs. Selfish and I will continue to travel and sample local cuisine (hoping to try bugs in Cambodia!), but I’m sure there will be more breakdowns in the future.
Overall, however, I think we learned two things: 1) you can’t always trust local yelpers and 2) outside of North America it’s damned impossible to find a good Burrito.