Increasing your chances of pot luck
ONE of the trickier decisions you face when you're on the road in a strange country is where to eat.
In the past I've mainly walked round looking for where the locals hang out and followed their example. It's still a reasonable plan but after a visit to France when taking that approach in Avignon resulted in possibly the worst meal I've ever eaten - I'm sure the locals went to that cafe only to drink - I've been on the look-out for something more.
In Avignon we asked the nice young ladies on reception at our hotel for advice on where to go for dinner and got a couple of fantastic meals as a result. That remains an option, too, but it can be a bit awkward if the hotel has a restaurant, not all hotel staff are so helpful and all too often they aren't locals anyway.
I also went off that approach a bit after an incident in Chile where the locals urged me to go to the Central Fish Market in Santiago, Chile, and try the giant southern barnacle. As a result I had to eat a huge pot of tasteless, sandy rubber.
My latest idea, which evolved during a recent trip to England and Greece where we ate mainly in pubs and tavernas, is to focus as much on the kind of meal as on the eatery.
The roast was not quite awful but it had probably been taken from a packet, was definitely pre-cooked and warmed up, and the meat was short on taste and fairly tough. However, the pork sirloin was excellent.This had its genesis at a pub in the Cathedral City of Wells, where I thought the daily special - usually a good bet - of roast beef with Yorkshire pud and roast potatoes sounded rather nice whereas my wife opted for a pork sirloin with some sort of fancy sauce.
Musing on this I realised that my mistake was to opt for a meal that could be pre-cooked and warmed up in a microwave. In future, it was decided, I would stick to food that pretty much had to be cooked fresh.
Taking that as a guide we thereafter opted for dishes like sausages and mash, fish and chips (in places like Boscastle and Marazion where there was a good chance of the fish being fresh), lamb souvlaki and (in Piraeus and Clovino Beach) grilled sea bass and calamari.
We did also try a few things like moussaka, lasagne and steak and kidney pud (which I adore) likely to be pre-cooked but which shouldn't be ruined by re-heating ... and - with the exception of the first steak and kidney pud in a pub in Oxfordshire - we were right.
So if you want to eat well in a strange town my advice is: look for where the locals eat or ask advice from a local, consider the daily specials and where possible choose dishes that have to be freshly cooked. Happy eating.