Hasta la bistro

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Caroline Hurry
Caroline Hurry

Tucking into local cuisine around Europe and South America in the past few years, has shown me how much travel can broaden the behind.

Or perhaps the chairs have shrunk. As they do. For those like myself who find some foreign menus harder to follow than a Gauteng taxi evading the Metro cops, you’d better get used to adventure ordering, as Google Translate can be unreliable.

For example, while dining with my husband at Mělník’s Restaurace U SV.Va’clava, the menu offered ‘Angus Aberdeen meat with a greasy eye’ and ‘steak tartar with six pieces of toast’. I fancied the tartare but without the gluten. Using Google Translate, I typed: ‘steak tartar with no toast please’ showing the waitress the Czech interpretation. Baffled, she squinted at my phone and asked: ‘Please? No cheers with your tooth decay?’

The Restaurace U SV.Va’clava in Melnik

Just stick to the menu, hissed my husband. ‘I’ll eat the toast’.

Fine! Just the Czech, then!

At Santiago’s Baco Vino y Bistro, (French cuisine) I took a chance on the Ancas de Rana al Ajillo and frog’s legs in garlic were placed before me, when I was expecting asparagus. Go figure.

When it comes to ordering in Spanish just stick to what you know. Gazpacho (cold tomato soup) is a safe bet along with ensalada verde (green salad), which can be boring unless you add the word “palta” (avocado) to it. Carnivores might like to write out the phrase  “Me gusta el bistec muy rara, por favor” (I’d like my steak rare, please) to show waiters as here, too, Google Translate produced mixed results.

Two useful tips when it come to eating at Spanish restaurants:

  • Learn four words – fish (pescados), seafood (mariscos), meat (carne) and  vegetables (verdures) – so you have an idea of what to expect, but if nothing on the menu looks familiar, then order last, the better to let your compadres look foolish before you do.
  • If they insist you go ahead, resort to a little cunning. Do not grip the menu or frown at the gibberish before you. Do not mouth the strange words or try to pronounce them out loud. Rather point at a dish and when the waiter leans over and pronounces it for you, nod sagely and say: Si! Perfecto! Muchos Gracias!  

Easy as paella! Permit yourself a smug smile.