Column: Inter(new)tional eats — Picky eating in a foreign country


Photo credit: Amy Wernick

My sister Maya Wernick (left) and I in the Italian countryside. Italy is perfect for picky-eating; all the plain pasta you can get!

Traveling, especially to where a different language is spoken, is tricky. Adventuring to different parts of the world always forces me to step out of my comfort zone — literally and mentally.

For example, last winter break, my family went on a trip to Italy. We explored multiple cities and had an amazing time. I was prepared with my own personal bag of snacks that I knew I was going to crave during the trip, but I also wanted to branch out. In the beginning, however, I have to admit it was a little tough to find what I wanted in restaurants. Even though I study Spanish, a romance language similar to Italian, I froze any time a waiter came up to the table. I was nervous that I was going to embarrass myself and mess up the pronunciation, or that I was going to, quite honestly, offend someone. I was also nervous that, even after I ordered, me and my picky taste buds would not enjoy the selected food. Through that fantastic trip, I learned a couple of very important things: not to be self-conscious and just enjoy being in a new, unique place.

For our first dinner in Italy, my family was incredibly hungry; we had not eaten since the airport! We found a restaurant after a lot of argumentative Yelp-ing, and finally got seated. I opened the menu not really thinking, expecting to see my familiar options, like plain pasta or pizza in English. When the menu was only in Italian, I panicked, which only worsened when the waiter walked up to our table. After us just asking for water (we first tried to speak in Spanish, which worked for ordering drinks), he started quickly telling us the specials of the day. At that first restaurant, I really tried to pay attention to every word that the waiter was saying. I quickly learned that there was just no way that I was going to catch every item that the waiter was talking about, so I just tried to get the gist.

After finding the pasta section, what I thought was a safe bet at any place, I figured out a way to order that works in every restaurant, guaranteed. 

When I found something in the menu that looked appetizing (and not too crazy for my taste), I would show the waiter the menu, and while I was butchering the pronunciation, I would point to the item. I felt like this was a way to ensure that I was not pronouncing a different dish, and also to clearly display to the waiter what I wanted. It is obviously a better choice than translating myself, then saying the dish in English. When I pointed in addition to saying the name of the dish, I found that I had a better chance of getting the food that I wanted.  

Since I have started traveling with my family, it has been a major struggle to find something that I like when my family enjoys all of their meals abroad. It is a pretty known fact that the Wernick family “travels on their stomachs,” or travels according to where there are good places to eat. In the past, that has meant me just ordering plain pasta with sauce on the side everywhere we go. But, as I branch out and try more food, I have started to be part of the process of choosing the restaurants.

So, to all of my picky eaters — my main advice for your future trips abroad is to branch out (and maybe point to those menus)!