The Good was easy to write about and I suspect The Ugly will as well… But The Bad, for me and for the purpose of this recapitulation, is the in-between: I should call it The Mediocre or The Letdown!
I think at the top of this food chain of the bad is the tourist trap. I have travelled a fair bit in my life but not all over the world: mainly Europe, Canada, the Caribbean and the eastern half of the United States. There are restaurants surrounding major attractions in every city that will always be overly expensive for what they offer, and some are downright nasty. In my hometown of Ottawa for instance, the spectacular restaurants are not necessarily plentiful (although the numbers are increasing drastically) but I can say that even in the core of the tourist zones, most eateries are decent and priced fairly. I say most: Ottawa is not void of nasty, over priced restaurants, but I doubt a tourist would feel jipped simply because he is transient. If you read this and have never been to Ottawa but plan on visiting one day, simply remember that the average restaurant (excluding large chains and fast food giants) will offer you a decent meal, even in the center of the Byward Market. As a matter of fact, the Byward Market boasts some of the best restaurants in the city. Just bare in mind that any place with the word “Pub” in it will be mediocre and not the best choice for culinary discoveries. Now that I have pitched my hometown as a decent tourist destination, what about “The Bad” here in Southern France and Barcelona?
1. The Tourist Trap: with the unbelievable number of restaurants surrounding any visitor hot spot of any European town/city, the Tourist Trap is more prevalent here than anywhere in North America. And the sad part is that you will not know until you sit down and eat the food! Barcelona was a prime example of this hit and miss game. For starters, the entire center of Barcelona, which stretches over many kilometers, is “Full Tourist” zone! So it is hard to escape at all. To find an eatery frequented mostly by locals is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. The hotel staff had recommended the beach area near Port Vell as a great place to eat. But of course, we fell on “The Bad One”! Without access to WIFI, we went in blind and walked away disappointed. A huge bill for a meal that was subpar… I can’t remember the name but it was right next to the Surf House Restaurant which we should have chosen instead considering the online reviews. Well, lunch was 133.50€ and it sucked. Frozen shrimps served still frigging frozen, tasteless mussels (appy), paella for two with 1 shrimp, 1 mussel, 2 clams and half a mini lobster each (18.70 € per person), tough & fatty steaks served with frozen potato patties (such as those found at McDonalds for breakfast). Yes, we had been “tourist trapped”! But dinner was the complete opposite!!! By then, we were in the heart of La Rambla. Amazing tapas and service at a little spot called Taller de Tapas. For four, including wine, beer and bottled water, our bill was 101.50€. Tip: ask the hotel for specific names of restaurant (which we did for dinner) instead of a general area (lunch). The number one “Bad”, for me, is definitely the tourist trap because a huge part of my traveling experiences revolve around food!
2. The coffee: tastewise, it is fantastic! Everywhere we have been so far, it has been really, really good. But the PRICE of it is insane! Even at the stand-up bars and counters!!! Obviously we, North Americans, are spoiled with the cost of a cup of coffee when out and about. Fine, we are often served horrid coffee by the bucket full but we also have plenty yummy coffee houses that offer a really decent product, at a decent price! I will never complain again at the price of a latté in my city! Promise 🙂 !!!
3. Same old, same old: it seems difficult to find restaurants that offer something unique… Pizza, sandwiches, Steak-Frites, Moules-Frites, burgers (yes burgers), croque-monsieur and crêpes/waffles is all there is it seems! Don’t take me wrong, I LOVE European pizzas and sandwiches but would have liked a bit more variety… We have not been disappointed with any sandwich we have eaten, I just wish we could have seen more original stuff however, the sandwiches are by far the most affordable easy to grab foods available. And if you are lucky, you will find a counter that offers unusual combinations of ingredients slapped between amazing breads!
4. Vegetables anyone??? Where on earth is the produce? Obviously not in restaurants… Although we have had some decent salads here and there, for the most part, vegetables for the sake of eating vegetables as a course are M.I.A.! Many, many places offer shredded iceberg (I know, how weird is that) with a few sprinklings of carrots and tomatoes. I was hoping to dig into ratatouille, peppers of all kinds, fresh tomatoes & cucumbers, huge buttery lettuces. My vegetable consumption has beeb reduced to a handful of iceberg and a few chunks of tomatoes…
5. The invasion of the processed foods: large North American style grocery stores abound now in France. Frozen pizzas, pastas, waffles and easy meals seem to be taking over the working families’ dinner table… The dinner convenience that is putting North Americans at the top if the obesity epidemic seems to have crossed the pond. The consumption if sugar also seems to be on the rise: thank goodness high fructose corn syrup is not accepted as a food additive! It is hard to predict the long term effect this will have on the younger generations here in France. Currently, the French population is still quite svelte! But the highly processed foods are a fairly new phenomena; twenty years ago, the typical household would cook from scratch nearly everyday. And I remember a not so distant past where the French would snub anything that came out of a box!!!
While it upsets me to get caught in a tourist trap, it is par for the course while traveling abroad 🙂 . But I am saddened by the increasing availability of mediocre foods in supermarket. France has always been the mecca of culinary integrity. Is France, the cradle of gastronomy, becoming an endangered species? Will the new generations have lost the art of cooking? I sure hope not because when you dig into good here, you dig into the very best!!!