One aspect of traveling that most people look forward to is the chance to experience a different culture and enjoy food that they do not get at home. But to experience a different food culture also means being aware of and enjoying the arena in which dining takes place.
Often, a traveler can get an idea of the food that awaits him or her before even stepping foot inside the restaurant door. A theme will have been established which is demonstrated not only in the name of the restaurant, but in the color palette. For example, an Italian restaurant may have an awning that displays the colors of the national flag, while a Mexican restaurant may have their signage written in Inca or Aztec-style text.
Like many Mediterranean people, the Spanish consider dining to be a family affair. Not for them the rushed bite on the way to work; for the Spanish, eating is something to be savored, and mealtimes can last hours.
Tapas, also known as Andalusian cuisine, is a type of food that is becoming increasingly popular, and can include dishes made from cheese, fish, eggs, vegetables and pastry, presented in individual platters or bowls. Often viewed as finger food, a tapas restaurant offers diners the chance to experience several dishes at once rather than just one main meal. Tapas bars often resemble bars rather than restaurants as they are considered social places, and will often have a dedicated area for serving drinks, and a sofa seating area with a television mounted on high.
The Indian food most of us are familiar with is not the authentic food of the country. It has been westernized to make it more palatable to people whose natural inclination is not towards hot and spicy food. Real Indian food contains many flavors – sweet, sour, hot, spicy, subtle and bold – and, moreover, the native restaurants may not be what visitors would expect either. India is developing fast, and Mumbai has some of the most visually striking restaurants around, such as the Blue Frog Lounge, which has low lighting and large, circular sections of mahogany enclosing dining tables and chairs on various levels, so that diners feel private while being in a very public place.
The Truth Café in Cape Town, South Africa, has gone for a more industrial look. Dubbed “the best coffee shop in the world”, it features leather booth-style seating against a backdrop of pipes and beaten metal so that it rather resembles a factory more than an eating and drinking establishment. African cuisine is highly regionalized, with the north favoring spices, sweet pastries and baked foods, and the east and south of the country enjoying a mainly fruit and vegetable-based diet with liberal amounts of fish.
We in the West are very familiar with Italian cuisine, their staples of pizza and pasta, although there is a wide variety across regions. The Italians share the same food philosophy as the Spanish, and have a similar restaurant design culture. Dusty bottles of wines on shelves, preserved food hanging from the rafters or hooks, and a rustic approach to table decoration and food presentation.