Say cheese! How freedom in what we eat can make or break a trip abroad

Written by on 1st March 2011
Category: Business Travel

It’s a scenario that will be familiar to most vegetarians: you and a group of friends hunt for a restaurant, finally decide on one and, when you sit down and glance at the menu, your heart sinks.Your choices are jacket potato with cheese, sandwich with cheese, or a bowl of chips (with optional cheese). You watch everyone sinking their teeth into steaks and burgers as you chew on a cheese sandwich that cost you five pounds and feel like the world’s fussiest eater for wanting something a little more exciting.

For vegetarians, whether they abstain from eating meat for environmental, religious, ethical or dietary reasons, or for anyone else with certain dietary requirements, eating in restaurants can be a minefield, and it’s even worse when you’re away from home and eating out every day. Although London, with its plethora of international and speciality restaurants, provides great variety no matter what your requirements, outside of the UK’s major cities things become more difficult.

Outside of Britain, this is even more of a problem. There are countries where eating as a vegetarian is relatively easy: India, for example, is a vegetarian’s paradise, because a third of its population don’t eat meat and even more abstain on religious occasions. However, in a number of countries across Europe and around the world, from meat-mad Brazil to seafood-crazy Japan, spending a long period of time abroad can be extremely difficult for anyone who doesn’t like their vegetable soup, mushroom tortilla or cheese sandwich with added meat.

It might seem peevish to complain about having food made for you every day, but food can really make the difference between an enjoyable trip and an uncomfortable one. On short leisure trips, having little choice over what we eat can be bearable (although after a week in Brittany eating nothing but pancakes for lunch and dinner, I was ready to throw myself into the Atlantic). However, for business travellers, who spend weeks or even months abroad, eating the same dishes over and over again can be terrible for morale, not to mention bad for their health.

It’s not only vegetarians who have this problem: food allergy suffers, or those who are intolerant to certain foods (such as lactose), will have limited options available, and it can be very difficult to communicate allergies to restaurant and hotel staff for whom English is a second language. Meanwhile, for those who are on a diet, or simply careful about what they eat, it’s difficult to go from being in complete control over their diet to eating food prepared by others for every meal, every day. Families who temporarily relocate will also have difficulties: feeding babies can be very difficult with the limited facilities in a hotel bedroom, while children can be very fussy about what they eat, and are also more prone to allergies. In all of these cases, shopping for groceries, and cooking them at home, allows for far more variety and control.

The sad thing is that those who grimace through restaurant dinners day after day are missing out on one of the delights of living in another country or city. From the shops and delis of Europe to the lively markets of South America or Asia, shopping for food can be one of the most pleasurable experiences you can have when abroad. It can immerse you thoroughly in local culture, whether you’re bartering for vegetables at a market stall, choosing cheeses and olives at a delicatessen or grabbing pastries from a local patisserie.

At SilverDoor we feel that one of the greatest advantages of serviced apartments is the freedom they provide to shop for the food you want and cook it how you want to. The contribution this can make to our comfort when staying away from home should not be underestimated, not just for those of us with special requirements but for anyone who values freedom when it comes to what they eat.