Before I attempt to play food critic, it’s important to establish my lack of credentials: I have trouble distinguishing between a croissant and a cupcake. Whenever I go out to eat, I invariably choose one of the cheaper items on the menu; something I recognize and can pronounce. I almost always have water to drink except on the wild occasions when I order a Coke. To say I have simple tastes would be an overstatement.
This does not mean I’m devoid of standards, however. At the far end of Soi 4 where I live, there are at least three establishments I no longer frequent due to poor service or an overt emphasis on the tourist trade (such as shamelessly high prices or seafood displays that take up sidewalk seating). A fourth restaurant (at the Woraburi Hotel) has for some reason concluded that its customers would occasionally appreciate music similar to the pounding, headache-inducing rubbish that infests the bars and go-gos down the street. If I had to eat there on a regular basis, I’d become anorexic.
The Indian eateries, on the other hand, have proven much harder to categorize. I’ve lately become a fan of the cuisine with its delicate blend of spices and flavors, and living in a tourist area means there are numerous choices within walking distance. But the experiences have been uneven, forcing me to devise a checklist to improve my chances of a pleasurable meal. To assist others in sorting out this culinary confusion, I’ll share of few of my insights here.
1. A well-dressed Indian man standing by the door, attempting to usher people inside.
Meaning: Just another run-of-the-mill joint. With the locals having no interest in eating there, they hire a tout to try and lure in gullible tourists.
2. Prominent pictures of various dishes, but no prices.
Meaning: They will charge you an arm and a leg, maybe even your firstborn, for the meal.
3. A fancy, well-designed interior with fake wood panelling and clusters of shelves supporting an extensive collection of wines and liquors.
Meaning: An attempt to create an atmosphere, drawing your gaze to the exotic-looking booze in hopes you’ll begin drinking and subsequently overlook the substandard food and glacially slow service — while paying through the nose for it.
4. The meal is served in miserly portions, though exquisitely arranged.
Meaning: Style over substance. If you are after beauty, go to an art museum. It will be cheaper.
5. Children are galavanting about.
Meaning: Do you like eating your dinner to the patter of little feet scampering past your table? Then you are in for an enchanted evening.
At this point, it can be easy to surrender to despair and opt for the Golden Arches, KFC or some other fast food abomination. But the purpose of visiting (or living in) a foreign country is to have new experiences and the cuisine is always worth exploring. The advice here should help you avoid potential disappointments. Bon Appetit!