“Tableside with Rick Steves” (DiningOut)

An in-depth interview with travel guru Rick Steves, discussing how food and dining fit into his travels and guidebooks.

Thankfully, some of local culinary history—and the ritual surrounding it—is still preserved in restaurants across Europe. How do you prepare for some of these rituals? Do you often get pegged as “the ignorant American” because you aren’t always aware of them?

My job is not to focus only on the quality of food and its authenticity, but to convey an entire experience. As I mentioned before, eating out in Europe is holistic. If I’m telling a reader or viewer about enjoying souvlaki in Greece, I’m not just detailing cooking techniques or spice profiles. I have to tell them what it is, how to order it, where to eat it, and how it’s prepared so they can identify it and order it without knowing the language. There’s a time-honored ritual to it, and I want my readers not to be confused by it but to enjoy it.

 

Consider something similar here in the States. I love a good old fashioned American diner breakfast. When I go out to enjoy one with friends, I’ll get quizzed on how I want my eggs cooked, if I want toast or a muffin, if I prefer sausage or bacon, and so forth. Americans take these little details for granted, but a European would be overwhelmed by them. The same thing is true for us in Europe, so I have to parse that for travelers.

 

To the point about stereotyping, I think waiters and waitresses do treat me slightly differently in Europe. Often, they’ll assume Americans don’t know the difference between dishes or ingredients, and so just give us the least risky, most basic option on the menu. That’s why I really enjoy going to a hyper-local restaurant with a friend native to the area. That friend helps me get the most out of a menu or kitchen, often making these the best dining experiences.

Read the full interview at: diningout.com/denverboulder/tableside-with-rick-steves