Everything You Need to Know to Eat Any Cuisine

All About Eating:

  Brazilian Churrascaria

  Japanese Sushi

  Thai Food

  Greek Food

  Ethiopian Food

  Indian Food

  French Haute Cuisine



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Q&A with The Food Virgin



Looking for tips on eating foreign food, or dining in an ethnic restaurant?  Find your answer here.  If it's not here yet, tell us your question and we'll find an answer for you.  Click here to ask. 
















Q.  Is there ever a good time to tip in Japan?

Q.  What is 'edamame' and how do I eat it?

Q.  Is there kid-friendly Thai food?

Q.  How do you use chopsticks?

QHow do you pronounce 'Satay'?

Q.  What are the effects of eating too much Japanese horseradish?

QWhat is the bread called that's part of Indian food?




Q.  I understand that it is customary in Japan NOT to tip at any restaurant or service-providing facility. Are sushi-ya an exception?

A.  Nope!  Japan is a land where tipping is an alien concept-- it's not done to anyone there, ever, which makes it an easy rule to remember, and even easier to follow.  Instead, everyone- including people in roles where we in America would normally tip- is paid a decent salary.  Incidentally, The Food Virgin once tried to tip some especially helpful hotel staff, but that just ended in a lot of embarrassed Japanese-style giggling, and the return of my money.  So relax, and enjoy your trip there!  P.S.  When in America, tip as per usual at Japanese restaurants, like you would at any other.

Q.  I went out to eat Japanese food recently with friends, and something called 'edamame' came to the table.  It looked like a bowl full of pea pods, and one friend said we should eat the pods, like with snow peas, while another said to just eat the beans inside.  Which one is right?

A.  Your 2nd friend is right- definitely don't eat the pods!  Edamame is a popular Japanese appetizer, and is fun finger (and mouth) food.  Pick up a pod, put it near your mouth, and squeeze the beans into your mouth.  Discard the empty pod either into a bowl that the waiter will bring out just for this, or put them in a neat pile on your plate or side plate.  


Q.  I read your article on Thai food and want to try it, but will have to take my whole family.  Will there be anything there that I can feed my 5 and 8 year olds?

A.  Yes!  Although some Thai food can be spicier than kids are used to, other dishes are great for kids.  Start them off with chicken satay, which can either be eaten plain or dipped into the peanut sauce.  For main dishes, fried fish, pandan chicken, and tom kar gai are all mild.  You can also ask whether a chili-free version of pad thai or other dishes can be made.


Q.  At home when I eat Chinese food, I eat it with a fork, but when I'm out, sometimes chopsticks are available.  I've seen people using them and they make it look easy, but I tried it once and it didn't work for me at all!  Will anyone care if I don't use chopsticks in a Chinese restaurant?

A.  Well, the good news is that no one will really care if you stick to the good old tried-and-true fork when you eat at Asian food restaurants in America.  But the even better news is that it's not all that hard to learn how to eat with chopsticks.  The trick is to hold your hand out as if you're about to shake hands, then curve your fingers comfortably.  Anchor one chopstick across the end of your middle finger and the joint of your thumb.  Your thumb pressing toward your palm will keep it in place.  The other chopstick will be held between the ends of your thumb and index finger and will rest against the index finger.  This is the chopstick that will move so that you can pick up items and hold them firmly.  It is easier to learn with wooden chopsticks, as these have better grip than ceramic ones.  Order Chinese and practice at home until you are comfortable enough to try it in a restaurant.  For more instruction, try this link to eHow:  eHow- How to Eat with Chopsticks.


Q.  How do you pronounce the Thai food, 'satay'?


A.  There are two ways to pronounce this delicious meaty appetizer: sa-TAY, and SA-tay.  Both seem to be used in Asia, but the first one is more common, whereas the latter is a bit more European/American.  For more Thai food pronunciations, check out the Thai food page.


Q.  What are the effects of eating too much Japanese horseradish?


A.  Umm... breathing horseradish breath on your date?  Japanese horseradish, also known as 'wasabi', does have some useful properties.  It is used with sushi to help kill any bacteria that might remain in the raw fish.  The real question is, why are you eating too much wasabi anyway?


Q.  What's the bread that goes with Indian food?  It looks like pita bread, but is longer.


A.  You probably mean naan (pronounced with a long 'a', similar to 'non' as in 'nonsense').  You can get it plain, with garlic, sometimes even with cheese.  Use it to scoop up your curries.  We also like pappadums, which are the Indian version of crackers, served at the beginning of the meal.  You can dip pappadums into mint sauce, mango chutney, or other condiments brought out with them.






Q. Is Ethiopian food vegetarian?



Q.  I'm a vegetarian, and a friend told me that I should try Ethiopian food- but I thought that that's got meat in it.  Am I right, or is she right?


A.  You are right- mostly.  Many Ethiopian stews, called 'wat', are meat-based.  It is possible, though, to have a full Ethiopian meal while enjoying meat-free dishes.  Ethiopians, in fact, have many days when it is customary to eat vegetarian food only for the whole day.  If you are the type who doesn't mind that people around you are eating meat, then certainly give Ethiopian food a try.  If you are very strict vegan, though, and don't want boiled eggs or beef anywhere near the dishes you'll be eating from, stick to restaurants that cater to this.





Q.  If choose to go for Rodizio, what are the odds I can order a la carte?




Q.  My boyfriend wants to take me to a Brazilian restaurant, but I'm not a big eater.  Your site says that you ate at a place that just offered a buffet, but is that the case everywhere?  I'd rather just order one thing.


A.  You're probably out of luck.  Most Churrcasco restaurants offer just the choice of full rodizio buffet (with salad bar), or just salad bar only.  Some will give you the choice of ordering side dishes, while others will simply bring them all out to you.  I recommend on the day you go for this, that you skip lunch, or work out, or do whatever it is that works up an appetite for you.  You'll be glad you did.





Q.  Do people really eat crocodile meat?




Q.  Is crocodile on the menu there?  And is it popular?


A.  People do eat crocodile in Australia, though you'll need to search around a bit to find it- it's not as common as beef or chicken or fish.  If you're heading Down Under on a trip, keep your eyes peeled for a number of things we don't usually eat in North America:  Ostrich, kangaroo, emu, and 'shark' in their fish and chips (which isn't the Jaws kind of shark, but you can feel free to hum the theme song if you want to anyway).





Q.  How did French food become so stuffy?

Q.  What is saganaki?  Is it an ancient food?

Q.  What time to Greeks eat Baklava?




Q. What's the deal- why is it French food is stuffy?  Why not Italian food, or Spanish food?  What gives?


A. France, like many other regions of the world, has always prided itself on its local produce.  Dijon mustard, fine wines, fresh cheeses, truffles, and so on.  If you travel there, you'll find that even with simpler restaurants, the cooks will take pride in what they prepare.  The stuffy element of French food, though, came about 200 years ago, when French chefs started to be in hot demand by European aristocracy.  Russian Czars, British Kings and others, all wanted to replicate the lavish buffets and rich, creamy foods originally created by a chef called Antonin CarêmeHe is sometimes known as 'The Founder of French Gastronomy'.


Q.  Is saganaki an ancient Greek food item?


A.  Saganaki, the delicious grilled cheese dish, has been around Greece and Turkey for quite some time.  Exactly how long, though, is something we're still looking into.  Given that cheese has been around for many millenia now, the question comes down to "when did some bright spark decide to try grilling it in a saganaki pan?" 


Q.  What time do Greeks eat baklava?


A.  Baklava is a dessert, so eat it any time you'd normally eat a dessert food: After meals.  With coffee in the afternoon.  As a midnight snack (don't think we don't know!).






Q.  When it is safe to eat shellfish?

Q.  How do you put together a taco?




Q.  I've heard that you can eat oysters in any month that has an 'r' in it.  Is this true for shellfish that comes from New Orleans and other U.S. cities, or is it for Europe only?



A.  The whole 'r' month problem is generally becoming obsolete these days.  It used to be that before refrigerated shipping was the norm, you'd have to stick to oysters, mussels and snails harvested during Fall, Winter and Spring.  Summer was a problem because bacteria levels were higher then in these creatures.  Nowadays, the only issue is for people with shellfish sensitivities.  Of course, cooked shellfish are usually safer to eat than raw or partially cooked.  As for crustaceans (like lobsters, crabs, prawns and shrimp), these will have various molting seasons.  Pay attention to what the specials and 'catches of the day' are- these are normally things that are caught in season.  Of course, double check with the waiter whether this is the case.


Q.  I like Mexican food, but have always wondered- is there a 'right way' to assemble a taco?


A.  An interesting question!  There are definitely better and worse ways to assemble a taco, just like there are better and worse ways to put together a burger.  Step one, is to hold the taco shell in your left hand (or if you're left-handed, then in your right).  Next, put a reasonable amount of meat on the bottom; if it's a flat, round shell, then put the meat in a strip in the middle of the shell.  Next, add runny sauces- salsa, guacamole, pico de gallo.  Then, add the vegetables, such as tomatoes and onions.  Lastly add the lettuce.  In the case of a hard shell, eat it by laying a finger over the lettuce layer to keep everything in, while you bit one end.  In the case of soft shells, fold one side across the strip of fillings you've put in, then fold the bottom two inches up, then fold the opposite side back across the first side.  Eat it from the open top.  If done right, it should be drip-free!





You're not planning on eating penguins, are you? 





Q.  What different kind of table settings are there?



Q.  What different kind of table settings will I find if I'm going to different ethnic restaurants?


A.  As we write up each cuisine, we'll tell you when the table setting is different from what we're used to in America.  Sometimes, it's just a little bit different, like finding tongs above your plate at a Brazilian Churrascaria; other times, you'll find items like chopsticks, decorative spoons, lobster shell crackers and other useful but mysterious gadgets and utensils.  Check each column for details.




Got a food question you've always wondering about?  

Ask The Food Virgin now!


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