Eating, drinking and ordering like a local
Ordering advice for spots around the world
You know the drill. You're on line at Starbucks, you order a mocha cookie crumble frappuccino from the barista, give him or her your name and wait impatiently for it to be called out so you can grab the last available armchair.
Or not -- at least if you're a Brit lining up in a London Starbucks. There, locals resent giving up such classified info, according to a BBC News story titled "Will You Tell Starbucks Your Name?" "I am not looking to make friends when I go into a coffee shop. I just want a drink," the English actor Arthur Smith told the BBC. "I don't want to go clubbing with them."
If you're vacationing in London, there are plenty of ways to deal with this scenario, whether or not you want to go clubbing with your barista. You can give a fake name; you can say your name really is Skinny Cinnamon Latte; or you can behave like you do every day of your life at your local coffee shop and use your given name. The following are some strategies to employ if you want to be an insider, whether you're in Philadelphia or Toyko.
Cheesesteak Ordering in Philadelphia
Watch a cheesesteak expert in action; you'll see that ordering is a super-efficient process. First comes the cheese: "Prov" (provolone), "Wiz" (Cheez Whiz) or American. Then, the big decision, "Wit" or "Wit-out" (with or without fried onions). "Wiz wit" = cheez whiz + onions. "Prov wit-out" = You've got this one.
You can either practice your orders on your family or take advantage of one of the countless helpful detailed websites on the subject. Rick's Steaks (owner Rick Olivieri is a "third generation steak master") even has an Order Like a Local feature on rickssteaks.com where you plug in the details of what you want and it tells you exactly how to say it.
In-N-Out Ordering Around the US
As the amazing In-N-Out burger chain expands from its L.A. home base across the country (there are now locations in Utah, Nevada, Arizona and Texas), their secret menu is no longer so secret. Especially because it's listed right on their website as Not-So-Secret Menu. That secret menu has six variations on the burger, including 3×3 and 4×4 (the number of beef patties and American cheese slices) and the now-classic Animal Style (instead of a raw onion slice, you get caramelized onions; you also get your burger fried in mustard and a bunch of extra pickles).
In fact, there are several more actually secret menu items (Animal Style fries!). Kenji Lopez-Alt ate his way through a bunch of those options for Serious Eats, including the Flying Dutchman, which is a 2×2 with nothing else.
Pizza Ordering in Italy
You're probably a pizza expert in your hometown. But if your hometown is not in Italy, and you're looking for a snack, know this: Pizza should be eaten at al taglio places (translation: pizza by the slice). Point at the pizza you want, and order by size, or more specifically by grams. Note, unless you're trying to overindulge in Italy, 100 grams is about enough for one serving.
Avoid pizza in caffes, especially when you see a microwave in the corner. Here's more useful information for pepperoni aficionados from blogger Sara Rosso, author of the ebook "How To Order An Italian Coffee In Italy": "Peperoni in Italian are bell peppers, not pepperoni in the U.S. which is hot salami. So if you want hot salami on your pizza, don't order a pizza with peperoni (note the spelling -- just one p), order a pizza diavola or look for a pizza that has salame piccante as one of the ingredients."
Sushi Ordering in Japan
Trevor Corson wrote the book on sushi, literally (it's called The Story of Sushi). He has lots of amazing pointers for ordering and eating sushi in Japan; here are just a few of them.
1. If you want to be in charge of your sushi selection, know this word, okonomi, which means, "as I like it." Then know the Japanese names of the fish you like, which you order one by one, as you're eating. Insiders start with lighter fish, then go to stronger-tasting fish. And don't eat more than two pieces of the same nigiri. The point of sushi is variety; do not go overboard on the toro.
2. If you want the sushi chef to be in charge, know the word, omakase, which means "I leave it up to you." And then know that that sends a signal to the sushi chef that you're not overly concerned about the price of the meal. If that's not the case, you should inform the sushi chef that you have a budget for the evening. That recommendation from Corson applies to U.S. sushi spots; I encourage people to have a good amount of money if they say omakase to a Tokyo sushi chef.
3. Many sushi connoisseurs are not afraid to pick up sushi with their fingers. Good sushi should fall apart in your mouth; the rice shouldn't be packed too tightly which can spell disaster for chopstick users. Some people use chopsticks so they won't mix up the flavors on their hands, but most good sushi places provide a damp cloth and most neat people will wipe their hands between pieces of nigiri.
4. You've probably heard this before, but Corson will tell you again: Fish from a good sushi chef does not need to be submerged in wasabi-filled soy sauce. Those good sushi chefs add all the flavorings the fish needs before they hand it to the customer. And here's something you might not have heard before: wasabi stirred into soy sauce rapidly loses both its spiciness and its flavor.
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