I’m not sure how much of a problem this is for non-Asian tourist programs. However, it seems to be the standard (after three of my own trips and 10s of trip stories gathered from my coworkers and friends here in Southeast Asia) that if you book a tour group in Asia, no matter the country your touring to, they hook up with a series of tourist-ready restaurants, all of which serve simple, bland, boring Chinese-style food.
The meal usually consists of: Rice. A fried fish. A grilled/roasted fish in some sort of sweet sauce. Mushy, usually sauteed, vegetables. A soup, chicken or veggie broth with a few greens (sometimes seaweed). Prawns, fried or grilled. With watermelon for dessert.
Sometimes you’ll get some local flavor, like the roasted chicken in Singapore, based on Malaysian local food, and not anywhere near as tasty as the dish Friend and I had while in Malaysia. Outside of KL, instead of fruit we had a small cup of a sort of caramel (doesn’t taste like western caramel, btw, different starting sugar) and red-bean ice cream. Wasn’t bad, but was a bit too sweet for me. But most of the time, it fits into the above menu.
I like Chinese food, don’t get me wrong. But the food served at these establishments is next-to flavorless, and the people I travel with are Thai. Thai food, the food they love more than anything else (if there’s a problem I have with Thais, it’s that they don’t invest a lot in foreign flavored food … though, their food is so awesome, I have trouble really blaming them), is light years away from “flavorless”.
I also understand why these restaurants exist. Especially in smaller areas, it might be a struggle to find a local-food place capable of catering to multiple groups of dozens of tourists, all who make their way around the world, needing to eat between photo-ops. But the way they are set up is annoying. It’s not even that the tour companies have the little financial kickbacks. Whatever, that’s the way the business works. But tourist-restaurants always seem to be in the absolute dullest areas. I can attest to this as I actually live next to one.
Here in Phuket there are all kinds of great food venues capable of catering to large groups. Not so many on my side of the island, which isn’t set up so much for tourists, but that gets to the point. Why bring 50 Korean tourists down my road for this restaurant? Until this year, there was nothing else here but that restaurant and houses. A few months ago, several tourist-shops opened, selling beachy dresses and durian-flavored snacks.
Yet, until a few months ago, hundreds of tourists would have come down my road to eat at that place. Hundreds. With nothing at all to do but wait for everyone to finish eating and get on the bus.
What is UP with this? It doesn’t make me enjoy the trip. It sure as hell doesn’t make me want to sign up with the tour company if I go somewhere else. I’ve had these restaurants in northern Thailand, even! As well as in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. Only reason I didn’t have to put up with them in Laos is probably that Laos doesn’t get enough large tour groups to support the fad.
A friend went on a work tour of Egypt, and also ate at this style of restaurant.
Seriously. This needs to stop.