Believe it or not, but the food I ate in Belarus was better than the food I ate in Rome.
I know what you’re thinking.
Rome. Italy. Land of pasta, wine and artichokes. How could it possibly have worse food than a post-Soviet republic known for tractors and potatoes?
As it turns out, Rome’s reputation as a beautiful tourist go-to is exactly why its food wasn’t up to par. And vice versa, for Belarus.
Rome’s museums were way better than its pastas
Since Rome is one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world, it’s not surprising that pretty much every eatery there is a tourist trap.
Although the food offered at these restaurants is good, you end up overpaying for what you are actually getting. Tellingly, virtually no Europeans ate at any of these spots; it was mostly American, Chinese and Russian tourists.
As it turns out, in Rome, what we were paying for wasn’t the food itself, but rather the fact that we were eating it in Rome. You’re not just eating a margarita pizza; you’re eating in on the Piazza Navona next to the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi.
(And, if you’re a social media addict like I am, you are also paying for the opportunity to Instagram the fact that you ate Italian food in Rome.)
Even a great hole-in-the-wall restaurant — which our Roman friend told us “didn’t lower its standards, even once the tourists came” — left something to be desired. The artichokes and home-made pasta was delicious, but the meal certainly wasn’t mind-blowing and definitely not worth the price.
Don’t judge a country’s dumplings by its communist past
Belarus, on the other hand, isn’t even close to being a major tourist destination.
Although the country has significantly improved since the fall of communism in the 90s, it’s still far from being a house-hold name. Consequently, when you eat there, you don’t pay a premium for “eating in Belarus!”
In fact, it’s actually quite the opposite. In order to improve their reputations, restaurants (and hotels and spas, etc.) in Belarus have to be so good, that the few plucky tourists who cross the borders will later go home and tell everyone how great everything was.
While the pizza, pasta, artichoke triumvirate made up pretty much Rome’s entire restaurant scene, Belarus’ high-end restaurants had far more variety and richer tastes.
Fatty cold cuts; wild white mushrooms; grilled trout, halibut, and sturgeon; sour cherry-filled dumplings; pickled cabbage (similar to kimchi); black caviar; salo; cow tongue wrapped in pig ears (don’t knock it til you try it!); Porcini mushroom soup with truffle butter; potato pancakes; the list goes on.
And let’s not even get started on the alcohol selection.
Most notably, several places had Samogon (moonshine) in surprisingly delicious flavours such as black current and cherry, and even the at-your-own-risk horseradish option. Equally as important, there was a surprisingly good selection of Bavarian beers on tap at some pubs.
It’s exactly because we all know that Rome is a beautiful, wonderful, sophisticated European tourist destination that we are willing to overpay crazy amounts to eat decent food there. After all, you’re not paying for the food — you’re paying for the experience of eating in Rome.
But if you’re looking for a truly insanely delicious meal, Belarus will not disappoint.
(And if you do ever get there, don’t forget to try cow tongue wrapped in pig ears. It’s unreal.)
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