I’ll be upfront with you, I don’t have an iron stomach. Certain things can really upset my natural biological inner workings, if you get my meaning.
Oh yeah, we’re going there. Traveler’s diarrhea is no laughing matter (except, really, sometimes it is. Most of the time it is). But sometimes you eat at a restaurant, get that gurgle going in your tummy, and know that it’s not you, it’s the food. Some ways that I personally decipher between regular ol’ IBS or travelers diarrhea and bad food at a restaurant are:
- Bad Food Indicators – Sudden upset stomach:
- after eating when I’m already several days into a trip and have eaten at a variety of restaurants/drank the local water for multiple days
- and my traveling companion(s) stomachs are also gurgling (super fun times when you’re sharing a room with 1 bathroom)
- after (or while) eating food that I know my brain is trying to tell me is off (but I’m an idiot and hungry, so I keep eating anyway)
- Probably Just Me – Sudden upset stomach:
- after eating something that also upsets my stomach at home
- after eating the same thing as my friend(s) and everyone else is fine
- after eating breakfast (or lunch, or dinner) after a night of hard drinking
- when eating within a few days of drinking from a questionable water source
- when I’m having a meal that was preceded by even just a sip of coffee
So, without further ado (adoo-doo…sorry), this is a running list of restaurants that have had me running to bathrooms all across the globe (sorted by country, not severity of situation):
Goat Island Cafe – Pago Pago
The Goat Island Cafe is the restaurant operated by a hotel called Sadie’s by the Sea in the downtown area of the Island of Tutuila in American Samoa. At the time of this writing, the cafe is ranked on Tripadvisor as #3 of restaurants in Pago Pago…and that, my friends, is such a travesty. The thing is, the hotel itself is definitely chill, there’s a small beach right out front where you can kayak, and the property itself looks nice enough, but the restaurant was the scene of two major “episodes” I experienced. As mentioned above, in this case, I know it was the food because I wasn’t the only one in my group to get sick. Another point of interest was that I lived on the island for a year and ate at this place and got sick right in the beginning of my time there, and didn’t go back until my last few weeks there, and yup, boom – diarrhea, part deux.
I can’t tell you what I ordered because the food was so unremarkable and generic that I have no memory of it (imagine your basic bland hotel food, but in a geographic location that doesn’t have access to much fresh “American style” produce, but still wants to serve it anyway because tourists NEED wraps and salads, dammit!), but I’ll never forget the memory of myself in the bathroom, and poor Veronica, sweaty, shaking, and looking like death in the aftermath (nope, back up, that came out wrong; to be clear, Veronica was shaking and looking like death because she also got sick, not because of what I’d done in the bathroom). Anyway, the point is that there is SO much amazing Samoan food that is delicious all over the rest of the island, but you likely won’t see those places pop up on Tripadvisor because the bulk of tourists in American Samoa are usually cruise ship passengers who don’t know where to go except for the big hotel restaurant in front of them.
Restaurant Van Van – Havana
I heard that the food in Cuba was not very good. I heard that from everyone, even from the Cuban guy next to me on the flight down, who was on his way home. Everyone said, “Oh the people are SO nice, the food is no good, but the people are SO nice, you’ll have a GREAT time!” So, my culinary expectations were very low, and I was okay with that.
But then we ate at Lamparilla Tapas y Cervezas (Amazing! Ranked #14 on TA)
And then at El Dandy Bar y Galería (Wonderful! Ranked #7 on TA) In fact, we loved El Dandy so much, we even had breakfast there twice!
And also at Habana 61 (Fantastic! Ranked #2 on TA).
Then, on our last day we made the egregious error of listening to Tripadvisor, and went to Restaurant Van Van, which is currently ranked #1(!?).
My friend and I both ordered the chicken curry; I wish I would have taken a picture of it so you could see how yellow/orange colored and opaque the sauce was. Definitely different from all other curries I have seen before. But I am a lover of any and all curries (or at least, I thought I was), so I chowed down. Something tasted…off. The chicken was definitely not okay (inexplicably, I kept eating anyway. What is wrong with me??).
The atmosphere of Restaurant Van Van is nice enough. It’s got funky decor and a live band plays near the entrance, but it’s got a real “Disneyland” type of vibe. Anyway, yada yada yada, decor blah blah…”OH GOD, nooooo, not here, not so far from the hotel, we’ll never make it back in time!”
You know what they don’t have a lot of in Cuba? Toilet paper.
But this time, the upset didn’t quiet down so soon. Flying home wasn’t very fun at all, and a full day after making the fateful mistake of eating that curry, after only just beginning the two hour drive home from the airport, we had to pull over at a truck stop, like immediately. That was on 4/9; on 4/12 I received the following text: This was followed by a discussion (which I’ll keep private so we can maintain what little dignity we still have left) about lingering stomach bubbles and foul bathrooms. So yeah, you can hear a live Cuban music elsewhere, no reason to take a chance at Van Van. Honestly the food in Cuba IS good, just not there!
VulkanFisk – Oslo
Where do I even start with this one? I looooove fish. My traveling companion and I were so damn excited to visit Norway in part because we wanted to eat allllll the seafood. After walking around all day, we ended up at Mathallen Oslo, which is a pretty cool little food court/market type place, and settled in at VulkanFisk when we saw the amazing seafood they had on offer.
A few bites into my fish and I was surprised, I thought it would have tasted fresher, what with Norway’s massive fishing industry and culture and all. A few bites more and I thought, “Why does this cod taste so…oily?” but kept right on eating it because, obviously, I’m an idiot (seriously though, what is wrong with me??). We paid our bill and just after starting on our way back to the hotel (why does it always happen that way?) my stomach started getting angry; hot sweats were not far behind. I thought it was just my stomach, doing its regularly scheduled lame ass war on itself, but then my friend said, “Uhoh…” and away we RAN to the hotel. We anxiously rotated turns in the bathroom and after a short time, the ambiance in our hotel room was no longer that of two young ladies on a fab Scandinavian holiday but rather that of some sweaty, flatulent, Budweiser drinking, old man; ya know, the kinda guy who falls asleep in a recliner in front of the TV with a bowl of chili balanced on his beer belly? Oh yes, we were far beyond dainty now, thanks to VulkanFisk. It’s also fun to note that this was our first trip together as new friends; so yeah, we got real close that day.
The worst part is that after the experience of eating fish at this restaurant, I didn’t want to eat anymore seafood for the remainder of our trip, which is just such a bummer because I’m sure I missed out on some really great meals elsewhere. Shockingly, VulkanFisk is currently ranked #14 of 1,142 restaurants in Oslo on Tripadvisor. Only 2 people out of 224 reviewers, mentioned off-tasting food, which actually seems like a great ratio in their favor; but I wonder, how many people might have had funny tasting seafood and just never got around to writing a review about it? I myself didn’t even actually write a review on TA about our experience, so who knows?
*Because sometimes, restaurants are bad even when they don’t make you poop.
Ban Gaw, Copenhagen
I don’t remember how we ended up here, at a Thai restaurant in Copenhagen, except that it was right around the corner from the Mikkeller bar, so that was probably why. In any event, this place didn’t upset my stomach, but it was such a weird experience that I’d be remiss if I didn’t include it in a list of bad restaurant experiences. The gist of the story is outlined in my original Tripadvisor comment from that time:
What I did not include in that review, because it’s kind of awkward, is that not only did they not bring us our boxed leftovers, but we’re 99% sure that two waitresses were eating them. Ohhhh honey, noooooo.
Shortly after we gave our food over the our waitress to be boxed, two women came out of the kitchen with half eaten food, that looked distinctly like the food we just sent in there, and sat down for a meal. So much did it look like our food, that we were actually sitting there joking about it being our leftovers before finding out that our food had been “thrown away”. I literally don’t even care if they were eating our leftovers, from a moral standpoint, I care from a medical standpoint! They don’t know what we did with that food; we could have been having a drooling loogies contest over our plates (as fancy ladies like ourselves are wont to do)! Anyway, the whole thing was just weird.