What to do when you don’t see eye-to-eye with your lunch?

So I ran into an interesting situation while at lunch earlier today, and I’m curious to hear how you guys would have handled it.

Let me start by saying that I was a vegetarian for eight years. When I was young I saw one of those slaughterhouse videos, and I was done with meat for a long time. Eventually I kind of got over it, though I still only eat meat that doesn’t totally resemble the animal, if that makes any sense. In other words, I eat chicken breast (as opposed to chicken wings or chicken legs), I have my steaks cooked medium or medium well, etc. I realize it’s not completely logical, though that’s what works for me.

Anyway, fast forward to today. We had lunch at the Spanish restaurant at the Hotel Kempinski. I was eying the vegetable paella and tried to order it, though was informed that it was for a minimum of two people. Darn. Nothing else on the menu really interested me, so I ended up ordering the king prawns. I like shrimp, and it seemed like the “safest” option.

45 minutes later (service is S-L-O-W in Spain) the waiter brings me this dish:

Oh boy. I knew there was no way on earth I was going to touch the “prawns.” I don’t like being “eye-to-eye” with what I’m about to eat, not to mention the fact that I wouldn’t even know how to eat these kinds of prawns. Obviously this was largely my fault since this is often the way they’re served in Spain, though I had no clue.

So how would you handle this situation? I had no problem paying for the meal, though I did feel bad wasting it. Furthermore, there was a language barrier between us and the waiter, so we were limited with our options.

Our course of action in the end? I’ll let the picture speak for itself:

Not my proudest moment, though it was a sticky situation.

I’m very curious to hear what you guys would have done, so I have a response ready the next time I run into this situation.

Filed Under: Travel
  1. Suck it up and eat it. My grandpa (who grew up during the depression era) would take us out for a meal and would always say, I don’t care what you get as long as you eat it.
    Or, ask how something is prepared before you order it. Or just do what you did.

  2. Not sure what that means: you took them with you…?

    While I don’t have the “issue” you do, I can empathise. PErhaps: get a companion to cut the heads off with a knife, then just shell and eat them…?

  3. Yeah I would just cut the heads and shell them too, great fresh shrimp right inside there. Sorry it didn’t work out. 🙁 You have my sympathy though, I can understand being turned off by that if you haven’t shelled before. Not much you could have done with the waiter language barrier except maybe make a throat cutting gesture and point to the shrimp heads.

  4. Well, I would’ve gladly eaten your lunch, but I had a similar issue in Madrid about three years ago when a salad I ordered came topped with baby eels…something I wasn’t particularly keen to eat. I did eat one of them but couldn’t stomach any more so did my best to apologize as I left most of my meal untouched. This is one great reason I love ordering tapas from bar counters – you see exactly what you’ll get! 🙂

  5. For someone that travels so much, I’m curious as to how your tastes haven’t changed! I was a bit shocked when I read that you ate the pizza on one of your flights when the alternative was much better – in my opinion. Try it out these foods! It’ll change your views for sure.

  6. I’m a vegetarian so I totally understand where you’re coming from. If I were you, I would have left that dish untouched, ordered another one and paid for two dishes…

  7. I would have moved it away from me so I did not have to look at it and would have ordered the vegetables or rice. This is why I lose weight in China.

  8. I agree with Hao. I thought you liked traveling in Asia! Surely you’ve come up against this in Thailand. Are you grossed out by a whole fish on the table as well? Break ’em off and chow down.

  9. I would have eaten, that stuff doesn’t really bother me. I can understand where you’re coming from with the eyes and antennas, I would have asked the waiter to remove the shells from the prawns

  10. Shrimp tend to look like…shrimp, so sorta surprised they made your cut.

    Honestly they look delicious, plus I enjoy adventurous food, so I’d eat them and order the eel salad as well.

    In your place…absent a sanitation issue or being flat out unable to choke it down, I’d at least try to eat what I order. I do understand there’s a significant mental aspect that I can’t fully appreciate, though.

  11. I’ve tried being a vegetarian, sadly I had failed. For those that are, complete respect.

    Ben, those prawns look Great! I would have stared those in the eye and declared, “you, are mine, oh yes you are… in my tummy now!” As I bite into them I can hear the little screams, “no… don’t eat me!”

    Mmmmmm, nom, nom…

    A significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one’s accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes.

    You, my friend are fortunate to be traveling the world, with an amazing opportunity to taste the many pleasures that it has to offer.


  12. Didn’t you mean to post that you ‘had no trouble paying for it with your Sapphire card ‘? 🙂

    OK, seriously, these are the kind of posts we’ve been missing Ben! Need. More. Laughs.

  13. I would have asked the chef or waiter to clean them and tipped big if they accommodated. Or I would have asked the waiter if you could have the veggie paella for two and had some leftovers.

  14. yeah, the waiter should have cleaned them for you. Why didn’t you ask? Of course, there is a languge barrier, but at least you could have tried.

  15. MMM looks super fresh. Expect that all over Europe. However I am the same way as you in the sense that I don’t eat chicken on the bone or fish that isn’t filleted. Diva, yup.

  16. I woups have eaten them as well. Or found someone on the street that would like them.

    FYI most prawns or shrimp in Europe come whole. I had the same in Italy once.

  17. Seriously, those look great! Next time, just eat them. Animals eat other animals, whales eat prawns, it’s okay for you to eat them too. In fact, eating KFC or Foster Farms chicken breasts is probably the least humane thing you could be doing food-wise. Watch “Food Inc.” if you want to know why.

  18. I’d rip the head off and eat the body first then suck out the juices from the head part. The head part has some good tasting stuff. Of course I’m Asian so we eat everything. LOL

  19. The solution is to marry an Asian. My wife would have insisted that I cut off the heads and give them to her. She thinks that is the best part! Works with fish too…

  20. I feel your pain. Was served these in Split, Croatia & didn’t know how to make these edible. The waiter demonstrated. I couldn’t copy his dexterity. Longed for a roll of paper towels and a child’s bib.

  21. I feel your pain but I am glad to see atleast you could spent sometime at the restaurant taking pictures for the post. Way to go bro…

    Cheers(Hope you drink) 😉

  22. I know exactly where you are coming from. I grew up as a vegetarian in a vegetarian family, and started eating meat only in college dorm. Even today, I instinctively avoid anything that looks recognizably like an animal. That would includes what you showed in the photos. Ditto for those Chinatown restaurants with chickens hanging in the window. This is not logical but few things that define our life are. Be comfortable with yourself. No further reason is required.

  23. Those look great and while I would have loved to eat them I can understand your problem.
    I just ate similar guys in Tokyo and they were put alive on the grill. One of the guys tried to jump away. I go a lot to Asia though and love seafood and the Asian way of preparation.

    Hey, at least you know they are fresh if you saw them alive.

  24. I enjoyed prawns like that in Panama a bunch of times and they were so cheap and tasty!

    I guess you won’t be eating cuy (guinea pig) in Peru! While I ate cuy, my wife was so grossed out and barely ate her meal…

  25. Isn’t it odd that we North Americans are the only ones who seem to have trouble with the concept of eating food that actually looks like it did when it was alive?

  26. i would have burst into tears. although i haven’t eaten meat since i was twelve, so i wouldn’t have ordered it.

    i had the same problem in a spanish restaurant where everything vegetarian had to be for two. i normally don’t eat out in other countries but my friend and hostess insisted we go there. i ended up with two tapas: a slice of bread with marinara sauce and a bowl of olives. yummm.

  27. I had a worse situation when eating sushi and they brought out a live shrimp, beheaded it, and sat the head with the wiggling antennae on a stick to watch me while I ate the body. It was good, but absolutely disgusting,

  28. Lucky, I am a great fan of your site, and by proxy, your work, but I have to say that your fears of food are bit a showcase of your close-mindedness (don’t take this personally).

    I understand that some foods are repulsive, I understand for instance that oysters in the milking period may give a newbie the impression he is literally smallowing semen, but when I hear that people like you have their steaks up to the point that their rubber shoe sole is softer or that they have difficulties eating a prawn like this I do feel confused.

    Some of the replies above are from vegetarians, that is of course completely different, but from a meat & fish eater like yourself, especially such a well travelled and I would guess, well educated young man, I do expect a bit more tolerance and openess.

    After all, if you only knew how many hormones and other conservatives go on the best foods in the US, you’d rather have a bloody steak in the Charolais region of France or those milky oysters after all…

    p.s. probably 90% of the shrimps served on a US flight would be from a polluted farm in the Philippines were they get injected with hormone filled water to bump their weight and thus category of sale. You can bet your entire miles portfolio that those Spanish shrimps very AAA quality!

  29. I think this is a great example that shows differences between the great US and Europe (Or any of the other continents actually).

    I don’t favor shrimps prepared this way either, but I definitely would try. They taste exquisit, especially prepared fresh like the ones you got (hence the longer waiting time, no pre-preparation going on here!).

    I guess people here (=europe) are a bit more down-to-earth, in the way that everybody understands that humans eat animals…don’t pretend we dont by making your burger not look like a cow. I can definitely also understand Ben though, if you live in a place where these situations are avoided in restaurants, getting this served might come as a surprise 😉

  30. Next trip take some canned Tuna, or peanut butter ,since u are a difficult eater. Take a moment out and read the menu b4 u sit down. I have traveled all over the world for the past 40 years and find it is not hard to find a way to communicate, your not the first difficult customer

  31. See, these are the things they should actually teach in high school language classes!

    “¿Puedes por favor los limpie?” works for any animal-shaped foods that come to the table, although the waiter will probably make fun of you. (Ladies will have better luck with this)

    I would have just ordered the paella. Yes, it might have come in a skillet the size of a jacuzzi, but it would have been tasty!

  32. Dude, grow up and be a man … eat the freaking shrimp. If you don’t like it, wash it up after with gourmet cookies and milk, which looks like haute cuisine to you.

  33. Years ago, I was working in a seafood restaurant and waited on Richard Simmons. When I brought his whole lobster that he had ordered to the table and placed it in front of him, he squealed like a little girl and had a hissy fit. Seriously, I thought he was going to cry. I promptly pulled it away and cracked it apart for him (out of his line- of- sight).

    All better.

    Perhaps you could try Richard’s method next time. 😉

  34. I would have eaten the dish myself as it looks awesome but if I were you I’d move the prawns around on the plate while not eating them, smiled when the waiter came to clear the table, and paid my tab. To me not wanting to eat something I’ve ordered isn’t a problem – I just pay for it and chalk it up – and it certainly isn’t the problem of the restaurant. (I’m someone who brings an opener with me when I go scalloping so I can shuck a few and eat them while knee-deep in water so that dish is right up my alley).

  35. @Acker: well ordering shrimp and not eating any is not going to be left unnoticed by the waiting staff, if so, they are not doing their job as I think it is polite to ask if everything was ok.

  36. I would second like others mentioned. Just explain that your not used to whole shrimp and if the waiter can please peel them.

  37. I”m not sure the waiter would peel them for you. I’ve had the same shrimp in Spain a million times and have the feeling that he’d just look at you funny. Let’s just say that my best friend in Spain has a son who is five. He already knows how to eat shrimp like this with a knife and fork, though he really prefers just to pull the legs and head off with his fingers. C’mon Lucky, show us that you’re a citizen of the world!

  38. I have had a few occasions at restaurants, when I didn’t quite know how to eat the dish I was staring at. Luckily waiters tend to know better and you could always ask them for a hint. Instead of trying to hide my lack of knowledge – which is apparent to the personnel anyway – I would rather be a fool for the 15 seconds and acknowledge that I did not know what I ordered.

    Your story does not reveal, if you even considered this approach. If you had gone for it, for the following half an hour, you would have been enjoying something that you hadn’t tested before, and have finally left the restaurant with a great new experience. Of course, I assume that you could have overcome your first impressions about the serving.

  39. Whenever I’m served shrimp/prawns this way, I break off their little heads and line them up on the plate like a gallery or choir so they can watch me eat (the rest of them).

  40. Despite what other say about your tastes, I think you handled it quite well. No offense caused by just leaving the food, no disgust on your part by trying to force them down, and your friend gets a tasty snack for later in the day. Culturally sensitive and not offensive to your own sensibilities, which sounds like a pretty workable combo to me.

  41. I was back in BCN and Catalan France a couple months back, and I was impressed by how close people are to their food. It seems like our American culture where things are prepared and out of sight is really unique, so I enjoy stepping out of it whether it’s a trip abroad or a local farm to table inspired restaurant. There’s something meaningful about knowing where your food came from, even if sometimes it rubs you the wrong way (I’ve had that happen too).

  42. guys, I hope you all noticed that on both pictures (plate & doggybag) there are 8 shrimps, meaning that he did not eat anything apart from some leaves of decoration-salad.

    Again, nothing personal here, but it makes no sense to order something in a restaurant, have it served and without saying a word not touching anything. Btw. writing a blog entry afterwards is not really “reaching out for help”…

  43. I’ve noticed the trend of wanting to “eat meat that doesn’t look like the animal” is almost exclusively an American thing. I think it’s interesting that you’re a true bilingual, Lucky, but it seems like your mentality is more American than German. 🙂

  44. Take off the tail and head. Use the fork to pinch them through the stomach, remove the skin and eat the inside part. It requires some work though

  45. I guess we all have our preferences. I do find the shells annoying on shrimp, but other than that, I don’t care. I actually go out of my way these days to eat things I’ve never seen before, like “fried pig face nuggets” (seriously!).

  46. I’ve grown up in many different rural and semi-rural areas, so I’ve become accustomed to gutting fish, deer, and fowl, whether they be duck, pheasant, quail, or whatever. I’ve made sausage and butchered/wrapped sides of beef, as well. I also enjoy crab legs and prepared lobster, but I never eat the lobster out of the shell and shy away from places where you pick your own. I never have liked prawns, so I’ve never had this issue. It kind of reminds me of the scene in A Christmas Story with the duck.

  47. Shrimp are served head-on in better restaurants largely to demonstrate that they are fresh, rather than frozen.
    If one doesn’t want to eat European food one might well be advised to stay out of European restaurants. There are McDonald’s pretty much everywhere and if you’re looking for, as you said, the _safest_ option well, you always know what you’re going to get at McDonald’s.
    In addition, rather than considering the service in Europe S-L-O-W you might consider that service in the United States is, in fact, R-U-D-E. Most better restaurants, at least in the Mediterranean countries, only do a single turn at dinner. Eating out in a restaurant is the evening’s activity, not a fuel stop on the way to some other activity. The notion that your server would ever do something as hideously rude an inhospitable as bring you, unasked, your bill is unimaginable.
    If you need a meal on the run there are plenty of options short of an actual restaurant that can meet your need for fast(er) food. Not only McDonald’s (where you never need worry that the food will bear any relationship whatsoever to what it was before) but local places as well.

  48. I’m LMAO, Ben. No at you, but with you. Head-off shrimp is an atypical preparation t argeted at ‘sensitive’ North Amerika or places (think international airlines) that attract Nord Americanos. WIth your wide travel experience, I am surprised that you’ve never encountered head-on, shell-on shrimp before 2012. While a few cultures eat eat the head, most twist it off and move on. While passing on the meal is always an option, I think you missed a wonderful opportunity to expand your horizons a bit. Hey! Each to his/her own. That said, when engaging in international travel and cuisine, one must keep a semi-open mind. Personally, I draw the line at most offal and I can usually identify it on most menues, or by asking. When I error, I always try at least some, starting with a slurp of the sauce. The winners out number the losers about 5:1, so any serious risk is minimal. If the communication links are working, I ask for “What ever you like,” but insist that it be described a bit. Personal taste is a legitimate concern, but if you don’t expand your horizons a but, the extensive travel is +/- a wasted experience. There IS more to the world than flying in single-digit row numbers and sleeping on 800-thread sheets. Me thinks that someone ought to put a little starch in your shorts.

  49. One of the things that separates men from boys is a willingness to try new foods without fretting or fussing over it. As an adult I’ve found that I can tolerate and even enjoy many things I never would have imagined as a boy.

    I can understand your preference to keep things simple on a plane as freshness is going to take a major hit when everything is already prepped and sitting around waiting to be loaded and reheated. However, in a restaurant like this the freshness should be obvious before you even take your first bite.

    As to everyone bashing Americans for our backward eating habits, keep in mind that not all of us are finicky eaters. There are plenty of restaurants that don’t cater exclusively to your inner child here in the US. You can order everything from raw sea urchin to spicy intestinal soups to fried cow testicles if you so desire.

  50. lol @JetAway

    “Whenever I’m served shrimp/prawns this way, I break off their little heads and line them up on the plate like a gallery or choir so they can watch me eat (the rest of them).”

    I need to remember that.

  51. Good grief some of the comments here are just callous and uncalled for. Not everyone has an iron stomach or the willingness to eat anything put in front of them. If Ben doesn’t like eating foods that look like the animal it comes from what is wrong with that? Nothing! It is his choice.

    I’ve had a big prawn put on top of my pasta plate before in Hawai’i and I didn’t particularly care for it. Like Ben I didn’t understand at the time how to eat it and absent that help I wasn’t about to figure it out at the table. Like Ben I left the bugger on my plate. Does that make me some lesser-American-glutton? No.

    For those of you saying that Ben is close minded you need to check the mirror. Not everyone is going to choke down something that disturbs them just because it is on their plate. To believe they should is pretty darn close minded.

    Finally, those that seem to think this is an inherent trait of the United States you might need to get out of your country and come visit. When you swing by Denver I’ll treat you to some Rocky Mountain Oysters. I won’t eat with you… that is one “delicacy” I’m not going to stomach again.

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