There is nothing that drives me more insane than when people think Chipotle or Taco Bell is true Mexican food. With the rise of fast food, fast casual, and chain restaurants, it's rarer and rarer to taste authentic food. This is a huge tragedy in the field of gastronomy as we should be open to trying the true, authentic cuisines. By being culturally competent in the dining room, we are opening our minds, hearts and bellies to new foods (and more importantly) new friends from around the world.

This article is not a comprehensive guide to eating out, but it is meant to provide you with guidelines on what to and not to order. Take these quick tips with you the next time you and your besties try the new restaurant near your campus.

Mexican Food

mole sauce, bread, sweet
Vishesh Monga

Mexican food has been copied extensively in fast food and fast casual. These types of places are more Tex-Mex or vaguely inspired by actual Mexican cuisine. Tex-Mex is a relatively new cuisine that was created when American settlers started moving West and were introduced to Mexican ingredients and dishes. American settlers then started to make similar dishes but with ingredients that were abundant in the U.S. A specific difference between Tex-Mex and the real thing are the ingredients used. 

To actually order true Mexican food, you should order dishes that use ingredients like maize-based tortillas or mole (my personal favorite). Mexico is an extremely diverse country so authentic dishes are dependent of the region. Some regions are very seafood based where as others use a combination of proteins. To be culturally competent when ordering Mexican food, don't order Americanized dishes such as fajitas, wheat tortillas or nachos. These dishes are still amazing but they aren't authentically Mexican.

Italian Food

#ibbys, gnocchi, WUSTL, italian, pasta
Charlotte Ohana

Oh, Italian food. It is beauty, it is romance but what Americans tend to think of as Italian food is so far removed from the real thing. Americans have reshaped Italian cuisine to please our taste buds that crave wheat and our preference of quantity instead of quality. You would never find what we call spaghetti and meatballs in actual Italy, nor would you ever run into an Olive Garden (but we can still appreciate Olive Garden's breadsticks).

Real Italian food is seasonal, simple, local, and fresh (fresh like the seafood is caught that day, maybe even an hour before you ordered it). Italian food is also extremely portioned out; they do not have food drowning in sauce and cheese. This may also come as a shock to some, but Italian food is more than just pasta. A lot of Italian dishes are also veggie-based. To order culturally competent Italian food, try ordering a dish such as: ribollita, cabbage and rice or dried zucchini with pancetta and potatoes.

Chinese Food

dumpling, dough, flour, pork, meat, gyoza
Victoria Guo

Everyone's favorite type of take-out is Chinese, but we need to start moving past General Tso's chicken. Chinese food is also starting to break into the fast-casual world through places like Panda Express. Even though fast-casual is deliciously quick, it is still perpetuating Americanized cuisine and not the real thing.

Culturally competent Chinese dishes are meals like jellyfish, mapo tofu, and sea cucumbers. As is the trend in all of these different cuisines, China is so diverse in its own cuisine. I encourage you all to go to different restaurants that cater to the different regions of China to try out all the dishes it has to offer.

Indian Food

rice, curry, chicken
Eunice Choi

If you were to Google "Why 'curry' is not actually Indian," you would understand my frustration towards people who order curry at 'Indian' restaurants. I have said it before and I will say it again: curry is not actually Indian food. You can read why here, but I would also recommend the Chef's Table episode on Gaggan Anand for the reason explained by an actual Indian chef.

Indian food that is culturally competent and what you should be eating are dishes such as biryani, nethili varuval and vada.  Indian food is diverse in its flavors, colors, and aromas. Many of your local Indian restaurants will have curry dishes but, you have to look past the curry section of the menu that they have on there solely to cater to the "curry is all" stereotype of Indian cuisine. Yes, curry is tasty, but it is not Indian.

coffee, table, chair, setting, Interior, cafe, Restaurant, brunch, breakfast, restaurants, Minimalist, minimalistic, interiors
Denise Uy

I leave you now with these guiding words: open your mind to food. Do the research before dining out to find out what dish is a signature from the culture of the restaurant.

Also, take every dining out experience as a teachable moment. Let the meal guide you to a new place, a new way of thinking, a new narrative you have never visited. Culturally competent eating is more than just respecting the culture, too.