Back in my travel naivete, I considered eating at a Hard Rock Cafe abroad to be the coolest thing period. On my first ever trip to Europe at the age of 18, I ate at the Hard Rock Cafe in Barcelona. Although this Catalan city is probably home to some of the best tapas bars in all of Spain, I sought out a ubiquitous American chain restaurant. Sure, looking back on it now I definitely regret going for that cheeseburger and fries over tortilla española and croquetas but at the time I was a recent high school graduate who in many ways didn’t know better. I also was recovering from a nasty tonsil infection and all-around cold (the second in less than a month) so maybe it was more my sick self clamoring for the red meat.
A year later I would travel abroad again, this time to the other side of the world, in South Korea. I’m not going to lie when I say that I struggled with the food there. I love many Korean dishes but I’m definitely more selective than with other cuisines as no, I don’t eat anything with tentacles (and the Koreans love them). I ate a lot of American-style fast food during my summer abroad in the Korean capital but one place I never made it to was the Seoul Hard Rock Cafe. It’s not that I didn’t want to (yes, I was still in my travel naiveté at the age of 19), but every time I tried to get people to go, plans fell through. And while I ultimately became comfortable going out and doing things on my own in Seoul, eating at an American chain restaurant was not one of them. All I did end up getting was a knock off Hard Rock Cafe Seoul t-shirt (yes, it wasn’t even the real thing).
Three years later I made it back to another Hard Rock Cafe, this one in Buenos Aires, Argentina. After eating there at the age of 21 I finally realized how abysmal a meal at a Hard Rock abroad really is. The food is decent but it is so ridiculously expensive considering the type of meal you are eating (i.e. it’s not fine dining at a four star Michelin restaurant). I realize that part of dining at a Hard Rock Cafe abroad is to have that “taste” of America anywhere in the world, but as an American, I can have that any time.
By the time I ate at the Hard Rock Cafe in Buenos Aires, I had spent a year abroad between my semesters living in Costa Rica and Spain. I lived with host families, ate the local cuisine and truly immersed myself in the local culture in those places. While one would think that spending four months in another country would make you yearn to eat at a place like Hard Rock Cafe (well, if you’re an American that is), if anything it made me want the complete opposite. I wanted “home” at times during my semesters abroad but not in the form of an overpriced cheeseburger.
There’s nothing wrong with Hard Rock Cafes, but now that I’ve long been out of my travel naivete, they are not and will never be “it” for me again.