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What to eat for lunch, and how, around the world

September 26, 2016

Close-up of businessman hands holding knife and fork over vegetable salad during business lunch

One of the main, if often overlooked, challenges for contractors working in far flung corners of the globe is finding something to eat that they can enjoy. Not only may the food itself not be to their taste, but the actual process and traditions involved in mealtimes can vary drastically around the world. And that’s not to mention having to find time to eat when you’ve already got a considerable amount of work to do.

A recent supplement in the Financial Times recently outlined how working lunches vary around the world, here’s what it had to say:

Paris – The French have been well known for taking long, languid lunches usually involving at least one bottle of wine, but it appears as if that may be changing. Pret A Manger, the confusingly named UK chain, has opened 17 stores in Paris and Stephane Klein, head of the company in France believes that this is indicative of changing culinary trends. “The days of one-and-a-half or two hour lunches are gone.” This appears to be down to the greater need for efficiency in the modern world with even the most high-end Parisian restaurants telling you that it’s possible to be in and out within an hour at lunchtime.  That said, French professionals are still more likely to take time away from their desks than their counterparts in other countries. According to Jack Cox, head of media at pharmaceutical group, Sanofi, “At our location in New Jersey about half of people would take their lunch upstairs to eat at their desks,” however in Paris his co-workers tease him when he eats in front of his computer calling it his “American lunch”.

Tokyo – The drive for efficiency is starker in Japan than almost anywhere else and this is reflected in its eating habits. Keiko Yataka, an employee at online retailer, Rakuten claims “I want to get out of the office but I do not have time,” adding that she eats in a restaurant once a month at best. At the firm, employees are given three meals a day essentially for free and menus include calorific counters and nutritional information that can be monitored on a smartphone. The Japanese diet is one of the healthiest anywhere on Earth and this is partly driven by employers. “To keep healthcare costs at a manageable level, it is necessary to ensure that employees stay healthy,” said Koji Nishikubo of the University of Yamahashi. It’s also seen as an antidote to the hard-working, late-hours culture prevalent in the country. That’s not to say everyone uses their employers’ facilities, around 35 per cent of Japanese men bring in home prepared lunch boxes.

Mexico City – The Mexican diet perhaps isn’t quite as healthy and most people eat the national staple for lunch, corn tortillas, with various forms of meat stew to accompany it. “Mexico has a very strong food culture. Employees at all levels go out and some pay 250-300 pesos (Around £10) per dish…it’s a social event,” said Diego Delgado, an employee at a digital cultural centre. Working life is slightly more relaxed here and Veronica Bueno, an insurance manager, says a 90 minute lunch break is standard. “I’m the boss so I ensure everyone takes it.” However, Mexico has the highest rate of child obesity and the second highest of adult obesity in the world and a lot of work is going into promoting healthy alternatives. This is particularly important when considering that Mexicans have the longest working hours of the OECD nations. But, nothing stands in the way of the most important meal of the day and, as Delgado says, “Lunch is sacred.”

Nairobi – Aspiration is a very important trait in Kenya, which is why so many people spent as much as Ks800 on lunch every single day when the average monthly salary is Ks40,000. However, for those at the lower end of the pay spectrum, meals at work are a bit simpler. “Whatever is left over from the previous night’s dinner. Pretty much everyone does the same – some carbs, meat and veggies,” said Kui Kinyanjui, an employee at the country’s dominant telecoms company. Like Mexico, lunch is a relatively relaxed experience here and two hour lunches are common. Bigger companies have cafeterias but the quality is mixed, “so it’s not something you’ll run downstairs for”, according to Kinyanjui. The trend for eating out is likely to grow in the future as the middle class is growing rapidly and the number of new restaurants entering the market in major cities is huge.

Working out what to eat, where to do it, how to do it and in how long can take your mind off important stuff, like remaining on the right side of the law. If you’re unsure over your tax status when working overseas then get in touch.

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