A woman walks past closed restaurants including Le Consulat in the Montmartre area in Paris | STEFANO RELLANDINI / AFP via Getty Images
Dispatches on the global state of eating from writers on the ground
As restaurants in the US struggle to survive amid the myriad of tight restrictions put in place in the wake of COVID-19, one thing to remember is this: America is not alone. Around the world, cities and their food systems are being affected by the spread of Coronavirus in a variety of ways, and drastic changes being enacted with varying degrees of efficacy. Eater Travel reached out to our correspondents around the world, asking them to shed light on how their own communities are coping with and adapting to this strange new (but still very, very wide) world.
[Editor’s Note: The below reflects the reality for these cities as of March 20, 2020.]
Currently in Paris you can only leave home for essential foods or other goods, medical care, caring for a child or someone ill or infirm, essential work that cannot be done from home, or small amounts of solitary exercise within your own neighborhood. There is a specific form that you must fill out and carry with you. If you fail to provide the form, or are found to be violating the rules, there will be a fine of 135 euros. Prior to the total confinement, they had already shut down schools and daycares and suggested people work from home, and then with very little notice on Saturday night, announced they were shutting down restaurants, bars, museums, movie theaters, etc. People still flocked to public parks and markets so we had total confinement announced Monday night.
Currently, it’s officially only a 15-day lockdown, but most people expect that it will be extended beyond that. Europe’s borders are closed for the next 30 days. Still, it was reported they issued 4,000 violations today. My own parents think they’re invincible, despite being of the age group most at risk, and continue to golf and go to the dog groomer, etc. If they were to get sick, and with the borders closed, I wouldn’t be able to be with them and then get back in to France. That’s what really concerns me. — Catherine Down
The quarantine first registered as a huge practical obstacle to the habits, pleasures, and conveniences of daily life in Paris, restaurants, food shopping and food delivery foremost among them. Now, going on day four, a deeper psychological set of challenges begins to emerge related to isolation, fear, and reflection on what you’d been doing with your life before it was unplugged. The necessity of doing a lot of home cooking was fun for many people at first, but it starts to wear day in and day out, which reminds people of how much they took chefs and the restaurants industry for granted.
Thousands of restaurants in France will not survive this shutdown, because their profit margins were already paper thin and they have the most minimal cash resources. This will also have a terrible effect on organic farmers, cheesemakers, winemakers, etc., who many of them showcased and supported. The whole French food chain may become less individual and more corporate as only big restaurant groups like Alain Ducasse and major industrial food producers survive. — Alexander Lobrano
Currently in Budapest there are no mandates yet for people to stay home. But schools have been closed, all public events canceled, so the streets are deserted and everyone is encouraged to stay home. Restaurants and cafes can operate until 3 p.m., after which they must shut down or shift to delivery-only service. The problem is, countless Budapest restaurants depend almost exclusively on tourists, so delivery isn’t really an option to many establishments. The city has cleared of foreign visitors and most locals couldn’t afford to pay upward of €10 for a main dish. This means that we not only need things to return to normal, but also tourism to bounce back, which will take even longer. I worry that by then many establishments won’t be around, including some without which Budapest dining won’t be the same again.
Yesterday, though, the restaurant workers of Hilda, a small downtown restaurant in Budapest, had to put away 30 liters of kegged beer before shutting down for at least a few months. They invited the service team of the restaurant around the corner (which was also closing) to join them for a few rounds, making this sad day a little more bearable for all of them. — Tas Tobias
Travelers are key to supporting Italy’s slow food movement and artisanal food products (either through restaurants, direct purchasing, or via small food tour companies like mine who promote these producers through guided visits and tastings). With visitors all but gone, these purveyors and the foods they produce are in threat of halting production, which would also translate into a loss of a safeguarded tradition or biodiversity which Italian foodways are widely celebrated for. The only hope is knowing this is a collective struggle felt across the world. — Coral Sisk
There is currently no lockdown at all here in Tokyo. It’s surreal how bars and restaurants are still open for business. Right now people are being encouraged to stagger commuting times; to work from home if possible; and to wash our hands. Nothing is being even talked about yet. But with tourism from abroad dwindling to 10-year lows and far fewer people eating out, many/most restaurants are hurting. Basically we’re all waiting for the situation to explode just as it has elsewhere. — Robbie Swinnerton
Finland is in a national state of emergency. The government decided to close all the museums and theaters so the cultural sector is taking a big hit, and the country closed its borders except for freight and returning Finnish nationals. Restaurants and cafes are still allowed to remain open, but many have decided to shut down, like S-Group, which is closing its network of 82 restaurants in Helsinki. Layoffs are happening left and right, and fear of bankruptcy looms in the air all around.
The mood is worried with a pinch of hope. In Finland, we have this thing called sisu (grit, perseverance, balls), which will serve us well in this time of crisis. Extrovert is not a word I would use to describe us Finns. Staying at home and avoiding social contact? Yes! Finally something we are good at. Dark humor, also a Finnish trait. — Ilkka Sirén
NEW DELHI, INDIA
India hasn’t had a vast breakthrough of the virus yet, but we also have the lowest number of tests per person. The mandate from the Delhi government is to stay at home, but predictably there has been no state provision to take care of people. Few people can take an unpaid leave of absence, so they have to decide between risking getting sick or their jobs. Indian society works in such community-dependent ways that for many it doesn’t even seem like an option.
Many in the middle class don’t know how to cook and depend on their home cooks. There’s been a surge in delivery and cloud kitchens (delivery-only restaurants), but also concerns about hygiene in cloud kitchens. The Delhi government ordered restaurants to close, but less than 5 percent of the city can really afford dine-in restaurants. Urban Indians eat in small informal restaurants and on the street, but street vendors operate with no security or insurance, so there will be challenges for them, especially with concerns that street food will transmit the virus. We haven’t had problems with supermarkets selling out or food scarcity because Indians still eat fresh food, but that very cycle of farm-to-table on an everyday basis may be disrupted. — Sharanya Deepak
Portugal is a country with many older people (about 30 percent of the population is over 60 years old), and people understand that it is necessary to follow the recommendations of the local government to protect them. The government ordered restaurants to only serve one-third of their capacity, but many chose to close before that. Many local restaurants, even fine-dining restaurants that previously didn’t offer delivery, are trying to focus on delivery or takeaway. There’s a campaign, led by some chefs, asking the government to officially close all restaurants to decrease the risk of contagion and move forward on measures to support a sector that foresees a deep crisis. The movement is called #tomates, which in Portuguese means tomatoes but also “balls,” calling on government officials to have the courage to go forward with order.
In general, the food scene in the country has never been more so prominent, allowing chefs to reinvigorate self-esteem in local, national flavors and ingredients. Chefs and famous winemakers are going online to keep the ball rolling, with Instagram Live panels about wine and interviews about industry happenings on Facebook, but this crisis may put the plane back on the ground for Portuguese gastronomy. It will probably take a lot of time for it to take off again. — Rafael Tonon
Morocco has had very limited cases of COVID-19, but restrictions have grown gradually, from canceling large gatherings, to shutting down schools and universities, to closing hammams and mosques. Restaurants and shops are completely closed with some restaurants offering takeaway. Farmers may not have the resources to manage distribution with more restrictions in place, while very small bakeries and food stalls earn enough to get by but aren’t making a lot of money. There has been talk from the government that they will release an aid package to help those people and businesses that have been affected, but many people work in the informal economy, so if there is any sort of assistance they may not be recognized or helped. — Amanda Ponzio-Mouttaki
BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA
Argentina is probably about two weeks behind Italy and Spain, and one week behind the US in terms of cases, but as of Friday the government announced a mandatory lockdown, requiring people to stay in their homes unless absolutely necessary until March 31. It has all happened so fast. Last weekend, I went out with friends and was mocked for not wanting to give a kiss hello. A week later, here we are. So overall the government has acted quickly, first closing schools, nightclubs, cancelling festivals and concerts, and cancelling soccer games — which is a huge deal for Argentine citizens considering fútbol is life.
Even before coronavirus, the unstable economy and hyperinflation that already exists in Argentina has made it difficult for many restaurants to make ends meet. With this, I’m afraid it’s going to be absolutely shattering to the local restaurant industry. I’ve talked to a lot of chefs over the last few days and many say this is the end for them. But Argentines have gone through many crises before — a dictatorship, economic crisis, and endless political and social unrest — so they are resilient. Living in Argentina can be chaotic because we don’t really know what’s going to happen tomorrow, but it makes the Argentine people incredibly strong and adaptable. As one restaurant owner told me today, “vamos a seguir adelante.” (We are going to keep pushing forward.) — Allie Lazar
The virus has hit New Zealand a little later than many countries, but already the borders have been locked down and indoor gatherings of over 100 people have been banned, which includes restaurants and bars. Generally restaurants are open as normal, though diners do seem to be practicing social distancing and are eating out less. Some restaurants have started to offer delivery and pick-up services. There have been some reports of panic buying in major supermarkets, and anecdotally, it seems more people are eating at home.
The primary sector here, especially agriculture, relies heavily on export business. The slowing of supply lines transporting food out of the country has meant that many farmers, fishermen and other food producers have lost significant revenue. Crayfish fishers are a prime example: They had to pre-pay for their right to fish, but didn’t fish in the end as their prime export destination, China, had shut down. But the government has already announced an unprecedented NZ$12.1 billion ($7.04 billion US) financial package for the country as a whole, most of which is going into businesses through wage subsidies and tax measures, and includes hospitality. — Janice Leung Hayes
The Swedish government has passed less strict regulations compared to other European and Nordic countries, or at least at a slower rate, which has caused an intense debate about whether the Swedish authorities are weak or smart. As of Friday, there’s no general quarantine, though people are strongly recommended to work from home if possible, not to travel to other countries or even within Sweden, and not to visit Stockholm, where the virus is now spreading most rapidly.
Although restaurants are for the most part open, the number of guests has diminished dramatically, and a great number of restaurants are offering takeaway. Paul Taylor Lanthandel is delivering by car and bicycle, Lux Day By Day have opened a drive-thru, Fotografiska is planning a pop-up bakery, and Restauranglabbet is delivering meals to hard-working personnel at hospitals. Swedish companies in need will be able to take loans from the Bank of Sweden for a total amount of 500 billion SEK (about 50 billion euros), but the question is if this will help. In the restaurant, hotel, and hospitality industry, there’s a feeling of utter despair, but also an unsurpassed feeling of camaraderie among restaurateurs and an impressive flood of innovative ideas and creative initiatives to continue to serve and stay in business. — Per Styregård
SÃO PAULO AND RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL
The country is still in the initial phase of the pandemic. Restaurants in most cities have not closed, except in Rio de Janeiro, where bars and restaurants (and beaches) are set to close for 15 days. However, there are increasing numbers of restaurants responding to the need for social distancing that decided to close by themselves, focusing on delivery instead. Like New York, São Paulo is a city where people eat out very often. Without restaurants in operation, the city loses all its soul. The Brazilian Association of Bars and Restaurants (Abrasel) states that there is already a decrease of up to 70 percent in the turnover of restaurants in the country, and that more than 3 million professionals who work in the industry may lose their jobs in the next 40 days. — Rafael Tonon
Australia seems to be faring better than many other countries, but the number of COVID-19 cases keeps climbing. Even without a formal lockdown, people are encouraged to practice social distancing, and Friday the prime minister announced a travel ban affecting all non-Australian citizens. Overall, things feel pretty grim. Several regions of the country are still suffering from the recent bushfires, so this feels like another brick.
Melbourne is known for its eating and drinking scene, and it’s unclear what that scene will look like on the other side of this. For now, many restaurants have turned to delivery and takeaway earlier this week. Some offer cooked meals like lasagne and cassoulet, while others sell kits you can cook at home like dry pasta and sauce or curry and uncooked rice. Even fine-dining restaurants like Attica have jumped on board. They have two delivery options; three classic dishes from the restaurant, including the “potato cooked in the earth,” or a lasagne and garlic bread family dinner. Ice cream, wine, spirits and beers can be added to your order. The city has announced a support package for the Queen Victoria Market, which is the state’s most popular tourist attraction, and petitions are circulating right now urging the government to save the hospitality industry and provide more financial support. Melbournians love their restaurants and will do everything they can to support them. — Audrey Bourget
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA
Kuala Lumpur is in full lockdown, and no one is allowed in or out of the country. Law enforcement and the military are using patrols and roadblocks to enforce curfews, making sure people only go out in public to purchase essentials or help the elderly or those who cannot help themselves. The two big food delivery services in the region, GrabFood and FoodPanda, are still delivering and encouraging citizens to order food. However, it is known that they both extort restaurants — Grab takes a 20 to 25 percent fee from merchants per order and FoodPanda charges 30 percent — which is a terrible burden for restaurants at the moment, since they are only allowed to serve food by pick-up or delivery. — Mona Nomura
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO
Except for a few neighborhoods like the ritzy Polanco or the tourist-heavy Roma and Condesa, the streets look pretty much the same, albeit perhaps with a slightly lower volume of people. Street stands continue serving tacos, and stores are open for business as usual. The health ministry says they’ve yet to identify community transmission of coronavirus, but experts are worried that the government is moving too slowly. Testing is limited and the Mexican health system is desperately under-resourced. Although the government hasn’t yet mandated any closings, many restaurants are now only offering delivery, and a group of restaurateurs has been coordinating to voluntarily close down this week.
Most of Mexico already lives in a state of precarity, with 60 percent of Mexicans working in the informal economy and around 40 percent living in poverty. A few days without work can mean families don’t have access to food and potable water. Higher-end restaurateurs will likely still be able to feed their families, but their employees may not. Small family businesses could lose everything. Even within the formal economy, the lack of worker protection in Mexico means that workers will take devastating hits. — Madeleine Wattenbarger