Around Harvard Square in Foreign Fare

With spring break already two weeks in the past, it seems that there are few ways to keep alive the memory of endless idyllic hours of vacation, socialization, and relaxation—in other words, Spring Break ‘08, WHOO! Our tans have already faded, and we’ve already forgotten most of the inside jokes that inspired the captions in our facebook albums. But one phenomenon that frequently characterizes both European tourism and island vacations seems to have followed us back to Cambridge—or rather, our adventures abroad have alerted us to a reality that always existed at home. The overpriced foreign restaurants that frequently lure hungry, naive, unsuspecting tourists have morphed into familiar Harvard Square landmarks that lure hungry, naive, unsuspecting undergrads. And although we can no longer excuse our spending by saying that we’ve forgotten how to convert currency, we can always say that we desperately needed a place to reminisce. With the Square’s variety, there are restaurants with the cuisine, the atmosphere, and certainly the prices to remind almost all Spring Breakers of the best trip of their lives.

Daedalus

The national origin of the menu is ambiguous at every final club’s favorite restaurant/bar, allowing it to serve as a blank screen onto which Eurotrippers of most varieties can project their experiences. Those recently returned from Ireland will undoubtedly catch the numerous references to James Joyce, but will (perhaps thankfully) find little to recognize in the food. Vacationers to Greece can impress their friends by expounding on the classical allusion that gives rise to the restaurant’s name, but the dishes are far too bland to call to mind Hellenic bliss. In an unexpected turn, the grumpy waiters—probably of this disposition as a result of the hordes upon hordes of underage boys in matching ties—will surely remind a wistful francophile of Paris’ famously unfriendly garçons. All three groups, however, will achieve common understanding upon receiving their check: the prices at Daedalus would be more at home in the booming economies of the Old Country than in the mortgage crisis-crippled markets of the States.

Wagamama

For those who traveled to the Continent, it might seem that there’s nothing worse than having to convert prices that seem reasonable in Euros into weak American dollars. Britain makes the conversion easier by reducing it to a simple ratio, but there’s nothing more depressing than having to double amounts that already border on the expensive. The typical poor college student begrudgingly gnaws away for months at stacks of ten-cent ramen noodles; said student would find himself drowning in a $9.50 chicken ramen bowl—the cheapest soup on the menu. This menu reads: “All dishes at Wagamama are cooked to order and then served immediately to your table. This means that individual selections of your side dishes and entrées may be delivered at different times.” It also means that a group of friends suffering together on simple benches and overpaying together won’t even be able to eat together. As for the few lucky students who spent their breaks in Japan, facing an American imitation of a British interpretation of Japanese food will simply be too disappointing. They would do better to opt for the (very reasonably priced) small restaurants in the Porter Exchange instead.

Algiers Coffee House

Orientalism may be a discourse of the West, but there’s no denying that a meal at Algiers can conjure up memories of a variety of “exotic” vacations, including journeys to Morocco, the Middle East, and the country that gives the café its namesake. But one aspect of the coffee house is uniquely Algerian: its prices are as absurd as the fiction of the land’s most famous novelist, Albert Camus. It’s highly unlikely that a $3.50 croissant even exists in France, let alone in a former colony, and paying $9.95 for a ham sandwich is as ridiculous as shooting a stranger on the beach for no reason at all. Even so, we’ll always be willing to shell out $4.25 for thick coffee in the most relaxed atmosphere this side of the Atlantic to remind us of our own break in Istanbul.

Fire & Ice

Although few students took advantage of the opportunity to time travel over Spring Break, for the select few who were resourceful enough to construct Deloreans while their peers were only buying airline tickets, Fire & Ice offers a remarkable replication of the pre-historic world they likely visited. Here, food only exists in chaotic piles of raw meat and vegetables freshly torn from the Earth; ordinarily civilized students morph into Cro Magnons with no opportunity for rest amidst the continual need to hunt and gather their own meals. It goes without saying that the do-it-yourself ethos of Fire & Ice precludes exposure to new cuisine or involved conversation among dining groups, making primitive grunts the optimal mode of communication. The restaurant does, however, differ from Stone Age eateries in one critical way: where Cro Magnon man had no need for currency, Fire & Ice demands all too much of it.

—Columnists Aliza H. Aufrichtig and Marianne F. Kaletzky can be reached at aufricht@fas.harvard.edu and kaletzky@fas.harvard.edu.