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Pól Ó Conghaile: Forget jet lag. It's time to talk about 'food lag'

Travelling can throw not just body clocks, but appetites and cravings out out-of-whack, says our Travel Editor


'Best friend': coffee and churros

'Best friend': coffee and churros

'Best friend': coffee and churros

You know jet lag. But what about food lag?

Googling the term throws up hardly any results. It's time to change that.

The first dose of food lag I remember came in Valencia. I was a young, hungry (in all respects) travel writer. I'd researched my restaurants. I got to one hot ticket around 7pm. My main aim was to get a seat, and it worked... the place was practically empty. Food was zingy; atmosphere zilch.

When I strolled past a few hours later, needless to say, the place was hopping.

Lesson learned. In Spain, dinner starts at 9 or 10pm. Knowing that is one thing. Making the simple adjustment is another. The urge to eat at 'dinner time at home' can be surprisingly forceful for adults, not to mind kids, and it's tempting to just get everyone fed. But then, of course, you miss the buzz, the colour, the 'Spainness' of it all.

The Spanish eat late for lots of reasons, including hot weather and midday siestas. You need to join them to slot into the country's rhythm of life.

Similar to jet lag, which takes a wrecking ball to body clocks, food lag must be nailed on arrival. Travel throws appetites and digestive systems out of whack (depending on the time zones traversed, you could be struck by a gentle urge for tea and toast at 11pm, or a full-blown carvery craving at 3am). This naturally works itself out over the course of a holiday, but you're better off sorting it sooner, especially on a short trip or city break.

A tip? Your best friend in Spain is the 'marienda' - a late snack taken between 5pm and 7pm. It could be coffee and churros, or a small plate of tapas washed down with a caña of beer. Similar to Croatia's 'marenda' (brunch) or Peru's 'lonche' (a light bite scoffed between lunch and dinner), it keeps you going... and is another excuse to eat.

It's not just Spain, of course.

France favours small breakfasts (croissants, juice, coffee) and big lunches - the latter usually between 12 and 2pm. Tourists have a relaxed approach to eating, but work/life balance is a big deal here, and restaurant opening hours can be rigorous, especially outside of cities. Many's the enthusiastic visitor that has ambled in at 1.30pm to be told the kitchen is fermé. And there's no 'no' like the French 'non'.

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Other tips? Drink more water. Dehydration is one of the main sources of discomfort in travel, and it can feel like hunger - sipping regularly from a refillable bottle helps you deal with stuffy planes, hot weather and food lag.

But the main thing is to eat like a local from the get-go - your body will follow, you'll feel better, and you'll have fun.

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