Food is a huge part of what shapes a culture and society. In fact many nations base much of their identity on their cuisine, and it baffles me when I see travelers heading to places that serve food from home when there are such amazing choices of places to dine all around them. Why would anyone travel 3000 miles to have an English breakfast, unless of course they were headed to England? The old adage ‘you are what you eat’ really is true, and if you follow the locals to find a good place to eat, you will usually come up with a big reward.
Get a Feel For Your Surroundings
The very best way to get a feel for what is out there is to go shopping where the locals go. In most cities and even small towns you will find a local market. Some are open every day, all day, while others will be on just one morning a week. You can find delicious treats that you would never find in the local grocery store. Things like fresh truffles in France or amazing weird tropical fruits in Laos. It is the freshest of the fresh, and in fact where most restaurants buy their meat and produce. Throughout Europe, you will find small charcuteries, bakeries and cheese shops too, all with their own local specialities. You can easily stock up on enough to make a cheap and easy breakfast or lunch that you can eat at the local park or on the beach.
Eat in the Street
No matter what your mom ever said about eating from street stalls, this is the very best way to not only immerse yourself in the culture, but also the best way to sample the local food at a fraction of what restaurants charge. From the souks of Fez to through the taco stands of Quintana Roo and the street stalls of Thailand and Vietnam, you won’t find a more interesting fare. Always check a place out first. If it is busy and the person cooking is not the same person handling the money, then you will usually not have any problems. These places open every day, and sometimes maintain a higher standard of cleanliness then some dining establishments. The locals eat here, and the proprietor wants them to come back every day, so they always take proper care.
Ask Those in The Know
Most travelers stick to the well worn paths and end up eating at places that most locals would never go near. The prices are higher and the food nowhere near as good as it could be because the owners know that someone new will come along tomorrow. For them it is not about repeat business but traffic. Bartenders, taxi drivers and especially the guys that drive a moto, cyclo or tuk-tuk in South East Asia will know where the best places are. If you see a place that has faded pictures of food in the windows with bad English translations, then you can be pretty sure that it will be below average. Even in New York’s Chinatown, look for places where the menu is in Chinese. Half the fun is figuring out what is on the menu, and through the most basic form of communication you will surely find something delicious.
Don’t be Afraid
Sometimes when you are in an unfamiliar place, small side streets and alleyways can seem menacing. The truth is probably that you are just being overcautious. I am not suggesting you walk down every street you find, but if you explore a little with a sense of adventure, you will often find places that will never make the guidebooks. The reason is simple; even the reviewers could not find the place. Nice is a great example of a city where some of the back alleys of the old town hide absolute gems. The may not look like much from the outside, but the lamb with truffle and walnuts will be the best that you have ever tried.
Do The Research
While it may seem totally obvious, millions of people go traveling every year without looking into where they are going. Sure, they may have booked a ticket online or found out what the cheapest route from the airport is, but that is often where it ends. If you spend a little time looking around as to what the local specialities are, check foodie blogs about different locations and look into when the seasons are for certain fruits and vegetables, then you will come prepared, ready for a journey into the culinary delights of the country that you are visiting. If you are really in to food (and lets face it. who isn’t?), you might want to consider getting on one of the many foodie tours that are on offer everywhere. Some places add wine tours with this, which can make for an exceptional holiday. If you want to go one step further and bring that knowledge home with you, look into a local cooking class. You not only get to prepare and eat the food, but you can later amaze you friends or loved ones back home.
We spend a huge portion of our lives eating and sleeping, and it is a wonder that anyone would just eat whatever comes along. You would not just take the first miserable hotel that comes along (unless of course there is no other one in the tiny town you are visiting), so there no reason at all to settled for food that doesn’t make you smile. After all, life is way too short to eat bad food
Travel Tips: Eat Like the Locals
By Military Travel Exchange