Hands down, my favorite part of traveling is eating! You can get such a good vibe for a culture based on their food. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to find the best meals and food at the best prices while traveling. To get the best culinary experience in a new place, there are a few things you have to do:
If possible, try to leave your dietary restrictions at home.
There is something just so exhilarating about picking out something to eat without really knowing what it is. After being a vegetarian for nine years, I learned that although it works for some, it did not work for me.
I wanted to try every dish that a country had to offer. I wanted to eat like a local and experience the same flavors. This is also a little extreme in some countries where eating bugs and reproductive parts are a norm, so if you feel iffy on something, listen to your gut (no pun intended).
You know your tummy best, and if you think it might make you stick, it’s okay to say no! But by no means should you be scared. A little bit of nausea and food poisoning is a story that that a lot of travels stored in their storybook!
Street food will almost always be more authentic than a restaurant.
Not only is street food significantly cheaper, but it is just so damn good! Although there are precautions one should take, street food is 97% of the time extraordinary. Expensive does not always mean good. Although I’m sure many could tell you horror stories, but I have never had a bad experience. Luck? Maybe. All I know is that the best food I’ve ever had around the world has always been from little holes-in-the-way or stalls. These street food places are often created with little budget, which means the person behind it had some spectacular recipes to go off instead of a fancy brand name. You’ll be able to tell the best street food by watching where all the locals are gathering. They’ve been there awhile, probably tried it all, and continue going to the best.
Go where the food fits your taste buds.
I plan my trips around the food I want to eat. A big reason for this is because I think the food of a place says more than anything else does. More importantly, I pick places based on the food because I LOVE food.
I highly recommend before booking your trip to think about the things you’d really like to eat and try booking based on that! You might be surprised by how much you’ll love the other parts of your trip, too, because the food so often is an essential part of the culture.
I recently booked a trip to Belgium. Why? Because I love chocolate and waffles. Fun fact, before being called “Belgian Waffles”, they were called “Brussels Waffles”. They weren’t referred to as “Belgian Waffles” until they came to America in the 1960s. (1)
Do your research beforehand.
Before I go on a trip, I always research what some of the most important dishes are of the place I’m going. It goes beyond the “common” dishes from that place (think Italy and pizza.) There’s always some hidden gastronomical gems hidden from the average tourist, and if you look hard enough, you’ll be sure to get a great prize at the end- FOOD!
I highly recommend asking the locals themselves, whether it be through CouchSurfing, social media, or even when you get to your destination. People really seem to love giving food recommendations. I mean they REALLY love it. If you walk up to a group of people and tell them you’re looking for some great local joints, chances are you’ll walk away with more recommendations than you can even remember.
This also applies online. If you send a message to a local through any sort of online means, chances are you’ll get at least three varied recommendations. Although I always recommend doing your research beforehand before you get hangry and can’t find a place, sometimes it’s fun to head out and find something. Keep in mind this won’t always turn out well because hanger is a real thing and super powerful and it is SO FRUSTRATING when you can’t find anywhere to eat because you didn’t do your research.
Try what you’re scared to try.
The things you think you’ll hate have a funny way of becoming things you love; if not for the taste, for the experience. Try those crickets. Try that fish eye. Try that thing that may or may not be a fruit. Eating is an experience!
It’ll enrich your experience beyond words. Sometimes, I’ll be totally honest and say it’ll take everything you have to not spit it out. It might be terrible. But I know that when I’m an old woman, I don’t want to be saying, “Damn! I wonder what that cow tongue tasted like!”
Get out of the tourist areas.
I’m sure you’ve heard this one a thousand times, but it’s true! If you get out of the area where tourists are targeted, not only will you save money, but you’ll eat better. More money equals more food and I’m sure we can all agree that’s a fantastic thing!
The food in these touristy areas can sometimes be good, yes. But chances are they’re not the best and they’re DEFINITELY not cheap. Do yourself a favor; walk the city and find a quiet street filled with simple foods and real people. You’ll not only get a taste of the food, but also the people! People watching when you’re surrounded by locals is more fun, anyway.
Eat with a local family.
This is where being a social person comes in handy. If you’re like me, it’s not always easy making this a reality. Bottom line is to try. Put yourself out there, even if it just means talking to someone at a bar or asking for directions (and then leading to a conversation). I’ve found that many people will even offer you a meal if you tell them you’re a traveler and that you’re loving the culture and you’re so excited to try some regional flavors.
But be careful; don’t just go walking into anyone’s house. I like to use Couchsurfing.com for just this reason; you get to meet the locals and maybe they’ll even teach you how to cook a local cuisine! I also like to bring them a little gift from where I come from. Anything from a local spice to a mug with your city’s name on it will go over great. They’ll really appreciate the thought no matter what you gift them!
(1) Thomson, Julie R. “The History Of The Belgian Waffle, Which We’ve Apparently Been Eating All Wrong.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 02 Feb. 2015. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.
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