One of the best parts of travelling is the chance to live like a local. And eating is a sure-fire language that crosses all borders. In fact, there’s probably no better way to get a feel for a culture than by sampling local food and food rituals.
In other words, don’t make a beeline for McDonald’s and definitely steer clear of the Starbucks. Instead, experience a country’s cuisine the way the locals do, and make your trip that much more memorable. Here are some great tips to help you get your fill of cuisine and culture.
Research your destination
There is so much food and travel information available these days, so researching the cuisine of your chosen destination couldn’t be easier. Check out the multitude of travel websites and look out for local food blogs. Here are some good sites to help you on your way:
Hit the streets
Sampling street food is one of the most authentic ways to experience local cuisine, and it can be a heck of a lot of fun to do, too. Instead of looking for the fanciest restaurant in any given city, take a chance, wander around and chow down on the amazing array of street-spun wares offered by local roadside cooks. Once again, the internet can also help you find the best street foods. Here are two handy apps that can help you on your way:
Mill around the markets
Local produce markets are possibly the best places to get a feel for local life and cuisine. Try haggling over the morning’s catch at a fish market or drive a bargain with deli owners for fresh ravioli and mouth-watering mozzarella (if in Italy, of course!) Ask the vendors where they go out for a meal. Who knows, if you’re nice about it and show a genuine interest, you may even receive an invitation to their house for some of mama’s good, old fashioned home cooking.
Ask the locals
Why not ask your taxi driver where the locals go out to dinner on Friday and Saturday nights? Most will be happy to pick you up that evening to take you there. Also ask concierge staff where they would eat, instead of where the ‘best’ restaurants are. Tell them you want to eat like a local – not a tourist. Most natives will be happy that you show an interest in their culture and cuisine, and will give you a list of their favourites. Ask any local bar and wait staff, and people on the street – instead of taking the recommendations from travel guides and hotel or airport brochures.
Venture outside the city square
Quite often the best food is found outside of the city’s main streets and tourist centres. Explore outside of the city, getting out into the fringes. You can also ask the locals where they head out on a night with their friends. Don’t be afraid to venture into ‘lower-class’ areas – within reason, of course; no one’s telling you to go to Gaza for gyoza. These areas mean cheaper rents, which translates to up-and-coming chefs having lower overheads so they can put their money into the freshest ingredients and have more freedom to experiment.
Trust your senses
Follow your nose and go where the food smells good. Open your eyes and look out for the noodle-twisting Thai chef or the cook spinning discs of dough in a pizza shop window. Food is a multi-sensory experience, so if it looks good and smells good, chances are it will taste good too.
Do you know of any great street food spots? Or do you have any favourite restaurants, bars or cafés you’ve visited whilst abroad? Why not share them?