How to Find the Best Local Food When Traveling
Every foodie knows that trying local food is one of the most important travelling experiences.
Authentic dishes allow us to learn about the culture and traditions of the country you’re visiting; that is why the restaurants you pick must offer something you can’t have at home.
But finding the perfect food place in a foreign country is not just about new experiences. It has a more practical side as well. As a tourist, you have a lot of sightseeing, walking, and/or swimming to do, which means that every meal you have must be fulfilling enough to keep you going for hours.
Most of us do their homework in advance. We spend plenty of time searching the Internet and reading reviews of restaurants online; still, we somehow end up in food places filled with tourists, eating poor food that is ridiculously overpriced.
How do you avoid this? Here are 5 tips that will help you eat well when travelling.
Talk to Local People
Experience tells us that local people are far more efficient than any tourist guide you’ll ever read. Guidebook opinions are often paid advertisements and can’t be trusted. Don’t be shy, just ask the first person you bump into – polite hotel employees, waiters, people sitting next to you on a bus or those waiting in line behind you in a coffee shop, police officers, taxi drivers, shop assistants, or the first random person you encounter when you leave your hotel.
Local people can inform you on the trendiest new venues, recommend cheaper restaurants, tell you where to get the best authentic foods, direct you towards vegetarian or vegan restaurants. The more people you ask, the more options you’ll have to choose from.
Explore the City
Hotel restaurants usually don’t serve local foods, so put on your most comfy shoes and get out there!
You’ll be touring the most popular landmarks in the city, so be on the lookout. Detect any crowded places (yes, peep through a few windows, there’s no harm in it) and long lines in front of restaurants. Who would wait in line for bad food? Well, naïve tourists.
Crowds are the best recommendation for good food, but if the crowd is comprised of tourists, run as far away as possible. To determine whether the people lining up are locals or tourists, see what they are wearing. If you spot backpacks, cameras, and maps, keep walking until you find a place packed with casually dressed people with happy faces, speaking the local language/accent. To avoid waiting in line, make a reservation for the following day.
Get Lost and Take Chances
Another alternative is to experiment. Walk around the city and just enter the first food place that seems OK to you.
A few precaution measures, though:
if you are looking for truly authentic food, avoid tourist zones. For instance, in Venice, don’t sit anywhere near Plaza San Marco. Restaurants near popular tourist sites or those located on main squares and streets don’t need to offer great food in order to attract customers. They’re always packed simply because of their great location.
As a rule, ‘tourist traps’ serve poor (read: horrible) food. They count on the tourists being hungry and too tired to look for other options so they are focused on quantity instead of quality. These places count on the fact that tourists are one-time customers and usually overcharge the rubbery food they serve. The servers? Don’t expect them to be very attentive. The best food places are usually just around the corner, hidden in smaller streets. All you need to do is venture into the unknown.
To protect yourself from being ripped off, check out the menu in front of the restaurant for prices. If the menu doesn’t include prices, be sure to ask how much the dish costs before you order. If the place doesn’t have an English menu, just point to dishes at other tables that seem tasty or let the waiter surprise you with a meal of his choice.
Discover Local Dishes
Being in Thailand and ordering a burger doesn’t make sense, does it? Why would you eat a dish you can have at home every single day? Avoid places that offer ‘special tourist menus’. These menus are usually fusions of local and American food that are far from edible. A burger and fries complemented with local Thai condiments? No, thanks, I’ll have something new and unforgettable instead.
You can bet that local chefs in Thailand are much more skilled in preparing regional specialities than burgers. Another plus side is that local foods tend to be cheaper and widely available.
If you want to sample on as many different local varieties as possible, book a culinary tour in advance. It is best if you take such a tour at the beginning of your holiday. You will find out where these foods are sold and how much they cost and you can use this info later on.
And finally, don’t be reluctant to try street food; it is the best way to experience local foods in their most authentic form.
Turn to the Internet
There’s no point in avoiding the Internet, you only need to know where to look. Preparing in advance is very important especially if you don’t speak the local language or you are going to a country where no one seems to speak English. Asking the locals won’t help much in this case. Here are some techniques to use when doing a restaurant research on the Internet:
Start with Google. Search for best-of street food and restaurant lists compiled by locals. As mentioned before, regional online magazines and travel guides are not reliable sources so don’t waste your time. Read travel blogs. Bloggers always try to make their readers happy and you can be sure they’d done a thorough research. Be sure to read the comment section as well, as it may also contain hidden gems.
Use social media. Post your travelling plans on Facebook or Twitter and ask your friends to share recommendations. Also, use local food hashtags for the country or city you are visiting. For instance, if you’re visiting France, ask for restaurant suggestions with hashtags like #soufflé or #fromage.
Check out crowd sourced web sites and apps. Sites like, Yelp, and Foursquare contain tons of useful info. Besides comments on what the food tastes like at a certain restaurant, you can read about other menu items, service, prices, ambience, available parking, special offers, delivery options, coupons, discounts, and more.
Store all the useful info on your smartphone, pack your suitcase, and have fun!