Travel Like a Foodie: How to Find the Best Eats in a New City
For many adventurous types, it’s hard to separate traveling from the food we enjoy along the way. Whether it’s a powdery plate of beignets in New Orleans, an overflowing bowl of pasta on the streets of Rome, a fresh-baked loaf of bread in Paris, or a steaming bowl of ramen in Tokyo, often the best—and tastiest—way to discover a new destination is by digging into the local cuisine.
We only get so many meals, though, especially while on the road. So how can you make the most of it each time you sit down at a table (or take your place in line at a food truck, or belly up to a bar)?
Here, seven insider tips on how you can really savor a city’s best fare—just be sure to save room for dessert (and maybe pack that extra-stretchy pair of pants).
1. Sign Up for a Food Tour.
Exploding in popularity in cities all over the world, food tours are a great way for traveling gourmands to really dig into the local culinary culture. Diners might sample small bites, desserts, and drinks from a dozen or more restaurants over the course of two or three hours—and tour guides love to share their recommendations for where to go later, too. Tours also introduce travelers to a city, acquaint them with the city’s history and culture, and offer a glimpse of day-to-day living. You’ll often get to visit off-the-tourist-track neighborhoods and sometimes meet the chefs who make your meals. Tours are also a good opportunity to meet fellow foodies along the way.
Finally, the restaurants chosen for these food tours are well-vetted, clean, and safe. If you’re nervous about the unfamiliar cuisine of a new place, take heart knowing that tour guides have noshed at these eateries numerous times and know the proprietors well.
2. Explore the Local Grocery Store or Farmers’ Market.
Seek out local markets and groceries stores to get a feel for what the locals eat—and to get inspired for your own dishes back at your rental or Airbnb. Here’s how they expand your culinary horizons.
Healthful options: You’re more likely to find fresh, local ingredients at farmers’ markets than at many cafes and diners. Grocery stores, bakeries, and butcher shops likely sell less-processed, healthier fare for preparing your own meals, too.
Local cuisine: Most markets and grocery stores don’t cater to tourists, so you’re more likely to find foods conducive to preparing local dishes unique to that region.
Personalized recommendations: There’s a good chance the person behind the counter baked the loaf of bread you’re smelling, picked the fruit you’re admiring, or cut the meat you’re considering. They’re happy to provide tips for pairing, preparing, and garnishing your meal—and they’ll tell you where to find the other items.
3. Take a Cooking Class.
While a cooking class might seem like something best suited for your hometown, there’s a lot to love about taking one while traveling. Hotels are increasingly offering hands-on demonstrations with their in-house chefs and mixologists, or check with your concierge for recommendations.
Learn about local culture and cuisine: What do the locals eat, and how do they prepare it? Why are certain dishes so popular, and what does that signify about the broader culture? Cooking classes offer fascinating primers on local life, with the added benefit of delicious food afterward.
Meet other foodies: Your teacher and classmates are just as interested in good food as you are. Make dates to check out local restaurants, and get recommendations from the teacher.
See how it’s done: You might have a general idea for how certain dishes are prepared, but cooking classes reveal the process and inspire a greater appreciation for the time and effort chefs put into crafting delicious dishes.
4. Find a specialty food store.
Whether it’s chocolate, cheese, wine, or spices, specialty food stores offer a deep dive into local cuisine. Employees are often foodies themselves and are delighted to share their passion with customers—especially out-of-town ones. They’re a great source of expertise for recommendations, info on their products, cooking tips, recipe ideas, and more. Speciality stores are also perfect places to stock up on authentic souvenirs. Regional spices are an especially good choice—saffron in Spain, say, or curry in India—as they’re easily packed and don’t spill.
5. Skip the U.S. Chain Restaurants.
We know, we know: The fries at McDonald’s are addicting, and KFC is is a beacon of hope when you’re hungry and homesick. Seriously, though: Skip the chain restaurants, if at all possible, and go local while you’re traveling.
Which means, if you must do fast food, go for a coffee and donut at Tim Hortons, Canada’s ubiquitous burger chain, or savor a Spanish omelette sandwich at Pans & Company, which is more or less Spain’s version of Subway.
That said, we won’t judge you too harshly for enjoying the occasional one-off meal at your favorite fast food chain abroad. Just make sure you get something you can’t back home: McDonald’s, for instance, serves pão de queijo—a traditional cheese bread—in Brazil, as well as mozzarella and tomato calzones—dubbed the Pizzarotto—in Italy.
6. Ask the Locals.
Once you’re on the ground, who better to turn to for local recommendations than the locals themselves? Don’t be shy about asking your bartender, Airbnb host, hotel clerk, or tour guide about where to go—and what to order. (Just keep in mind that hotel concierges sometimes get a kickback from restaurants, so their recommendations might not be entirely objective.)
7. Hit up Social Media Before You Leave.
For all the memes cluttering your Facebook feed and selfies littering Instagram, social media can be an invaluable resource for discovering foodie hotspots (and which pitfalls to avoid) and what to order once you’re there. Here’s how to make the most of it.
Ask your friends: At least one of your friends or followers has likely visited the destination where you’re headed; if not, they know someone who has. And if there’s one thing people love more than sharing their political opinions on Facebook, it’s talking up a hip sidewalk café or down-home pub they discovered on the trip.
Do a deep dive on Instagram: See which dishes people are ‘gramming at a certain restaurant, find and browse relevant hashtags, and track down travel-related accounts for recommendations and ideas.
Use Yelp—but sparingly: Sure, everyone’s favorite review site is good for getting a broad read on a place. But think critically about what people are saying—and how they’re saying it. For instance, a restaurant with loud music might feel right at home for some folks, but other reviewers might find it unpleasant and alter their rating accordingly. Also see whether the owner responds to negative reviews—how (or if) they handle them says a lot about how they value their guests’ dining experience.
Originally written by RootsRated for ExOfficio.