A love of food is a love of life. A large part of traveling is learning about local life, history and culture and there’s no better way to become familiar with these facets than by feasting on a city’s most popular foods. Whether your food experience involves grabbing some street meat from a sizzling roadside hibachi in Laos, enjoying the systematic practice of a tea ceremony in Japan, or grabbing a hot dog from a NYC stand, sampling local cuisine is an infallible way to fill your belly with some incredible dishes. It’s not hard to do so either, especially if you follow these 7 steps to eating like a local.
7. Investigate Your Options
Most travelers will scour guidebooks looking for that perfect place to stay or ideal attraction to visit, but unless you’re a tried and true Foodie, you’ll generally make off without a list of must-try restaurants, street stalls, and food vendors. Even those out of touch with their inner Julia Child welcome an incredibly tasty meal, and why not? From famous travel writers to plain, old, unknown tourists, people from all backgrounds curate remarkable restaurants around the world. Making note of just a few will ensure you won’t miss some truly authentic, delicious local fare. This way you can also be sure to stick to your budget or find that one place you want to splurge for a special meal. Take the extra time to find that ultimate food haven and who knows, you might be the next one writing about it.
6. Eat Street Food
There’s almost no better way to experience local food than by ordering from a street stall. Sure, this might sound unsavory to some, and downright dangerous to others, but it’s the best way to try what the locals are eating. Perk up your senses in Marrakech’s bustling square, sample steaming bhajis in India, slurp a spicy bowl of Pho in Hanoi, or gobble up some amazing, marinated kabobs in Cuzco. There are some golden rules to follow to keep your experience to blissfully delicious foods: choose your street stall or vendor very carefully and if there’s any doubt in your mind, move on; watch for patrons: the busier the vendor the better and the fresher the meal. When you come upon that makeshift, streetside stall with packed tables, you can usually bet the place is going to be good. And don’t forget to try something completely foreign and new.
5. Talk to the Locals
Those who are really into food are usually into culture too and what better way to enjoy a deep, cultural experience than to befriend some locals and pick their brains on everything from life to eating—and find out about the best local haunts serving up fresh, tasty meals. Local knowledge is an ideal way to find out where—and what—everyone’s eating. Even if you’re on the shyer side, it’s worth asking a store clerk or taxi driver where everyone’s eating these days. Taxi drivers are usually the best bet—they know their town or city like the back of their hand and are usually happy to suggest the best local bars and restaurants. Generally you’ll be steered away from main thoroughfares and to small, backstreet alleys where the food is bona fide and prices won’t gauge your wallet like main street venues often do.
4. Shop the Markets
Most locals shop for food at local seafood, meat, and produce markets. It’s always worth finding your destination’s best independent grocers and markets and when they’re open. Farmer’s markets can be an excellent way to source some of the best food in the area and enjoy the exciting melee of people scanning for their next prize. Seasonal produce is often the best you’ll find in the vicinity and at a much lower price than in larger supermarkets. Get your spy eyes on and watch some of the locals shopping, keeping tabs on where they shop and what for. Use your nose to smell out market stalls that not only sell fresh ingredients but also cook up a little something for breakfast or lunch—food shopping is always done better on a full stomach anyway, plus it’s an excuse to try out some authentic local food.
3. Take the Road Less Traveled
Anytime you’re out walking around and exploring a new destination, taking the road less traveled can mean finding those hidden gems you might never have happened upon otherwise. If you’re in a new town or city, you’re probably planning to check out the major tourist attractions, and while you don’t want to visit Rome without delving into the Parthenon or see Paris without visiting the Louvre, planning to eat farther away from these hotspots is a good bet for avoiding mediocre food and invariably jacked-up prices. Making the time to venture around the streets and off major avenues to lesser-known districts can pay off in spades with real, local cuisine. The most enduring and gratifying restaurants are often found in out-of-the-way residential areas so don’t be too anxious about taking the road less traveled to find a delectable meal.
2. Visit a Local Celebration or Festival
A little planning goes a really long way, especially when it comes to food. If you happen to be on an extended vacation and roughly know your route, check out the calendar of events in forthcoming destinations to see if there’s any kind of special event or celebration happening because this is where some of the best local and most authentic food is found. Whether it’s a small cultural event (those are often the best for tempting dishes), outdoor festival or fair, or a local holiday, where there’s celebrating, there’s lots of food too. You’ll get a wide variety of food—and likely some special treatment too—if the fete happens far from tourist areas and caters to the local crowd. Special events often showcase an array of local delights so be sure to look ahead and source out any interesting dates.
1. Food Tours
If you really love food and trying new dishes then the Foodie in you would likely jump at the chance to be shown around to the best markets and restaurants throughout your destination. Food tours have become extremely popular around the world—think outdoor food markets in Thailand or curry specialties on London’s Brick Lane. Food tours are the best way to learn the ins and outs with an engaging guide who will entertain with food history and local eating habits and whisk you off to the best restaurants where authentic dishes will tempt you. If you’re lucky enough to find a tour pairing food shopping with a cooking class, you might even learn to whip up some of your favorite local dishes with fresh ingredients you picked up that day. You’ll take a little bit of authenticity home with you—it’s the souvenir that keeps on giving.