Getting the most out of food when you travel
Summer is almost upon us, which means the arrival of travel season. Whether you have big plans to go abroad, or are using some time off for a staycation, you shouldn’t overlook the food experiences you could enjoy when traveling. With every city and country I’ve visited, I’ve found that you can experience so much culture when you sit down for a simple meal.
Often, many vacationers will prioritize museums, landmarks, beaches, and nightlife, but tend to overlook eating beyond thoughts of sustenance. It’s always a shame when one will go to a foreign place, but seek out familiar food and never bother to experience the culinary traditions of those places visited. If you happen to be one of those people, I say you should change that. Make the food part of your travel experience. Here’s how...
Before you travel
The best place to start is to do your research, as I'm sure you're already researching everything else for your trip. If you’re looking at factors like transportation, lodging, sights, attractions, etc., don’t leave out the food. Take a moment to look into the traditional cuisine of your destination. Look for what they see as their “national dish”, local favorites, street food, “must try” dishes, and even possibly some places to hit. Also even look for special food events or festivals that might happen around the time you’re looking to travel.
You should also look into the local etiquette of your destination. Rude tourists generally aren't well-received anywhere, thus it is better to show respect for a foreign land by observing their customs and traditions when it comes to eating. Plus it helps you better experience life as a local, which can build unforgettable memories.
If you’re unsure on where to find all this information, start with the travel sites you’re already looking at, but definitely seek out user-submitted content sites like Afar, Zomato, or Spotted by Locals. They are loaded with great info on what to try and where. You could also hit up social media, such as fan pages or subreddits for your destination. Someone will always be willing to help.
At your destination
So let’s say you’re off on your trip. Maybe you have a list of eateries or at least some dishes you plan on trying. The one big rule I try to keep when I travel is to plan for one sit-down meal per day. It’s so easy to constantly be on the go, eating off fast-food, push carts, or grocery stores; but you should have one meal per day in someplace that requires you to sit at a table and eat off plates. It doesn’t have to be “fine dining”, but sitting down to eat at a restaurant or even someone’s home will benefit your food experience so much.
When Zuzana and I travel, we usually like to find lodging that comes with a refrigerator of some sort, so we’ll do cold cereal or simple oatmeal and fruit in the morning (great excuse to visit local markets). Lunch is when we usually will do our sit-down meal, and often take this time to try dishes we’ve researched. Dinnertime is usually a toss-up of either simple foods, or visiting friends/relatives. The dinners with family or friends are usually days when we’ll try local street foods for lunch.
When in a foreign place, you should try to eat the way locals do. This covers many areas, from the locations to the items and even the etiquette behind them. Even if you’re staying at an all-inclusive resort, venture outside and hit up some of the spots the locals go to eat. Get out of your comfort zone and see it as a big adventure. Stop in a local grocer or market, check out the outside vendors (if there are any), embrace the culinary tradition of wherever you went to visit.
Now this doesn’t mean you can’t get a burger, pizza, or some other food that’s more normal to your home. We all get those cravings. Just make the effort to immerse yourself in the place you choose to visit.
At the eatery
You’ve arrived at some local spot recommended to you. Maybe you have dishes in mind, but maybe don’t. I’d tell you to keep it simple. Look at the menu and pick something that contains ingredients you understand. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions, even ask the waiter to recommend a dish for you. Believe me, if they are going to roll their eyes at you for wanting to learn their cuisine, then they don’t deserve your business.
Be respectful to the chef and don't alter items on the menu. If you have some heavy allergy to an ingredient, then order a different dish. If you’re merely worrying about weight gain or what not, then put aside the fears and live it up. You’re on vacation, which means you’re also taking a vacation from the personal diet. Asking to withhold ingredients or add in other ingredients will only make you the annoying tourist, not a connoisseur.
If you studied up the etiquette beforehand, then you’ll also be knowledgeable on tipping (not every place does it) and other manners known to your destination. Remember, in a foreign land you’re expected to carry yourself with respect to that place, as opposed to living the way you do at home.
Lastly, relax and enjoy yourself. This whole article might sound like a hardened set of rules, but like a recipe, it’s just a guideline on how to enhance your food experiences while traveling. Do as little or as much as you like, and always remember to have fun.
Do you have any other tips you would share? Leave them in the comments.