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Finding Good Food in New Places - How to Eat Like a Local

By Edited Dec 20, 2013 1 1

If you are interested enough in a particular country to travel there above all the other travel locations, you obviously want to get the full experience of it. The best way to get the full experience of a country—its people, its culture, everything—is through the food. Food is universal as everyone eats, but the flavors and what they eat differ in countries. Each country usually has flavors and spices unique to their people and their culture, for example curry in India or coconut milk in Thailand and Southeast Asia. However, throw away the travel guides and skip anywhere you can get a hamburger, here are some tips to eat like a local and during it experience local life.

The best way to experience local foods is with a friend from the region. I strongly suggest trying to make a friend before you travel to a country. If you are not strong in the language, look into expat resources in the region. Perhaps even consider staying with a host family for some home cooked meals.

street food

Toss the Travel Guide and Skip the Tours

If you are going to a country to have a fancy sunsoaked vacation, laying on the beach all day sipping fruity alcoholic drinks, then you can go ahead and cling to travel guides and take guided tours. This goes for those who lack curiosity and have a fear of the unknown as well. However, if you want to have an authentic experience in a country, you have to learn to take a step into the darkness. Travel guides will tell you where the most popular food is, and you can get a taste of some great food and culture in those places, but those are not always where the best food is.

The best food, the stuff the locals eat, are more often found on the street in questionable looking dives and holes in the wall. These are the kind of places tour guides and travel books won't recommend. Sometimes there is a risk of parasites in lesser developed countries, it happens and that's the risk, just be sure to visit a doctor when you get home.

Get Friendly with Food Blogs

Everyone who travels always recommends to new travelers that they should research where they are going. Sites to see, foods to eat, stuff to do. Usually this translates to guide books. However, the best resource you can research if you are looking to eat like a local is a food blog. Preferably the more local the food blog, the better. They will provide you with the best tasting food and usually places that are not too well known.

They will tell you which holes in the wall to avoid and which ones have a once in a lifetime eating experience. If you are not strong on the language, get familiar with google translate. It can be ambiguous at best, but you will get the gist of the review. Though translating a local food blog yourself may help you learn the language a little better.

Ask a Local

When in doubt, ask a local. Cab or taxi drivers are particularly helpful in this respect. Ask them what they recommend or where they would eat. Usually they will take you to a good place where all the other cab drivers eat. Be sure to give them a nice fat tip for their tip. Another good option is the person at the front desk of your hotel. However, if your hotel has a restaurant in it, you know what they will recommend. Really, it is what they HAVE to recommend. Instead, ask them where they themselves like eating.

Lastly, if you still need some advice, find a bar. If you can't trust a bartender, you can't trust anyone.

Find Street Food

There are two things I wish America would adapt into their culture: Japanese vending machines with all the varieties of juice and coffee inside and street food. Well, some of the bigger cities in America have street food—hot dogs, falafel, food trucks and the like. However, most people still prefer the abhorrent habit of fast food chains for their lunch time options.  You would be hard pressed to find a country that didn't have some kind of street food. It's fast food, it is what working class people eat when they need food and they have to get back to work. If you happen to plan your trip during a local festival, that is the best time to find huge amounts of street food. However, even without festivals, you will still find them in most cities.

So how do you know what street food is good? It's simple, follow your nose. Does is smell good? You probably want it. I personally find that any kind of sizzling meat on a stick, marinated or many rubbed in spices, is food of the Gods. Or stews of questionable content, you never knew how good cow tongue or intestines could be stewed in a broth and a slew of spices. Of course, if you knew that was going to be in it, you would have never tried it. It's good to try things you would never normally try, and street food is good for that.

Be Open

Finding good food to eat isn't a challenge if you are willing to try new things. A lot of the best foods are bread out of necessity, especially in poor countries. However they are often the most flavorful and soulful. Don't be afraid to try a stew that is probably made out of the junk bits of an animal, or even an animal you have never eaten before.

There are a lot of friendly people all over the world that would be more than happy to share a meal with you too. Who knows what kind of conversation could be struck up by just talking to a person near you. You could make a new friend and have some fun times. Do, of course, exercise some caution. There are also people that like to pose as friendly people just to take advantage of foreigners. It is that suspicious that often kills a lot of curiosity in travelers, especially when you have a few bad experie

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Comments

Sep 9, 2013 1:51pm
prsquires
Great article and some good points for me to remember when I head off to Madrid by myself next month!! Thanks for the heads up!
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