How To Find The Best Food While Travelling
I won’t lie. While I love travelling to foreign lands to see the awe-inspiring sights, experience the diverse cultures, and interact with people from all walks of life, the thing I love the most is to eat all the diverse and palate exploding food from around the world. I wouldn’t call myself a foodie – I don’t like that term anyway – but I do put in quite a bit of effort in hunting down the local specialities, prepared with love and passion, and devour it like a starving hyena.
However, I try to avoid, as much as I can, the expensive, touristy, and commercial places. Not because I don’t think they’re good – because sometimes they are – but usually because I can’t afford it on my travelling budget. I’ve often found that if you do your homework though, you can find a quaint hole in the wall, packed with locals, making delicious food just as good as any Michelin star restaurant out there. I’d argue that sometimes it’s even better.
So here are some tips on how to find the best food while travelling and not break your budget.
First things first, do your homework. I know, wouldn’t it be great to land in a foreign city, walk out of your guesthouse and right into the best local eatery. Sadly, if you don’t do your research, this won’t happen. So fire up that web browser and figure out what the local delicacies are. This could be as easy as typing in “must eat in Hanoi” or you could pore over reviews on Chowhound, Yelp, or TripAdvisor. Either way, you now know what it is you HAVE to eat and probably even have a short list of a few recommended places.
2. Ask Locals
When you arrive, start asking locals, and I don’t mean the concierge at your hotel – they’re mostly useless and sometimes get incentives to recommend places close by. Instead, ask your taxi or tuktuk driver, the bartender at the local bar, or even a waiter at another restaurant. The ones working in the industry probably know how to find the best food and it’s not always where they work and they know it. Ask them about the food and places that you found in your research and they’re likely to know the best places around. If you walk into a place and it’s all taxi drivers, then you know it’s the real deal.
3. Look For Crowds
I know, it’s not trendy to follow the crowds but the busiest restaurants are often busy for a reason. Long lines and packed tables are often a good sign for delicious food. But take a close look at the crowd. If it’s all tourists with guidebooks, then it might not be the food but rather the location, view, or some other gimmick luring in unsuspecting diners. Instead, if you find a tiny hole in the wall place packed with locals, you know it’ll be amazing because they’ll never pay touristy prices or eat crappy touristy food.
4. Avoid Touts And Tourist Specials
Is there a friendly host at the door, waving at you, offering you a table with a nice view and tourist specials? If so, then avoid it like the plague! Good restaurants don’t need touts to sell their food – the food should speak for itself. I know, it can be hard to turn down what may seem like a good deal but be strong and walk on, sister.
5. Avoid Menus With Photos
If the menu looks like a small encyclopedia, filled with pages upon pages of pictures of food, all translated in English (unless, of course, you’re in an English speaking country, then I guess it’s ok), then politely get up and leave immediately. If they have that much variety, chances are that nothing is fresh and they have lots of food sitting around or frozen, waiting for some poor soul to order that obscure dish, hidden in the back of the menu. However, if it’s a one page sheet, handwritten and in a foreign language that you can’t understand, you’ve hit the jackpot, my friend. Even better if the only menu is scrawled on a chalk board and completely illegible. That just means it changes daily and they care more about food than calligraphy and that’s ok by me.
6. Observe, Ask, And Point
So if you can’t read the menu and your waiter doesn’t speak your language, how will you know what to eat? Well, if you did your research in step 1, then you’re good to go. Just order the dish that you came for. Otherwise, what I found works best is to look around at what everyone else is eating, point at it, and ask for the same. If it’s good enough for everyone else, then it’s gotta be good enough for me too.
7. Be Adventurous
Ok, so what if you didn’t do your research, can’t find anyone to recommend anything to you, and it’s low season so all the restaurants are empty. However, you did find this cool little food stall or restaurant and from what you can see of the food, it looks pretty good. Well, then give it a go! At one point in time, everything had to be discovered by someone first, perhaps you’ll be the pioneer there. Don’t be afraid to try new things, break all the rules, and live a little.
8. Go For Home Cooking
Whenever I’m invited to someone’s home for a traditional home cooked meal, I ALWAYS say, “Yes!” And every time it was beyond anything I could find in a restaurant. From the fisherman’s wife that cooked me and my friends a fresh lobster dinner in Cuba, to our taxi driver in Petra who’s wife made us delicious lamb mansaf that we ate together in their home, I have never been disappointed with local home cooking. Of course, you have to be comfortable with the person enough to feel like you won’t be in any danger and sometimes that may be difficult to determine. However, more often than not, people are just genuinely hospitable and nice.
Some of my best food experiences have come from recommendations off the internet as well as from locals. But just as many have also come from me just wandering around the local markets, picking a random food stall, and just pointing at something that looked delicious while having no idea what the hell it was. In the end, it’s more about just getting out there and trying everything you can get your hands on and let your stomach sort it out after.
What are your best strategies on how to find the best food while travelling? What’s the method to your munching?