My biggest fear when traveling is eating a bad meal or, even worse, eating at an overpriced, touristy restaurant. To me, food is one of the best ways to experience a new country, city and culture. My goal is always to find the hidden local restaurants, coffee shops or bars, anything off the beaten path. I want to eat like a local when I travel.
This is often easier said than done. When a friend, who travels frequently, told me she went to Rome and didn’t eat one good meal, I was shocked – I had some of the best food of my life in Rome! The local spots are typically not right in front of your face, you have to do a little digging to find them. Here are nine tips to find the best local food spots, no matter where you are in the world.
- Research ahead of time. Even a basic internet search can give you information on the local cuisine, including the dishes typical to that part of the world, food traditions, table etiquette, and more. Doing a little research ahead of time can prepare you for what foods to keep an eye out for while you’re traveling.
- Check out local food bloggers. Once I have a baseline info about the food in a region, I search for local food blogs. This is how I’ve found some of the best restaurants all over the world. I search for the place I’m visiting followed by “food blog” and start digging through the results. Instagram and Pinterest are both great ways to find local foodies. I’ll start following a few of them a couple weeks before my trip and save any cool places that they share.
- Pick the right neighborhood. If you’re staying in a central area, you’re likely in a touristy part of town. I always try to stay in a more residential part of town, as many of the popular local spots tend to be away from highly trafficked tourist areas. Take New York City for instance – if you stay in Times Square, you’ll be surrounded by touristy (read: bad and overpriced) restaurants. But stay in the East Village or Gramercy and you’ll be within walking distance of dozens of amazing restaurants.
- Get lost. The best way to find those hidden local gems is to wander off the beaten path. Explore residential neighborhoods and if you see a place that looks cool – and is teeming with locals – pop inside.
- Shop with the locals. One of my favorite things to do in a new city is visit a local market. From fresh produce to live seafood, these markets are full of local life and flavor and offer you an inside look at local food preferences.
- Ask a local. The best way to find the best food spots: talk to the locals! I had one of the best meals of my life in Thailand from a tiny street food vendor. I would have never thought to eat there if it wasn’t for a local Thai man who recommended it to me. If you’re staying at an Airbnb or other homeshare, ask them to leave you a list of their favorite places to hang out. If you’re at a hotel, ask the concierge where they go out to eat. You can also chat up taxi drivers, waitstaff and bartenders and get them to tell you their favorites.
- Look for menus written entirely in the local language. While this can make it a bit tougher to figure out what to order, a non-English menu is a sure sign that the place is not touristy. Ask the waiter to translate for you, or just have him bring out his favorite dishes. I’ve had some of my best meals by asking them to recommend dishes.
- Take a food tour. You don’t have to do all the food research yourself, instead sign up for a food tour with a local guide. Most cities have food tours that will spend a few hours taking you to spots off the beaten path. Go towards the beginning of your trip, so you can ask your guide to recommend more of their favorite places.
- Turn to the apps. There are now multiple apps and companies that set up local food experiences in cities around the world. From a cooking class in Cambodia to truffle hunting outside of Rome, you can get inside access from from passionate locals who want to share their food with visitors. Check out Traveling Spoon, Airbnb Experiences, Colunching and Local Eats.
How do you like to explore the local food scene when you travel? Share your tips in the comments section below. Be sure to download Luvo’s 7-day meal and fitness plan for more nutrition tips and recipes.