Feast with the locals when traveling

For many world cultures the preparation and enjoyment of food is the center of all daily rituals. So when vagabonding you have a unique opportunity to share in a local, sensual pleasure and sometimes even a sacred experience.

I admit to being addicted to great food. For many years I wandered through country, city, town, and remote village driven by hunger and thirst as much as by the desire to learn and experience something new. In some cases guidebooks provided clues as to where really good food could be found, but in most cases I have found that following my nose and instinct has led to the most satisfying and memorable fare.

To eat really well when traveling on a budget (I will leave the important matter of "eating smart" and "safely" for another post):

  • Wander the streets as much as possible to look at menus and take in the smells. Comparing the options will build an ever-greater appetite and offer a fuller sense of the place you are visiting. Start by trying to find a restaurant or pub which offers a menu of local specialties. However, in smaller villages around the globe there are often no menus or even identification of eating establishments, so you will likely need to rely on recommendations from locals.

  • Ask the locals where the best traditional cooking can be found. Generally they will proudly point you to a small restaurant off the beaten path. As a wary traveler when it comes to food, I ask for suggestions for more than one restaurant or bar, as it is possible a local may push a relative’s place or a tourist spot should they decide you would be most comfortable there. So graciously accept recommendations, but check several out before making a choice. For more tips, see Tim Leffel’s article, Eating Where the Locals Eat.

  • Stay away from tourist traps. This may sound obvious, but I have found so many backpackers — and travelers in general — succumb to the urge for the familiar. Such traps usually dish out food that scarcely offers the taste of the local land and culture, and most natives will likely steer clear (the exception may be some young people who may find it cool to hang out with tourists or are less interested in the local specialties).

  • Buy food at local markets. There are places where natives may not cook well — at least to my palate — but almost every country in the world offers great locally grown vegetables, meat, and dairy. Some of my most memorable meals have been at a youth hostel or hotel enjoying a spread picked up from the many characters at the local market. Barcelona’s cooking once had me down, as I tired of tapas and restaurants were expensive, overly crowded, or less-than-satisfactory. One trip to a local market led to a feast of jamon serrano, manchego, and vegetables that tasted as good as anything I have eaten anywhere. The Swiss army knife came in handy for excellent local wines which added to the euphoria.

  • Eat with your hosts whenever possible. I have been invited to eat by hosts at many farmstays, bed & breakfasts, small inns, and homestays around the world. Not only is the food usually good but so is the conversation, even if communication is a challenge.

  • Check out Slow Food options. The Slow Food movement is spreading across the globe, and it even has a manifesto to guide it. Born in Italy, the movement consciously rebels against the fast pace of modern life by seeking out locally grown produce, preserving cooking traditions, and generally rejoicing in the pleasure offered by well-prepared food. Slow Food restaurants are appearing around the globe and the atmosphere is, in general, extremely genial, as are the local hosts.

The most memorable travels are a feast for all the senses, and indulging in local food with natives is one way to make each new day a festival.

Posted by | Comments (4)  | February 8, 2007
Category: Notes from the collective travel mind


4 Responses to “Feast with the locals when traveling”

  1. Timen Swijtink Says:

    Last summer I gave myself a chance to visit Asia for the first time. I, too, was fascinated by the various foods. Mmm… so good!

    I really think it is one of the major aspects of experience traveling. Your comments on the subject are spot-on. Just like the The art of slowing down and staying awhile post. A few days ago I took the plunge into the travel blogosphere, and since then have been finding many fascinating sites like this one.

    I think I’ll be buying your book now.

  2. xsg Says:

    If you want to know where locals eat in Barcelona and Catalonia, you can check our independent Restaurant reviews site at

    http://www.gourmeticat.com

    You won’t be decieved!

  3. Karen Bryan Says:

    I agree that eating local food is part of the travel experience. I find that in most of Europe, restaurants will offer a menu of the day where you can have a 3 course meal for 10 – 12 euros. It is usually pretty good. You sometimes have to take a chance on what you order if you can’t speak the language and on the odd occasion I have ordered something I couldn’t eat but if all else fails you could have a MacDonalds on the way home knowing at least you tried the local fare.

    Looking at where the locals eat is also a good tip. When I write destination guides I am not keen on compiling lists of where to eat. I think that just walking around you can suss this out for yourself.