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Does anyone else always visit a new country or city with big dreams of exploring all of the main historic and cultural sights, but then just end up spending the majority of the trip eating?
If you’ve read my travel posts recently you’ll probably have noticed that this is the way most of my trips go.
At first I felt a little guilty every time I stopped to sit down for a while to enjoy a meal or drink, thinking that it was cutting into my exploration time.
However, I quickly realised that eating is just as much of an important part of the travel experience as wandering around museums or visiting historic landmarks. And actually, a lot of the time it’s the best thing about travel!
“Food is not just eating energy. It’s an experience” – Guy Fieri
Many people say that they travel to ‘experience another culture’, yet a great deal of us spend most of our time abroad surrounded by other tourists instead of truly seeing how the locals live.
Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t visit the main tourist attractions, nor am I saying that you need to move in with a local and follow them everywhere they go.
Unless you’re spending a significant amount of time somewhere it’s pretty difficult to participate in everyday life and truly learn about another culture.
But this is where food comes in.
The link between food and culture
Food is and always has been an important part of culture. Through food, we can learn about a countries history, traditions and societal norms.
For many people, food is important in preserving cultural identity. Recipes and cooking techniques are passed down from generation to generation. Some dishes tell a story of an entire nation, whilst others may be specific to a small group. Immigrants will even bring the food of their home countries with them when they move to other parts of the world.
Some countries specialise in a particular food type based on local availability or historical factors, whereas others avoid certain foods due to prominent religious beliefs. Some local dishes have stayed the same for hundreds of years, while others have changed as a result of outside influence.
As outsiders, in learning about the local food we can learn about the country we are visiting at a deeper level than simply it’s iconic landmarks.
“Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go” – Anthony Bourdain
I also believe that as tourists, food is the one area where we can fully participate in another culture.
Food is one thing that brings people together, no matter where in the world you are. Whether it’s a special celebration or an evening meal, friends and families come together over food.
Restaurants, cafes and bars are meeting points for all members of a community and places where everyone is welcome. And by entering one of these places, we too are participating in an important cultural tradition.
We experience the way in which food is presented and served, take in the atmosphere and environment around us, and interact with the staff and maybe even other guests.
There are also many other ways in which we can experience a culture by interacting with its food, from wandering around a fresh produce market to taking a local cooking class.
“Cooking is all about people. Food is maybe the only universal thing that really has the power to bring everyone together. No matter what culture, everywhere around the world, people get together to eat” – Guy Fieri
6 tips for foodie travellers
Always ask the locals!
My number one tip for foodie travel is to ALWAYS ask the locals. Whether it’s the taxi driver from the airport, your Airbnb host or your tour guide (I always advise doing a free walking tour on the first day), make sure to ask where their favourite places to eat are! This is how I’ve found most of my favourite restaurant and cafes while travelling.
Avoid the main tourist areas
It took me a fair while to learn this one unfortunately, but you should always avoid the main tourist areas and streets when it comes to eating. Most of these places would have been set up to cater specifically for tourists, and the price and taste will probably reflect this. If you see a place is full of tourists, give it a miss! Follow the locals instead.
Do your research beforehand
To avoid wasting your entire trip on the hunt for food, make sure to do some research in advance. Search around online, check out blogs and even ask your friends.
I usually ask my social media followers if they have any recommendations for a certain country or city, and more often than not I’ll receive a message from someone from that place with tons of amazing recommendations.
Find both dishes and restaurants
When doing your research, remember to look out for what to eat as well as where to eat. At first, I used to find recommendations for restaurants, then turn up with absolutely no idea what I should try (and I’m an extremely indecisive eater). Now I make sure to find out what the national or traditional dishes are, then discover the best places to try them, from Bitterballen and Kapsalon in the Netherlands to Byrek and Sufllacqe in Albania.
Snack, snack, snack
When travelling, as well as finding the best restaurants for lunch and dinner, it’s also important to snack as you go along. Don’t be scared to stop at a street food stall or cute little coffee shop to try some local pastries or cakes. This way you can fit in as many local delicacies as possible into your trip.
Don’t be scared of the big chains
When I say the word ‘local’, many people might assume I mean only small family-owned restaurants or cafes. However, I am actually referring to the places frequented by the locals, and this can definitely mean big chain restaurants too.
This may be a little controversial, but in many of the countries I spend time in, I make sure to head to the local McDonalds. In order to cater to local tastes and culinary traditions, McDonald’s offers regionalized versions of its menu in different countries.
You can get the McKroket in the Netherlands, McRye burgers in Finland, the Chicken Maharaja Mac in India and a Teriyaki McBurger in Japan. For me, it’s a fun way to experience the local flavours while saving money to splurge on other meals or activities.
Are you a foodie traveller too? Let me know what you thought of the post and if you have any of your own advice in the comments below…