Exploring a new country or city through food is one of the joys of travel. Tasting local cuisines is a fun way to get to know a culture! However, eating out constantly can cause some damage to your waistline, your wallet, and energy levels.
Taking this whole “exploring culture through food” thing to the extreme when I went to Ireland, I ate everything. All of their traditional dishes at touristy locations and by the end of the trip, my stomach was so tore up. I couldn’t even enjoy my last night there due to feeling so sick!
Now, I keep balance with food on trips, just by following these three simple steps based around eating like a local.
Tip 1: Find Local Markets & Cook
OMG SO BORING! I COOK AT HOME, I DON’T WANT TO COOK ON VACATION!!
I hear ya! Believe me!
Let me paint this picture for you though.
You wake up in your bed in a foreign city. After a brief chat with your host, you head out to explore for a bit. You stopping by a local coffee shop for a warm brew to go so you can wander the streets a bit. After walking a few blocks, you come across the farmers market your host told you about. You leisurely stroll through the market, freshly brewed tea in hand, sample the produce, smell it, chat with the farmer about where they’re located and what they suggest you try. Taking the farmers suggestion, you pick up just the essentials you need for dinner that night and return “home” with your goodies. Maybe you consult a recipe online or simply ask your host. You spend some time cooking up a delicious farm to table meal for you and your host. You then enjoy this meal with local spirits while sharing stories and planning for your next day.
How often do you do that at home?
How relaxing, healthy, and connected does that feel?
Obviously, an experience like this is best for a day with no tours planned so you can truly take your time and relish in cooking a locally inspired dish in a foreign country.
Hotels might be a bit more tricky here, without access to a kitchen, but I still suggest checking out markets for some fresh snacks!
Staying in a hostel, AirBnb or even couch surfing makes this completely doable! Most hostels allow you to use their kitchens and usually have some pots and pans available. For AirBnbs and Couch Surfing – ask your host if the kitchen and some supplies are usable. Hotels might be a bit more tricky here, without access to a kitchen, but I still suggest checking out markets for some fresh snacks!
- Cooking for the host!
- Having the host cook for you! I’ve heard of gracious hosts cooking for their guests – one bought me a pie! Don’t straight up ask for this, that’s awkward. But if you hit it off and they offer it, I wouldn’t turn it down
- Cost efficient! Quinoa is FROM Peru. So it’s inexpensive there and obviously in the states we love it for its super food qualities. When in Peru – why not buy some Quinoa and make a healthy meal out of it using other local ingredients?!
Sounds like a fun challenge if you ask me!
Tip 2: How Locals Eat
In the supersized, all you can eat, fast food, eat on the go, clean your plate US – I wouldn’t recommend following this tip. But, when traveling outside of the US it’s amazing to notice the differences in HOW people eat.
Typically, the portion sizes are much smaller, compared to the US, a major win without having to think too much about it!
Europeans typically spend more time eating. My first trip to Ireland, I got slightly annoyed at what I thought was slow service. In reality, thewaiter just gave me and my friends time to enjoy our meal and the company. We didn’t really have anywhere to go, so why did I expect to finish my meal in an hour? When I visit France for the first time, I fully intend on a three hour lunch I’ve been reading so much about. We should do more of that in the US… just saying!
My parents always told me to finish my plate – even if I felt full. That is not the case elsewhere. I still do have some guilt associated with leaving food on my plate. But since portions are smaller outside of the US – typically nothing is left anyway! I leave feeling satisfied, not like I need someone to roll me home.
Tip 3: Where the Locals Eat
AVOID THE TOURIST TRAPS! Touristy restaurants that serve local cuisine sound like a good idea. But since they cater to such an influx of customers, sometimes the quality isn’t as good as it could be if you eat where the locals eat.
Just ask your host where they like to eat on any given night. Or ask the bartender a good spot that’s a bit off the beaten path. It’s likely not in your guidebook, but probably legit.
In Ireland, I met two women traveling from London who had a friend recommend an off the beaten path restaurant. The next night, the three of us met for dinner and drinks at this location and it was amazing food and awesome company, especially for a solo traveller!
Don’t be afraid when people offer experiences like this. If they seem like legit, honest people, go for it!