I love eating, travelling and watching such documentaries or shows like Anthony Bourdain. So when I came across this article on Anthony Bourdain’s 3 best tips for eating great when travelling abroad, I had to read it.
I’m such a foodie, when it comes to trying new things I’d be up for it, well.. as long as it’s not eating really strange things like creepy crawlies…. Ok, so maybe I should rephrase and say, I’m somewhat adventurous. Hah!
In the article he talks about not settling and be adventurous when you’re travelling and looking for places to eat. I agree but for one part, “When you see locals crowding into a restaurant, the food there is probably good.”.. ummm that part, not so much.
So here are my tips for when eating abroad:
1. Be adventurous with food
Don’t always stick with what you’re familiar with, try something that you haven’t seen or heard of. Look around other tables and see what locals are eating. Notice if there are any popular snacks or dishes. Ask the waiter/waitress what they would recommend, step out of your comfort zone and try it out! What’s the point of travelling if you are unwilling to fully experience the culture and the food?
2. Go local
Avoid touristy restaurants and go local, you would want to taste the most authentic food right? If you know anyone that lives where you are travelling to then that’s great. If not, try to get food recommendations from real locals, ask a market vendor or even the taxi driver..
3. Take a peek at the menu
If you are unsure about the restaurant and not sure if it’s a local or a tourist place, go inside and ask for the menu, and while you do so, absorb the surroundings. Look around, try listen to the people talking, have a look at the food being served and you can have a better sense than peeking through the window.
4. Don’t rely on online restaurant reviews
When planning a trip, an easy option is to start looking at restaurant reviews on tripadvisor. I remember the last time I used tripadvisor was for my trip to Paris, I found one place that I was eager to try, and when we got there, we were surrounded by 90-95% tourists and from which most of the reviews mentioned it was amazing which I actually thought was over exaggerated. It’s like tourists leading the tourists.. Instead, you could check out blogs written by locals themselves, look at local review websites, use your social media network and see who’s visited or lived in the place before or even better – just go with the flow and see what catches your eye.
5. Don’t judge
Sometimes the not so pretty looking food, actually tastes really good. For example, food from street cart, food truck, food court, hawker centres or a small café / restaurant may just be scooped and thrown onto a plate. It may not look so great, or served on fancy plate but it’s all about the taste right? Same applies with the level of service; don’t always expect great service. Take Hong Kong as an example, if you visit a local restaurant known as ‘cha chaan teng’ some people are loud and can be seen as rude, it’s a quick service, and if you take long time deciding, the waiter may have already moved to another table to take their order and come back to you later without saying.. and your dishes may even be thrown at you. It’s differences like this, but at times the food may actually taste good.
6. Don’t always follow the crowd
Some say it’s good to eat where you see a crowd queuing as the crowd may mean the food is amazing. Take a better look, who is the crowd? In Asia for example, it is pretty normal to see queues here and there. For starters, I hate queuing and I would never queue an hour especially to eat something that I can finish quite quickly. Time is precious! Secondly, from my experience the hype is never always what it’s seems to be worth. There was a time at this restaurant in London i tried which i felt was over rated. When i left, there was a huge queue outside, why? My favourite saying is, don’t be a sheep following the crowd! People have different expectations, what is good to them may not be good to you, or the purpose may just be different – atmosphere vs food.
7. Explore the hidden places
Venture into the city’s suburbs and lesser-known areas to find the real local cuisine. There are always hidden gems that are to be found, tucked away in quiet, residential neighbourhoods. Again, be adventurous. These small restaurants may not have the money to be located in a big hot spot in central, but it doesn’t mean that they are not worth trying. There was a time when I was living abroad, i had lived at the same spot for a few years and where I lived there are many side streets which I thought I had explored them all. There was one side street that appeared to be blocked by nearby construction signs and rails, one time I decided to see if I could pass through.. only to find several small local eateries, and oh my, I became a regular at this small authentic Thai restaurant. So go ahead and explore!
8. Shop at local food markets
Whether or not you have access to a kitchen on your trip, visit a local market. The market will give you an inside look at the food culture there. You’ll be able to see what locals eat, popular items that others are buying, learn about recipes, and you could even ask market vendors for restaurant recommendations. For me, I would even get excited just to try the different snacks or fruit that I can’t find back home at the market, for some places you may even see street carts selling traditional local snacks.
Now on your next trip, be adventurous and explore!
Do you have any tips you would like to share with us all?