You’ve done your homework on the accommodation front—prepared your home, found a like-minded traveler to exchange with, and scored a free place to live like a local at your destination. But once you’ve arrived, how will you eat like a local? The culinary traditions, ingredients, and preparations of a region provide a huge window into its culture, its history, even its unique geographical location—not to mention it’s a delicious and endlessly fascinating way to learn about a place. But it’s all too easy to wind up at a subpar tourist restaurant, or to fall ill from eating local food carelessly. Here are some tips to help guide you to the good stuff.
Do some research. Either before you go or while you’re there, read up a little on what to look for in your destination. Of course I’d recommend my own site, Eat Your World, for regional dishes, but in the course of doing research, we always start out by reading up on local blogs and forums like Chowhound. Follow some local food writers on Twitter, ask your friends who’ve traveled there before where they liked to eat, and check out apps like Find.Eat.Drink and LocalEats. Not only will a little preliminary research give you some practical on-the-ground guidance upon your arrival, but you’ll also already be armed with basic knowledge about the region’s cuisine—a great foundation to build upon.
Talk to people. Plain and simple: At your destination, ask everyone you encounter where they like to eat. Taxi drivers, bartenders, and servers at restaurants are good bets, but even the woman in line behind you at the grocery store might have a good suggestion.
Visit the markets. This one’s a no-brainer—find some local markets! Depending on where you are, this might mean a weekend farmers’ market, a daily city market, or a bustling night market. Go to eat, meet some local farmers/vendors, and stock up your borrowed kitchen with regional produce and other goodies.
Be smart. While I encourage everyone to try as many local dishes as possible, be smart about it, especially in developing countries. Be wary of tap water, including ice, unless you’re sure it’s safe to drink; same goes for raw, unpeeled fruits and vegetables. Choose established venues, or eat where lots of locals are eating—particularly women and children. Always wash your hands before eating; carrying hand sanitizer or your own utensils is a good idea in some countries. And before you travel, check that your vaccinations are up-to-date.
Laura Siciliano-Rosen is the co-founder of food-travel site Eat Your World, a guide to regional foods and drinks in destinations around the globe. Browse their destination Kindle guides on Amazon.com. Follow on Twitter @eat_your_world.
All photos courtesy of Eat Your World.