It’s all-too-easy to play it safe when eating abroad, but stepping outside your comfort zone can offer a rich and tasty reward
As the summer holidays speed into view, so does the desire to travel. But for many, travelling in China is a pain: battling massive herds of people, tortuous traffic delays, endless stretching lines at ferry, bus and train terminals, not to mention a fair few language problems. It’s enough to leave you with a massive headache.
All of which means I always look forward to this time of the year as an opportunity to escape the bustle and try a new destination abroad. I am all about travel and food, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that when I travel, exploring new gastronomic treasures features prominently on my itinerary.
It doesn’t matter where I am, but my travel diary is invariably filled with scribbled scraps of paper and sticky notes of new restaurants to try, wine bars to visit and exciting party places to dance the night away. I simply love scouring around to find those little obscure, off the beaten track hangouts, too. Often, these are the places you find through pure serendipity: simply walking around or asking the local community. Tourist hot spots exist for a reason, but sometimes the best experiences aren’t the ones everyone knows, and you need to scratch a little deeper to unearth hidden delights.
Here are my top tips to make the most of your next culinary experience abroad:
I’m not necessarily talking about digging into deep fried tarantula or snake soup here, but the only way to truly experience a culture is by watching how the locals move, eat, drink, and while away their time. I’m always eager to go anywhere to try new things, digging deep to savor the raw experience. Being in a strange environment means creating a good food experience by sampling the unknown. Still, I typically like to balance my trips with a few popular dining options that combine with the local eateries and canteens of which locals rave.
I’m not necessarily talking about digging into deep fried tarantula or snake soup here, but the only way to truly experience a culture is by watching how the locals move, eat, drink, and while away their time
Do your research
The Internet is an amazingly resourceful tool, so it should go without saying that you need to do your best to read up before you go. Even so, no matter how much you study your destination, it’s simply not possible to fly into a place and find all the best eateries in town in one fell swoop.
However, the best experiences are often hidden from outsiders unfamiliar to the local circuit. One way to get around this barrier is to learn a bit of the local language. A simple hello and basic words like food and good can go a long way in getting you to where few others have previously ventured.
Find exactly what you want
So, let’s say you missed the research and language step before leaving and now feel lost and frustrated about what to do for dinner. Don’t dismay. If you’re hunting for Michelin Star dining, call a few five-star hotels and see what they recommend. Sometimes I also just try talking to people in the hotel or hostel where I might be staying to generate ideas.
For those on a tighter budget, go for the local fare. Take a seat in a busy area with eateries and watch where people go. After awhile, it should be pretty clear which spots are most desirable. Whenever appropriate, always make an effort to strike up conversations. That little joke to the server at the end of your lunch could lead to an excellent dinner recommendation.
Within obvious limits, step out of your comfort zone! Dining at restaurants that have been ceaselessly reviewed or recommended, sometimes lack a spontaneity that can ruin any potential for excitement or surprise. When the staff all speak English, the menus are plain and in 10 different languages, I fear a forthcoming lack of authenticity and kick myself for taking the easy way out. Instead, gamble a bit with a place not designed for outsiders. Find an appreciation for the diner-server communication struggle and don’t be afraid to ask for staff recommendations whenever possible.
No matter where you decide to go this summer, have fun and take an adventurous–and hungry–palette with you! Remember, you’re on vacation, so sit-back, relax, and enjoy the show.