Whether you are going to a different state, or traveling abroad to a foreign country, part of the experience is enjoying good food. I’ve often discovered during my travels that the best food experiences are often at a place least expected.
Below are 4 Mantras I live by to get the most out of my food experience:
- Eat locally sourced ingredients.
The first key to eating well in a foreign land is to find out what foods are local, what are in season, and from where they are sourced. This will guarantee the freshness of the ingredients, but help you figure out what foods to avoid. Ask your cab driver or people working at the place you are staying, what is grown in the region or do some research online (wiki is really helpful).
- Pack snacks. When I am hungry, I get grumpy. I often lose self control and grab the first food item I can find, then regret my decisions afterwards. The best way to prevent that is to always have snacks on hand, so I can stay calm and sustain myself until I can find the foods I want to eat.
- Go for local mom-and-pop eateries. We often have a very idealist view of where to find that perfect restaurant: it should be on top of a cliff, overlooking the water, or it should be inside an architecturally interesting building. The best meals, I’ve discovered, are often in the middle of a strip mall or in a very generic, ugly stucco building. (I assume the commonality for these places is combination of cheap rent, and easy access for locals). Because the owner is often also the chef, food at local mom-and-pop places are usually authentic home-made style, prepared with lots of love.
- Don’t be afraid to order off-menu.
Unless you are at a chain restaurant, most chefs would be happy to prepare off-the- menu items at your request. Recently, I was in a rural town in Kansas. The only restaurant around was a Chinese place called “CHINA”. As if the name itself wasn’t a dead give-away of the authenticity of the food, the place was full of local farmers eating their $6 lunch buffet consisting of egg rolls, watered down hot-and-sour soup, and few beef dishes drenched in heavy sauce. I knew immediately there was nothing on the menu that would be remotely appetizing for me. So I spoke to the server who was also the daughter of the owner, to find out if they had any fresh produce in stock. The daughter told me the only thing they had was green beans. So I asked them if they could just do a light sautee of green beans with garlic and pepper. The chef was more than happy to oblige and later came to see how I liked my dish. Often, the reason something is not on the menu is not due to lack of availability, but is because they assume the customers won’t be “interested” in ordering such a dish.
What kind of travel wisdom have you obtained during your travel? Feel free to share!