Eating and traveling are my two favorite things, and I have been lucky enough to take my taste buds around the globe. A usual day for me revolves around what the next meal is, and when I travel, eating takes over everything. As a veritable food tourist, I am here to teach you how to explore a new city… through your stomach.
Do your research.
The first thing I do when planning a trip is dive into cuisine research. What are the national dishes? What ingredients are used? What is grown locally? This lets me know what I'm getting myself into, and makes me aware of what to expect when I get there.
Sometimes, the food is fairly obvious. Chances are you're going to eat Italian food in Italy, but I like to know what the local specialties are and the best places to get them.
In addition, there are many places in the world where hygiene is an issue. Before you dive into a new food adventure, know if the water is potable, if you can eat fresh vegetables safely and anything else you might need to look out for.
Talk to people.
Ask around to see if you know anyone who's traveled where you're going and if he or she has any recommendations. Once you get to your destination, start asking people you meet if they've had any amazing meals.
Most importantly, make friends with locals. They will always have great insight: restaurants you'd never find on your own, a dish the region is known for, things to avoid, the proper way to eat, the way you order and more.
This can be especially helpful in places where food hygiene is an issue, as locals can direct you to safe spots.
Don't be afraid to try new things.
For many people, this is the biggest challenge of traveling and eating: Food can be scary. And unfamiliar. And really intimidating. For me, the most important thing to remember is what might be scary to you is someone else's favorite food.
If somebody eats it and likes it, you can at least try it! Plus, are you really going to travel halfway around the world to experience a new culture and not partake in arguably its purest embodiment?
Eat comfortably at home, challenge yourself while you're abroad.
What's better than trying one new dish? Trying a bunch, of course! Eating with other people is not only enjoyable, but it also gives you the opportunity to try more new foods. Order a few dishes to share, and let your taste buds go wild.
Make sure to eat street food.
Many non-Western cultures have an abundance of amazing street food, which we Westerners often overlook because of our concerns with food safety and hygiene.
Do not be afraid! Some countries showcase their best foods on the street, and if you're too scared to try, you'll be missing out on the true soul of the cuisine.
Just follow one rule if you're nervous: Watch the food being cooked. You can see for yourself how the food is being prepared, which is more than you can say for restaurants.
Of course, even if you do all your research and are very careful, you can still get sick in some places. For some people, this might be a deterrent to trying new things, but for me, I'm always willing to take the chance, and I've had some fantastic food when I stopped being nervous and just took the first bite.
Eat a meal with a local family.
While you're making friends with locals to get recommendations, try to weasel your way into a home-cooked meal.
You'll get a real sense of authentic cuisine, and you'll get to experience how locals eat, which will not only make you more confident when eating on your own in a new place, but will shine a light on what eating means to the culture you're exploring.
Take a cooking class.
The best way to understand a new cuisine is to learn how to cook it! You can almost always find cooking classes while traveling; they're usually not very expensive, and you get a meal out of it!
I find my enjoyment of what I'm eating goes way up once I know how the dish comes together, and a class gives you the background to appreciate when a dish is especially spectacular!
Western food isn't always bad.
As anyone who's traveled for extended periods of time knows, there comes a point when you just need some Western food.
You've eaten pad thai three meals a day for 10 days, and if you don't get a pizza soon, you're liable to throw that next plate of noodles across the room.
Luckily, as food entertainment becomes more and more popular around the world, Western food is popping up in unlikely places, and it can be really good!
This breakfast burrito was from a little cafe in India, and it was one of the best I've ever had.
Splurge at least once.
Whether it's on a fancy dinner or a premium dish, it's worth it to shell out a bit of extra cash at least once, especially if you're traveling on a budget.
After all, you should make the most of your time in a new place! Chances are, you'll have a one-of-a-kind experience, making every penny worth it.
I like to think of it as an investment in my culinary and cultural education, and I tend to spend more on top-notch seafood or tasting menus.
On the other hand, you can eat fantastically on a budget all over the world, so don't feel pressured into spending more than you're comfortable with.
Eat in unusual circumstances.
Very often, the best meals you'll have when you travel are the most unexpected ones.
Whether it's an unexpected barbecue on a beach with locals in Sri Lanka, a recommendation that leads you to eating crawfish out of a plastic sack in a park in New Orleans or being handed freshly caught sea urchins by a new group of friends sitting by the water in Santorini, the best things I've eaten have never been planned.
Topping the list was this lunch in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, where a Berber family made a meal I ate while sitting on the roof of the family's mud hut.
Of all my favorite food and travel memories, these spontaneous feasts are the best.