We love to eat while traveling, and there’s nothing better than experiencing local cuisine from a mom and pop shop while exploring a new area. To find those kinds of places, we travel following a few simple eating guidelines:
1. Eat regionally specific dishes.
Every place has its own specific food that helps define its culture and people, and trying them out allows for more authentic eating experiences than alternative dining options. We like to try regionally specific food even when we’re not sure we’re going to like it. This has been at times delightfully delicious — and disastrously disgusting.
For instance, last year in Italy we ate an incredible meal in a tiny town high above Lago di Como that included an appetizer of missoltini, which is sun-dried shad, the tiny fish found in the lake below. I had my doubts about the dish beforehand, but the whole meal was simply perfect including the missoltini.
Conversely, a year earlier in Scotland, we tried skink soup — a smoked haddock chowder — that I barely managed to politely gag down. In the end though, the real takeaway is the fond memories tied to place that result from experimenting with the unknown.
2. Let loose on self-imposed dietary restrictions.
During an overnight in Puerto Rico last week, my crew and I dined in the heart of Old San Juan in a place packed with people and character. The waiter handed me a menu in Spanish filled with dishes I had never before seen. I looked to Tatiana, who is half Puerto Rican and half Dominican, and said, “I want to eat something typically Puerto Rican and delicious, what do you suggest?”
“Ok,” she said with some reservation sizing me up, “what are your eating restrictions?”
Even though I rarely eat meat at home, I quickly responded with a smile, “I eat everything!” Tati’s face lit up and she proceeded to enthusiastically describe the best options to me.
This is how I ended up experiencing mofongo served in a pilón with a side of tostones. And it was incredible. It was also a way more authentic experience than if I had insisted on eating how I do when I’m at home.
All of us have different dietary restrictions that we choose for very good reasons and that serve us well in our daily lives. But food is such a fundamental part of a culture that it’s hard to get a sense of a place without trying the local cuisine. For that reason, we tend to ease up on what we consume when we’re on the road.
3. Mix up restaurant meals with cheaper, more casual dining options.
Most locals don’t eat out at restaurants three meals a day every day, and for good reason — it’s too much food, costs a lot of money, and is not always the best option. In fact, some of the best food we’ve eaten while traveling have come from bakery picnics, sidewalk carts, food trucks, farmer’s market and grocery store meals we make ourselves, etc. These more casual dining options are easier on the wallet and the waistline, and are perfect for picnics in city parks and squares.
— Laura Rowley