15 Shortcuts to Eating Like a Local in any Country

When arriving in a country, finding the best local bars and restaurants on the first day will certainly be on your mind, since a country’s authentic cuisine opens the door to fully understanding its true culture. However, I’ve found that knowing where to start is harder than it sounds. So, here are my top 15 tips for eating like a local in any country right from the beginning.

1. Look for the locals

One of the best tips anyone can give is to follow the locals while searching for a place to eat. Once you’re in a restaurant, look around and make sure it isn’t a place with just a bunch of tourists at the tables, either.

2. Ask your driver

A ride in a taxi or UBER offers the perfect opportunity to ask about the best places to eat. These drivers spend most of their time going around the city, so they know all the places to get a delicious and inexpensive meal. In many countries, you’ll find the true local food costs the least because locals don’t eat anywhere with a tourist tax.

3. Learn the lingo

Since you’ll be looking to go off the beaten path to find the best local eateries, you should be prepared to encounter fewer English-speaking people. That’s why it pays to learn some words and phrases to order a memorable meal.

You don’t have to be a master of the language, either. A few key sentences will show your server that you’re making an effort. And if you’re visiting a location that’s inundated with tourists, you’ll find that respect for the culture and language can go a long way and help you get that extra service or even a hot tip on where to go next.

4. Research before arriving

Just like back home, there are bound to be certain areas of the country that are known to be hotspots for excellent food. It’s important to do your research before your trip. If your research pays off, you could have several great places to eat within a short walking distance of your hotel.

5. Street food, street food, street food

When you travel to a country that has a street food culture, you should definitely take advantage of it for the majority of your meals. Street food is almost always the best way to immerse yourself in a culture, and I guarantee that you’ll have some of the most outstanding food of your life standing on the side of the road.

6. Follow local food bloggers

This is not only a very effective way to find dining hotspots and best-kept secrets, but it’s also a fun way to learn about the dining culture. Look up bloggers online before and during your trip, save restaurant addresses on your phone, or highlight them on your map.

I find this strategy so effective that I finally caved in and now travel with an international SIM. It might take away a bit of the mystique of getting lost in a foreign country, but it’s the most modern way to get yourself involved in a country’s food culture.

7. Understand the eating culture

It’s essential to understand that your destination may not eat at the same times or at the same types of places that you do back home. Some cultures may eat dinner much later than yours, and they may also put more or less emphasis on certain meals. If the locals eat on the street or on the trains, you should follow that habit as well. Check out this website to start to learn more.

8. Classic food

Many places have a typical dish that the locals eat all the time. When you do your research, the information you find on those can be much more important than selecting a certain restaurant.

9. Don’t ask your hotel

Unfortunately, asking hotel staff for restaurant recommendations is one of the biggest mistakes you can make when looking for authentic local cuisine, as there’s a well-established culture of concierges being paid to refer customers to specific eateries. And guess what? The ones paying for this service are rarely the ones with the best food.

Even if they aren’t on the grift, hotel concierges also tend to be bad sources for information because they often recommend “safe” places to eat, since they’re terrified you’ll fall sick and get them into trouble with management for sending you there.

10. Lines of locals = jackpot!

Keep an eye out for lines of locals willing to wait at a certain restaurant. That tells you a lot about the quality of the place. Although you don’t want to waste your vacation time standing in lines, make a note of the restaurant and go back at a better time.

(credit: Pinterest)

11. Book a local food tour

This type of tour can provide you with a lot of great information that you can use during the rest of your stay. These tours are growing in popularity around the world, and they offer a fantastic opportunity to sample local dishes and learn more about the area’s dining options.

12. Avoid places with touts out front

If the restaurant has someone outside beckoning passers-by to come inside, you can be sure that it isn’t a place locals go to. Locals will already be at the places they frequent; so there’s no need for those restaurants to use touts. That tactic also screams of desperation and a lack of confidence in offering a good dining experience.

13. Order something you don’t recognize

Once you’ve found a great place to eat, you have to be willing to get out of your culinary comfort zone. While you don’t necessarily need to be choking down a fried beetle, you should always be open-minded to new dishes. To eat like a local allows you to experience what the people there are all about.

14. Find places like the locals do

When talking to the locals, there are certain questions that allow you to gain the most information. For example, asking: “How do you find cool new places to eat?” provides insights into the methods you should be using to find restaurants. If they use certain websites, apps, and review sites, you should use those too.

15. Always keep an open mind

After doing your research, you’ll likely have a long list of potential restaurants that you’d like to eat at. However, it may not be as easy as you think to move around the country and get to all of those spots. That’s why it’s good to be open-minded because you may end up walking by the best restaurant in the place you’re visiting—don’t miss out on an opportunity like that.

 Thomas Greene is passionate about finding the world from the eyes of a local, and gathering all the tips, tricks and shortcuts he can to do so. You can read more of his writing at Battered Suitcase.

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