7 tips on how to eat like a local
by Amrita Kundu
Food constitutes an integral part of any travel experience. Enjoying the local cuisine as well as checking out the international food scene is one of the best ways to get a comprehensive understanding of a country. However, did you know that eating like a local in a foreign country is an art which few travellers know how to accomplish?
As an ardent traveller and a food enthusiast, I have spent years researching the best local joints in the countries I have visited. Unfortunately, following lists of must-eat places on the internet can sometimes lead to disappointment if there are too few or too old reviews. So I learned the hard way through trial and error and came up with some tips!
Research, research, research
To enjoy the local cuisine, one should know what to expect. Researching about the types of food in your chosen destination will help you to get an idea about the flavours you should expect before visiting a destination.
Don’t trust the reviews blindly
While it is essential to research before visiting a place, it is also important to not trust reviews blindly as not all of them might be true. Most reviews these days are sponsored and hence their authenticity should be questioned. I once dined at a place with raving reviews, only to be disappointed by the service and quality of food. It was worse when I had to lose valuable time being locked up in the hotel room sick.
Restaurants with no menu are bliss
Yes, that’s true. In my experience, restaurants with no set menu are the most creative ones and serve the freshest food. I have enjoyed some of my best meals in places that had no menu. The secret lies in telling the server on the kind of taste you are craving for and requesting the chef create something exciting with his skills.
Once, when I was in Yangon, I was craving for some pork, so I visited 19th street, which is popular for its barbecue restaurants. The owner at this one shop did not speak a word of English, so we improvised. I communicated with him in sign language, pointing at pictures and spices on the table to him multiple times. I don’t know if he understood me or not, but I had the best barbecue pork which I have ever tasted in my life.
The servers know the best
This is something that I practice whenever I visit a restaurant, at home or abroad, and it works almost every time. I ask the server for a recommendation . You will be surprised at the things I’ve learned while doing so. I have enjoyed the most memorable new year’s eve meal of my life upon the recommendation of a server a few years back. The servers know which ingredient is stale, which food is reheated and which one is the hot seller. Trust their judgement and don’t forget to leave a tip if the recommendation is good.
Dine at a local home
Want the most authentic experience? Try this out. If you get an invitation eat home cooked food don’t miss the chance. Not only will you be able to enjoy home cooked fresh meals, but you will also be able to savour the absolute authentic flavours. The hosts are often very welcoming and will treat you as an esteemed guest, even more so if you enjoy their food. I need not tell you about the happy feeling a home cooked meal brings to your life, especially if you’re travelling solo and miss some homey comforts.
Trust street joints with a crowd
When you see a local shop nearly bursting with crowds, it is a good place to go to. This works 9 out of 10 times. The locals know the best and so, it’s best to eat where they eat. This works for restaurants as well. If there’s a long queue outside one, join the line. I have had an amazing experienced following this method. While in Mandalay, I was looking for the famous tea of Myanmar. The streets of Mandalay were dotted with tea shops and I was wary to try just any of them. As I came out of the Royal Palace, I noticed a tea shop which had this huge crowd of locals outside. I trusted their judgment and ended up having a great cup of tea, which was a satisfying end to my day!
Participate in food tours
Is there an option for participating in a food tour? Go for it. Such tours are conducted by locals, and they always know the best. They will not only take you to the most original places, but they will also give you valuable insights about each dish such as its history, ingredients, story of origin behind the dish and other interesting tips. Enjoy the smell and savour the taste, take pictures for Instagram—a food tour will satiate your sense. Don’t forget to ask your guide to recommend a few places that are not included in the food tour. If you get the names of a few joints and dishes, your next stop is already decided for you!
Food need not be the focus of your trip, but is still an intrinsic part of it. You remember the good food you eat as much as a good place you have visited, and these are the elements that will make or break your trip. So prepare to have a great food journey with these tips!