Tourism long ago moved far beyond the old model of going somewhere hot and baking on a beach for a week. Today’s travelers look to engage with the place they’re visiting, with Millennial especially interested in getting beneath a destination’s skin (13% of those surveyed said cultural significance was a reason behind their holiday choice).
And, while architecture and festivals are great reasons to visit cities, another massive draw is national or regional cuisine. Here, we’ve gathered some tips to really help you get a taste for it:
First up is the mouth-watering (but frustrating!) research phase. Obviously, nowadays, this is mostly conducted online (although tips from well-travelled foodie friends are also useful) and there is no shortage of websites giving advice on where you should go and what you should eat.
In fact, there’s now such a glut of review sites that it can actually complicate the process – how do you know which food blogger has tastes similar to your own, for example? It can be a real struggle to find information you can trust.
Sometimes, the traditional route is the best. Michelin is considered the industry standard and, while some claim it’s now a little old-fashioned, it does apply consistent, time-tested criteria. It’s suggested, then, that you start here (or another review site of your own preference) to make an initial list of the establishments in the destination to choose between.
Next, research each individually – a range of several customer reviews is a great way to sense how an eating spot is running currently (without a single subjective opinion or bad experience drowning out all others).
Once you’ve narrowed your list down to the places you absolutely have to dine at, next weigh up how popular each is likely to be. The last thing you want to do is arrive there and find it full – so it’s a smart investment to book ahead where possible – especially with more prestigious establishments.
That said, it can likewise suck the fun out of a trip to have each and every meal planned in advance. At least half of your slots should be kept free so you can respond to the place itself, the weather and your mood. It’s also very possible you’ll get tips from locals about where they eat that might not have been colonized by tourists as yet (be the first).
Something increasingly common in European cities (and some towns) which see a lot of culinary adventurers is the food tour – in which a group is guided between participating establishments and invited to try a taster at each.
In this way, tourists can not only learn what dishes and ingredients form the backbone of the local cuisine, but also get a chance to try different approaches to them. And, of course – so long as you’ve kept those all-important gaps in your schedule – you can revisit the places that impressed for a full meal later on.
Focus on local
This may seem an obvious tip, but it bears repeating. Don’t travel all the way to Paris just to eat pasta.
Now, this is no slur against the many fine Italian eateries France’s capital doubtless hosts – but simply a recognition that you have a limited time (and stomach capacity) to find the dishes they do better than anywhere else. You’re seeking to better understand a place and people through the foods they eat every day (or once a week, perhaps, for the fancier stuff).
Less about your gastronomic experience than honouring your hosts, do a little research before setting off regarding how you should behave while there.
This can include correct dress and tipping conventions, but also much less obvious – and often intangible – behaviors. To give an example from Asia – in Japan, slurping noodles conveys a healthy relish. Try the same in China and you’ll draw horrified stares.
While meals made by locals will be the core of any foodie trip, it’s also important to seek out markets (or specialty shops).
It’s often the best way to see the kind of complex flavors you’ll enjoy, in a meal broken down into their constituent parts. Also, talking to stall-holders (or other customers) is a great way to get a sense of how particular ingredients are cooked locally, and what kind of combinations are popular, domestically. Best of all, smaller and long-lasting items (such as spices) make great souvenirs for when you try to recreate your experience back home.