Over the last few years we have been fortunate enough to have traveled to some wonderful countries meeting wonderful people and learning a great deal from our experiences. One of the most enjoyable experiences when traveling for us is discovering new food and cuisine. The gastronomy of any country, town or village has in it a significant piece of history. It tells you where the food came from and by who’s influence. In essence a meal can serve as a history lesson that no textbook or lecture can teach. We love being students!
I was recently thinking about some of our favorite meals and restaurants along the path of our travels, and was looking for patterns to emerge to see if we are doing something consciously or are just having a bit of luck when we find our favorite meals. I started creating a mental list, and found that in fact we have had some luck and along the way made some good decisions as well.
From this “mental list”, I’ve gleamed some of the things that we DO and certain things that we DON’T DO when it comes to dining abroad.
Hopefully this list can give you ideas towards your own dining experiences, and I hope that you can share some of your own “Strategy” when it comes to dining abroad.
DO Ask locals for ideas. Some of our favorite meals were as a result of asking a clerk in a shop for a recommendation. Simply asking them “Where would you go for lunch (or any meal) if you could only have one meal today?”. People love being asked for advice, and are happy to give it, especially in small towns or villages where there tends to be a lot of local pride.
DO Get Lost. While in Venice, we found a great little cafe because we decided to “Get Lost” and turn down alleys that had little traffic. After a few minutes of walking, we discovered a Church square lined with cafes teeming with “locals”. We knew we found a great place.
DO Avoid Pre-Fix/Pre-Priced Menus. Typically these are tourist trap type restaurants and besides, having a limited menu to order from certainly limits your ability to discover new foods in the new land you are visiting. Maybe its good for the teenager backing packing through Europe, but for most travelers, you can do A LOT better!
DON’T Go to Restaurants advertising “Tourist Menus”. We had tried these types of restaurants and have been disappointed nearly everytime. They prey on people not familiar with local dining options and most of these kinds of restaurants do not try very hard to impress you with their cuisine. Besides, if I am Prague, I do not want to sit near someone from Boston and overhear them talking about how great the “Red Sox” are. He’d be wrong anyway! 🙂 Additionally, they know you are from out of town and won’t be a repeat customer, so they do not need to earn your loyalty.
DON’T Listen To The Stalker. You know may know this type. This is the individual charged with standing outside the restaurant and heckling you to come in to their establishment. Hearing “Hey American with pretty lady, come try out specials tonight” just doesn’t compel me to walk inside.
DON’T Use TripAdvisor or similar “ranking” sites. Let me qualify this a bit. Yes a review site can certainly help narrow down some choices and I’ve used it on occasion to get ideas. But my concern here is that if everyone is reading TripAdvisor and going to the #1 Rank Restaurant it will defeat the ability to find something new and local and you will find yourself in a restaurant with everyone else who is on vacation and it feels like you are eating in an “Olive Garden”.
These DOs and DON’Ts are based on nothing but our experiences and by no means cover everything! They are certainly not without flaws but they can act as a good starting point when looking for places to eat while dining on vacation. But let me ask, what do YOU do that helps you find you favorite restaurants and meals?