Why Tasting Local Food Is Important & How To Find It

Before traveling, I’d never eaten a calçot, drank cava or tried a fresh anchovy and if I hadn’t been seeking out and eating local food, I never would have. 

Local foods are different wherever you go, as they depend greatly on the on the geography, climate, and culture of the area. Luckily for us, eating is something we need to do every day so there are plenty of opportunities to try new things. If you have just one point of relation to the person in the world who is most different from you, it’s the need to eat… everyday.

Even though we are all alike in our need for food, the methods of cooking, ingredients, what tastes good, rituals and etiquette, are incredibly varied throughout the world – and that’s precisely why seeking out local food is so fascinating.

A chicken pastilla dusted in sugar and cinnamon || Marrakech, Morocco

A chicken pastilla dusted in sugar and cinnamon || Marrakech, Morocco

When you travel somewhere, a major highlight is learning about the people who live there. You learn about their traditions, their culture, their history, their quirks and of course their cuisine. Trying traditional foods can help make that cultural experience really come to life by eating what the local people eat. This can look different for each person. You might be a super adventurous eater and try every new food you see. Or you could be a little more cautious in your food choices and stick to foods that seem at least a little bit familiar. One of my personal favorite things to do is just wander through the local grocery and pick up a few new snacks to try (more on that here). However you approach it, just the act of actively seeking out something unique to that location can be very rewarding.

How To Find Local Foods

Sometimes when you travel it is easy to miss local foods altogether. I know that particularly in the bigger cities we could have eaten only at chains and places that also exist at home. That would be such a bummer (though we do try to visit a McDonalds in every country we visit just to see the differences). What a shame it would be to miss out on the richness of local culture that usually exists a stones throw from the main tourist areas.

But, I also know that it can be challenging at times to find out what the locals are really eating, so here are some easy ways to scope out local food favorites. I guarantee the extra effort will be worth it even if you're not a fan of the what they eat (at least you'll have a good story). 

1. ASK

A good way  to start your search for local food is to simply ask. Usually Airbnb hosts and hotel clerks are very happy to point you toward their favorite food spot or watering hole. The trick is to ask for their favorite places to eat not just a "good" place to eat (sometimes that will just end up with a popular tourist restaurant). 

Epic pastrami at a small deli recommended by a local friend || New Jersey, United States

Epic pastrami at a small deli recommended by a local friend || New Jersey, United States

2. WALK

When you're on a mission to get to a certain museum or historic sight it is easy to just take a cab or subway to get from place to place. If you have the chance, walk a bit and you will begin to see what sorts of foods are everywhere.

Accidentally found one of my favorite places in the world when I noticed it as I walked by || Marrakech Morocco

Accidentally found one of my favorite places in the world when I noticed it as I walked by || Marrakech Morocco

3. OBSERVE LOCALS

Take note of the places that are packed with people that look like locals. These are most likely tasty options. Also if there happens to be anywhere with a line out the door or around the block, you should probably go ahead and just get in it, it'll be good.

Crazy long line of locals, mind blowing falafels || Paris, France

Crazy long line of locals, mind blowing falafels || Paris, France

4. MENU CHECK

Typically if you are in a foreign country and even remotely near tourist sights you will find a number of cafes and restaurants advertising how many languages their menu include and flags showing which languages your waiter speaks. Avoid these places. Aim for restaurants with menus in the local language and you will most likely end up with a more authentic (and probably more affordable) meal.

Found an excellent 7 course "chef's choice" tasting menu by refusing to eat at anywhere with a flag on the menu || Venice, Italy

Found an excellent 7 course "chef's choice" tasting menu by refusing to eat at anywhere with a flag on the menu || Venice, Italy

5. KNOW WHAT YOURE LOOKING FOR

If you happen to have a minute to do a quick search and know that the area you're visiting is known for something specific it is easier to just ask quickly if a place serves that specific item than to try and decifer their whole menu. Chances are if they have one local specialty they will have more as well.

Went out searching for patatas bravas and ended up finding a whole menu of local specialties || Barcelona, Spain

Went out searching for patatas bravas and ended up finding a whole menu of local specialties || Barcelona, Spain

6. KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN

If you see something new and interesting while you're out and about, try it. This is a particularly good option for a quick snack on the go.

First taste of Sea Buckthorn on the top of this tasty pastry || Tallinn, Estonia

First taste of Sea Buckthorn on the top of this tasty pastry || Tallinn, Estonia

The willingness to sample and give a local delicacy a try is not only a rewarding experience for yourself, but it can also be an opportunity to relate to others where you're visiting. Connecting with others is one of the joys of travel, and food is the ultimate vessel. With this in mind, I have decided that if a food is offered, someone must eat it and it must taste good to that person. Keeping that thought at the forefront of your mind can help you be more open to trying new things, even if they seem strange and foreign to you. 


If you have small children (or a less adventurous travel partner) check out our post Getting Your Kids To Eat When Traveling for a few tips that have worked for us.

Aria tasting a local sausage - Bulgaria

Aria tasting a local sausage - Bulgaria

As always, if you enjoyed this post please feel free to share it with your friends. 

What about you? What are your favorite ways to find great local foods when traveling? Are you a find a place on the go type of person or a research it beforehand type person?