Finding great food can be a tough task for a traveller! It can be hard to side-step bland made-for-tourists food and dig into authentic local cuisine. Our foodie travel tips will help you find the best food and learn about local culture, too!
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It’s no secret that I’m a little obsessed with food. Not in a gluttonous I’ll eat anything and everything you put in front of me way. It’s more like a I can’t be bothered eating unless it’s utterly delicious thing. When travelling, (as I have done full-time for the last 7 years) that can be a tall order.
There are days when you are just too busy to seek out the perfect meal. And days when exhaustion from a long journey makes the idea of going on the hunt for food unbearable. And days when you are in a small town with seemingly no possibility of finding a restaurant, let alone one with great meals.
Then there are just the normal days, when you’re in a popular area with lots of options, but it’s so hard to cut through the noise and find that ideal meal to satisfy your tummy and your soul.
Finding a great meal is one the biggest challenges — and the biggest pleasures — of travelling.
Why is Food Such an Important Part of Travel?
There are travellers who don’t care about food. It’s true! I have met them! And each time I meet another one, I am utterly astonished.
How can you be interested in seeing the world and not interested in trying its food?
These travellers happily eat at McDonald’s in Paris and Pizza Hut in Bangkok. As long as calories are going in, it doesn’t matter to them where those calories come from.
To me, travelling without seeking out food prepared by passionate locals is missing out on half the travel experience.
That’s why we’re so crazy about foodie travel: the essence of any culture can be discovered through food.
Food is at the heart of almost everything humans do.
Our days are organized around our need to eat. Meal times are when we gather with family and friends. Plus, every big event in our lives is celebrated with special foods, like birthday cake, wedding feasts, and home-made dishes brought to grieving families at a funeral.
Paying extra attention to what we eat when we travel can reveal plenty about the culture.
- What are the ingredients, the flavours, the textures?
- How is the food presented?
- Where and how did each dish originate?
- How is it eaten? Forks, chopsticks, fingers?
- What are the rituals around the serving and consuming of food?
Think about the difference between an elegantly presented meal of gourmet sushi in Japan versus a chilli cook-off in the southern United States. That is culture, my friends!
Of course, great foodie travel is much more than just an intellectual exercise.
There’s nothing more satisfying to the senses than sampling a unique combination of flavours and textures, prepared with love and expertise. Each meal is unique. You will never experience that exact combination again!
How Did we Learn to Be Foodie Travellers?
After 7 years of full-time travel, we have eaten almost everywhere:
- Uber-hip European restaurants heaving with foodies in the know
- One-burner street stalls in exotic Indian cities
- Family-run holes-in-the-wall in tiny villages
- Silent forests where we cooked on our camp stove
- Home stays in stilt huts with only a charcoal fire to cook on
Once, we even ate at a staff canteen in Chibi, China, having mistaken it for a restaurant!
Admittedly, not all of our meals have been great. Some of them were downright horrifying; others were so incredible I still remember the smell and taste of the food years later.
But each meal has been a lesson learned. Each meal has taught us, little by little, what to do and what not to do to find the best food while travelling.
Read on to take advantage of everything we’ve learned and learn…
How to Find the Best Food When Travelling
Tips for Before You Leave Home
For those of us who are extra food-obsessed, finding great meals on the road starts long before we set our feet out the door.
Sometimes, I’m a little lazy in the pre-travel research department. But other times, I plan out my eating adventures in detail. I research the local cuisine and learn where I can find all the regional specialities.
Only then do I choose my accommodation, with the first criteria being that it is close to the restaurants where I want to eat.
Even if you don’t go that far, doing a little planning before you leave home will help you find the best food on your trip.
Make a picture-based bucket list
One of our staff writers, Kris, is the ultimate foodie traveller. She picks her destinations based on the type of food she’ll find there. She starts researching her food adventures months in advance.
Kris spends weeks stalking restaurants and foodies on Instagram, drooling over their photos and reading the captions. She’ll even reach out to ask questions if something isn’t clear. Then she saves the most enticing photos into a folder on her phone.
By the time Kris leaves, she has an eye-popping collection of must-eats at her destination — and a plan to fit them all in.
Rely on passionate experts
When we’re heading somewhere new, blogs are my go-to resource for food (and all travel) tips.
Blogging is not an easy business; it takes real dedication and passion to create a blog and keep it running. Plus, unlike journalists for glossy magazines or researchers for the big guide books, most bloggers travel just like average tourists: independently; on a budget; and trying to get the best bang for their buck.
All this adds up to a major trust factor. I trust that other foodie travel bloggers are just like me — passionate about sharing their knowledge to help others have the very best travel experiences.
Pinterest is the best way to find blog posts about food at your destination.
While Google tends to prioritize corporate sites written by people who have never even been to the destination, Pinterest will show you posts by bloggers who have on-the-ground experience.
Just search “Best food in [your destination]” to find blog posts by locals and foodie travellers.
Don’t trust review sites
Though I find review sites and apps generally useless, in less-travelled destinations, they can be handy. If you have to turn to TripAdvisor, Yelp, or Happy Cow, just be aware that reviews are notoriously untrustworthy.
It’s not that the reviews are fake – they usually aren’t. It’s just that some people are a bit crazy when it comes to writing reviews.
To get the most out of them, you need to be able to read between the lines.
First, ignore the outrageously positive reviews.
If you see something like “this is the best pizza I’ve ever eaten” you can be pretty sure the reviewer was drunk or just hasn’t tried very much pizza.
Also forget about the one-star reviews. They are often so ludicrous Stephen and I have a running joke about it.
It goes something like this. “I was shocked to see that my napkin was folded unevenly. One star!” “I got in a traffic jam on my way to the restaurant. One star!” Anyway, it’s funny to us :)
I scan the mid-range reviews and only read the long, descriptive ones. Those tend to be the ones you can trust the most.
Pro tip: If you’re looking for specialty foods, like vegan options or gluten free, you can search within the reviews on TripAdvisor to check if anyone has mentioned those terms.
Book a food tour for your first night
If you love food and culture, the number one way to spend your first evening a new place is on a food tour.
Food tours are not just about stuffing your face with some of the finest hidden food treasures available (though there is a LOT of that).
They are a chance to learn about the local food culture, to meet vendors and restaurateurs who are as passionate about food as you, and to get your bearings in a new place.
Plus, your guide will offer lots of hints and tips to help you find even more great food for the rest of your stay.
I’ve done extraordinary food tours around the world and never been disappointed. So worth the time and money!
Use Eatwith to find a unique tour that’s run by a local guide who is even more passionate and knowledgable about food than you are.
Search for pop-ups and festivals
In cities around the world, secret dining events, food festivals and restaurant pop-ups are happening all the time.
Do a quick search on an event site like Eventbrite or on the local tourism board site before you travel to see what’s coming up at your destination. You might just luck into a one-off or annual event that you would never learn about from your guide book.
Tips for When You Arrive
Here’s a secret only frequent travellers know. Locals often know next-to-nothing about the place they live!
You’ve probably had the experience of hosting an out-of-town house guest who ends up introducing you to the best things in your neighbourhood. I know we have!
So, when we say to ask the locals, that comes with a big caveat. Don’t just ask any random local about where to eat. They will often point you in the direction of the most popular tourist restaurant in town. Yuck.
Be picky about who you ask.
Tour guides are some of the most helpful when it comes to food recommendations. Airbnb owners can be great too, pointing you towards their favourite places to eat. Waiters and bartenders are also great sources of tips — and don’t worry, they won’t mind recommending a competitor’s restaurant if you’re already eating in theirs.
Second, be specific in what you ask.
Instead of asking “Where should we go get lunch?”, try asking about a specific local speciality, like “Who serves the best pizza rustica in town?” That will help you get the most interesting and most honest answers.
Eat with locals
Though we’ve been invited to local’s houses for dinner many times, we often decline because it’s not necessarily safe to head off to a random stranger’s home!
Luckily, there’s a great, safe way to eat with locals.
Eatwith is the Airbnb of food, connecting locals who love to cook with tourists who love to eat!
Hosts range from decorated professional chefs to amateur food enthusiasts and everything in between. The locations are equally enticing, with many hosts inviting you into their home for conversation and sensational food.
If you have a passion for people, food, and unique experiences, check out the amazing food experiences on Eatwith.
Take your time
The worst time to find good food is when you’re hungry. Start your search before you feel those hunger pangs coming on or you’ll end up wandering aimlessly around with a gnawing ache in your belly and a growing case of the hangries.
Looking for food while we’re hungry has led Stephen and I to the worst meals on our travels (and some of our biggest arguments).
Have a back-up plan
This tip goes with the one above. If you’re a serious foodie traveller, you don’t want to leave anything to chance!
If you have a specific restaurant you’re heading to, make sure you have a Plan B. I can’t count the number of times we’ve been heading our for a delicious treat only to:
- Not be able to find the place
- Find the place is closed
- Find the place so unfriendly or so crowded we want to eat elsewhere
Now, I always try to have a nearby second choice in my back pocket in case my Plan A is a no go.
Get off the beaten track
It’s easy to stop in at the first likely looking restaurant you see, just outside a popular tourist attraction or along a main street.
These restaurants are often packed with tourists. Because of their location, they are also often the most popular restaurants on TripAdvisor, even though the food is mediocre at best.
It’s pretty obvious that moving away from busy tourist areas will help you score better food.
But you’ll get even better, more interesting food experiences if you get away from touristy destinations altogether. Go to a neighbourhood where only locals live. Head to a small village you’ve never heard of before.
We stayed in Torino, Italy for three months last year and although the city is full of amazing restaurants, we had our best meals in a family-run eatery in a small village nearby.
Venturing out from your comfort zone is a great way to find the food experiences of your dreams.
Look for locals
Restaurants that are packed with locals are packed for a reason — because the food is so good they keep coming back and bringing their friends.
But what if you’re eating a little early or a little late and nowhere is busy? Look for other signs of popularity.
Are the staff busy prepping and cleaning for the next rush — or are they sitting languidly staring at their phones? Are tables all cleared and spotless or are the staff busy cleaning up after a busy meal time?
While we were cycling in rural China, it took us a while to learn that the restaurants with the most garbage on the floor served the best food in town. Instead of using waste bins, it’s common in small Chinese eateries for customers to throw napkins and other garbage on the floor.
At the end of the day, it all gets swept away, but during opening hours, it was a sure sign that there had been lots of people eating there.
Learn to spot signs of a busy restaurant and you’ll get fed well, even if you eat outside of regular mealtimes.
Travellers often let cultural bias get in the way of a great meal. Where we’re from, a spotless restaurant means the food will be good, a dirty restaurant is to be avoided.
In other cultures, the opposite can be true.
In Vietnam’s popular Ha Long Bay, we met my parents for lunch one day. They didn’t want to eat in the busy local restaurant because it looked pretty grungy. Instead, we ate in a clean but almost empty Western-style place that obviously catered to bus tours.
Guess who ended up with food poisoning?
Not the people who chose the busy local restaurant, that’s for sure!
Sometimes, the best-laid food plans go inextricably awry. Instead of sulking or throwing a tantrum (as I often have when I am hungry), you’ve gotta learn to be flexible.
Was the gourmet pizza place inexplicably closed when you got there? Search for a random street pizza stall instead! Did you get in too late to hit that cafe you wanted to try? Head out into the night for some late-night fast-food.
There are plenty of food experiences that cannot be found through research, review sites, and word of mouth. Sometimes, the best ones are a matter of pure happy accident — so be flexible and let those accidents turn into amazing meals.
Tips To Use at the Restaurant
Use Instagram to order
Even if you’ve found the ideal eatery, it’s still possible to get a bad meal. Menu descriptions are rarely detailed enough to give you a real idea of what you’re eating, and if you’re anything like me, deciding what to order is so hard!
Enter my favourite use of Instagram ever.
If you’re in a popular restaurant, find their account on Instagram. If you’re lucky, you’ll find gorgeous pics of their food so you know exactly what to expect. Then you can just point at the picture you want and ask the waiter which one it is.
Do a food crawl
If you’ve found too many restaurant options in your destination and you’re not sure where to eat, just choose them all. When Stephen and I are in a city like London, there’s nothing I love more than doing a food crawl.
We share an appetizer in the first couple of restaurants and split mains in the next ones. Finally, we head somewhere else for dessert. Once we’ve had a chance to try multiple places, we often return to the best one the next day for a full meal.
Tips for Eco-Friendly Eating
Since we focus on eco-friendly travel, we couldn’t have a foodie travel guide on our site without addressing the issue of eco-friendly eating.
Here are a few tips to make sure your meals are as planet-friendly as they are delicious.
Food is a window into culture, and regional food traditions are often based on what is locally produced and grown.
When you’re travelling, opt for restaurants serving local specialities, which are more likely to include ingredients from nearby.
While it might be tempting to order the Australian Wagyu beef while in Bali, it’s ludicrous to eat imported food when there is plenty of local deliciousness to be had. Skip the homogenous “Western” food and try one of the hundreds of local dishes available instead.
Food production is one of the biggest contributors to pollution and climate change. While we can’t stop eating, we can reduce the amount of food that is produced and then thrown away on our behalf.
Almost every time we go out to eat, we see people leaving half-eaten plates of food behind when they leave.
I get it. When you’re eating at a restaurant for the first time, it can be tough to gauge exactly how much food to order.
Start by ordering the minimum you think you’ll need and if it’s not enough when the food comes, just order something else. This is a great way to save the planet, save your wallet, and slow down your meal so you can appreciate each bite.
If you’ve been out doing touristy things all day, it can be tempting to order food to be delivered to your hotel. The problem is, every dish comes in individual boxes and bags that all end up in the garbage. Even if you’re exhausted, go to a restaurant and eat there instead of contributing to excess waste with takeaway food containers.
It will also enhance your travel experience, since you’ll spend the evening people-watching instead of binging Netflix.
Not eating meat is one of the most impactful actions you can take to reduce your carbon footprint.
Even if you’re not willing to give up meat and dairy 100%, try it for at least one or two meals a day. Be adventurous and seek out a vegan restaurant at your destination!
This will give you the chance to try new foods, improve your health and reduce your carbon footprint.
A Final Note About Foodie Travel
Even though food experiences are important when travelling, it is possible to get too food obsessed! I have had some seriously sulky moments on the road when the meal I’m served is below par and overpriced, or just not what I felt like eating that day.
I’m not proud of it!
No matter how carefully you plan, not all your food exploits will be a home-run. Some days, you will have to prioritize getting some calories into you over finding the absolute best meal. That’s just the way travel goes.
But if you plan ahead, ask around, and be a little brave, you will almost surely make a few amazing food memories that will last a lifetime.
We hope this guide to finding the best food while travelling is useful. It’s our goal to help people have more satisfying and transformational experiences when they travel — food is a great way to do this! Give us a shout by email or on Instagram if you have any questions.
♥ Happy transformational travels, Jane & Stephen