Since I’m still in a food coma from Thanksgiving on Thursday, I’m thinking a lot about food. Granted, I’m always thinking about food as I’m admittedly a borderline foodie. One of the greatest things about traveling is that it engages all five senses, my personal favorite is taste. When I traveled to Spain, I was with my sister who is not at all a foodie. There were a few occasions where my sister noticed that I had better luck ordering food that I enjoyed, while she ordered a few meals that were duds. Some of knowing what to order comes from experimentation, and other times it comes to down to tips and tricks picked up while eating in your own city or traveling.
1. Know the city or country’s food specialties.
You wouldn’t go to a small town in Italy and expect five-star Chinese food, but you would probably expect top-notch pasta. Look into what type of cuisine the country is known for on a macro level (i.e. in Spain it was ham, eggs, and seafood.) Additionally, on a micro level, research what type of food is best in the specific city you’re visiting (i.e. hard to go wrong with fish and chips in London).
2. Know nationalities food specialties.
This tip is tricky because I think it does require being a bit of experienced traveler and/or a foodie. Authentic food is the holy grail when eating while traveling. My sister and I quickly tired of tapas once we’d gotten to Barcelona, and it was impossible to find a restaurant that wasn’t serving them near Sagrada Familia. So in a fit of desperate hunger, I suggested we eat at a place run by Turkish people. They served food like döner kebabs, but also pasta dishes. My sister ordered seafood spaghetti that she barely touched. (The “seafood” included was two calamri rings, and one tiny freeze-dried shrimp. I don’t blame her for not eating it.) I ordered a chicken döner. Guess who liked their meal better? Instead of ordering what you would normally eat back home, pick (or guess) the specialty of the people running the restaurant you’re in.
3. Avoid dining at touristy places.
Don’t do it. Even if it’s a travel day and you’re starving, avoid touristy restaurants at all costs. It will lead to disappointment and overpriced pizza. I’ve eaten pizza all over the world, and never have I ever encountered a pizza as aggressively mediocre as the one I had at a tourist trap on Avinguda del Parallel in Barcelona. It wasn’t terrible, but it was terribly not good. The pizza had been frozen, wasn’t cut properly, and the cheese was like rubber glued to dough. ‘Twas a bad call eating here.
4. Notice where locals are eating.
If a restaurant’s patrons are a mixture of locals and tourists, take it as a sign that the place is good. Restaurants that attract both locals and tourists are often some of the best restaurants you can encounter in a city.
5. Ask the waiter.
Experienced waiters can tell you what items, dishes, and drinks are good at a place. And if they’re a great waiter, they can help you figure out the best dish for your own tastes, preferences, and appetite. In Stockholm, I had a great waitress who noticed that I’d fallen in love with a type of bread and proceeded to not only write down its name, but also encouraged me to bake it myself, which I did for Thanksgiving this year, and it was a huge success! A good waiter can be your greatest ally in the hunt for the perfect meal in a foreign city.