Raise your hand if the food of a city or country has ever factored into your decision to travel there?
Raise your hand if you ever do research on the best food to eat in [fill in the blank] before traveling to a new place?
:::raises hand again:::
The truth is, I travel, in part, for the food a good amount of the time. I also admit to being what some might call obsessed with finding great food when I travel.
A recent example — my birthday trip to Charleston was about 80% for the food (I had heard so many good things!), and the itinerary of my time there was comprised of about 90% food-related activities, including but not limited to the Charleston Wine + Food Festival, a Sunday Brunch cooking class at Charleston Cooks! (so good) and dinner at the critically acclaimed hot spot, Husk.
The point is, when I travel, I try to find great food and have memorable culinary experiences wherever I go. This is not something specific to me but rather part of a growing trend in what is known as culinary tourism or food tourism. No longer do people strictly want to visit a new place, take pictures of all the famous landmarks and then return home to their friends and family. Now people want to go off the beaten path and have authentic — often food-related — experiences, or they want to go to the restaurant that is deemed "the place to go," or participate in a food tour as part of their experience in a new place.
This growing focus on seeking great food while traveling was a topic of discussion during a panel at the New York Travel Festival. The panelists, which included a food magazine editor, a travel and food blogger, and an entrepreneur and chef, covered everything from how to be the ideal eater, to what it means to experience food in another place, to the "Bourdain Effect" — the influence renowned chef, restaurateur and author (among many other things) Anthony Bourdain has had on traveling and eating. It was an enlightening conversation on how food and the way we experience it has changed over time. The discussion also covered the effects of social media on the culinary world (insert overhead Instagram photo of a table of colorful and delicious-looking food) and how to navigate large cities where the food options are plentiful.
So, how does one find the best food to eat when traveling, and how can one be an "ideal eater" while experiencing other cultures? According to the panelists:
- Walk away from the main tourist drag. It's likely full of overpriced, mediocre food.
- Learn the culinary customs of where you are and embrace them.
- Get out of your comfort zone (e.g., don't buy a Big Mac from McDonald's if that's your usual thing).
- Understand that food is about so much more than the taste. It's about the people, the environment and all the components that contribute to making the meal what it is.
- Get the perspective of those who live in a place but also the perspective of those who visit that place. Sometimes there are different intentions between locals and visitors, so try to get an informed mix of the two.
- Know that authenticity isn't always delicious, so in your search for the "authentic experience," understand that it doesn't always guarantee the best tasting meal, but it will likely be a memorable one.
Some of my own tips for finding great food when traveling:
- Follow the crowds (selectively). It's something I once shared with Travel + Leisure and still stand by: follow the locals because they often know where the good food can be found.
- Ask friends who have given great recommendations before. I like recommendations, but I'll be honest, not everyone has good ones, so I often will ask people who have pointed me in the right direction before, whether it's with food or anything else. If they don't know, they may know someone who knows. In other words, I trust their opinion.
- Do some research beforehand but take what you read with a grain of salt and make your own assessment when you're actually in the place you're visiting.
- Don't rely on just one of your senses to make a decision about whether you'll eat something or not. Sometimes the best food doesn't look great, but the dish could end up being one of the best you've ever tried. Or, sometimes you may sniff something and decide the smell doesn't agree with you so you'll pass on tasting the dish. I say go for it, because you may end up loving it.
- Keep an open mind about what you're eating, unless you have specific dietary restrictions.
- Know that sometimes you'll strike out and sometimes you'll hit a home run when it comes to food. Yes, that's a baseball analogy on my blog — likely the first and last time you'll ever see me mention baseball, so enjoy it while you can.
What tips do you have for finding the best food when you travel, and how would you describe the "ideal eater?"