You’ve decided where you want to go. You’ve purchased the
tickets and booked a hotel. And now for the most important part... what are you
going to eat? And where will you find the best stuff?
As food and travel photographers, it’s important that we have an eatinerary,
an itinerary just for eating, set prior to arrival. We’ve never stepped off
a plane wondering where our first meal would be. There’s nothing worse than
wasting precious time, standing on a corner looking up a guidebook’s
recommendations for often touristy institutions. With all the resources online,
those days are truly long gone. Remember this: the best tips are from locals
and the people you meet along the way. Traveling is more than what
you can find in a book, it’s all the interactions you’ve made. The more
you interact with locals, the richer the experience. And more often than
not, you’ll make new friends.
Just a note that when we travel, we eat everything – from white
paper plates to white tablecloths. If the food’s good, then that’s all that
matters. It’s a good way to experience a range of what a city, country, or
culture has to offer. Not every city will have an amazing street food or fine
dining scene, so it’s important to know this before arrival. Here are some tips
on eating the most out of your trip.
1. Connect. Contact friends who live or have been to your
destination. Not just anyone though, try and contact those with similar
lifestyles and eating habits/addictions. Ask them to compile a list for
you or if they can recommend someone else that is more knowledgeable in the
2. Seek consensus. Dylan and I peruse sites like Chowhound,
Yelp, food blogs to get a feel for what the locals are into. Your goal
is to seek a consensus and from there you can compile your list. We also search
for local specialties, farmers markets, seafood markets, etc. Farmer’s markets
and seafood markets are the best way to see what’s in season and native to your
3. The White Cloth. If you’re into the restaurant scene,
particularly in the United States, look up James Beard award past/present
winners and nominees. In our opinion, some of the city’s best chefs are
not necessarily listed on the celebrity chef tier and most of them prefer it
that way too. For international trips, the Michelin guide and San Pellegrino’s "The World’s Best 50" lists are also a good way to seek the fine dining scene.
It is here where you’ll find information about restaurants with the same style
and focus on food.
4. Your friend, social media. Twitter is a forum for
asking questions freely. Many times we’ve had Twitter friends redirect our
message to others to be answered. Instagram is probably our favorite tool as
well. There you can simply do a hashtag search on a city, country and learn
about their food specialties. It’s also a great way to follow people from all
around the world. And in some cases, we’ve been able to meet up with Instagram
friends. It’s typically a safe and fun way to meet up with people since you’ve
already been following them based on their interests – but use your best
5. Be flexible. Don’t plan your whole itinerary. Pick 3 to 4 places
that you’re most interested in and book a couple of reservations at some of the
nicer restaurants. More often than not, our eatinerary changes
entirely because of locals and restaurant industry people we meet. We have
seldom been let down!
You're Here — Now What?
1. Interact. Talk to everyone. The taxi driver,
bartenders/servers (industry people), the local sitting right next to you.
If you can get the chef, bingo! Traveling is all about interacting
and as we stated before, the more you interact the richer the experience will
be. Don’t be annoying though!
2. You have a brain and an opinion. Use your guide book as
a reference, not as your decision maker. A map won’t change very often,
but the food scene will, so don’t rely on the guide book's recommendations. The
problem with listing restaurants in a guidebook is that the information becomes
obsolete the second a chef has either left or the business has closed. Also,
that informatio won’t be updated for another few years.
3. What do locals like? Once you find out the local specialties, start asking each person you meet where their favorite ___________ is. If locals spot visitors, culinary pride comes out and they’ll inevitably try to impress you with their best food recommendations. From there, you’ll be able to take a consensus. It’s actually fun to do a “mini-hop” and compare 3 or 5 different taco stands, for instance. Also, if you see 50 people at one street vendor and 0 at the one next to it, chances are the busy one serves the best food. Can't tell you how many times we've opted for the less busy one because we were impatient and ended up regretting it.
4. Know your stomach! Bourdain has successfully inspired people all over the world to eat with an open mind and "open stomach". But not everyone has a stomach like he does. Be aware of your limitations and location as health standards/conditions vary around the world. Mentally you may think you're ready for Thailand's diet of tasty, deep fried insects or chicken sashimi in Japan, but your body may not. If you are in an adventurous mood, know that it's safer to eat fried foods vs. raw, uncooked foods. After some bad incidents, we've learned to always carry charcoal pills/immodium AD with us and take it before we eat any street food just in case. On the flip side, eating a culture's food regardless of how foreign it may be to your diet is the best compliment you can give.
4. Industry people. This is key for us. Ask industry people where
they like to eat, where they take their friends and where they eat when they’re
off work. Servers/bartenders LOVE food and seldom have we met someone that
disliked food. They have to be biased about the food that’s served in their
restaurants but they’ll almost always have a list of places they want you to
check out. Tip them for their generosity. If you can lure the chef out
of his/her kitchen, you’ve hit the goldmine of food recommendations. But be
respectful of their time.
5. Less is best –
more the merrier. What do we mean by that? The best way to experience a
city/culture’s food scene is to taste as many as dishes you’re stomach will
allow. If you’re traveling with someone, share the meal. There’s no
point in everyone ordering a whole slab of Texas BBQ brisket, when you can
divide that up into four and order a few more things off the menu. Don’t feel
obligated to finish the dish. Simply explain to the restaurant you’re doing a
hop and that you’ll take it to go. There have been instances where we’ve
over-ordered for photo opportunities and given it to nearby diners who gladly
Dylan and Jeni are our guests for June — Travel Month at The Kitchn! They will bringing us tips and good ideas for eating while traveling, and finding good ways to bring your travels home to your own kitchen.
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(Images: Dylan + Jeni Ho)