I’ve been a professional food writer since 2011 and part of my job is to expose and write about the coolest restaurants in town. In the food world, cool is synonymous with delicious and — well — who doesn’t want to eat fresh, delicious things on vacation?
In my frequent travels, I’ve picked up a few tricks through the years worth sharing. I promise – It doesn’t take copious amounts of research to eat well while on the road.
Here are my tips:
1. Find Food On Instagram
I’m calling it: food blogs are dead – all the food snobs are on Instagram these days instead. Instagram is a great way to browse through your food options.
Just use the “Places” feature and search near your current location. Scroll through the feed and you’ll most definitely find a beautiful food pic — probably shot with an overhead angle. Write down that location tag and you’ll be good to go.
2. Check Popular Listicles ::figure
When “keeping your ears open” isn’t enough. Photo: @dogsofinstagram / Instagram
If you’re in a large metropolitan city, the problem often isn’t that you can’t find a place to eat. It’s that there are just too many choices.
Listicles are great to help you narrow down what you want by category. Best Chinese? Best Brunch Place To Take Your Mother-In-Law? Chances are, that list exists.
3. Ask Your Cab Driver
Cab drivers know their food. Most locals do. Strike up a conversation with your cabbie and ask him what his favorite type of food is and where they go for it. Don’t ask: “What’s the best restaurant around here?” With that question, you will most definitely be shuttled to a crowded, touristy destination that’s overpriced and overrated.
Personalize your request.
4. Head To The Food Market
This hack only works in a town that has a central market. I’m talking an open-air bazaar with chicken and fruits sold from makeshift stands. Most cities throughout the world have this. I suppose here in America we have farmer markets. Know where to look.
In Taiwan, for example, markets are traditionally located around temples because people get ravenous after worship. (True story.) There are always food vendors in these markets. Hit up the most crowded one. Crowded stands have a high turnover rate, and so you won’t have to fret too much about food poisoning.
5. The Vendor With The Longest Line Wins
Say you’re at a street market or a block with lots of eateries. You can’t decide where to go; you can’t even speak the language. It’s simple: go to the place with the longest line out its doors.
While the idea of waiting in a long line may be dissuading, there has to be a reason people are willing to waste their time. Queue up and make friends. Don’t think of it as waiting. Think of it as a cultural experience.
When I was living in Nicaragua, this is how I found my favorite taco restaurant. We drove down a street, I saw a long line in front of a random restaurant and made a determination to go back and try the food. It made for a fantastic article.
6. Find Niche Writers
Are you a coffee aficionado? Do you thrive on desserts? A lot of times, especially in food-centric towns, there’s a niche website or a writer who covers all of that. I know this because I’m a niche writer myself; I primarily cover Chinese food in Los Angeles.
Coffee blogs are especially prominent in Europe or Japan. You can most definitely find cocktail bloggers around the world, there are even tea experts and of course, dessert writers are aplenty.
7. Use Culinary Guidebooks Over General Ones
Lonely Planet seems to be the guidebook a lot of travelers cling onto as they roam the world. Particularly in Latin America. It’s an excellent resource, but the culinary recommendations in those pages are just sad.
Most of the times, they’re touting mediocre expat restaurants.
If you must opt for a guidebook, skip the generalists and go for the culinary books. My friend recently gave me a wonderful guide to the restaurants in Chengdu. And Japan, for one, has plenty of prose dedicated to its bountiful food scene.
Or better yet, cram in an episode of your favorite travel show, shot in the destination that you’re heading.
8. Take A Local Cooking Class
If you want to delve deeper into a city’s food scene and understand ingredients and traditional cooking methodologies, a cooking class is your best bet. Another advantage to this: cooking class teachers always know where the best restaurants around town are.
You can also check out Tastemade.com for food & travel inspiration as well as download the Facet video app featuring dishes from around the globe.