With the food industry booming and social media helping local restaurant’s become far more visible, there is no longer any excuse to experience a bad, over-priced meal. One of the key travel trends for 2015 is to further immerse ourselves in our travel experiences by making it feel even more personal and finding out where the locals like to eat makes a huge difference, not only to our culinary experience of the place, but to get further under the skin of a country, wherever it is and get to understand the culture far more.
My recent trip to Hong Kong was a wonderful reminder of how much you gain from finding bars and restaurants and small street stalls that are off the beaten track. You will only find these via local knowledge, it’s generally not something the hotels would recommend. We stayed in a flat in the middle of Causeway Bay. Initially I was having a trauma about the fact that we were going to get murdered in our beds or eaten by cockroaches, on arrival at our block of flats, but my fears were unfounded – behind those murky, dirty air conditioning units, even if the building looked like it should have been condemned were some funky, cool flats for urbanites (not sure how we got to be there, but oh well..):-
So you need to be a little bit braver than usual if you normally go for a hotel and think outside the box a little – don’t judge a book by it’s cover – the location was perfect:-
Hong Kong is a very good example of extremes when it comes to food. You can dine in 5 star hotels on top of the world, eat dim sum in murky basements or chicken claws from street vendors. There are no limits. But make sure you do your research, or hook up with some locals – it will make all the difference.
We ate here one day – one of HK’s famous beach restaurants:-
BOOKING YOUR ACCOMODATION
If you do want something more experiential then booking an apartment or room through services like Airbnb, HomeAway, or VRBO will help. It’s far more authentic an experience than staying in a hotel, because you are inevitably going to be living where other city residents live and not simply where the hotels are based. Generally they will also provide you with insider details into different areas, including a bit about their food scenes.
Whilst it is a little tiresome to have to be so organised, it is generally the case that if a restaurant is popular with the locals it will be thoroughly booked up in advance. So you need to do your research and make some decisions in advance. Thanks to blogs and other local guides, there are plenty of free resources to use when planning where you want to eat for your upcoming trip. The biggest challenge is sorting through all the info and planning your eating route.
I don’t like to be too organised about my day and would certainly not plan my whole day around food, but some people like to do that.
USE YOUR SOCIAL NETWORKS TO ASK QUESTIONS
Put out a call on Twitter and Facebook for some advice – you’ll be amazed at how many people have already been there!! Instagram is now a new fresh source for photo imagery so look there too.
GO TO THE LOCAL FOOD MARKETS
This will give you more insight than anything else as to the food of the country. Asian markets are my favourites for fascinating food stuffs and people watching, but anywhere in the world that you are, don’t miss the opportunity to visit a local market. You will get a real insight into the food culture. Market vendors will also know the new restaurant recommendations so make sure you ask lots of questions.
KEEP YOUR OPTIONS OPEN
Go for lots of different types and styles of places. My favourite places are the ones that are buzzy and have atmosphere, to be honest, I’m not so worried about the food, so my aim is to find out what’s new and hot, but also go for all the old local favourites that are ALWAYS full.
GET OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
Any city will have a wealth of restaurants near all the main icons. Generally these will be over-priced and not very good. Find other areas in which to eat. Again, ask around and if necessary hire a local guide to take you out and about. Check out the areas best for street food as well – each city has it’s favourites.
So many destinations now have annual food festivals and pop up’s that are a good option if authentic food is a major travel priority for you, then make sure you do a Google search of upcoming events in the city you’re planning to visit.
ASK A LOCAL
The best way to eat like a local is to ask people on the street for their favourite restaurants. They are usually happy to share. Or ask the chefs in the restaurants – they too know best:-
DINE WITH LOCALS
A popular new trend is booking in advance to eat with a local group or family in the comfort of their own home. Along with being treated to an authentic, home-cooked meal, you’ll also get a glimpse into local dining customs.
There are online networks such as EatWith.com, which connects travelers with local chefs who will prepare meals for guests in their own homes or maybe you can arrange a meal through a local contact or friend of friends.