I think my perspective on eating while traveling is a little skewed, thanks to traveling with my family since I was young. By eating, I mean restaurant-eating—by no means do I think you should starve yourself while traveling. That’s just not going to be enjoyable at all.
You see, whenever my family and I would head out to a new destination, my dad would make a list of restaurants that he’d researched. Out of everything we visited, those things were mandatory. Sure, skip the Ginza plaza, the Tokyo Strip, but this little restaurant 30 minutes outside the nearest train station we had to hit up.
Obviously, that caused a lot of strife for 15 year old me. There was too much walking for such a small reward of food. Don’t get me wrong—these places were usually wonderful, local, and almost out of tourist zones. But these experiences caused a kind of conflict in me today.
I felt that we had wasted so much time searching for a specific restaurant. Time that we could’ve used to explore the city a little more or try some new experiences. Maybe we could’ve researched more on the adventures that people have had or the festivals that were happening during the summer.
But my dad wasn’t completely wrong on this.
I believe food is one of the main ways to learn about and enjoy a culture. Food is key to almost everything. For example, in Taiwan and many other Asian countries, meals are communal, where most socializing occurs. Not to mention—it’s FOOD. Get that in my stomach ASAP.
But how much should we plan our foodie experiences? How much research do we do before it’s too much? And what kind of eating experiences should we hit up?
Well, if you put eating as a cultural experience, this should be part of the cultural research that you do before arriving at your destination. For example, what kind of food is considered more local and what kind are more for the tourists? You can hit up both and then decide which ones are repeatable. In Taiwan, they have these extravagant buffets in high-rise malls; although many locals do go once in a while, it’s usually reserved for visiting tourists and relatives. For actual locals, however, one of the big cultural experiences is the night markets on certain streets. Sometimes, the best food comes out at night!
Knowing that there is this aspect of the culture can help you prepare in where to get your grub. Next, know what kind of grub you should be looking for! What are some typical traditional sit-down dishes vs. the ones you get at the night market (to go)? While visiting Venice, there were little food stores lining the streets with a Take-Away option, which suggest a more casual environment. Sometimes you could even take-away a drink or two to enjoy while browsing the shops. During our visit, we went to this small island and had this pasta with sauce made from squid ink—something that my dad had looked up before.
Sometimes, you just gotta go with the flow. In Venice, I saw many locals order this orange-colored alcoholic drink. Literally everyone. So the next time we sat down for a little drink break, I pointed to one and ordered it! The waitress told me it was called Spritz. It was fruity, a little bitter, and sometimes came with an olive, depending on the place. Delicious!
So, the amount of time you spend researching food is your call. Although I think not too much time should be spent, it is an important part of a cultural experience. When it starts cutting into the actual time you can spend exploring the city, however, it’s too far.
What about you? How much time do you spend looking up good grub, if any?