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When In Rome: Why Locals Are The Best Food Guides When Traveling Abroad

Karen Cottle

One thing you hear from a lot of tourists or out-of-towners when picking a place to eat are sentences that usually start with “I’ve read about this place in…” or “I saw this place on…” Once I hear those words, I know that there’s trouble.

I’m not saying that things that get featured in articles or on TV shows are bad. They’re usually quite good. In the case of American regional specialties, they’re generally spot-on. When going abroad however, it’s a whole different ball game. When abroad, I highly recommend getting advise from the locals, or frequenting the restaurants or bistros they favor. Here’s why:

Prices

Let’s start with what discussions usually boil down to in the end anyway. When comparing the prices of a restaurant or eatery the locals favor as compared to one that’s featured on travel media, it’s a safe bet that the ones locals favor are significantly more affordable.

This is usually the case because rather than focusing on tourists who are likely to eat there once during the trip, they focus on repeat business from locals. It can be rather hard to attract customers when your prices aren’t conducive to repeat customers at least 2-3 times a week.

Authenticity

One thing I have noticed is that food geared towards tourists is usually altered in some way, particularly when geared at western tourists. Usually, it’s substituting local flavors with alternatives that western palates are more used to. This means that rather than getting an authentic flavor, we get a flavor that’s designed to be more familiar to us.

This usually means that locals are dismissive of the dish because it’s no longer the true to the flavors they grew up with. This means that the eateries and restaurants that cater primarily to locals are more likely to prefer the traditional versions. For travelers who are aiming for the authentic experience, this makes all the difference.

Regional Variety

When perusing the menu for a restaurant that caters to tourists, you may notice that the menu will feature some regional specialties (usually the most popular), then populate the rest of the menu with items that are more international in scope in order to ensure that there’s something for everybody. This means that other regional dishes that aren’t as popular may not be included in the menu.

While this may not be a great loss for most tourists, for those who are really looking for a complete immersive experience, it’s these dishes that may one day turn out to be favorites. For example, Filipinos will usually highlight dishes such as adobo as a “national” dish, with balut serving as a more exotic candidate, but what’s become my favorite dish from the region is letchon paksiw which doesn’t usually get featured.

Recommendations

One thing I have learned during my travels is that no matter where you go, there will be locals who love to talk to tourists about what the area has to offer. Whether bragging about which place makes the best local favorite, or where the best places to visit that most tourists don’t know about are, there’s always someone who wants to talk about their hometown to the tourists. Local eateries are a good place to find them.

How do you usually find the best eateries when you travel? Let us know!