Picture from Tartufotto, Milan. One of the most memorable meals of my life.
Food is an integral part of any good trip; it tells you about the culture, the landscape and traditions of the local people. It’s the ultimate pleasure giver, and there’s nothing quite like the feeling of seeing a waiter walk towards your table, arms full of plates as your stomach grumbles in approval. A good meal in a foreign land is an experience in itself, and for me a huge focal point when I plan holidays. But with so many mediocre restaurants and reviews on major sites pointing you straight to them (since they tend to be in the main touristy areas), how do you find the true gems? The kinds of meals you think about for years after and try to recreate every chance you get. The kind of food that comes to mind at midnight on a random Tuesday when you just want something that hits the spot. Here are my tips for finding some of the best meals you’ll have in your lifetime.
1.Do your research
Winging it doesn’t really work when it comes to good restaurants, except for the odd occasion where you stumble upon something great. Chances are you’ll get hungry/tired of looking and sit down at a place close by that looks ok rather than making your way to another location. Sites like TripAdvisor are incredible tools for planning everything from meals to museum visits, excursions and hotel stays, although I wouldn’t rely on them alone. Plenty of times TripAdvisor has led me to tourist traps because it has the most number of reviews on their site (i.e 1000 reviews with an average rating of 4 in a very touristy place versus 100 great reviews with an average of 5 stars in a lesser known neighbourhood). Dive deep into the reviews and comments people have left & stay away from restaurants that have what I call the 4:1 or lower ratio, meaning 4 good reviews then 1 bad review and so on. This just means they are inconsistent and you can’t be guaranteed a fantastic meal. It’s normal for even the most exceptional places to have one or two slightly negative reviews because you can’t please everyone, am I right? But consistent flaws is not a good thing, even though they may show up as top 10 in a certain city just because of the large number of reviews. A lot of the truly great restaurants may have far less comments since they may not be on the main street or next to all the major attractions. The trek will be worth it though, I promise. I also love reading Lonely Planet guides & checking out the list of Michelin Star restaurants in the city I’m visiting.
2.Spotted By Locals & similar apps
A great app to get while visiting a new place is Spotted By Locals, where locals of that particular place will dish out all their favourite spots to eat, drink, party & be entertained. Although this app doesn’t cover every single location on the globe, it still has most of the large cities. I’ve found some brilliant recommendations ranging from a delish breakfast to a locals only underground music festival to hole in the wall bars serving cocktails from your dreams. Triposo is another such app with fantastic travel guides for destinations around the world, and an easy to use format covering eat & drink, see & do, and bookings for hotels & hostels alongside weather, currency, and practical information for your location.
3.Read travel blogs for amazing off the beaten path tips
There’s a reason the world of travel blogging is thriving, and that’s because travel bloggers (like me) put in a lot of effort into planning an unforgettable trip. I always focus on finding a few spots to visit that aren’t frequented by tourists, and experiences that are truly once in a lifetime. Travel blogs can give you all sorts of nifty information you won’t find on commercial travel & tourism websites, and that too from a real person instead of a magazine thats been paid to write a positive post about a specific destination, and will discuss useful things like daily budgets, best ways to get around, places you have to see, how to dress (if you’re in a conservative place), solo travel tips and of course, their best meals. Some of my favourite travel bloggers are Nomadic Matt, Adventurous Kate, Hippie in Heels, Gypsea Lust, The Blonde Abroad & Alex in Wanderland.
4.Stay away from tourists traps
This is a straightforward one. You want to stay away from places that are smack in the middle of all the hustle bustle as you’ll seriously overpay for a mind-numbingly average meal. Restaurants that have massive signs outside promoting “combo meals” or waiters handing you menus/trying to call you inside should be avoided like the plague. Its hard to always tell whose who, but places packed with locals is where you’ll get the best food. Also I’d stay away from ordering complicated dishes from other parts of the world. You won’t necessarily get a good Spanish tapas meal on a small island in Thailand, or a great Malaysian curry in the south of France. Stick to what the locals know how to cook, unless you’ve previously researched and found an exception.
5.Ask the locals
Ask friends from other cities where they eat in their hometown, quiz your Airbnb host about their fave meal, start a forum on TripAdvisor to get insider info, chat with a friendly bartender, the hotel bellboy, or that sweet lady in the clothing store you’re shopping in. People are generally very happy to share tips about their city, and that includes delectable dishes you can’t miss.
6.Check out street stalls, food markets & other unassuming places that have massive lines
Sometimes the tiniest, most basic looking places serve the best grub known to man. If you see a long line of locals outside a particular shop or street stall, get in line. Ask people what they’re ordering or what’s famous from that spot and get it, even if its something you may not have tried before.
7.Don’t be afraid to walk away from a restaurant even though you sat down already
It’s your money, your mouth and your holiday. Don’t feel obliged to stay in a restaurant when you’ve looked at the menu and not found it exciting or something gives you bad vibes about a place. I have walked into restaurants countless times and decided the menu is underwhelming or that I’m just not in the mood for that particular food anymore. Go with your gut when it comes to what you feel like eating (pun intended), you only have a limited number of meals on any given trip and they should preferably all be memorable.
8.Try new things!
I cant emphasise this one enough! You gotta be adventurous with your food choices, the worst that can happen is that you won’t like it, but everything is worth at least one shot. I sometimes get queasy from certain kinds of raw seafood or things with a very strong odor/weird texture, but I always give it a try (sometimes more!) before I make a decision. This is how I discovered that I enjoy pigs ears, horchata, cuttlefish & snails even though I may not have tried them just from the name. Variety is the spice of life, my friend, and that applies to food more than anything else. You have an opportunity 3-4 times everyday to try something you’ve never tried before, so throw your previous ideas out the window, close your eyes, and take a bite!
I hope you enjoyed reading my guide about finding good food on your travels. If you have a restaurant in mind that changed your life, or one that you cant wait to go back to then I’d love to hear from you. Write to me on firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Best Meals” and it may end up on my to do list the next time I travel! I’ll be back in a few days with an exciting fashion post, read my other posts about style, beauty & of course travel till then xxx
Jasleen Gill is a fashion & celebrity stylist, model, and blogger currently residing in Mumbai, India.READ MORE