7 Simple Tips to Help You Eat Like a Local

Eat Like a Local in Hong Kong: Siumai on a stick - a popular Hong Kong street food

It’s all good and well traveling to a new country with the idea — either at the front or back of your mind — of tasting all the delicious foods that it has to offer, but unless you take certain steps, you might find that the culinary highlights are always just out of reach. That’s because, well, this isn’t your home. You don’t necessarily know what you’re looking for, where the best places to go are, and so on.

But fear not, because we’re on hand — below, you’ll find a bunch of useful tips that’ll have you eating well, and, more importantly, like a local, in no time.

Must-Try Foods

First thing’s first — what exactly is the food of the destination? Many destinations are famous for one type of dish, but you’ll need to know what it is. Before visiting, do some research by reading up about the must-try foods while you’re there. In some cases, it’s fairly obvious (if you’re visiting a historic coastal town, it’s reasonable to expect the fish will be delicious!). In other places, such as large cities, you might need to do a little more research to figure out what the area is known for, since all the world’s foods may be available.

Close-up view of gourmet ceviche with Dorado and daikon in plate– stock image

Where to Eat Like a Local

There’s going to be no shortage of restaurants to choose from when you’re there, but how many can be said to be local? And how many can be said to serve good food, as compared to poor versions of the destination’s meals? Here, research will be key. You can discover plenty of hidden gems and recommendations from guide books and internet reviews, however, you will have to do some of the legwork.

Expect there will be an element of trial and error involved. You may have to eat some bad meals — but they’ll help to make the delicious meals all the better. Over the course of your trip, you’ll get a sense of what’s good and what’s bad, just like a local.

Eat Like a Local in Hong Kong: Siumai on a stick - a popular Hong Kong street food

Learn the Language

Now, you’re not going to learn an entire language just for the sake of one trip, but there is a lot of merit in learning the basics. For starters, it’ll open up your destination a little more.

Not all of the best restaurants in town will be in the parts of the city where tourists hang out. If you want to eat like a local, then you may need to visit some local-heavy neighborhoods. Here, there won’t be the same level of English as nearer the center. You might need to rely on the local language in order to get a table, understand the menu, and so on.

Aside from these logistical benefits, another reason why it’s better to speak the local tongue is that it changes how you’re treated. You’ll get the true restaurant experience if you can say a few words — if you’re just speaking in English, you’ll be more likely to get the cold shoulder.

Eat Like a Local: Chinese street food sold in Bangkok Chinatown.

Set up a Base

The problem with trying to eat like a local is that, well, for starters, you’re not one; but also, that by the time you’re beginning to get a sense of things, it’s time to head to the airport, and fly home. You’ll have a basic understanding of the food culture there, but that’ll be really all it is. It’s better, as such, to return to that destination.

You’ll learn much more if you visit multiple times a year, rather than just a single one-off trip. This is especially recommended when it comes to regions different from your own (such as Asia), where the food is varied depending on where you are. So why not look to see if any companies are selling cheap houses, and set up a base? You’ll be able to visit as often as time allows once you have a property there.

Eventually, you won’t be trying to figure out how to eat like a local — you will be a local, or an honorary one, at least.

Top view of plate with delicious japanese dish with katsuobushi, dried bonito shavings

Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

Part of the magic of visiting other places — indeed, one of the best things about life on earth — is how different cultures can be. Some countries do things in the exact opposite way to others. There’s not one that’s better or worse than the other, it’s just different. It’s super fun to be able to experience!

When it comes to food, these differences can sometimes mean we have to push ourselves to be a little brave, and step outside of our comfort zone. If you visit France or Spain, for example, it’s worthwhile mustering up the courage to try snails. You won’t find them in too many American restaurants, and, indeed, the idea might seem a bit off-putting to you, but give those local delicacies a try. They must be part of the culture for some reason!

The Culture

And talking about culture, you’ll also want to pay attention to the culture of food. As in, the approach, the general attitude.

In Spain, for example, lunch can be a two-hour affair — and also, if you’re looking for food after around 3:30, you won’t find it. All the restaurants will be closed. Head to a restaurant before 8:30, and it might not be open; they eat late over there!

Food isn’t just something that you eat, it’s culture. To get the most out of your trip, do as the locals do.

VALENCIA, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 06, 2106: People walking on Old Town street of Valencia. Valencia is the 3rd largest city in Spain.

Avoid the Tourist Zone

It’s a shame that this has to be said, but it’s unfortunately true. One of the best pieces of advice, when it comes to everything, not just restaurants, is to find the tourist center of town — and then walk in any direction for five minutes. If you’re overseas and everything’s in English, it will not be serving quality local food. It’ll be overpriced and poor. Avoid!

Travel enough, and you’ll pick up an instinct for the restaurants that will be worth visiting, and which you should steer clear of. Trust that instinct!

Wherever you go, make an effort to experience that destination through the universal language of food. You’ll satisfy your craving for new tastes and appreciate your travels all the more if you eat like a local. 

But before you go, check out these 9 great tips for savoring a local cuisine.

This is a contributed post.