When I got off the plane that took me back home from Costa Rica, I swore off Gallo Pinto. The delicious Costa Rican staple was my primary source of nutrition for my trip, but I was ready to get back to a normal diet when I got back home.
Why Eat Locally?
I have traveled to many places in the world. In my travels, I always make a point to try something local when a vegetarian option is available. In recent adventure when I travel hacked my way to Europe, I ate Fish and Chips in London. I had wine, cheese, baguettes, and crepes in Paris. I had Dutch pancakes and Vlaamse Frites in Amsterdam. And I ate Gallo Pinto, a fancy mix of rice and beans, three meals a day for most of my trip to Costa Rica.
Eating locally is a great way to connect to a new culture. I do not leave the United States to eat at McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, or Pizza Hut. When I leave, I want to experience the society the way locals do. I go to restaurants, parks, and bars that locals frequent. While I am there, I try to meet local people and get a feel for what it is like to live there.
How to Eat Locally
My best friend while abroad, particularly in a non-English speaking country, is Lonely Planet. Lonely Planet guide books are in depth guides that give you everything you need to know about a city, country, culture, cuisine, lodging, and other tidbits when traveling somewhere new. The only reason I survived a solo trip to Prague and Budapest was my Lonely Planet guide books.
The first thing to read about when it comes to meal time is what the locals eat. In London, it was just as easy to find Chinese and Thai food as Fish and Chips. On the East End I had amazing Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine. I found that Londoners eat a wide variety of foods, but that didn’t mean the traditional option was not available.
Once you find out what the locals eat, you have to find a place to do it. Lonely Planet makes it easy, but sometimes it is fun to explore and pick a random café or street vendor to get your local food fix. They are often cheaper and better than the places that will try to take your coveted tourist dollars.
You could also try to find a local grocery store instead of a restaurant, but I would rather take the lazy route while on vacation.
Why did I say no to Gallo Pinto when I got home? I had a four day stomach ache at the end of my Costa Rican vacation. Why did I use extreme caution finding restaurants when I visited Playa Del Carmen in Mexico? I know about Montezuma’s Revenge.
While I am always up for an adventure, I have to protect my stomach as well. I know I have a weak digestive system, as opposed to some of my friends with stomachs of steel, so I have to eat locally the right way.
If you are eating something that you are not used to, don’t eat it for every meal. Alternate between local food and something you are used to. I did stop into Subway in London, I did have pizza in Paris, and I enjoyed Chinese stir fry in Amsterdam.
At the end of the day, it is all about enjoying your experience. If eating Balut (Google that one) in the Philippines or drinking Baby Mice Wine in Korea would ruin your day, skip it. I bet there is something local you would like instead.
What have you eaten abroad that you really enjoyed? What did you see that grossed you out? What is your strategy to eat locally? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Image by JMR_Photography