There is nothing quite like the excitement of planning your next trip. But if you're like us, that trip often revolves around food. From where we must eat, to what we must eat - to the actual country we must eat it, our airfare resolves around our stomach. So, for all of us food adventure seekers, we've put together a list of tips to help you get the most out of your next culinary trip.
1. ALWAYS SEEK OUT LOCAL ADVICE
Before you plan your next culinary trip, seek out local blogs and guides to help plan your adventure. Locals are always the best source for information and many carry a great sense of pride in showcasing the best of their region or city. Bloggers have done a great job over the years documenting must visit restaurants, and also over-rated restaurants.
Another way to get first hand local advice is to take a virtual cooking class before your travels. During The Chef & The Dish private cooking classes, you meet a local before your trip, all without leaving your kitchen. Classes are fully private to just you and your guests, so you can chat about anything you want, from tips on where to visit, best restaurants, or even how to order like a local.
During your actual travels, make sure to check in with servers and bartenders. Those in the industry will happily share their favorites which may be quite different than other tips. Whatever you do, use major restaurant review sites with caution. Highly rated restaurants can often be local tourist traps.
2. KNOW WHAT FOODS ORIGINATED IN THE COUNTRY
Before you head out on your adventure, research the national dishes of the country so you can check them off your list. National dishes are chosen because they represent the country's image and are part of their identity, while regional dishes are lesser known but rich in local culture. Experience the national dish in a variety of cities and settings. The way restaurants make Pad Thai in Bangkok will be different than what you'd find in Chiang Mai. Lastly, try that dish in different variations - a street food version will be different than a fine dining restaurant.
3. RESEARCH THE 'MUST EAT' FOODS IN EACH REGION
Go one step further - No matter where you are travelling, there will be a special regional dish, a commonly eaten vegetable or specific preparation of a dish that is unique to that region in the country. These regional finds are so rich to the local culture they simply can't be missed. Pesto, for example, originates from Genoa which is the capital of the Liguria region found in the north west of Italy. Pesto alla genovese is a MUST eat if you visit Genoa, no questions asked. But not just because pesto was invented there, but because of the regional way it's prepared with potatoes, green beans and trofie shape of pasta. It's likely the only place you'll find it like that in Italy. If you're visiting New Orleans, you can't miss Étouffée, whereas if you're in Cajun country, you might be better trying the local Gumbo. Don't miss our MUST EAT Travel Guide to Italy - it's 25 pages of the most important dishes in each region of Italy. It's an epic collection.
4. VISIT THE LOCAL MARKETS
Sometimes food travellers miss the most amazing spot - the local market. From farmer's markets, local speciality stores, to simply where the locals shop - its these places where you can find some of the best food culture in town. See how the locals buy their weekly groceries, find the freshest produce, find interesting meats, and explore regional authentic products. Depending where you are, try your hand at bartering with the vendors, as well. It's all part of the experience.
5. TAKE A COOKING CLASS
What better way to get hands on experience using ingredients you may have never used before than a cooking class teaching you how to make local dishes? Many of The Chef & The Dish chefs offer local and in-person classes and even open their homes to travellers. We suggest taking a cooking class near the beginning of your trip. This will ensure you have a better understanding of the flavours and ingredients in the local cuisine. This can help you navigate menus during your trip. And make sure to ask your instructor any questions you might have about ordering from restaurants!
6. ENJOY A LOCAL COCKTAIL
Culinary tourism is more than just the food. Bar culture is a whole other thing - from a Hurricane in New Orleans, Aperol Spritz in Milan and Tinto Verano in Madrid - the local culture shared over a cocktail is sometimes the most real you'll get during your travels. Even if the local spirit isn't your thing, give it a shot (literally!) - just so you can say you did it while you were there. Fun fact, each cooking class with The Chef & The Dish comes with cocktail recipes. We deeply believe it's part of the experience.
7. EAT WHAT'S IN SEASON
In North America, we're used to having access to produce all year round, however that isn't necessarily common everywhere. And regardless - if you're visiting Ontario, Canada anytime between July and September, grabbing a pint of fresh wild blueberries from a vendor on the side of the road has to be on your list. The flavor of those blueberries is so perfect - so fresh - there's no comparison.
In Italy, you will only find artichokes during certain seasons - but man oh man, when they're in season, restaurants across the country fill their menus with their local spin. Those seasonal ingredients often can't be found outside of the time you visited the country, so devour what you can. Bonus - by eating what's in season, you'll get to enjoy the freshest flavors, you'll probably save a couple dollars, too.
8. EXPLORE LOCAL STREET FOOD
Some street food looks amazing (like this deep fried Hungarian lángos) and some of it may look a little more intimidating (fried scorpions anyone?) but more often than not it's delicious. Some street vendors even have Michelin Stars these days. We say trust your gut, but push yourself to be a little more adventurous. It's street food that can't commonly be replicated elsewhere, even by famous restaurants.
9. TAKE A FOOD, WINE OR SPIRIT TOUR & LEARN SOMETHING
From vineyard tours in Tuscany to whiskey distillery tours in Japan - Guided tours are sometimes a bit touristy, but they're also a fun way to learn something new about the destination you're visiting. Added bonus - you'll have an opportunity to meet other travellers that have similar interests as you. It's not uncommon to meet someone during a food tour, meet up with them for a pint the next day, then developing a lifelong friendship.
10. VISIT SPECIALTY SHOPS
A whole store of ham? Yes, please! These Jamonerías can be found throughout Spain and are filled with Jamón Ibérico, which has been dubbed the finest ham in the world. Many countries will have shops dedicated to products they specialize in so make sure to keep an eye out for these gems and see if you can get a free sample...or 20.
ABOUT THE CHEF & THE DISH
The Chef & The Dish has chefs around the world that you video conference into your kitchen for a private 1:1 virtual cooking class. Learn how to make pasta with a chef video calling you live from Italy, Pad Thai with a chef virtually in your kitchen live from Thailand. Together you cook, share stories, laugh and make a multi course meal together. Rated 'Best Date Night,' 'Best Gifts,' and "Best Cooking Classes" by WSJ, Forbes, Vanity Fair, Martha Stewart, Rolling Stone and tens more. Transport your kitchen for the day.™