This may reveal me to be the abominable snowman-shaped person that I am, but I have to confess: My very favorite thing about traveling is the food. Oh god, yes. The food.
I’m not a complete glutton – I swear there is a higher purpose to my indulgences. Food is, after all, a very concrete link to a culture and a place, and there is no quicker or more delicious way to learn about a people than to sample the cuisine they identify as theirs.
In some places, it’s very easy to pinpoint and partake in the local culinary customs – you’ll know that fresh sushi should be on your to-do list in Japan, and that you should probably take in a curry in India. But you might be surprised by how confused some locals will get when you ask them about what local specialty you should try, or where to go to experience the classic fare of a new-to-you city. No, you’ll say, I’m not looking for the best Italian restaurant in Toledo; I’m not interested in the fanciest McDonald’s in Shanghai (at least, not right now). And the locals will look at you with bewilderment. These are the places where they eat, and isn’t that what you meant? Hotel concierges can sometimes lead you astray too, if they’re incentivized to recommend particular restaurants and vendors to the detriment of authenticity and quality.
Ask the right questions though, and you can, eventually, find what you’re looking for. A few to try that I’ve found illuminating (though not always for the purposes described above): What kind of food can you get here that you can’t get anywhere else? What is the freshest, the most locally-grown? What do grandmothers from here count among their classic recipes? Growing up in this place, what kind of food most reminds you of home?
Sure, you can probably look it up online, but where’s the fun in that?