I’ve always hated acting like a tourist. It feels conspicuous, and certainly no one is comfortable being perceived as naïve. When I visit somewhere new, no matter how far-flung or exotic, I try to achieve some level of assimilation, to immerse myself in the history, traditions, and culture of my destination. There’s a specific mindset I adopt that’s important to getting the most out of my travel experience: to think of my surroundings as a temporary home, a place I live, even if only for a few days.
No matter where I go, I’ve discovered that the best road into a new culture is by way of its cuisine. The tie that binds all people together, from the cosmopolites in London and Paris to the indigenous tribes along the Amazon, and everyone in between — we all gotta eat.
While visiting famous landmarks or museums is a great way to learn about a place, there is no better way to see the true face of a region than eating the favorite dishes of the folks who call your destination home. As far as I’m concerned, trying new cuisines, eating at locals’ favorite restaurants, and learning the techniques to prepare my favorite culinary discoveries, are more than reason enough to travel anywhere.
Read on for some practical tips on how to skip the tourist traps and really experience your travel destination from the inside. While all these recommendations are helpful, there is one overarching piece of advice I have that supersedes all the rest: be not afraid! Open your mind, eat what you’re served with gratitude, and try everything. Every meal is an opportunity to grow.
Do Your Research.
The Internet has changed the way we do a lot of things in our lives, and travel and dining are no exceptions. Before you head for the airport, spend some time online. Look at maps, read restaurant reviews, and track down information on traditional cuisine. When planning my trips, I always check Lonely Planet, Chowhound, The New York Times Dining & Wine and Travel sections, and TripAdvisor, to name just a few.
Learn Your Manners.
Did you know that in Japan, it’s a huge faux pas to prop your chopsticks upright in your rice bowl? In France, it’s the height of rudeness to ask to split a restaurant bill. In China, belching is sign of respect to your host and satisfaction with your meal. No matter where in the world you end up, arrive there armed with a working knowledge of local etiquette, and you’ll find that your hosts will embrace you into their culture that much more quickly.
Adam Boles is a special contributor to The Daily Meal.