If you wear your ‘foodie’ badge with any sense of pride, then we’re sure you’ll know the feeling. You’re deep into a dark alley, phone leading you by the hand, peering into domestic scenes, grandmas flipping greens, meat on hooks and stomach hanging on tenters, wondering if this is that place. And sure, it’s easy to raise the white flag just before the point of no return, and walk away with your tail between your legs.
But with a little luck and a lot of nous, the intrepid are rewarded with a meal of deliciousness and dignity, leaving with a belly full and a story to tell. We’re here for those moments, for the best foodie experience, with these; our 5 IDEAL tips for foodie finds abroad.
LEGIONS OF LOCALS
It’s a tip so often recited its cliche, yet it still bears repeating; places rammed to the rafters with a lively legion of locals are the places you want to be patronising. Anywhere with a dedicated, loyal following has got to be good. These are the people that the shopkeeper or chef really wants to feed, again and again. They’re also the folk with the most critical, demanding tastes. It makes sense, then, to pull up a stool when and where it’s difficult to get your hands on one.
Conversely, be wary of the ‘authentic local’ places absolutely mobbed by tourists. Though not always the case, once word has well and truly got out about a place, standards can slip.
WELCOME EVERY OPPORTUNITY FOR INSIDER INSIGHT
When far from home, common ground is so often found over food. So, take every opportunity when a conversation is struck up with a taxi driver, hotel receptionist, adjacent drinker or shopkeeper to ask for the best insider insight about where to eat local food. At the very least, you’ll unearth somewhere perhaps not in the guidebooks on your foodie holiday. At best, new friendships will be forged. Lovely stuff.
OPEN ARMS TO ACCIDENTS
From years of hidden gem hunting experience, and travel tips collecting, we’ve learnt that it’s a mistake to become too fixated on one particular place you’ve read about. While you’re traversing the back streets with your face deep in the recesses of Google Maps, some serious cooking has been going on all around you. Keep your head up, eyes wide and arms open, and if something looks good and smells good, it probably is good.
DIAL DOWN INTO THE REGIONAL
If you’re up for the authoritative, authentic dining experience, you should look for the region’s, city’s, even district’s specialities, rather than the country you’re in as a whole. Regional differences in dishes are a fascinating reflection of the history, culture and customs of a place and its peoples, and evoke a devotion and passion in its cooks which ultimately translates into the finest food you’re likely to find.
KNOW THE DISH YOU’RE AFTER (AND HOW TO SAY IT)
The ‘one hit wonder’ food stalls, where a single dish has been perfected over generations, are the holy grail for hungry adventurers. As a general rule, if it doesn’t have a Facebook page or website, if its name is simply an address, and if no English is spoken, then you could well be onto a winner. It’s therefore vital to learn the name of, and how to pronounce, the specific dish you’re hunting down, with a few other phrases to make the ordering process run smoothly thrown in for good measure. In Thailand, for instance, a simple ‘khun mee + dish + mai ka/krap?’ will help unlock a world of amazing dishes otherwise unavailable. A little effort goes a long way, we think.
To help you remember the names of dishes, try translating them into English. Some of the translations can be quite literal and as a consequence, memorable. For example, the delicious and aromatic Thai dish gai dtam naam translates to “underwater chicken” because of the way it’s cooked. Or take khao mok gai, a wonderful Thai version of chicken biryani which literally means “rice covered chicken”.
If you’re in travelling in Europe and want to get to grips with some of the quirkier linguistic turns of the continent, check out the hilarious infographic below from the good guys over at CDA. Some of the translations are funny while some sound completely unappetizing – poo satchel followed by dead grandma for lunch anyone? Regardless of the absurdity of the translation, though, we’re pretty sure they all taste absolutely delicious.