My continuing series of how to make your next vacation more local focuses on food and how to find local food experiences when you travel. We all have to eat – but the question is where should we eat when we travel? Connecting through food has been bringing families and cultures together for years, and now there an increased desire to interact more locally and find more meaningful connections and relationships when we travel. Doing this through food is a great way to infuse some ‘local’ on your vacation. Or maybe you don’t want to be social, but you do want to eat at restaurants where the locals go to eat for a more authentic experience. I will help you cover all the bases!
How to Connect to the Local Restaurant Scene
You want to find the popular local restaurants, but it’s hard to decipher through all of the tourism hype. Let’s face it – no New Yorkers ever go to eat near Times Square unless they have Broadway tickets. The understanding is that Times Square is for tourists. As a tourist, how do you find where the locals go?
Go on a Food Tour
If you don’t know anyone in that city that you can get recommendations from, then book a food tour the 1st day you are in a destination. Food tours generally teach you about the food culture of an area and give you great ideas on where to go! They are usually put on by a person that lives there and is somehow connected to the foodie scene.
The easiest way to find a food tour in the city you are visiting is simply going to Viator.com and searching for food tours!
When researching food tours, just send them a quick question and ask about the background of the guide before booking.
I always recommend this to people visiting NYC. As someone who lived there I regularly went on food tours as it was a great way to learn about new neighborhoods AND get new restaurant recommendations. Most food tours are walking tours where you walk around a neighborhood and learn the history of an area, but also try out various cuisines throughout the tour. The portions are normally smaller so that you can get a variety of food samples. But every tour I have done has been plentiful so come hungry. The tours normally provide a map or list of the restaurants you visit during the tour so you can refer back to them and potentially make reservations during your stay for a longer, proper meal. The restaurants also often offer discounts to people who took the tour. The guides are normally enthusiastic about recommending other restaurants in the city too.
If you are in a country that is known for street food but it is all foreign to you, then definitely book a tour to learn about the different specialties of the area and to decrease your trepidation at trying new things at the outdoor markets. I did this in Vietnam with my niece by taking a street food tour run by locals. It made the Vietnamese food less intimidating and I was able to try much more during my visit.
I’ve had similar success in these cities too with food tours to get me on the road to better understanding the destination’s food culture as well as garner more great local recommendations:
Eating Local in NYC
The Heart of Food in Rome
Finding the Hip Local Restaurants in Berlin
Meat Lovers Parrilla Tour – Buenos Aires
A Walk in the Turkish Food Markets – Istanbul
“Beautiful things happen when you bring people and food together.” Hila said when explaining why she wanted to be involved in hosting strangers in her home for dinner via Eatwith.com
How to Eat with Locals in their Homes
Much like Airbnb.com brought the average traveler inside people’s homes as an alternative to hotels, there is another craze beginning similar to this with food. Locals invite strangers into their home for a dinner party. People attend these dinner parties in lieu of going to a restaurant.
The people who are hosting these experiences normally fall into two categories; people who use it to serve as a platform to gain valuable cooking experience or launch a professional cooking career, and those who passionate about food and enjoy having people in their home and entertaining. It’s very similar to an Airbnb model where a website facilitates the search for home restaurants or dinner parties around the globe and then provides reviews from both the host and the attendee which provides a safety element to something that might seem strange.
Read the reviews, check out the menus and pictures from the host’s past parties and then decide if the price is right to book! It’s comparable to going to dinner in a restaurant and you still get ‘waited on’ as if you are in a restaurant. However one big difference is that these dinners are meant to be social, so you are normally seated at a communal table and encouraged to meet your fellow diners. Sometimes alcohol is provided with the prices and sometimes you bring your own. You can interact with the host before hand too if it makes you feel more comfortable about eating in a stranger’s home.
I tried this out in Brussels for the first time. The guests were a combination of expats, locals, and travelers. I had a great time at the dinner meeting new people and swapping stories over more than a few beers! I walked away with new recipes, knowledge on what beer to order in restaurants, restaurant recommendations, sites to see, ideas for neighborhoods to check out, email addresses of new friends – and a very full stomach.
EatWith.com – is probably the most well known of this type of local eating experience. It’s available worldwide; just go to the site and type in a city to see if they have a host. They have a vetting process which is quite thorough. The events have a mixture of locals and travelers typically attending.
I went to one recently in New York City in Brooklyn and had a great time meeting a bunch of locals who were food enthusiasts. As a bonus, it was cheaper than eating a similar meal in a restaurant! It was very social and typically in these situations the hosts sits and eats with their guests. Once again I walked away with local restaurant advice and more insight into what it was like to be a New Yorker.
“Closed door” restaurants are also popping up all over these days in large cities. And they are extremely popular in Buenos Aires. These are basically eating experiences in people’s private homes. Not exactly a restaurant, and not exactly a dinner party among friends. However it is a great way to have some amazing food, experience local living, and meet a bunch of other people – locals and travelers alike. Some of these have communal tables and some are set up more like a restaurant with multiple tables and reservations – but held in a person’s home. I went to one in Buenos Aires called Casa Salt Shaker. It was communal, but it also felt a bit more like a restaurant as the host/chef didn’t sit and eat with us.
Try one of these food experiences on your next vacation and you’ll be getting more local in no time!
By Corinne March 27, 2014 - 7:23 am
Sherry. Awesome post! I can’t wait to try eating at a local’s house in NYC…this summer, yay!
By Wandershare March 27, 2014 - 12:20 pm
Excellent tips! And deliciously awesome images.
By Samantha @mytanfeet March 27, 2014 - 2:07 pm
We always ask the cab drivers where the best local food is. They have to eat out all day so you know it won’t be expensive but it’s good, local food. I’ll have to check out the eatwith website, sounds like a very interesting idea and a good way to connect with people and food
By Sherry March 28, 2014 - 1:22 am
Great idea! Thanks for sharing your tip!
By Monnette April 8, 2014 - 6:56 am
Great idea… esp. if there are no food tours in the area. Otherwise, you can take Anthony Bourdain’s tip of joining a forum and asking where the best place to eat is. You don’t necessarily take their advice at face value, but the answers can give you a clue of where to eat.
By Lisa | LLworldtour March 27, 2014 - 4:06 pm
Love eating with locals. It was how I really started meeting locals with Couchsurfing 5 years ago! Today, one of the biggest sites is http://www.MealSharing.com, a cool start-up in Chicago! 🙂
By Sherry March 28, 2014 - 1:55 am
Looks like another one in the eatwith.com space. It will be interesting to see which of these startups really take off. I love the concept. I will check them out and see if they are in any upcoming cities I’m traveling to internationally. Thanks Lisa!
By gordon March 27, 2014 - 6:49 pm
Great tips. I myself love to go to a farmers market and see what I can find that I feel comfortable eating. But I think eating with locals is such a great way to eat outside of your comfort zone because who wants to be rude and turn down food?
By Jen March 28, 2014 - 4:41 am
Great tips Sherry! I always ask the person on reception at my hostel/hotel where they eat and then I go there too. I’ve had some really amazing, authentic meals from these suggestions.
By The Travel Sisters March 28, 2014 - 12:04 pm
Great tips! Finding local food and experiences is something that lots of travelers are interesting in but sometimes don’t know how to find.
By Mary @ Green Global Travel March 30, 2014 - 3:36 pm
Food Tours really are a way to delve into the culture where you are visiting. I really enjoyed this post. Thanks for sharing!
By Fred Yummyplanet April 1, 2014 - 6:55 am
Hi totally agree with you on food tours! I’ve taken 2 so far: Portland Walking Tour (in Portland, Oregon) and Fabulous Food Train in Dublin. Both were incredible experiences (I’ve also written an article on food tours here on my blog: http://yummy-planet.com/en/5-reasons-to-book-a-food-tour).
I’m planning a trip to NYC at the end of the year and I’ll definitely try the one you mention.
I’ve haven’t tried the experience of eating with locals in their own home (except when couchsurfing) but I’ll give it a try! Thanks for the tip!
By Tom @ Waegook Tom April 2, 2014 - 12:13 am
Some great tips here! As far as food tours go, I’d heartily recommend Eating London, a fairly new company but with very knowledgeable guides who take their participants around some really great eateries in East London.
As far as NYC goes, I used Real Cheap Eats, which proved to be an absolutely invaluable resource. I also use Yelp for restaurant reviews, but pay close attention to the voice of the person writing it, i.e. do they sound like someone with my tastes, or are they someone who simply moans and isn’t pleased with anything?
By Stephanie - The Travel Chica April 13, 2014 - 7:34 am
I love the idea of eating with locals. So many great resources here.
By Louisa @ A Small Scrawl April 22, 2014 - 2:47 pm
Great post Sherry. We tried a home restaurant in London and had such a great night. We are travelling for a while and don’t have many friends while we’re on the road. We could have sat in a restaurant and talked to one another, but instead we met all these lovely people – just like a dinner party. I think we were craving that kind of company. Keen to do more of this!
By Sherry April 23, 2014 - 9:38 pm
Glad you did a home restaurant! It’s such a great way to meet people!! What site did you use to find the restaurant or how did you hear about it?
By Udal Kumar Bharti May 19, 2014 - 4:39 am
Excellent tips! And deliciously awesome images. Finding local food and experiences is something that lots of travelers are interesting in but sometimes don’t know how to find. Thanks for the share.
By Ben Proctor October 27, 2016 - 3:29 pm
My wife and I love to travel but it always seems like when we get to our hotel the places we eat at are only for tourists and I hate that. I really liked your advice on taking a food tour the first day you get there. It makes a lot of sense to go into the city on a guided tour to find places where people who live in that city will actually go and eat. On our next vacation I will be sure to book a food tour so that we get to eat at more local restaurants.
By Sherry October 28, 2016 - 6:55 pm
I’m glad you’ll consider a food tour for your first stop!
By Bernard Clyde May 5, 2017 - 1:58 pm
I like your idea to try to get some ideas for restaurants you could attend by scheduling out a local tour of some sort. I think it’s important to become familiar with the local area so that you can find those unique restaurant. My wife and I have been looking for the right grilled food and we might have to set up a tour to see what’s best in the area.
By Neha Kuriakose May 17, 2017 - 7:39 am
This was a great read, very helpful! Traveling Spoon (www.travelingspoon.com) is also another wonderful website that allows you to book authentic food experiences with locals in their homes.
By Alex Dean June 19, 2017 - 10:57 am
My husband and I are traveling to a place where we haven’t been to before, and we are wanting to know how to find the right places to eat. It’s good to know that one way to go about doing it is by connecting with the local restaurant scene by taking a food tour on our first day there. This is something that might be fun to do so that we aren’t going to the tourist attractions and we will be able to find the hidden secrets of the city.
By Sherry June 19, 2017 - 1:19 pm
I hope you try it out on your next trip! It’s the first thing I always do and it always yields some great idea and info for the rest of the trip!
By James Andrew September 30, 2017 - 7:13 am
Hey! Nice blog! I have seen you have mentioned, to use fresh fruit and local food experience on vacations. Love eating with locals. I have found a good website (Harvest Order) to buy fruits, vegetables and beverages online. Please let me know if you like it.