Want a true taste of the country you're in? How to decide where to eat overseas

So you're there already, and you haven't booked any restaurants because you were too busy doing everything you had to do before you could get on that plane. Now what? You don't want to spend all morning deciding where to have lunch, and all afternoon working out where to have dinner.

Let's back up a bit, and go over a few simple guidelines that will take the hassle out of choosing somewhere to eat overseas.

If you're after a true taste of the country you're in, avoid chain restaurants, touristy food streets, hotel dining rooms, restaurants with menus pasted up in 16 different languages, restaurants near famous tourist attractions, and anywhere with a spruiker outside who asks you where you are from. That will narrow things down somewhat.

Oh, and make sure you ask your hotel concierge where to eat, and then cross whatever they recommend off your list, because it's going to be filled with all your fellow hotel guests.

Your best trick is to get hold of a local. Find out where they like to eat, and what they order when they get there. If you have a specific national dish you want to try, ask them where to find the best one. Then use the pay-it-forward technique: when you find one good place to eat, ask the staff where else they recommend. Ask the best stall-holders at the local food market which restaurants buy their stuff. Ask bank tellers, baristas, taxi-drivers. I once got all my best tips from a passport-stamping customs official.

All this would have been so much easier had you done your homework before you left home, but the internet is a wonderful thing, so jump on it and find some local experts to help you navigate. I like Katie Parla for Italy, Alexander Lobrano for France, Nicholas Gill for Latin America, Robbie Swinnerton for Japan, Elizabeth Auerbach for Europe, and America's eater.com for their interactive heat maps and "38 Places To Eat Out" on various major destinations.

Sometimes, you end up at the same place everyone else wants to eat at, and find yourself at the end of a queue. Food worth standing in line for includes Crab Louis at Swan Oyster Depot in San Francisco; pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tart) at Belem on the outskirts of Lisbon; fried eggs and chips at the Cerveceria Catalana in Barcelona; and the Punjabi seekh kebab and tarka dahl at Tayyabs in London's Whitechapel (BYO wine). If that happens, spend the time wisely, and ask all your queue-buddies where else you should be eating.

Comments