Of course you know about Chicago pizza and Philly cheese steaks, but how much do you know about Pittsburgh pierogis? Or Maryland Smith Island cake? Or Louisiana po’boys? A lot of cities and states have their own specialties, but you won’t always find them in a guidebook—you have to hunt them down.
There are numerous ways to discover how to eat like a local, from taking a food tour to visiting ethnic neighborhoods to asking local vendors—especially at farmers markets—what the regional delicacies are. But expect some argument—I asked where to find the best Black Forest cake while traveling through a small German town, and almost caused an international incident.
So how do you track down the foods that all locals love?
This is not only a great way to sample many different types of food, but it’s a good way to get your bearings in a new city as well as get a little exercise. I love the tours that combine local lore with every bite—on a Savor Gettysburg food tour, for example, I learned that President Lincoln’s favorite food was chicken potpie, and then got to sample a shepherd’s pie in an Irish pub. Delicious!
I live in Pittsburgh, which has nine distinct neighborhoods—each with their own delicious entrees. I go to Bloomfield for fresh pasta, Polish Hill for pierogis and Deutschtown for spectacular spätzle; and of course I wash it down with Iron City Beer or even better, a specially brewed concoction from one of the local craft breweries.
Visit the places that sell to restaurants and let them tell you where they’d eat. They know the chefs and what they make best—and what they sell the most. Pittsburgh’s Strip District, for example, is home to a lot of meat, fish and cheese wholesalers…and they’ll not only sell you food for your own table, but tell you where they go to eat. And don’t forget about farmers markets—not only do they sell to individuals, but a lot of them supply restaurants as well.
This is a great resource, especially as many of these organizations provide itineraries for day trips that include famous restaurants, or even create "foodie" tours. They are not only familiar with the area as its representatives, but most also live where they work, so they can tell you where they take their families and visitors from out of town.
While many hotels have a concierge who can help you find the best restaurant, front-desk staff can also be a great resource. And they’ll also let you know if an area is considered safe for tourists, and can help you arrange for transportation to get there.
Of course you can Google "Black Forest cake" in Germany and get 1000s of hits, but a lot of that is advertiser-driven, so it’s hard to decide if a particular restaurant’s claim to fame is real. Go to review sites like TripAdvisor and OpenTable and check out a lot of different reviews from real diners who want to share their best, and worst, restaurant stories.
This is especially helpful in foreign countries where you may not speak the language or know the local traditions. While you may be picking up the check for an extra person, you’ll also be picking up a lot of local knowledge—and that’s quite a bargain.
How do you find the best local food when you travel?
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Freelance writer. Road tripper. Travel diva. Dog rescuer. Writes for food or kibbles and bits. Based out of Pittsburgh, PA, via Juneau, AK, Vanessa has been a freelance writer for more than 25 years, and has been published in many diverse publications,including GEEK, Recreation News, CATS, VFW magazine, the Antique Trader and more. An avid traveler, she always brings home amazing memories...and often more dogs. Follow Vanessa on her blog, Mood Swings and Other Things, on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram.
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