I’ll admit it. I’m a very adventurous traveler, and I’m always up for any thrill – skydiving, bungee jumping, you name it. But, when it comes to food, I lack that adventurous spirit that characterizes my travel style. Want to try that octopus? No thank you!
I’ve had both exciting and frustrating experiences abroad when it comes to food that is somewhat outside my comfort zone. Yes, I experiment with a few dishes here and there, but it’s often a slow process, compared to other travelers who are open to eating anything, anywhere.
Since I know I’m not the only picky eater traveling the world; here I’ll share a few tips that might help you cope with your eating habits in a new destination.
1. Carry some of your favorite snacks with you
Whether it is fruits, cookies, or candy bars, bring with you a few of your favorite snacks to treat yourself whenever you feel like you want a familiar taste. Many snacks, like Oreo cookies, can be found worldwide, so you can buy them at your destination instead of carrying them from home. But, keep in mind that even international brands can have different tastes. Oreo cookies in Africa don’t take the same as Oreo cookies in Asia or North America (Speaking from experience).
2. Choose restaurants based on how full they are with locals
One of my biggest concerns when eating abroad is, “will the food taste good?” It’s often with a trial and error method that you can find the best-tasting restaurants. But, there’s one way that almost always works well, and that is “the local crowd.” Locals know which are the best and worst restaurants in their city, so whenever they go out to eat, they go to the best-tasting restaurants.
Normally, if you see a restaurant full of locals, it is a good sign that the food there is good, and probably, it will be cheap too. Just a few weeks ago, while in Nepal, I discovered their delicious dish called momos. I had it several times while in the country, and I always liked it, but my absolute favorite momos were from a small local restaurant in the city center of Kathmandu. It was very basic, cheap, and full of locals.
3. Read reviews online before heading to the restaurant, or ask the locals
Following on the previous tip, ask the locals where they'd recommend to go if you want to eat pizza, a local dish, a burger, etc. Again, locals tend to know where the best food is. Should you not feel comfortable asking a local, go online and search for reviews. TripAdvisor can be a good starting point to find restaurant reviews based on food categories. Or, you could search on forums or local sites that review and recommend specific places in town.
4. Don’t be afraid to have your “Western” comfort food when needed and available
Sometimes we get tired of eating rice, noodles, or curry every day and we want to enjoy something more familiar. That is when the fast foods and international restaurant chains come to the rescue. Many travelers shun the idea of going to a McDonald’s while in India or any foreign country since they have so much delicious food, but guess what, my stomach and I don’t care!
I know many travelers enjoy immersing into the culture via the local food, and that’s fine, but what’s the point of doing that if you’re not enjoying what you’re eating? Go into that McDonald’s, Domino’s Pizza, KFC, or whichever Western chain and enjoy every bite of that delicious meal!
5. Cook when you can
If you’re staying somewhere where a kitchen is available, buy some groceries at the local market and make your own meals. The best way to ensure you’ll eat something you’ll love is by cooking it yourself. If there’s a special seasoning you love from your country, consider taking with you a few packets to flavor your meals while abroad. Sometimes, those local flavors cannot be found elsewhere.
6. Consider traveling with a more adventurous traveler
Sometimes all we need is a bit of a push to try new things, and often that push comes from our more adventurous travel companions. Maybe they order something you’re not willing to order for yourself, but you might be open to taking a bite just to see how it tastes. If you don’t like it, fine, no meal was wasted. If you liked it, perfect, you could order it next time.
7. Be polite
Know that when abroad, eating habits and styles can vary drastically from what you’re used to at home. If you’re served something you don’t like, try not to complain about it. Just put it to the side of your plate and eat the rest. In many occasions, waiters get lost in translation and not fully understand what you asked for while ordering.
8. Be flexible when needed
There are countries where certain types of food are not found due to religious or cultural reasons. An example of this is Israel. You won’t find a cheeseburger on most menus in the country as it’s not kosher. It is in these kinds of situations that you have to accept the fact that you might not eat a cheeseburger (or whatever dish) for the duration of your trip there. But, can you do with a regular hamburger? Probably!
9. Be brave
Let's face it… sometimes we just need to be brave, swallow our fears, and try something new. In many occasions, getting out of the comfort zone pays off!
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