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Foodcations

Sometimes the greatest meals on vacations are the ones you find when Plan A falls through - Anthony Bourdain

Foodcations

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One of the quickest ways to get to know a place is through its food and of course, drink. Whether you’re looking for the best pizza tour in Italy or best dumpling restaurant in Asia, knowing how to plan for a trip focused on food can be tricky. Where should you start?

Recently, I met with food and travel writer Cat Lin, to get her advice. Lin has a deep passion to try new foods and discover food experiences around the world. She was born in Taiwan, raised in Malaysia, and is currently living in Calgary, Canada with her husband. She was exposed to a variety of good food early on and ever since has been a food lover. She said, “Taiwan has a fascinating food culture, influenced by Japan, China, the West, and indigenous tribes. Malaysia is another food paradise known for its cultural diversity.” Lin continues to make sure food is a heavy focus on all of her travels. When she visits new places, she says she “mixes local eats with the best restaurants and unique food experiences.”

Here, Lin shares her insights and recommendations on how to plan a trip focused on food, including tips on ways to find local food and unique dining experiences...

1. Leverage search tools and apps

Start your research by leveraging food sites, since they have already done the hard part for you. Find quick foodie lists already organized by your most filtered obsessions (like pink cupcakes or spiciest local dishes). To discover and help ideate, Lin recommends CNN Travel and Serious Eats - and I would add Urban Spoon and Wikitravel. Lin also encourages a visit to customer review websites including TripAdvisor, Yelp, Tabelog and Chowhound’s forums. For cities with numerous Michelin Star and Michelin recommended restaurants, Lin uses the search tools on Michelin Guide. For cities with numerous stars, like Tokyo (the most-starred city in the world), this is a great place to start. For booklovers, Lin recommends Lonely Planet’s Food Trails for itinerary suggestions.

2. Research destination’s local cuisine and food culture

Besides leveraging the search sites mentioned, Lin also recommends running a simple Google search based off search queries like “traditional (country) food” or “must eat food in (city/country)”. She shared, “typically, I start with finding out what the signature dishes are in that city or country. Take Japan for example, ramen is the national food. To find out the best places for ramen, I read food blogs and compare my findings with those from popular customer-review websites. Then, I select the ones that fit within my budget and work best for my itinerary.”

3. Learn local dining etiquette and customs

As part of your research and planning efforts, make sure you understand local customs in terms of dining etiquette. Lin shares it’s important to look these up in advance as countries and even regions within countries can have unspoken rules. Lin said, “in South Korea, it is not appropriate to hold your bowl in your hand while eating. In Malaysia and India, you should avoid eating with your left hand. In China, it is rude to stick the chopsticks vertically in a rice bowl. Know what is acceptable and unacceptable so you don’t violate local customs.”

4. Talk to locals

One of the biggest tips in travel, that is so valuable in so many ways, is to talk to the locals. This is especially true in more undiscovered parts of the world where you may not be able to read a million food review articles. Lin shared, “ When I’m traveling, I will ask the locals such as taxi drivers, tour guides or Airbnb hosts about hidden gems. If I can speak the language, that’s a bonus. Sometimes you find the best local foods not from a 5-star gourmet restaurant, but from a food truck or a hawker stall. ” While you can certainly discover food gems on your own, focusing your time on where locals suggest to go is always the best place to start.

5. Create a customized map

While you research and ask for local’s input, Lin recommends creating a map that helps you locate and save all restaurants of interest. If you have the time, and you’re going to a major city, this ends up being a very helpful resource. She says, “this way, when you have absolutely no idea where to eat, there’s always backup options available at your fingertips.” You can save locations on Google Maps, which is available in most parts of the world, and an app you can access offline.

6. Start your trip with a food tour

To get the best overview of what an area has to offer in terms of its culinary features, go on a food tour. If you schedule them at the beginning of your vacation, you can then revisit your favorite spots throughout the remainder of your stay. Lin shared, “food tours will usually take participants through several iconic neighborhoods and introduce you to the city’s unique history and culture – which I tend to find helpful in navigating and exploring the destination later on.” If you forget to schedule a tour, you could always do a DIY food tour based on your customized map (as mentioned) and take advantage of trying a variety of small bites throughout the destination.

7. Keep an open schedule

Make sure you have room in your itinerary to accommodate for any last-minute changes based on recommendations from locals. If you make a reservation for every meal, you could miss out on an opportunity that presents itself while you’re there – maybe there’s a once in a lifetime barbecue event that happens every Sunday and it was nowhere to be found online. Keep part of your schedule open for the potential of discovering novelty – and local – culinary experiences.

8. Visit a local market

Find out where the day and night markets are and visit any if you can throughout your trip. This is yet another way to discover local flavors and interact with locals on your trip. Lin shares that “Asia, in particular, has a serious street food culture, and local markets are the hubs for best local foods. In Taiwan, night markets are the places that drive the latest food trends."

9. Take a cooking class or enjoy a meal with locals

One of the best ways to enjoy culinary experiences abroad is to spend them with locals, such as taking a cooking class with a local or enjoying meals with locals. Lin shared one of her fondest travel memories was in Seoul, South Korea when she connected with a local and was invited to her house for a home-cooked meal. Her host was a 72-year-old grandma who welcomed her into her home and made four Korean dishes to share. She loved this experience so much that she always incorporates local dining experiences wherever she goes. Lin lists a few platforms she loves for finding authentic food experiences with locals, including Eatwith and Airbnb Experiences. She added, “Both work in a similar way in that they connect travelers with locals. The only difference is that Airbnb Experiences provide all sorts of tours from photography workshops to craft classes, whereas Eatwith focuses solely on food.”

10. Check schedules and opening hours

For restaurants you mark as high priority, be sure to make note of their schedule and when they open. Depending on where you’re going, some cultures could eat earlier or later than you may typically eat, and that could affect hours. Some establishments could also be closed on certain days of the week; make sure you look into this ahead of time so you are not disappointed.

11. Make reservations, when needed

For fine dining experiences or popular Michelin Star restaurants, make sure you book a reservation in advance. Lin also recommends that you avoid making reservations on the day you arrive or depart from a destination so that you have a buffer in case of a flight delay or unexpected events. For popular restaurants, Lin will try to make a reservation directly on their website or through third party services. She shares, “You can use Pocket Concierge or TABLEALL in Japan, TheFork for Europe, and OpenTable for North America.”

Source: Monica Houghton, Foodcations: How To Plan A Delicious Trip. Forbes, April 25, 2018.

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Last Updated : Monday, June 11, 2018