Think Global,Eat Local
That old adage, ‘the world is my oyster’ stands truer than ever today, but is a rather ironic (and ineffective) metaphor for ‘travel eating’. What’s travel eating? Well, it’s a term we just made up for the multi-multiverse exploratory journey your palate goes on when you travel.
We never stop wishing holidays would last forever but there’s only so much leave (or sick leave) that you are entitled to, and to everyone’s disappointment, only so many meals you can fit in!
Choose wisely, and eat well.
Here are some tips to scout out and enjoy authentic local food on your travels:
- Scan: Do a quick, unofficial ‘recce’ of the eateries, restaurants, messes, gaadis, hotels, bars and pubs in the vicinity of your accommodation. You want to get a flavor of all kinds of eating out – from genuine local cuisine to that limited edition late night chaiwalla who has been selling a fine bread-omelet for decades!
- Familiarize yourself with the local cuisine: Get a feel for what is locally grown and eaten, seek it out. A foolproof strategy for this is to casually observe the geographic terrain, what is commonly grown there, the general or current climate…then use this to decide what you want to sample. For instance, if you’re on the coast where seafood is most definitely freshly caught, cooked and available – order that instead of your regular fried rice or aloo paratha.
- Size, crowd, freshness: Here’s another secret for finding a good local joint to haunt – the smaller it is, the greater the likelihood of it being more authentic. That said, it’s not just about selecting small, incandescent places to eat at. To help you zero in on a spot, use this watertight thumb rule – Crowd Vs. Freshness. Fundamentally speaking, we have evidence to believe in the existence of a direct relationship between sheer volume of crowd and freshness or quality of food. The larger the crowd of locals, the higher are your chances of scoring a great (most importantly, authentic) meal!
- No franchises: Avoid franchises at all costs. There’s no point wasting a meal at McDonald’s or Coffee Day…really, no point whatsoever.
- Fear of Rumble-in-the-Belly: For those of you with weak and vulnerable stomachs, stick to the easy-to-digest foods; you could prioritize boiled over deep fried and so on. Take it easy, pace out the street eating if you’re unsure and always, always listen to your body.
- No multi-national corporations or corporations, period: Even when buying snacks, go local – get some freshly fried pakoras as opposed to Lays, go for the seasonal fresh fruit juice rather than Coca Cola or sugary carbonated soda pop. Basically, avoid the big corporates and the tasteless, emotionless, story-less, mass-produced food.
- Support farmers’ markets: Find farmers markets, visit and support the local growers. This is definitely a priority, especially on long duration trips during which you are likely to be doing your own cooking. The Indian equivalent for farmers’ markets are the weekly village ‘santhes’ or ‘melas’; you will find local produce aplenty.
- Never refuse invitations, always compliment: It goes without saying that the best food is cooked in homes, probably following recipes that have been passed down over generations. Aside from this fact, it is considered extremely impolite – even brash – to turn down a local when s/he invites you home for a snack, tea/coffee or meal. Once there, eat whatever is put in front of you and if you don’t like it, tough…pretend like you do (it builds character!). At all costs, don’t ever give away even an inkling of distaste or dissatisfaction. This would cause great offense to your host.
- Let go of inhibitions and adapt: This is the only way to really explore and craft a unique experience for yourself. When we say adapt, we mean ‘make do’; certainly not butcher the very fundamentals of the food therein, as seen commonly in the sight of foreign tourists lapping up ketchup and rice.
- Detach from price: Let go of the false and unfounded notion that more expensive equates to better or better-tasting food. This is simply an empty, aspirational notion that’s not a great guiding principle to eating local when you travel. In fact, I’ve found – in most cases – that the opposite holds true.
- Be bold, explore: Remember, at the end of the day, it is about experiencing ‘the new’ and flirting with ‘the strange’ – if you’re looking for an unforgettable, impossible to re-do trip that is!