Tips for Making the Most of Local Food When You Travel

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Traveling with friends and family is one of my favorite things to do.  It’s made that much better by enjoying local food together around a shared table.

I have some tips to help you and your travel buddies get more out of local food on your vacations.

The cabin we rented in Skudeneshavn, Norway

Tip #1:  Book a vacation rental with a kitchen.  On many of my trips, our groups have stayed in a condo, apartment, house, or cabin with a well-stocked kitchen.  This includes knives and other cooking utensils.  It could also mean small appliances like a blender or food processor.  A big bonus is an outdoor grill or fire pit.  Having a kitchen is one of the best ways to make sure you get the most out of local food.  I’ll share more about that in a minute.

My husband dishing up some breakfast I made for my family at the cabin in Norway.

Tip #2:  Do your research before you leave home.  By research I mean, ask family and friends who have already traveled to your destination what their favorite restaurants were or if they have any other tips to offer.  Look on websites or check out travel guides for further recommendations.

Sheep grazing at a farm in Skudeneshavn, Norway

You might include looking for or asking about more information about local farms that offer tours, or where to find locally produced food–including produce, cheese and meats, breads and pastries, chocolate, wine, coffee, or other specialties.

Really find out  what is unique about your destination in the way of food.  For example, when we traveled to Norway, we knew that seafood would be something we would seek out.  What we didn’t know was that the time of year we were visiting, August, was the time when wild cloudberries and strawberries would be available in abundance.  We gorged ourselves on the still-warm-from-the-sun berries and made sure to tell everyone else we saw not to miss out on that.

Don’t underestimate the power of social media.  Check restaurant review websites and/or send out feelers via Facebook and Twitter to ask for further recommendations.

Before I left for Hawaii, I asked through Twitter and FB about the do-no-miss places to eat.  It was almost unanimous that I needed to make sure and get some shrimp on the North Shore. My friend Hannah recommended Grass Skirt Grill and I had a plate of the best coconut shrimp ever.  I would never have known if I hadn’t asked.

Also, be sure to check out foodie tours.  They are a hot thing right now for people who like to cook and travel.  Check into cooking classes offered near where you’ll be staying.  That’s another fantastic way to take advantage of local food.

Tip #3:  Stop by farm stands and outdoor markets when you see them.  This kind of goes along with doing your research.  But you might not always hear about markets or stands ahead of time.

They are often seasonal, unless you are visiting somewhere with a temperate or tropical climate and they are open year-round.  Take a few minutes to stop by and see what’s available.

Bring cash with you.  Most stands don’t accept credit cards.

Farmers Market in Bergen, Norway

If you’re staying somewhere with a kitchen, you’ll be able to actually buy, cook and enjoy the local fare instead of just drooling over it.

Make a game out of it.  Have everyone in your group buy something they’re most interested in from a farmers market or stand and come up with a meal using the items everyone bought.

Tip #4:  Ask the locals.  This could include staff where you’re staying, the cab driver from the airport, a waitress or waiter at a restaurant, or the farmer you just met at a roadside stand.  Stop people on the street if you feel comfortable doing so.  I know when I have been stopped, I’ve been all too happy to share my favorite places and advice with others.  People usually love to share what they love about where they live with visitors.

Tip #5:  Look for places with a line out the door.  You might have already researched and asked locals, but another good indication that you’re going to have a good meal or snack is with your eyes.  (I’m not talking about a line at a fast food place or another chain restaurant.  Stay away from those if you can!)  Several times I have asked my taxi driver to suggest someplace to eat.  They’ll suggest a wonderful hole-in-the-wall where the line wraps around the block, but it is always worth the wait.

Don’t be afraid to check out food trucks or a hole-in-the-wall off the beaten path.  Most often you’ll have the best meal of your trip, not to mention the prices are often better than the touristy restaurants on the beaten path.

My favorite food truck selling pasteles along the highway in Oahu, HI
 Tip #6:  Don’t be too afraid to indulge. My best memories are of eating too much gelato (on every corner) while traveling through Italy.  (I had to taste every flavor!)
My husband’s favorite Hawaiian breakfast–spam and linguica marinated in teriyaki with sticky rice, a fried egg, fresh pineapple, and sweet Hawaiian bread .  Made in the condo kitchen.
Local and tourist faves “cocoa puffs” from  Liliha Bakery

Sometimes you just can’t take things home with you.  There are so many restrictions about taking certain foods out of the country or back into the US, or the foods don’t travel well.  Enjoy it while you’re there.

My favorite Melona ice cream bars that I can’t get in Utah.
Brought back from Europe by my good friend, Natalie.

But be sure to stock up on things you can take with you like chocolate.  Always bring home chocolate.  Some for you and some for a friend.  (That’s bonus Tip #7.)

Do you have any tips or memories of food you ate while on vacation?

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