When traveling, finding a good, reasonably priced restaurant that is representative of the local cuisine can be a challenge. There are often places that seem like they fit this brief right around major tourist attractions. Of course, it’s a prime location to attract tourists! But these restaurants might not be the best or most authentic your destination has to offer. I often find gems by being willing to go outside the main area. Here’s why you should try eating “off the beaten track”, too.
Restaurants around touristy areas often have slightly higher prices. This is because they get a lot of foreigners who are on vacation, willing to splurge on the local cuisine, and may not know standard pricing as well as a local. Thus, by going outside the “tourist zone” you’ll probably find some better deals. You can save some money for other travel expenses, or get more food for the same amount.
Restaurants that cater to tourists basically have a rotating door of customers. People usually eat there once, maybe a couple of times. There’s no inducement for them to keep coming back long-term since they won’t be there long-term! Restaurants that cater to locals, however, need their food to be the star so folks return again and again. Locals tend not to like to eat in the big tourist centers, so better food is often found off the tourist track.
In the same vein, chain restaurants tend to attract tourists. Perhaps they are places from home or that you’ve at least heard of. Sometimes exploring strange new cultures for a while makes you crave something familiar. Chain restaurants want to capitalize on this, plus they want to be in areas of greater foot traffic. To avoid the same old chains, which are less likely to have top quality or locally inspired dishes, you’ve got to get away from the crowds.
More Culturally Authentic
Restaurants outside touristy areas are less likely to play to tourists. There are certainly eateries near the big attractions that boast of traditional fare of the region and this very well may be the case. But there is often a sort of streamlining, simplifying, and standardization of the local delicacies in order to better mass produce them and appeal to a variety of foreign palates. Whereas the guy several blocks over, serving his local neighborhood, might be using his grandmother’s recipe or cooking different dishes or different flavors every day. “Authenticity” is a tricky word. At least by searching out places that appeal to locals without trying so hard to rope in tourists, you will probably get a different and deeper experience.
Besides the menu, the atmosphere is a consideration. If you go where all the tourists go, you will be surrounded by tourists. If you go where the locals go, you will be surrounded by locals and get a better feel for those who actually live in your travel destination. There may not be any English (or any language other than the local one) on the menu or a wait staff used to explaining the local cuisine to tourists. But I think that makes for a nicer, more real dining experience. Just come forearmed with a few choice food words translated or data on your phone to look things up there! Or befriend a local who speaks your language and bring them along.
When I lived in South Korea, I had a hard time at first eating out at restaurants. I am a vegetarian and finding which menu items actually were vegetarian was tricky. I ordered a vegetable soup once to find it had tons of tiny pieces of ground beef in it! One day, I found a Buddhist restaurant on the outskirts of town where the entire menu was vegetarian. It was the only place out that way, but it had a great, quiet atmosphere with lots of locals. The wait staff didn’t really speak any English, but as I knew it was all vegetarian, I just pointed to anything on the menu and tried it! Even though I could walk to many other eateries in the city, I often drove my scooter out to that place for the atmosphere as much as the vegetarian options.
When you go looking for restaurants off the beaten track, you get to see more of your destination. It gives you an excuse to check out other areas that may not be on the standard tourist itinerary. Beyond great food, you never know what other hidden gems you might find!
These are the reasons I suggest you try to get off the tourist track when choosing where to patronize for your meals abroad. It had led me to have better experiences. I hope you’ll find some out of the way gems, too!
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