How to eat like a local

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One of the best ways to really get to know a culture is through its cuisine; however, seeking out authentic food can be a challenge. While dining at Michelin-starred restaurants and tucking into trendy treats can be fun, it’s the classic, time-honored signature dishes and local flavors that travelers yearn for. But fear not, travelers, we have everything you need to set off on that culinary quest — find your flight on and read on for 11 tips to authentic dining — you’ll be eating like a local in no time.

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Ask around

Dubai Market
Ask everyone for food recommendations, which can be around any corner. (Image: Lauren Mack)

Everyone has a favorite local haunt, and you’ll be surprised how willing locals are to share their must-try spots and favorite dishes. Make it a habit to ask — you’ll be surprised where the best recommendations come from: market vendors, bus drivers, tour guides and the hotel concierge. (Consider it a live Yelp review.) You can also crowdsource social media for friends and followers who may have been (or are from) where you’re going.  If all else fails, hit the streets and follow the crowds (of locals, that is).

Do your research

Los Tres Gallos
Eat where the locals eat like at Los Tres Gallos in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. (Image: Lauren Mack)

Once you book your trip, begin researching what to eat, where to eat and how to score reservations to hot tables and hidden restaurants alike. Read up on a destination’s signature dishes, most famous up-and-coming chefs and food trends. Check out blogs (like our very own blog), social media and sign up for foodie-focused communities like Feastly, which connects food lovers with chefs who cook meals from their home kitchens and pop-up spaces in Chicago, New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Be street smart

How to eat like a local 10
It’s often the simplest food that delights, like street snacks like onion scallion pancakes in Shanghai. (Image: Lauren Mack)

From New York City to Bangkok, Thailand, the humble sidewalk is home to some of the best food in the world. From slurping bowls of pho in Hanoi, Vietnam, or tucking into sticky rice and mango in downtown Bangkok, to savoring sweet crepes in Paris, or piping hot ears of corn with a kick in Mexico, street carts, sidewalk stands, and stalls offer quick and authentic meals and snacks. Don’t miss the chance to try local favorites from food trucks too, whether you find them in Austin, Texas or Los Angeles.

Market yourself

Shilin Night Market
Taipei, Taiwan’s Shilin Night Market sells snacks like steamed buns. (Image: Lauren Mack)

Markets come in all shapes and sizes, from the Noryangjin Fish Market, south of the Han River in Seoul, South Korea, where vendors sell sashimi straight from the tanks and restaurants on the second floor steam or fry your recently purchased fresh catch, to the colorful and crowded farmers markets in Paris, to grand food halls within the world’s most storied stores like the Food Hall at Harrods in London and iconic Chelsea Market in New York City. Don’t miss the quick, casual and cheap night markets like Shilin Night Market in Taipei, Taiwan, which are not only a feast for the eyes but the stomach too. The capital’s famed night markets are the best way to sample delicacies like stinky tofu, Taiwan sausage and shaved ice. Brooklyn, New York’s bustling daytime markets like Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg serve savory and sweet artisanal treats prepared by locals too.

Go home

Go home – not your home, but “secret” or “hidden” restaurants tucked inside homes. Thanks to the Internet and social media, most of these places aren’t so secret anymore; however, it’s still trendy for cuisine and cocktails to be more concealed and exclusive, whether its sipping cocktails at speakeasy bars in London or dining at restaurants that are housed inside homes like Havana, Cuba’s paladors, private homes-turned-restaurants that gained legal status in Cuba in the early 1990s, and Beijing, China’s siheyuans (traditional courtyard-style homes).

Dine with locals

Eat Like a Local
Toast your achievement of eating like a local. (Image: Lauren Mack)

Booking a bed and breakfast or participating in a homestay often comes with the added perk of authentic, home-cooked meals. Even if you opt to stay at a ritzy hotel or bunk at a hostel, eating with locals is easier now than ever thanks to a plethora of websites for travelers who want to eat like (and with) locals. EatWith brings people together for meals in 200 cities in 50 countries. So far, EatWith’s 650 hosts have hosted 11,000 dinners in cities like Amsterdam, Netherlands, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Las Vegas, Lisbon, Portugal, Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Tel Aviv, Israel. Similarly, Meal Sharing lets community members find home-cooked meals, book them and join their cooks in their homes, while Cookening lets travelers ‘foodsurf’ into the homes of locals in European cities like Amsterdam, Paris and Rome for brunch, lunch or dinner; some hosts even let guests help with the cooking.

Hire a private chef

The Nelson Cottage
Dine with your very own chef or attend intimate dinners like those at The Nelson Cottage in Park City, Utah. (Image: Lauren Mack)

Renting a home away from home via Airbinb, VRBO or other homestay company? Why not add in a personal chef too. The United States Personal Chef Association runs, which makes it easy to find and hire a personal chef in the U.S. and Canada for one meal, one day, one week or more.

Eat with strangers

Eating with strangers can be better than dining solo. (Image: Lauren Mack)
Eating with strangers can be better than dining solo. (Image: Lauren Mack)

Some of the best memories of traveling start at the dinner table. Skip eating solo and search for dinner outings and gatherings on social networking sites like Meetup, which offers food lovers the option to reserve a seat at a restaurant for a shared meal with strangers. Diners with an interesting story to tell can request dinner with Washington, D.C.-based journalist Anthony Lacey, who takes folks out for platonic dinners and interviews them about their lives for his blog Dining the Strangers.

Get cookin’

International Centre for Culinary Arts Dubai in Dubai
The chefs at the International Centre for Culinary Arts Dubai in Dubai lead a variety of cooking ckasses, (Image: Lauren Mack)

What better way to eat like a local than to learn to cook like a local. Cooking classes offer an authentic introduction to local cuisine, the skills to make it and the chance to sample it. Try the daily cooking classes at the International Centre for Culinary Arts Dubai in Dubai, the weekly cooking classes at The Community Services Center in Taipei, Taiwan, and the regularly scheduled classes at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. While you’re there, be sure to ask the teacher and your classmates for restaurant recommendations.

Take a (foodie) walk

Al Mallah Dubai
Dubai’s Al Mallah serves some of the best fresh squeezed juices around. (Image: Lauren Mack)

Signing up for foodie walking tour is akin to having your newest best friend take you on a moveable feast to all the local hot spots and hidden gems. Stroll the historic 2nd December Street in Dubai with the Arabian Adventures’ Flavours of Dubai tour and sample Middle Eastern and Emirati cuisine. Elle Armon-Jones of The Big Foody offers private and group tours around Auckland, New Zealand. Their flagship tour, The Tastebud Tour, is a four-hour tour by car that includes the Auckland Fish Market and shops where locals chefs go shopping for artisanal products. UnTour offers a variety of food tours in Beijing and Shanghai like the three-hour Street Eats – Breakfast tour that meanders through Shanghai’s morning markets in the French Concession to sample the city’s signature snacks like shēngjiānbāo (steamed buns) and xiǎolóngbāo (soup dumplings).

Shop ‘til you pop

Hit the grocery store or convenience store, not only for the toiletries you forgot to pack, but also for ready-made meals and hometown comfort food. Whether you are indulging in hokey pokey ice cream in New Zealand or ready-to-eat eggs and grits in Turks and Caicos, supermarkets and convenience stores are stocked with local favorites and are easy to find around the world.

What’s the best local meal you’ve ever had? Share with us in the comments and start searching for your next culinary adventure.

Main image: iStockPhoto/Rawpixel

How to eat like a local was last modified: June 26th, 2019 by Lauren Mack
Author: Lauren Mack (163 posts)

Lauren Mack has traveled to 40 countries on five continents, including Cuba, New Zealand, Peru and Tanzania. For many years, she called China, and then Taiwan, home. Countries at the beginning of the alphabet, particularly Antarctica, Argentina and Australia are on her travel bucket list. Lauren is a multimedia travel and food journalist and explorer based in New York City.