The best part of travel? FOOD!
It usually goes something like this—I’ll pick a destination from my Wonderlust List, and I start searching on Pinterest. I have a little daydream about what it’s like to be there. What the walkways would look and feel like, how it might smell, how the air would feel on my skin, and what sounds I would hear. And then I want to know what I’m going to eat, because food is a major reason why I take a trip. Suddenly, I have a million tabs open, and I’m salivating. When it comes time to actually book a trip, I will already have my culinary adventure in the works.
This post is for you if you travel to eat. Be sure to get my free Wonderlust Yummy List to help you plan your culinary adventure!
How to Plan Your Culinary Adventure
Reservations often required
As you know I’m one for loose travel itineraries but I make exceptions for food. Alas, not all things culinary can be left to chance, and if there’s a place I really want to eat at, I make that reservation. Otherwise, though, I make a map of places I want to check out, and, when I’m in the area, I do. I thought that I would share with you how I find places to eat and drink and plan my culinary adventure. I’ll share how to do that below as well, so that you don’t miss a thing!
How to plan your culinary adventure
Planning your culinary adventure includes delicious research. I like to mix up my sources with international standbys, local resources, travel bloggers (like, you know, me), food tours & experiences, and just plain old following my nose. Here’s where I look—I’d love to hear how you plan your culinary experiences below!
Food Markets are where culinary adventures begin
I love food markets, and one of the first things I do when looking up a place is check out what kind of green market, food halls, etc. they have. The best culinary adventures are often found at the source.
Pinterest is a good resource for this, as is simply Googling “[place] food market” (sometimes “green market” works better, but you get the idea). Where is it/are they? When are they open? Specialties? What’s the scene like (some places, like the Dolac in Zagreb, or Marché d’Aligre in Paris, have a whole ritual going on).
Obviously, if you don’t have a kitchen, you might not want to plan on buying too much at food markets, but I always think they’re worth visiting. Don’t forget picnics, though! In fine weather, a picnic is always a fine idea.
If you’re looking for some ideas, you can find of my favorites and why I love them so much in my post on food markets.
Before I start digging in too much into local food blog scene, I tend to check out some standbys. Even when I don’t have a huge budget for fine dining, as with my Balkans Adventure, I do check things out, as you never know.
I always check out Eater before a trip. While they don’t have a deep-dive everywhere (and you do need to check the dates on the posts), where they are, they have a good finger on the pulse of the dining scene, especially new restaurants or ones that might not make international lists but are authentic, local delights. You’ll find not just restaurants, but also bars and cafés and the like.
Thanks to Eater, I had one of the more memorable meals of my life in Santiago (alas, 99 didn’t make it through the pandemic), and I even used it in Boston to keep up with the local scene.
Like Eater, Time Out has solid recommendations, again, including newer restaurants. If something is on Eater and in Time Out, I usually consider that excellent confirmation that I would enjoy it. In addition to listings, Time Out also sponsors food halls—the one in Lisbon is excellent—that give you a chance to try out cuisine from local chefs in one place without a reservation. They aren’t all as good as Libson’s (I don’t love Boston’s), but they are definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re in the neighborhood anyway.
Obviously, Michelin Stars recommend a restaurant, and those make for some incredible dining experiences while traveling, but this isn’t why I’m including it here. No, it’s for the general listings and the Bib Gourmand section, as
It’s here where you can find culinary adventures that are so delicious and that you might not need Taylor-Swift-tickets luck to get into, especially in more popular destinations. Go for the stars, absolutely, but there’s gold in the other sections of the guide, too.
In Zagreb, Croatia, I had the privilege of having a divine lunch a Pod Zidom Bistro. Pod Zidom did not have starts, but was listed in the Michelin guide for its reliance on the local Dolac market for sourcing its fresh ingredients.
World’s 50 Best
Now, the fine dining scene has had a reckoning of late, and the World’s 50 Best has its problems (sexism, for one), but it’s still worth when planning a trip. While there are some eye-poppingly expensive meals on this list, don’t necessarily assume that you need to max out your credit cards for one of these meals. I’ve feasted at Don Julio, in Buenos Aires (#14 as of this writing), and, while certainly not cheap, I regularly had more expensive meals in Boston.
Somebody Feed Phil
A couple of years ago, I would have pointed you to our dearly departed Anthony Bourdain, but Somebody Feed Phil, which my dear friend turned me onto when we were researching Montréal restaurants for our trip (I didn’t have Netflix), has not steered me wrong. I was rather pleased with myself that I had been to the places in Split Phil recommended before the episode aired while I was there. I appreciate his enthusiasm for food, and while I found better ice cream, his recommendations are always worth checking out.
When planning a culinary adventure, I always check out local food blogs and food sites (use Google’s Translate feature for languages you don’t speak), because there you find cool, local spots that have likely slipped under the radar of the international resources. What’s the new dish? Cool bar? Where’s a great neighborhood for getting a regional specialty. When in doubt, I’d go with a local recommendation that you find in a couple of these sites over an international list pretty much any day.
Also, what are local specialties? What delectable traditional dish to you absolutely have to try? Who makes it the best?
Travel bloggers and Pinterest
One of the first places I head to fantasize about travel destinations is Pinterest for the scoop from travel bloggers.
Where did travelers eat? What did they love about it? What can’t they miss? Did a place that was reputed to be the go-to spot disappoint? What surprised them? Is there anything to be aware of regarding food safety? Does one particular blogger focus on street food and another on fine dining? Maybe someone loves it all?
Searching Pinterest gets you access to loads of first-hand accounts of what it’s like to eat and travel in a place from people you might not otherwise find. Take advantage of it! Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that the updated Wonder & Sundry now has a whole section, Food & Travel, devoted to culinary adventures, and I’ve also just started a Food & Travel board on Pinterest.
Food tours and experiences
Again, I’m going to credit my friend for turning me onto food tours for a culinary adventure. I never went on food tours before, because I always thought that they were a bit bougie and embarrassing. However, small-group food tours will give you a local’s insight into the food culture that you’re just going to miss unless you have a friend in town. I’m very happy to have been proven wrong here.
Here are some places to find them. I didn’t include them here, but if you have the time and inclination, cooking classes are also a great way to experience a food culture.
This was my exception to my old “no-tours” policy. I’ve had several EatWith meals in my travels (the best one in Budapest, back before Orban truly revealed himself). EatWith works almost like an underground restaurant, because you’re often eating in someone’s home. Local people list experiences (think “traditional X cooking like my grandmother made” or “cocktail hour with me”), and you can book them. I have not done one of EatWith’s Experiences yet, but they do offer tours and cooking classes in some major cities.
One of the best food & travel experiences I have ever had was thanks to an Airbnb Experience. The experience is a must if you’re in Split and it’s available. Airbnb Experiences tend to be smaller than tours from GetYourGuide or Viator, as well as a bit more personalized. These are still fairly new, and I think that not every traveler knows about them yet, so the groups tend to be smaller, and, depending on the time of year you’re visiting, not always as booked. You don’t have to have booked your stay with Airbnb to take advantage of the experiences, so do check them out.
I used GetYourGuide (affiliate link) a ton on my Balkans trip, and they are definitely worth checking out for food tours. It’s easy to book, the cancellation policies are clear, and I didn’t run into any issues with my ticket being honored. A wine tasting at the Sladić winery, outside of Skradin, Croatia, was a highlight of my day trip with GetYourGuide to the Krka Waterfall Region.
Like GetYourGuide, Viator offers a lot of wonderful food tour experiences to take advantage of, and they sometimes have tours that GetYourGuide doesn’t. The tour of Marché Jean-Talon and beyond that my friend gifted me Montréal was only available on Viator, and it would have been a shame to miss that.
Trust the locals
This goes without saying, but trust the locals. When you meet people, ask them for their favorite places to eat. Obviously not everyone is a foodie (if someone tells you McDonald’s, run), but it’s their home, and they know what’s good. In Kotor, a local recommended Steak & BBQ House Tanjga for grilled meats. I had one of the best steaks I have ever had for a song. And my host in Zagreb gave me a huge list of places to try, and I loved every single one of them.
Don’t just get recommendations from people, though. Follow actual people. If there’s a line out the door with people speaking the language and they look like they live there, get in it! I followed a small group of people into this little hole-in-the-wall place and had one of the single best bocadillos that I have ever had. I never would have walked into that place in a million years—it was pretty nondescript, and just had a counter, but, my goodness. I still dream of that sandwich (my heart is releived that I have not found it again).
Ask your friends
Have your friends already traveled to your destination? Pump them for all their best recommendations. What was their favorite café? Did they love one popular restaurant more than another? I’ve gotten great recommendations from friends, and I always love thanking them with a quick snapshot.
Allow for serendipity
While food and drink often does require advance planning and reservations, allow time for serendipity. For least for a few meals, have no plan at all and just go where your nose takes you. A simple meal at a neighborhood haunt can make your entire trip. Part of travel is serendipity, and I encourage you to make room for it.
A couple of things I don’t recommend
I’m going to state my unpopular opinions here about food recommendations. Avoid TripAdvisor, Yelp, and other such aggregators. If you look at the top recommendations on TripAdvisor, you might actually find McDonald’s or (gasp) Olive Garden. I use TripAdvisor for other activities while traveling (though never as a first resource), but I wouldn’t trust their food recommendations as far as I can throw them.
Also, I don’t recommend using food recommendations from a guidebook, with the exception of or other places you’ll only be at briefly and food isn’t your major focus. I’ve done this in the past and have almost always been disappointed. If there’s a place that’s in the guidebook and is in these other sources, by all means, and the same goes for smaller locations with fewer options. Otherwise, I would assume that guidebook places are touristy and avoid them.
Tips for planning your culinary adventure (get your FREE planner!)
- Get a big list together or every place you might want to try. Star the ones you absolutely must go to and indicate which ones require a reservation. Grab my Wanderlust Yummy List for subscribers to help you organize! Not a subscriber? Get on that!
- If you need a reservation, make it.
- Save your places on Google Maps (if you want to get fancy about it, you can use the diffent symbols for things you really want to go to or you went to, but the idea is to get them somplace where you can easily find them).
- Look at your map and consult any other reservations you have for activities and try to plan your day accordingly.
- For places you have not reserved, consult your map when you’re in a given area for places you want to eat/drink in, and have at it!
What are your go-to resources for finding food & drink while traveling?
I’d love to hear what your best recommendations are for finding the best places to eat and drink on your adventures! Please let us know in the comments below.
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