How to plan for good food whilst travelling

4 Jan

People have asked me, particularly after my last trip, how do I make my restaurant choices when travelling to new cities? To that I reply that I make my choices based on a lot of research. Having been disappointed (and in some cases, disgusted) by meals that I’ve eaten whilst travelling, I rarely leave it to chance anymore – good food is just too important to me.

Sunset over the Duomo, Florence

There is nothing more disappointing (to me) than being in an exciting city and eating over-priced food which is targeted towards unsuspecting/hungry tourists and has been made with little care or pride. Vivid memories of astonishingly terrible meals that I have had on my travels motivates me into putting a little effort in prior to a trip so that I can have more good meals than bad meals (let’s face it, with even the most careful planning you will still encounter a mediocre meal). Here is a summary of how I generally tackle planning for a foodie trip:

  • Ask friends/family/colleagues for recommendations. This can be particularly fruitful if you share similar favourite restaurants at home. For example, one of our good friends who we go out for dinner with regularly, gave us a recommendation for a restaurant in Florence and it ended up being the best meal that we had there.
  • Research your favourite local food/travel bloggers and see if they have been to the destination you will be visiting. You’ll feel more confident with your choices when you have recommendations from someone that you are already familiar with.
  • Search for English-speaking food blogs in the city you are visiting. Often they are written by ex-pats who are exploring their new city and are very detailed. Whilst you are on these blogs, check to see if they have included any blog-links on their site – this is the fastest way (in my opinion) to find other relevant blogs as other food bloggers tend to know who else is covering the food scene in their city.
  • If the city you are visiting is well-documented, like Paris or New York, then food-focused books (like Zagat and Michelin Guide) will be vital-reading. Don’t forget to look in the food/travel section of your local bookstore for lesser-known books. I planned my whole Paris trip in 2012 based mostly on just two books (Paris, My Sweet & The Sweet Life in Paris).
  • In some cities, it can be worth waiting until you are there before nailing down some restaurants (except for fine-dining which you should reserve in advance) due to the free magazines that are offered in bigger places, like London. I found the free Time Out magazine was my guide the last time I was in London and the information was all current as of that week, including new openings.
  • I have found that TripAdvisor can be your best or worst friend. For every person who says that a restaurant was amazing, there is another claiming that it was the worst meal/experience that they’ve ever had. It can be very hard to decipher the true story as you really have no way of understanding who the person is that wrote it (their opinions are likely to be completely different to yours). I prefer to use TripAdvisor as a resource and then do my own research on each place that is highly recommended by cross-referencing with local food blogs, checking out the restaurant’s websites, etc. Don’t just default to the most popular place on TripAdvisor – everyone else is doing the exact same thing!
  • Ask locals, the people that work in the hotel you are staying in, or your local tour guides for recommendations but be clear about what you want. We made it clear that we were very interested in good food, not interested in tourist traps, and we were willing to traipse across the city in search of it.
  • If there is a restaurant that you have your heart set on going to, or if you know it is extremely popular, book before you leave. If it is a well-known or famous restaurant it will likely be fully-booked and you will miss your opportunity to go there.
  • When you have arrived, make sure to keep your eyes peeled for line-ups outside food establishments. Locals know the best places in their city and if they are willing to line up for it, you will probably want whatever it is they are having. Take a risk and jump in line!

Happy travels! Happy eating!

Truffle pasta – delicious!

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