Ever wonder how to find and eat the best local food when overseas? If the food you’re eating in a country is authentic?

Whether you’re a foodie or not, in whatever capacity we find ourselves abroad, we want to indulge in amazing local cuisine at least somewhat. The chance to discover authentic local dishes fuels many trips.

Yet local food culture doesn’t just appeal to tourists. Expats, wanderers and nomads all have an appetite to savour top notch local cuisine they don’t have access to in their home country.

This post will show you how to discover the local food culture in a way that tourists can only dream of so that you can say you’ve tasted authentic local food in whichever country you’re in.

How to discover the local food culture

Digital direction

I’ve given insights before about how to explore a new place like a local does. Some of the advice is about how to use the online realm called the internet to best discover the local one.

Much of the info also applies to discovering local food cultures.

Many of us think that we know how to use the internet in the best way to find what we need when we travel or relocate.

But this is often a story that we tell ourselves to protect us from the effort required to realise optimal results with our online research.

Think about it: everyone uses Google to search, locate, book, reserve, and store the knowledge and resources for a trip. Do you really think that your use of Google far exceeds that of the 99.9% plus others who use it for the same purposes?

Do what others do and you’ll get the same results, otherwise known as regression to the mean. The same places. The same experiences. The same restaurants to eat at.

Fortunately, with a few tweaks you can set yourself apart from the tourist herd with smarter online research.

You can use my nifty search engine tricks to uncover exactly what a local would find when searching online for the best places to eat.

Or you can use apps that allow you to communicate with locals themselves to discover the restaurants and eateries they like to enjoy.

Either way, going that extra mile to enhance your online search prowess will give you an edge over others in finding those local food culture joints that have the best flavours. Experiential eating for experiential travel.

Local Food Culture Digital

Thwarting tourist traps

One of the biggest wishes of modern travellers and expats alike is to avoid the standard tourist thoroughfare.

You know the drill. Well-known spots littered with copy-paste versions of the same souvenir stores. Local culture embellished to cater to holidaymakers. Inclusion of worldwide brands to build familiarity with foreigners. Traps aplenty.

If you want a real local food culture experience, you have to steer clear of the tourist traps. You have to go off the beaten path.

There are exceptions.

Occasionally a top quality local restaurant will happen to be in a popular area. One of the best and most authentic restaurants I ate at in Istanbul was just off the busiest street in town. An abundance of tourists in the area doesn’t mean all locals avoid every nook and cranny when they go to eat out.

But most of the time, the local favourites won’t be in the heart of town. They’ll be slightly away from the hustle and bustle or in a different part of town entirely.

If you resort to global recommendation websites, the ratings and reviews will tend to be a convergence of tourist opinions. Locals don’t tend to go on Tripadvisor to rank their favourite eateries.

Instead, find the local versions of restaurant review and rankings websites.

Searching Google for ‘restaurants review and rankings websites in (insert city/country)’ can bring up the sites locals reference for reliable info on good restaurants. You can also use sites like Similarweb to discover popular rankings websites for particular countries. Once you find such websites, use the translate features on your browser for understanding.

Local Food Culture Tourist

Astute asking

When you need the most concrete information, sometimes it’s just better to go direct. There’s nothing more direct than asking the locals themselves.

The most obvious way to do this is asking in person. A simple question requesting what they recommend can suffice.

But if you want the ‘purest’ form of answer, asking “What do you recommend?” might not be the best question to pose.

The reason is that on occasion, some locals will project what they think you as a foreigner would like to eat onto their answer. Or further still, give a recommendation that’s fancier than their regular haunts in the hope that you’ll have a particular ‘impression’ of their hometown.

Instead, you can fourth-wall the conversation. This means setting the premise that you want to know what’s authentic and you’re open-minded to go to whatever place they like.

You can do this by thwarting the tourist traps as above, stating that you don’t want to go to a touristy restaurant but rather go somewhere that they like to go.

Once you’ve ‘fourth-walled’ this way, they’ll usually divulge a particular place and it’ll almost always be somewhere pure, removed from the holidaymaker scene, a taste of the real deal.

If you’re not yet in the country, you can conduct prior research by asking locals online. As mentioned before there are apps such as Spotted by Locals or HelloTalk that place you in touch with local people to find out what you want directly.

Get a tailored response to your local food culture desires quickly through the power of asking.

Local Food Culture Asking

Explore to exploit

When you’re new in town, everything is a feat of exploration.

You can’t possibly know what the good local fare is, you’re only beginning to get a taste of the local flavour.

It pays to ‘explore’ well to find out which places tick your boxes.

You can explore in a number of ways.

Use the research tools above to examine the local food culture. Venture off the main roads lined with tourists. Ask local people in person. Vagabond.

Only once you’ve tried a broad range of restaurants should you ‘exploit’ i.e. return to the places you love to eat at.

The interval makes the explore/exploit strategy. As I wrote in ‘Explore Vs Exploit: The Hidden Dynamic Of Life-Changing Decision Making’:

“The interval strategy applies here. If you’re in a place as a new traveller or nomad, work out the length of time you’re staying there and favour heavy exploration of new eateries and leisure spots (at least the first half of your stay if not more) early on. Towards the latter part of your stay, pick the best ones you’ve been to and go back to these.

If you’re a resident, it’s less about the interval strategy and more about maximising over satisficing since you have a long runway of time. For example, a local restaurant may be the best choice to keep eating at because you know the owners, get a discount every time you go there and don’t have to travel far.”

Use the explore/exploit strategy to get the best out of your local food culture experience in a country.

Local Food Culture Explore Exploit

Side anecdote: taking photos of dishes

Despite the prevalence of photo-sharing apps, the majority of customers don’t take photos of the meals they chow down in restaurants. Rather, photos of particular dishes are the domain of Instagram fanatics or food critics and bloggers.

This means two things. Restaurant staff are conscious that you as a customer could carry more weight in terms of wider notoriety for the restaurant (whether it’s true or not). Secondarily, it also means that you store a memento of your particular time in a restaurant allowing you to better associate the taste you experienced when you look back at the photos.

When you take photos, some restaurant staff become more aware of your potential as an influencer than the average customer. You might receive perks and preferential treatment because of it.

This happened to me during a trip to Tokyo. The waiters serving me noticed that I took a photo of every dish that came my way. Following a lengthy delay of the penultimate dish, they decided to offer me a free drink for the inconvenience in good faith. It dawned on me that had I not come across as a potential reviewer/influencer (even though I wasn’t), they might not have gone the extra mile. Japanese customer service is impeccable but they’re not known to offer things for free.

Next time you’re in a restaurant, particularly if you’re alone, try it! The effect works better if you’re eating solo in the restaurant and taking photos of multiple dishes. You may just receive priority service or more.

Local Food Culture Photos


We want to know that we’re tasting something authentic abroad, food that we can savour well enough to tell our friends and family back home how good the local food culture was. But in a world of Instagram snaps, tourist review sites and continental cuisine curation, it’s hard to know how to find true local food culture experiences.

Luckily, there are methods we can use to get the best bang for our buck. Optimise the way you search online to discover the best local fare. Get off the beaten path to avoid tourist traps and open up a world of purer local eats. Ask locals and fourth-wall so that you get the realest recommendations possible. Explore before exploiting.

Be that person full of stories and photos of having discovered the local food culture.