Pick a Restaurant with No Menu
While it’s nice to be able to choose what you want from a list, it’s often the restaurants with no set menu that have the most creative, freshest food. Some of our best restaurant meals have been at places that had no menu. When we sat down, they asked us what we liked to eat. Then they brought us the chef’s creations based on the ingredients he had purchased at the market that day. If you have dietary restrictions (unlike me), it helps if you can communicate with the server at least a little bit, but in our experience, the delicious meals have been well worth the gamble of not knowing exactly what we would get.
Eat at a Local’s House
A fun way to experience local cuisine and meet new people is through meal-sharing websites. The host publishes upcoming menus along with the prices, and guests sign up and pay via the website to join a meal. In some cases the published menus are only representative of what the host can prepare; guests provide input or make specific requests. Some hosts even offer cooking classes and teach guests how to make a local dish.
Of course, a more informal way of eating at a local’s house is simply to get an invitation from people you’ve met while in town. Depending on the local culture and customs, such invitations may not come right away, but if they do, don’t pass them up. Whether for a dinner accompanied by several bottles of wine or a child’s birthday party, meals in new friends’ homes have been among the highlights of our travels.
You can also take the initiative and host a meal yourself. Your new friends will appreciate your efforts, and you may receive a reciprocal invitation.
Prepare Your Own Meals
Grocery shopping is one of our favorite parts of day-to-day experiences when traveling overseas. It’s a fun challenge when you don’t speak the language, especially in a country like Japan where you can’t even read the packaging, but we always enjoy perusing the aisles, discovering the local foods, and figuring out what we can prepare at home.
Outdoor markets are another fun way to buy local food, whether it’s fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, cheese, or pastries. Markets tend to be lively cultural experience in themselves and often have lower prices – and fresher food – than supermarkets, so even if you don’t plan to cook, I highly recommend checking out a market or two.
Grocery shopping gives you a sense of what local people actually eat when they’re not in restaurants (needless to say, the Japanese don’t eat sushi at every meal and Italian cuisine goes well beyond pizza and pasta). It also makes you feel like part of the community, browsing the aisles and comparing prices with everyone else.
And that's how you can eat like a local