Food is a Meaningful Component to any Travel Experience.
Some of our best travel moments revolve around food: walking through a market, stopping at stands, or bringing in tidbits to eat in our room while we all unwind from a long day of touring. We recont the time our daughter had her first bite of steak tartare in Paris, ate an entire Dungeness crab in Victoria, and when she sucked down gooseneck barnacles in Madrid. In Montreal, eating duck in a can (duck surrounding foie gras) at Au Pied de
Cochon was one of the richest, fattiest, most satisfying meals. Our food memories take us back to our destinations and our experiences we made as a family.
Eat Where Your Itinerary Has You That Day.
As a family we tend to plan our travels around food, we have even chosen destinations based on food–that’s how much food matters to us. We try to find eateries near where we will be touring that morning or afternoon to save wear and tear on the kids with extra shlepping.. Once in a while, we stumble upon a location, but the majority of the time we have planned where we are going to eat. With kids though, things sometimes happen and it doesn’t always go as planned. Be prepared for Plan B. The last thing you want to do is go out for a
wonderful meal with a tired toddler.
Get a Taste for Local Flavors.
Whenever you can, try to go to an outdoor (or indoor) market where vendors will be selling local produce, spices,
cheeses, meats, seafood and prepared foods. Most vendors will give tastes to entice shoppers to buy. Our kids get their first and (perhaps) last taste of durian in a market in Bangkok’s Chinatown. Many of the night markets in Thailand offer grilled foods for relatively cheap; a great way to enjoy dinner while walking and exploring the extensive goods of the market.
Some Ways We Plan Where to Eat
- Where Chefs Eat: This just got a refresh for the third edition this year. Nearly a thousand pages long, it’s an encyclopedic collection of chef recommendations for restaurants across Oceania, Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas. Descriptions are basic, so entries propel some web searches for menu and family-appropriateness.
- Eater: It’s admittedly opinionated and not comprehensive, but this website has served us well for several years since the (what I consider) demise of Chowhound. The Eater 38 is a solid way to find places to eat, and the Heatmap also helps out. Larger cities also get lists with maps for more specialized categories, e.g tacos or brunch.
- David Chang: we’re suckers for the vision; great food made with passion, with a deemphasis on atmosphere and niceties. It’s also a vision that works when eating out with kids. So when spots are mentioned on Ugly Delicious and on his Instagram account, we take note.
- Anthony Bourdain: similar to the thoughts on David Chang above. Sure, we know that everyone feels the same way and that many of the spots mentioned on his shows are now overrun with tourists. But, if nothing else, it’s a way to get started and to get thinking. Watching the shows with the kids also gives them an overview of a region’s cuisine and gets them excited. Before we left for Thailand, we watched the Chiang Mai episode on Parts Unknown. The kids got excited. And while we didn’t visit the woman in the cowboy hat, the kids knew about and wanted to try Khao Kha Muu. A conversation at our hotel with
an employee sent us down the street for a big steaming bowl at a local dive.
- Ask: We ask everyone for an opinion. Before we leave, we ask anyone we know from the country we’re visiting. That’s the most promising, but not foolproof. Sometimes, locals get different food than toursists, which we discovered in Venice. We ask anyone who’s visited before. The caveat in this case is that many travelers end up on hopeless tourist traps for food (and may not know the difference). We ask locals once w
e’re there. While that may seem perfect, consider two common scenarios in hotels. The first is that the hotel staff thinks you’re a timid, tourist eater and sends you to “tourist friendly” restaurants. I had this conversation with a concierge in Thailand. I kept asking for simple food for locals and he kept sending me to luxury restaurants. When I asked why, he explained that he wanted tourists to eat in a restaurant where he knew someone spoke English and that the standards were Western. The second scenario is that the hotel or cab driver is getting a kickback from the tourist trap that he or she is sending you to.
- Watch: See a restaurant with a line? That’s worth stopping and taking a look at. A full restaurant? Another good harbinger. See a sign with daily specials, written entirely in the native language? Check another box.