5 Tips for Dining Abroad Like a Local

By Paul Riegler on 6 September 2017
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We travel because we want to learn about other cultures but, when it comes to food, we suddenly become very parochial and revert to behaving as if at home.

An appreciation of food is something every culture shares and dining at local establishments (versus an internationalized restaurant or hotel restaurant) is an important aspect of a visit that should not be overlooked.

In addition, don’t rush. While Tesla CEO Elon Musk may inhale his lunch in five minutes, it’s far from being a healthy practice. Lingering over a meal is a time to connect with friends and family as well as locals you meet.

Brasserie Coburg in Dubiln

Brasserie Coburg in Dubiln

To borrow from a phrase, When in Rome, eat what and when the Romans eat.

Here are five tips that will further the enjoyment of both your trip and your meals when abroad.

1.) Research local cuisine.
While it’s important to “go local,” some local dishes may have ingredients you shouldn’t or cannot eat due to a variety of dietary restrictions and allergies.

2.) Eat when locals eat
While the biggest meal of the day in the United States is typically dinner, eaten between 6 p.m. and 8, that’s not the case in many other countries. In Austria and Germany, for example, lunch is the main meal, and in Spain, a late dinner, almost never before 10 p.m., is the rule. Fortunately, breakfast is almost always the first meal of the day, no matter where you are.

3.) Eat what the locals eat
Just like you wouldn’t go to a restaurant that specializes in fish and order a hamburger, it’s important to try dishes that an area is known for. This could be as simple as Wiener Schnitzel in Vienna and sushi in Japan but you won’t want to miss poutine (French fries smothered in cheese curds and brown gravy) in Canada, fish ‘n’ chips in England, rendang (beef slowly simmered in coconut milk and a mixture of lemongrass, galangal, garlic, turmeric, ginger, and chilies) in Indonesia, Mansaf (lamb cooked in yogurt with rice) in the Middle East, and escargot (snails) in France.

4.) Try local utensils but …
Your hosts or the restaurant staff will appreciate a valiant, possibly foolhardy, attempt to use chopsticks but, if you fail, will undoubtedly understand you did not grow up using them. They would much prefer you enjoy the food and since they are already accustomed to Western diners don’t be afraid to ask for a fork if that will ensure that the food actually reaches your mouth. In some parts of the world, the Middle East and India, for example, some dishes are eaten without using utensils although many cultures consider the left hand “unclean” and reserved for bodily hygiene.

5.) Try to speak the local language
Finally, learn a few basic words such as “please” and “thank you” in the language of the country you are visiting. This will go a long way by showing your appreciation to your hosts. In German it’s “bitte” and “danke,” in French, “s’il vous plait” and “merci,” and in Japanese, “dōzo” and “arigatō.”

(Photos: Accura Media Group)

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