When you travel do you eat local food or try to find the food from your home country?

I’m curious? I live in Thailand and have many Thai friends who travel, but one thing that bugs me to no end is that they for the most part will not step out of their food comfort zone. One of the great treats of travel is to eat local. For my Thai friends they head to Chinese, Japanese, or Thai restaurants for their meals. They often will bring fish sauce, chile, fried garlic and dried shrimp on holiday. My partner is a tour leader and he even has to bring bottled water from Thailand for his customers. You can’t drink tap water in Thailand and must buy bottled or filtered water, but it comes from the tap anyway, but purified.

For me the food, wine and and even the water is part of the travel experience. My question is: When you travel, is the local food part of your travel experience or do you try to replicate your culinary habits from your home country?

Time of my life 05/05/13    Food & drinkAsiaEuropeSoutheast AsiaThailandUnited KingdomUSA Link Report

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16 Replies Date Popularity

I don’t think that phenomenon is limited to Thai people, the worst people I have ever met for that is English people! My parents are a prime example, they are the very typical example of ‘tourist’. The ones who will not spend more than a few hours on a plane, spend all of their time in a complex by the pool with maybe an organised excursion or two, and they won’t eat any of that foreign muck, oh no, it has to be chips, egg and steak! Full English fry up all the way!They even pack tea bags!! Ridiculous.

Personally I like to make my diet the majority of the time as local as possible. I LOVE food and to me it would be a crime not to try a veg curry in India, or Pad Thai in Thailand or … you get the picture. I agree that one of the best things about travelling is to experience and taste a wide variety of food and local cuisines. Saying that, on extended trips I have broken up my diet with occasional visits to different restaurants too, (for example an Italian restaurant in Thailand), because sometimes I do just feel like something different, but these tend to be limited. Most of the time I tend to flit between street food or smaller family owned cafe’s/eateries with the occasional nicer restaurant thrown in (because as amazing as street food is there are some dishes they just can’t cover!)

I hate to generalize (okay I’m British I love to generalize, haha!) I think this is one of the things that separate ‘tourist’ from ‘backpacker’ (pin taken out and grenade tossed!)

Michael Huxley 05/05/13    Link Report

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  • In lots of places eating local food is not the same thing as eating like the locals. E.g. on a recent trip to Mexico the people I was visiting made a special effort to make mexican food and take me to mexican restaurants because I was a tourist visiting; but actually they said it was much too rich for them eat like that normally, so if I hadn’t been there they would just eat pasta and salads etc for the most part, much the same kind of thing as I eat at home!

    Another example would be visiting London and trying to subsist on fish and chips and jellied eels; hardly anyone living here eats those things more than twice a year! Everyone is too busy eating food from all the rest of the planet.

    I suppose what I am saying is that it is probably not a good idea to be TOO strict with yourself, only eating what you see as typical local food… because who wants to live on jellied eels, you would make yourself sick.

    Dan May 07/05/13    Link Report

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  • Some have that ‘foreign muck’ idea, yes. But lots don’t – one factor in the revival of the British food scene was people returning from the first wave of package holidays with fond memories of simple Mediterranean meals and learning how to do it themselves through Elizabeth David. You can make the case that we have rediscovered our own ‘peasant’ traditions thanks to those of Spain and France etc.

    That said, I did give up on trying the really spit-and-sawdust locals’ places in Bolivia after a while – just got sick too many times.

    Neil McQuillian 07/05/13    Link Report

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  • Neil,

    You are spot on with some of the local food experiences. I was in Quito, Equador with my friend and it was lunch time. We were in a quarter that had no other tourists that we could see. We saw a restaurant with no menu and everyone was eating the same thing. So my friend and I not speaking much Spanish at that time pointed to what everyone else was eating. So out of the kitchen marches a huge bowl of soup. Smelled great and then all of a sudden not one but a couple for chicken feet rose to the top of the bowl. We were hungry so I took a napkin covered the floating chicken feet and we proceeded to eat the whole bowl while sharing a big bottle of the local beer. Lunch was 2 USD for both of us and the chicken never knew the difference.

    So yes, sometimes you close you eyes and other times you realize that Montezuma’s revenge is just too much. Then there are times that you feel like an adventure and buy a stick with live tranchulas just doing their thing, until you begin to munch them down followed with a beer or something stronger.

    Eating is part of travel, but there are times that a burger of fish and chips takes care of your gastronomic needs!

    Time of my life 07/05/13    Link Report

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  • Ah, the people I find the funniest are the ones I work with at the NGO in India. They can`t go 10Km without bringing their own stoves and utensils to cook their own food. A few years ago they went to Bangalore and hated it bc it wasn`t “Gujarati food”.

    I`ve always enjoyed (well, Guji food is an exception) eating local food. I spend a lot of time in Switzerland, and this is heaven – all the things I can`t get in India, good salami, good cheese, good bread, and good beer.

    I haven`t yet had horse, but, ahem, it`s coming soon. A very Swiss thing, only certain butchers even offer it. Compare that to the recent outcry over horsemeat found in meat in other parts of Europe, et al.

    PirateAt50 06/05/13    Link Report

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  • Michael,

    You made me laugh when you speak of your parents and Brit’s and their eating habits on holiday. I can relate! I’m from New England in the U.S. and my parents, especially my father was a creature of habit. No matter where we traveled to, my dad had to have his meat and potato’s. Even on road trips where we cooked on the side of the road on a camp stove, it was steak et al. Maybe a hamburger, but meat, meat, meat. Breakfast was eggs, bacon, burnt toast. The coffee that would remove hair from a beaver. I still cringe! If we went to a restaurant it was steak, potato’s and limp vege’s. Reminds me of dinner at my aunt’s who was a Brit and a lovely lady, but she never met a vegetable that she didn’t boil into the next world.

    Like you I eat local when I travel, but enjoy a good dish of pasta without fish sauce. Here in Thailand we do have a few really good Italian restaurants, especially in Hua Hin at La Grappa! So if you come back to Thailand do yourself a favor and go to La Grappa!

    I am off to the Czech Republic for a month in a couple of weeks and I have to say I have found the best Italian not far from the Karlin neighborhood. I’m addicted to this family joint with great wine, inexpensive food and surley service. It’s Italian with a bit of old style Soviet service.

    So thanks for the laugh!

    Time of my life 06/05/13    Link Report

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  • Michael,

    You made me laugh when you speak of your parents and Brit’s and their eating habits on holiday. I can relate! I’m from New England in the U.S. and my parents, especially my father was a creature of habit. No matter where we traveled to, my dad had to have his meat and potato’s. Even on road trips where we cooked on the side of the road on a camp stove, it was steak et al. Maybe a hamburger, but meat, meat, meat. Breakfast was eggs, bacon, burnt toast. The coffee that would remove hair from a beaver. I still cringe! If we went to a restaurant it was steak, potato’s and limp vege’s. Reminds me of dinner at my aunt’s who was a Brit and a lovely lady, but she never met a vegetable that she didn’t boil into the next world.

    Like you I eat local when I travel, but enjoy a good dish of pasta without fish sauce. Here in Thailand we do have a few really good Italian restaurants, especially in Hua Hin at La Grappa! So if you come back to Thailand do yourself a favor and go to La Grappa!

    I am off to the Czech Republic for a month in a couple of weeks and I have to say I have found the best Italian not far from the Karlin neighborhood. I’m addicted to this family joint with great wine, inexpensive food and surley service. It’s Italian with a bit of old style Soviet service.

    So thanks for the laugh!

    Time of my life 06/05/13    Link Report

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  • Dan I don’t think it’s about sticking to just one type of food. I know that everywhere has a global outlook now. My local high street has a Chinese restaurant, 2 Indians, a Greek and a few others too. Most of my family eat food from all over the world most of the week, but that does not mean we can count that food as Polish. But when I do go abroad I do generally like to try that regions foods. Does that mean I won’t grab a burger from a fast food place at the airport too? No. But it does mean I get to eat food from that region.

    KateL 07/05/13    Link Report

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  • I go for local dishes, for the most part anyway; rural Kenya was a different kettle of fish.

    watsoff 17/05/13    Link Report

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  • Great resposes from the seasoned travelers and I guess that is what seperates a tourist from a traveler!

    I had to laugh about the response from Captain Courageous about how the local restaurants change their preperation of food to meet the western tastes. It is so true! Living here in Bangkok I almost never go to a Thai restaturant or food cart for that matter where there are other westerners. The food will be sweet, not spicy and blah! In the area that I live in here in Bagkok I am one of only a handful of westerners, so the food is Thai, not WeThai! It’s hot, spicy and fantastic! Same goes for most of SE Asia. If you go where the western tourists flock for a taste of “local” food you will get a watered down version, so that god forbid you sweat!

    In Issan up north you get the real deal. Even here in Bangkok if you venture out to the small villages and stop at a local joint you will get the real deal! Right here in the city go to the places that Thai’s go for lunch! If you see tourists then run! On the roadside if you see the taxi drivers lined up to chow down then you will get the real deal. Sometimes the real deal is not pleasing to the eye (especially the innards with your noodles), but it tastes great! Close your eyes and let your taste bud take the lead!

    Eat on and enjoy!!!!!

    Time of my life 17/05/13    Link Report

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  • “and they won’t eat any of that foreign muck, oh no, it has to be chips, egg and steak! Full English fry up all the way!They even pack tea bags!!”
    Hahaha

    It isn’t only tourists on holidays with this mined set. I’ve made meals and taken them to my parents and brother, only to be told, “Please don’t make that foreign stuff again” Foreign stuff? It was spaghetti bolognese for goodness sake.

    Getting back to the OP’s question, I eat the local food. After some several days in Thailand, I thought I’d have a western meal. Big mistake. I didn’t realise how heavy western food was until then. When eating at restaurants, I try to avoid ones filled with westerners because I find the food tends to be “westernised”. This was brought home to me in Da Lat, I was only there for two days but was heartily sick of the westernised Vietnamese food served in the Peace cafe.

    Some of the best meals I’ve had have been at small hole-in-the-wall places where I’ve been the only westerner. That is what I call authentic. Eating what the locals eat, trying different foods is all part of your travelling experience. As is trying the local fire water. Good stuff.

    Captain Courageous 16/05/13    Link Report

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  • I am always very keen to try local cuisine and so forth. However I can relate to why people prefer to stick to what they know as each country has their own hygiene and people have adjusted to their local diet, to an extent where sickness and in extreme cases death may well result in a change of habit. I would also praise those people whom used their own unitensils in India as food bourne diseases ( the food poisoning that can kill) are acquired through dirty kitchen equipment that India is notorious for.

    Unfortunately I am at times foolishly bold with trying foreign cuisines and it has resulted in food poisoning, stomach aches, stomach sickness and uncomfortable bowel movement several times in the pass.

    Some foods as well have their own ethical conflict such as roast dog, monkey brain, shark fin soup and even foie gras.

    Aaron 29/07/13    Link Report

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  • It’s alive! This must be the post equivalent of thinking someone is dead, poking it with a stick and suddenly they jump up wide awake and scare the holy crap out of everyone!

    Two months between posts on a very good thread ain’t good RG!

    Aaron, seriously? Are you SERIOUSLY suggesting that anyone travelling should avoid eating local cuisine because lack of hygiene/bugs may mean they get sick and die? I’m sorry you have gotten sick before but many people don’t! I have travelled the world for well over a decade now, eating at street stalls and over camp fires, posh restaurants and everything in between, and I have never, not once gotten sick! There was a worrying moment once looking for a toilet in Delhi, but that turned out to be fine and I carried on with my day.

    Michael Huxley 29/07/13    Link Report

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  • Travel is an adventure and not just the sites that you visit. The adventure of travelig is to experience the places with all of your senses. It’s the see, feel, taste, speak and hear of the new or old places that you are visiting. To say that you will wear earplugs so that you don’t have to hear the noise of the big city or the noisey silence of the jungle misses the point. To say that you will not eat local food because you might get sick really misses one of the key points of travel. Street food is an experience and not one to be missed. The interaction that you have with vendor who sells the food is not to be missed just because you might. You won’t speak the language, but that’s part of the fun of ordering something you may have no idea what it is. The interaction with the seller is worth a thousand words. They may laugh as you pour the chili on, as you reach for the nearest bottle of water to put the fire out. It’s the fun of it all! Sure you may not want to eat dog, but then again in many cases what you don’t know won’t hurt you until your find out what it is. I lived in Ho Chi Minh City and yes they had a dog street and since it is not my thing I stayed away, but who is to say what that “chicken” was? Woooffff!

    I’ve neen in the jungle and ate what was given to me. I tasted good, but latter I foud out it was snake. Oh that was good! In the west we eat food that is processed to death. It probably hastens our death. Why is it that people in many others parts of the world eat things and live to 100? What is strange to us may be good for our health. I’m not a fan of fried worms, bugs, grasshoppers, but when in “Rome” try it! I live in Thailand and they love the innards of anything and I avoid them as I now know what they are. You ever wonder what is in the hotdogs that you love? It’s the innards and I love a good hot dog!

    So if you are a traveler and you just seek out western foods then you miss the point. Besides if you eat a Micky D’s burger it’s been subjected to all kinds of stuff and you down it. A sausage was aa poor mans dish and they still use the same ingrediants that is not prime cut for sure. Ever see sausage made?????

    Travel is adventure to be consumed in many ways and if you eliminate one of the senses you miss out on really understaning the culture. Why travel, just stay home and eat the same things you might experience somewhere else, but just packaged differently.

    Time of my life 29/07/13    Link Report

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  • Bravo Time! Standing ovation to you sir! Well said!

    Michael Huxley 30/07/13    Link Report

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  • That is so true! When we travel we like to eat what is native to that country, understand and experience the culture through the food and traditions, otherwise what is the point!

    I know someone who lives near me, who travels with a suitcase full of tinned food in case she doesn’t like what on offer, and she only goes to Spain ! likewise, I was talking to some Japanese visitors recently and they travel with their own food as they don’t even want to try English food and treat it as something scary and unpalatable, although we have a food business selling Jams and Chutneys and have a lot of Japanese visitors, we were featured on a Japanese TV show and now they come in droves to buy just our Lemon Curd ! so every little helps as I believe someone said!

    One thing that I really cannot stand is arriving in a place and seeing a Union Jack Pub or similar, that I am afraid is what I am travelling to get away from – like language we need to embrace and learn about other countries and celebrate the differences before we all morph into one giant race.

    So I hope that my children will try and embrace that as they travel themselves, we have taken them off the beaten track, they have experienced life, culture and foods in various places and not always to their liking but that is part of the experience and growth.

    maria2705 22/01/14    Link Report

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