For budget travellers and beyond, self-catering when on the road is nourishing experience for the body and the spirit. While trying local foods in restaurant meals is certainly a key travelling experience, exploring grocery stores, marketplaces, bakeries or produce carts can be a memorable culinary experience all in itself. After all, self-catering means going where the locals go to get their food. Outside of being invited for a home cooked meal (an opportunity we recommend taking if it comes up!) there’s not more authentic dining experience than that.
Your self-catering experience will be far more memorable if it’s personal – try to seek out environments where you can interact one-on-one with whoever is selling you your food. Markets (farmers or otherwise), bakeries, produce carts and street stalls all offer you a chance to interact with locals in a way that impersonal grocery stores usually won’t. Your meal will be so much more memorable when you’ve seen the smile of the person who baked your bread or enjoyed perfectly ripe fruit selected for readiness by a local vendor.
Make the Most of Where You Are
Foods that are high-priced, exotic delicacies at home might be kitchen staples where you’re visiting – take advantage! Relish a meal of Kalamata olives, spinach pies, fresh baklava and blocks of feta cheese in Greece. Indulge in a croissant for breakfast every day in France. When travelling Southeast Asia, eat as many papayas, mangos and jackfruit as you can get your hands on. Taking advantage of local fare makes every meal a memorable cultural experience.
Have no idea what something is? Try it anyway. Buying a bit of a brand new food in a grocery store or market is a much more accessible way to experiment than in a restaurant. You won’t have to worry about paying restaurant prices for something you end up finding inedible – and you won’t have to deal with the awkwardness of having a full plate of something you don’t care for sitting in front of you when you’re trying to be culturally respectful. Ask the name of whatever you’re experimenting with, and if you like it, seek it out in the future! You can’t lose.
Learn Some Food Words
This one is especially important if you have dietary restrictions, but can be equally applicable if there’s a few foods you don’t touch (admit it – even the least picky amongst us have some!) Learn the words for whatever you don’t want to be eating in the local language, and read the labels when encountering new grocery store items. Vegetarians and vegans in particular should learn the words for chicken, beef, fish, milk and eggs (where applicable), and those with food allergies should learn the terms that will keep them out of harms way at the dinner table.
Location, Location, Location
Make where you dine part of the experience. While grabbing a meal in your hostel can be a wonderful conclusion to a busy day of adventuring (and a great way to meet new travel companions), a good picnic location can turn a meal into a memory. Seek out stunning views, people-watching perfect piazzas, or popular parks, and indulge in dinner with a view for a meal you’ll never forget.