For those of us who enjoy international cuisine, eating local specialties while traveling is the best of two worlds. Meals don’t always have to be in fine dining establishments where pricing can be astronomical, you can relish terrific flavors from a food cart, on a picnic, or from the local supermarket.
Below are some tips on how to make the most of feasting in foreign countries while taking home some adventuresome memories.
Eat at the counter. In Italy, France, Portugal, Mexico and Guatemala, there are many cafes, bars and neighborhood restaurants that offer counter-style eating. Sometimes there is seating and sometimes one must stand. However, this community way of sharing your eating space usually means lower prices and quicker delivery, but not necessarily a drop in quality of food, coffee, wine or beer. It’s casual, and an easy way to pick up a conversation with a local. Find out about museums, the upcoming free jazz concert, or the organic farm nearby.
Enjoy happy hours. Tapas restaurants, bars, and eating establishments who are revving up for a busy evening will often offer great drinks at discounts, two for one wine by the glass, or present a happy hour menu with a variety of appetizers for attractive prices. Sometimes there will be hors-d’oeuvres buffets where you can sample dozens of flavors and foods for which you might not even know the local name. It’s a great way to graze, enjoying a wide array of tastes.
Plan a whole day around sampling food. Speaking of grazing, an adventurous way to try a diverse number of restaurants, shops, food stalls, and cafes with luscious pastries is to plan a whole day around sampling food. Check out your travel guide for suggestions or research an area on Google Maps to find attractive eating locations.
Walking between your mini-meals, simply choose a salad here, hot grilled fish-on-a-stick there, share an appetizer and visit a café for a cappuccino and a Napoleon or a piece of raspberry cheesecake.
Visit a wine bar or microbrewery to sample wines or freshly made local beer and grab another appetizer or fire-roasted vegetables with tasty dips. Take photos of your food, the menus, your walk, your friends or special someone and round up a memorable day of eating that you won’t soon forget. And if you collect the business cards from these establishments, then you know where to return to enjoy a full meal.
Local supermarkets can be a riot of color. Markets in foreign countries can offer their foods in different styles of displays than we are used to in the States or Canada. Lots of markets are open-air and you can wander through simply mesmerized. Sample cheese and buy a few ounces, collect some ripe, sweet fruit to munch on, collect a baguette or try a taco. Delis offer powerful flavors in tiny packages like mustards, dolmas, cured meats and olives. Buy a bit of this and that… and then have a picnic!
Have a picnic. You have gathered a variety of flavors to savor and now it’s time to find that perfect location to enjoy it all. Perhaps there is a park nearby or a bench overlooking the sea or a lake, or a special hideaway that you saw on your walk the day you sampled foods all over town. It’s here that you can sit down or throw a blanket out and enjoy your finds. Don’t forget your handi-wipes, a bottle opener if needed and a trash bag to carry out any wrappings you have.
Find special dining times and prices. In many foreign countries, lunch is the main meal of the day and choices are wide. Sometimes lunch items are offered at a lower price than on the dinner menu, or they might have a three or four course lunch on special. In other countries there are early-bird dinners given at inviting prices. If you are going out to the theater, restaurants located nearby might offer a post-theater menu worth checking out.
Eat one meal a day in your hotel room. In Europe, Mexico, Central and South America, even Asia, Australia, Bali and New Zealand, it is not unusual to cook a meal in one’s hotel room. Years ago we decided that if we could eat just one meal a day in our room, we could save a small fortune while traveling. Sometimes we will use leftovers from yesterday’s huge meals such as steak, a quesadilla, or pork chop. Then we’ll place cheese, nuts, or fruit on a plate and if we find a great bakery we’ll add a croissant or pastry. This makes for an enjoyable non-rushed morning before heading out for our day’s adventurers. The money you save by doing this can be used to upscale your travel budget in a variety of areas.
Using credit cards generally means higher prices. It is our experience that some restaurants in foreign countries (like Guatemala and Ecuador) will add a surcharge to the bill for using your credit card. While this might not be entirely legal according to the rules of your credit card, you won’t be able to get that 25% added amount off your bill once you have given them your card. Not every restaurant in every country does this, of course, but better to have local currency handy to pay for your meal and save yourself from the nasty surprise. It is always wise to ask first about any surcharges for card usage.
Check to see if your hotel includes breakfast. If your hotel offers breakfast in your room price, this can be a great way to save a bit of money for other dining adventures. But if this early meal is not included, take a walk around your hotel for little diners, food stalls, juice bars, bagel shops, cafes and coffee places. We have found that if your hotel charges for breakfast, it’s not surprising that this would be twice the price of the breakfast offered just down the street.
Relishing in the flavors of foods in other countries is all part of the adventure and memory making. Why not add a couple of different approaches to your dining style and save some money at the same time?
About the Authors Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance, medical tourism and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their award winning website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible available on their website bookstore or on Amazon.com.