What Everyone Ought to Know About Food and Travel

Food

Feb 13

Food and Travel isn't just for "Foodies." Don't be intimidated and don't be typecast. 

Bring a knife and fork, a pair of chopsticks and bare hands, a tortilla wrap so snugly wrapped you could call it a cigar and a bento box so neat it outclasses the inner workings of a Swiss watch and let's share a meal. Or two. Or three. Or however many hundreds of food and travel experiences we can find in the world.

To get you started, here are 27 great ways to bring more flavour to your travels right now.

Food and Travel: How to do it

LIsbon restaurants where locals eat

Food and Travel: Why should you listen to me?

Food and Travel. Two words that go together better than horse and cart. Ying and yang. Fish and chips.

Beavis and, erm, Butthead?

OK. Hands up. I'm not a proper foodie. And that quote dates me.

For years, I never said I wrote about food and travel because I didn’t feel “foodie” enough.

I didn’t know my Kaffir from my Australian Finger, my Kerr’s Pink from my Yukon. (The first two are limes, the second two potatoes. I know now.)

And as I travelled and ate and interviewed top chefs, wrote pieces about food and broadcast live for Lonely Planet, one of the world's biggest travel (and food) publishers, I carried this shyness with me. 

When their editorial staff wondered why I hadn't submitted my ideas for their Ultimate Eat List, despite directly inviting me to do so, I felt the answer was obvious. I didn't know enough. There were people in the world who knew more.

Their reaction was priceless. Some soul-searching ensued.

And now I'm a little embarrassed. Not at how much I know or don't know (which, objectively, turns out to be rather a lot.)

But I'm embarrassed about how I let such flawed thinking hold me back. 

Traditional Jordanian Food Recipes learned at Beit Sitti in Amman

Why Food Travel Belongs to Everyone

I mean. There is a place for knowledge, accuracy and being exact. And there is a place where taking part matters more.

Medicine would be the first one. Politics, arguably, the second. 

But food and travel?

We all eat. We all move. 

We all have different areas of expertise. 

So here are mine: I love both travel and food. I've travelled to more than 60 countries and eaten more types of food than there are stops on the London Underground. I love writing and broadcasting about what I find, learn, discover and enjoy so that others can do the same. 

So, unlike in my old job, say, where giving an anaesthetic was a "make or break" scenario, when it comes to food and travel, we're talking about a gradient of knowledge. Know your blood lime from your Persian? Can sautee in your sleep and fricassee with one hand tied behind your back? Good for you! (And I'm not being sarcastic.)

Beignets and chicory coffee in New Orleans

Intimidated by Foodies? Come with me!

But if you're not sure about all that (or even if you are and you want to learn about things afresh) then bring a knife and fork, a pair of chopsticks and bare hands, a tortilla wrap so snugly wrapped you could call it a cigar and a bento box so neat it outclasses the inner workings of a Swiss watch and let's share a meal. Or two. Or three. Or however many hundreds of recipes I've written about. 

Because the great thing about food and travel is that anyone can do it. And anyone can bring it home. 

Street food. Michelin starred food. Household food.

Recipes make travel memories last forever. 

Traditional Okinawa Food - Soba noodles and Goya in Japan

Soba noodles and pork feature heavily, as well as seaweed and sugar in Okinawa

Sharing Food Makes a Place

Right now, I'm thinking sugar dusted beignets in New Orleans Café du Monde. The protected slender sausage served in a heart shaped dish in Nuremberg. Sharing knafeh in the Middle East, flying fish in Barbados and purple, stringy seaweed in Okinawa, Japan. 

But it could be anywhere. 

Because the old adage is true. Everyone’s gotta eat. And we all have to make the best of what we have. And wow, has the world made the best of it. 

How to use this site for food and travel

For the best part of a decade, I have been writing and broadcasting about food and travel. This page serves as a launchpad or should that be a menu (groan, Ed!) into that world of foodie experiences. 

27 Great Ways to Combine Food and Travel

1- Take a Cooking Class

Yes! Go on holiday and go straight to school! Well, kind of. Cooking classes come in many shapes and forms, from in-depth intensities in Paris that will leave you with a bona fide qualification to the dabble-and-dip ones that will leave you with a happy stomach and the need for a designated driver. 

To be honest, most cooking classes tend to fall into the second camp. 

Why do I love cooking classes so much?

  • You learn about the food of a place.
  • You genuinely meet and learn about people from a place.
  • You meet more people! In a relaxed, no-pressure atmosphere.
  • You get to eat, drink and often be merry!
  • You go home armed with the knowledge to bring your travel experiences back to life again.


2 - Walking Food Tours

Some of the best food tours I've been on have left me with new friends, recipes, great places to eat and a better understanding of the local culture. Others have just left me hungry and annoyed! The worst, gave me salmonella.

Personal recommendations are always the best way to go  but failing that, look out for companies that are passionate about food. That usually means that they DON'T run lots of other tours as well. 

Check that food will actually be served (!) and the smaller group size, the better.

For example: a food tour worth taking in Rome.

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3 - Seek Out Fresh Food Markets

From the gentrified San Miguel in Madrid to the rough and ready, slop and unsteady stalls in Athens, markets provide a fascinating insight into a place, how it works and what it values.

4 - Search for UNESCO-Approved Food

Wait, what?! Don't UNESCO run the list of World Heritage Sites? You know, architecture, cathedrals, temples and the like. Well, first, there's far more to UNESCO World Heritage Sites than that.  

And second, UNESCO are developing their Intangible Culture list more and more. And, quite rightly, that involves food. 


5 - Travel to Places Famous for Food

Salty coastal San Sebastian with its pintxos is one. Patisseries in France is another. 

Possibly the whole of Italy could also be added into the mix.

But don't stop there. Some places have turned their approach to food into an approach for living.

Think hygge in Denmark, dates and cardamom coffee in the Middle East and Fika in Sweden. There, you can even use the word smorgasbord with relish and authenticity. And don't forget traditional Austrian food, like schnitzel. 

6 - Travel to Places Named After Food

Roquefort, champagne and the Black Forest Gateau. These names don't happen by accident!

They are, of course, real places with real food. And, not unsurprisingly, it's usually pretty good.

7 - Tackle Your Terrors

Try something new in the place that invented it. Chances are excellent your home country has made a hash of it and the original tastes better. My list would include sake in Japan, tequila in Mexico, Guinness in Dublin and gazpacho in Spain. All make sense (and taste better) on location. 

8 - Look for Recipes from Around the World

They give you an idea for what to look for when you travel. Not sure where to start? I collect ideas on Pinterest - and you can find my Food and Travel Board here.

9 - Visit the Source

One of the fastest ways to humble myself has to involve travelling to the source of food.

Farms, fishing boats, underground caves. All show the breadth and depth of human ingenuity when it comes to working out what we can eat, not to mention resilience, creativity and a touch of desperation. 

None of us are self made. We all depend on someone else, for the food we eat, the clean water we drink. 

Not to mention, something tastier, like, say golden olive oil.

10 - Make time for Street Food 

Hot sizzle and spice, street food strips away pretensions and dials up the flavours significantly. It's particularly good for places where you struggle with the language as you can see exactly what's going on and a smile and a point goes a long way.  

My favourites? Grass jelly, kopi guyou and fish balls in Singapore. Not forgetting the Million Star Fried Banana.

11 - And the Finest Dining There Is

That said, don't automatically side step fine dining. It can be surprisingly easy and affordable to get reservations at Michelin-starred restaurants. 

12 - Chat to the Chef

Before a meal, chefs are typically, well, busy. But afterwards? Often surprisingly chatty. In a career driven by high pressure and antisocial hours, chefs have to be passionate about what they do. And passion often spills into talking about the subject afterwards. 

So for some really expert, inside information, it's always worth asking if you can speak to the chef. 

Failing that, check out some of our interviews...


13 - Don't Forget the Drinks!

Wine tasting can feel more intimidating than all the rest put together. But, actually, most producers and vineyard owners and sommeliers just care that you show an interest. Not that you know it all. If you did, where would that leave them?

Make appointments to visit distilleries, breweries and vineyards as often as you can. Learn about signature cocktails (another chance for a cocktail class!) My tequila tasting in Mexico totally transformed the way I thought about the drink.


14 - Talk Before You Eat

Chat on social media, chat with the concierge, chat with locals, chat on the plane. Chat, chat, chat. In my line of work, we get to call it research. But people have been doing it for years ;-) 

15 - Visit a Food Museum

In Athens, the food museum literally showcased food as works of art. In Dublin, the Guinness Museum doubles as a high-octane walk through advertising history. Both, completely changed the way I looked at local food. So now, whenever I head somewhere new, I look for any food museums.

16 - Food Festivals

OK, so the rancid, tomato-pelting Tomatina was a bad idea. But the twilight-lit Long Table of Graz in a UNESCO World Heritage Site was not.

Cherry festivals, garlic festivals, lobster, chocolate and giant clambakes.

Here's a list of some of the most fun food festivals around the world.  

Top Foodie Travel Tip

Make sure to give your tastebuds and stomach a chance to breathe. Don't book too many fine dining meals close together. Schedule in some lazy walks and make time for the occasional unexciting sandwich (or equivalent.)

17 - Try Out Supper Clubs

A curious phenomenon, these tend to involve meeting up with people you've never met for food prepared by someone with passion. Often in an unusual location. Most tend to work on a word of mouth basis so they can be hard to track down. 

Here's a list of Britain's best and weirdest supper clubs. 

18 - Delve into History

Don't let food snobs put you off classics, either. Those sugar dusted beignets at Cafe du Monde?! They're gorgeous! Light, fluffy, tasty, moreish. They, and their chicory coffee, also happen to shine a light on a fascinating part of the history of New Orleans and the Mississippi that still applies to this day. 

That gin in Menorca? A tantalising taste of the past skirmishes between Pirates, Lord Nelson and the islanders in Spain. 

Even the Nuremberg Sausage has its roots in legends about the plague and evading taxes. 

19 - Secret Food Clubs

OK, this can be a strange one. But strangely brilliant. Like the Supper Clubs mentioned above, this typically involves meeting up with people you don't know to share a meal in a strange location. Only the location is only announced at the last minute and the existence of such clubs spreads through word of mouth (or social media.)

The strangest I went to was in Cape Town, where we all met in an abandoned warehouse and had to dress up in factory whites and hairnets with numbers. A loud speaker narrated what we did and food appeared in a hatch. There was no sign of the chef. 

It sounds horrific. In reality, it was fantastic. Such an ice breaker. Such a creative thing to do. See also: Dining in the Dark.

20 - Chat with the Food Writing Experts

And speaking of colleagues and writers. Many food writers and bloggers are so passionate about their work that they end up running food tours, supper clubs, publishing books and just generally helping people out because they can't help themselves.

So, take to social media or your book shop and find these people for the place you plan to visit. Then, engage with them (but don't stalk them, obviously.)

21 - Old is the New Black

Many where to eat guides focus on what's new, but it's rewarding to explore what's old as well.

Sometimes the owners may be resting on historic laurels but the sense of atmosphere is worth it. 

22 - Pay Attention to Capitals and Awards

Did you know that many countries give out gastronomic awards to entire cities? Graz is Austria's official Culinary Capital of Delights, for example. Spain names a different Capital of Gastronomy each year (in 2016, it was Toledo.) 

23 - Visit the Factory

Not always the area of soulless corporate machinations, food factories can provide illuminating experiences. Take the Tabasco Factory in Louisiana, set amid lush jungle gardens, greenhouses and a who's who of different tabasco tastes (there's more than just the one, you know.) 

24 - Stay on a Farm

One step deeper than just visiting a food source involves staying there as well. One of the most exciting trends in travel and tourism (including sustainable tourism) involves the increasing popularity of "grow your own." Or, alternatively, converting the growing place into a hotel - the process of agroturismo. 

So, you can wake up in England, surrounded by hens. Walk through the olive groves in Greece and stay with an olive oil sommelier. And even pick fresh herbs in the Caribbean.

What About Food Restrictions?

Gah. Nightmare. I feel for you. There's no doubt about it, this does make things harder. I've been there. Best thing to do is to write out in advance what you can't eat and translate it into the right language. Show the waiter. And be vigilant. Happily, food labelling is becoming more and more prevalent but if you KNOW you will be ill if you eat something, pack some safe snacks with you whenever you travel, just in case. 

Practising pouring Spanish cider in Asturias

@Wildjunket tries to pour cider...

25 - Join in, Have a go!

From learning how to pour cider from a great height in Austria to biting off a shrimp head whole in Catalunya and slurping undiscoverable intestinal parts in Beijing, few things beat getting involved to get into the spirit of things. Again, I used to be shy about this. Now? Well, if I'm invited to take part, it would be rude to turn an invitation down...

26 - Learn How to Guess Well

Sometimes, despite all the best research, things don't work out. Restaurants are closed, markets shuttered up, fishermen asleep. At this point, it's time to guess well. Fight off the familiar escape of (ahem) Starbucks. Delve into the most crowded-by-locals spot instead. Don't ask for a menu in English. Point, smile, Google Translate and hope for the best. After years on the road, I really do have faith in the kindness of strangers. Most people, even if they don't know you at all, won't want you to have a bad time - as long as you treat people with respect.

27 -  Check Out Our Food Guides

They don't cover the whole world yet. But it's on the list (Don't you mean menu?! Ed.)

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY ABOUT FOOD AND TRAVEL

Laura from Savored Journeys

 Laura Lynch, 

Savored Journeys

"Food is an essential part of an authentic experience. You simply can't experience the real, authentic side of a culture without food. You can learn so much about people and how they live through the food they eat, and the way they eat it. To visit Spain or Italy without caring about the food and the culture of eating is to miss out on at least half of the true culture of those countries. Ask any Italian what is the most beloved part of their culture and they'll tell you it's food and eating.


I read a lot of blog posts and travel articles about how to save money on food while traveling and how to avoid street food to not get sick. It makes me sad to think of all the amazing things I would have missed out on in a country if I had taken that advice.

As a food traveler, you can still immerse yourself in the history, architecture and art of a destination, but including new and unique food experiences is also essential." 

Rachelle Lucas from The Travel Bite

 Rachelle Lucas, 

The Travel Bite

Why do you think combining food and travel is an important concept?

This is such an interesting question! One (of many) reasons is that you can learn quite a bit about climate and history through what is able to grow in different regions. And learning becomes far more interesting and real when you can actually taste the experience. Also, in this day and age, where seemingly everything can be ordered online and delivered in two days, the signature dishes and flavors of a destination are something you must travel to experience. Sure, you can order a spice or certain pantry ingredients, but how a meal tastes in its original region cannot be replicated or shipped. And believe me, I've tried.

What's your best tip for beginner “foodies” to make food a more important part of their travels?

If you don't normally travel to experience new foods, or just stick to what's familiar, I'd recommend going on a food tour during your next trip. You can do a short afternoon learning about the foods in a city, tasting a variety of things so you can better understand what you like and don't like when it comes to flavor. Or you can commit to a 7-10 day food tour of a region where you get to experience a bit the countryside too. There seems to be a food tour available in (or connect to) most major cities these days. And not only will you get to taste a variety of things from the area, but typically you'll also learn more about the area and it's history. Think of it as a flavor adventure!

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About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.

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