Trying new cuisine is one of my favorite things to do when traveling. With language barriers, exchange rates, and different customs, it’s sometimes hard to do so effortlessly, but it’s not impossible! Here are a few tips to help make your dining experiences abroad more enjoyable.
More often than not, menus will be in the native language of the country you’re visiting. Ordering and purchasing food will be much easier if you learn to recognize words for certain ingredients and/or cooking methods. This is a very important tip for students who have food allergies or dietary restrictions. If you can’t eat shrimp, cheese, peanuts, etc. you should know these words in various languages so you can easily avoid it. The Google Translate app is helpful tool (it’s available for iPhone and Android).
Know the etiquette
This is where cultural sensitivity comes into play. Remember, food is often an important tool for social interaction so you want to avoid any faux pas when dining out with others. This can easily be avoided by doing a little research on the eating practices to find out what is acceptable and what is not. For example, eating with your hands is encouraged in India, but only your right hand as the left one is viewed as unclean. And in Japan, slurping your noodles shows that you’re enjoying your meal.
Traveling is all about new experiences so don’t be afraid to try different foods! Unless you have a legitimate reason, do your best to eat the local delicacies that you come across because you might not get another chance. Keep in mind that many cultures consider it rude to reject food offered to you so if you absolutely can not try something, do your best to be polite and gracious about it.
Eat like a local
Just because you’re a tourist doesn’t mean you have to eat like one. Ask a local (or better yet, your host family) about their favorite restaurants and make sure to check them out. Chances are those spots will be less crowded, cheaper, and serve more authentic dishes. If you need a fast food fix, try a local chain instead of a fast food restaurant you frequent at home. I got a croquette (a deep-fried roll containing mashed potato and ground meat) from Febo— a quick (but surprisingly fresh) self service fast food joint in Amsterdam.
Find a (super)market
Studying abroad programs are often weeks or months long. As a student, it’s inefficient and costly to dine out everyday during this time. Locate the nearest supermarket, go shopping, and cook some meals yourself. You can also find out if there are any farmer’s markets near you. This is a great, inexpensive way to feed yourself and explore the area.
BONUS TIP: Be prepared
The CDC has some tips concerning food and water safety while abroad. It might be a good idea to stick to bottled water instead of tap water, at least for the first couple of days while you get adjusted. Make sure to bring a few general medications that might be helpful in case you eat or drink something that you can’t handle. This can include Tums, Pepto-Bismol, Alka- seltzer, etc. If you’re a picky eater, bring some of your favorite snacks, as they might be unavailable or very expensive in other countries especially if the exchange rate is not in you favor.