Eating Like a Local

We’ve always recommended that you eat local cuisine when traveling. It is another way of experiencing a culture and understanding the way that they live. In order to do so, we’ve always gotten recommendations from locals and not just people at the hotel. We have tried such a wide variety of foods over the years, some of them pretty normal, and a few that have stretched our gastronomic limits. Here are a few of our more memorable eating experiences.

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Quarter Cuy
  1. Cuy in Ecuador – We had read about this local dish before we went to Ecuador, but we were apprehensive about actually trying it. Cuy is actually a Guinea Pig, so it is hard to wrap our heads around trying it, but when we finally decided to give it a try, we actually liked it.

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    Pork Stomach in Germany
  2. Cow Stomach in Germany – That is what it said on the menu, but it was really a cow’s intestine stuffed with pork, vegetables, and potatoes to create a kind of large sausage. If it wasn’t for the translation on the menu, we wouldn’t have thought twice about it, but it was definitely delicious.

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    Tilapia and Plantains
  3.  Eating Fish in Banana Leaves in Panama – When we visited the Embera village in Panama, we were treated with a local meal of fish and plantains cooked and served in a banana leaf. We also had something similar during our trip to Ecuador when visiting an indigenous village in the Amazon. That is definitely eating like a local.

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    Crawfish Etouffee
  4.  Crawfish Etouffee in New Orleans – We had so many amazing meals in New Orleans from turtle soup, jambalaya, fried oyster po’boys, etc., but one of our favorite was the crawfish etouffee.

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    Pique Macho
  5.  Pique Macho in Bolivia – Considered a local favorite in Bolivia, it is a mix of rice, fried potatoes, hot dogs, tomatoes, beef, onion, and peppers (and sometimes egg). It is a LOT of food. We shared a half-order and still couldn’t come close to finishing it.

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    Delicious Squid in Estepona
  6.  Whole Squid in Southern Spain – We’ve had squid plenty of times, usually fried as calimari and on occasion grilled, but we’d never had it served whole. We went to a local restaurant where they didn’t speak English and the owner just pointed us to the meal of the day, which turned out to be grilled squid. It was amazing.

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    Seafood Tower
  7.  Interesting Shellfish in Amsterdam – We ordered a tower of seafood when we were in Amsterdam and we were served a variety of shellfish. Some of the them were pretty normal, but there were a few things on there that we had no idea what they were. We gave them all a try, but we didn’t care for everything.

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    Cabbage and Grape Leaf Rolls in Romania
  8.  Stuffed Cabbage and Grape Leaves in Romania – It was definitely a little different than any stuffed cabbage that we’ve eaten at home. Served with polenta and a spicy pepper, it was very much a local experience.

Needless to say, these are just a few of the things that we have tried during our travels, but they definitely stand out in our memories. The only thing that we have refused to eat was puffin in Iceland. It wasn’t because we were afraid that it wouldn’t taste good, we just believed that serving puffin was depleting the species and we didn’t want to contribute to that. We will continue to try different dishes and look forward to finding that surprising meal that we never expected to eat.

The Food of New Orleans

New Orleans is definitely a destination for food lovers with all of the quality restaurants offering authentic regional food at various prices. Whether you are on a budget or want to go out for an elegant dinner, there are many choices that will provide an incredible eating experience. Seafood is at the heart of the meals that you will find in New Orleans, but there are plenty of other dishes that are uniquely Cajun. You will likely find Po-Boys, Gumbo, Jambalaya, and beignets on most menus as well as fresh snapper, oysters, and Crawfish Etouffee. There are other interesting items such as turtle soup, fried aligator, shrimp and grits, as well as local takes on eggs benedict.

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Crawfish Etouffee
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Meeting the Chef at The Briquette
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Duck Breast Jambalaya

The very first restaurant that we ate at was Oceana’s, which is just off of Bourbon Street and turned out to be a place that we visited several times because their food was so good. Like many restaurants, if you don’t go during non-traditional meal times, you can expect to wait in long lines that stretch down the street. Fortunately we like sitting at the bar as well as eating at different times, so we didn’t have any trouble getting served. We ate Oysters Rockefeller, Oceana’s Famous Oysters, Aligator Bites, Seafood Crepe, and a wonderful Bloody Mary during our different visits. The Crawfish Etouffee at the Royal House was one of the best meals that we ate during our entire stay. For a filling breakfast or brunch, going to the Stanley at Jackson Square can’t be beat and we had their Seafood Breakfast, which had fried oysters and shrimp, fried soft shell crab, and eggs benedict. It was delicious.

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Oceana’s Famous Oysters
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Seafood Breakfast at the Stanley
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Bloody Mary at Oceana’s

We went out for a couple of more upscale dinners including The Briquette where we were introduced to the chef by the owner and got to see our own fish on the grill. The food there is always fresh and we had the whole Red Fish filet as well as tournedos of beef and scallops. We also ate at Muriel’s on Jackson Square where we ate Turtle Soup, Cauliflower Soup, Duck Breast Jambalaya, and Pan Seared Scallops. There were also stops at Tableau and the Chartres House for Gumbo, Crawfish Bread, and Spicy Pecan Popcorn.

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Oyster Po-Boy with Red Beans and Rice
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Shrimp and Grits
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Beignets

We were in New Orleans for a week, so if the list of places that we visited seems long, it is simply because we were eating out several times every day. Obviously we had to have an Oyster Po-Boy, which we did at Desire as well as getting fresh oysters. We went to Curios for brunch where we had traditional Beignets as well as Shrimp and Grits. We made our way to the Carousel Bar for a Caesar Salad and Le Bayou for fresh oysters as well.

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Turtle Soup
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Spicy Caramel Popcorn
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Gumbo

Needless to say, when in New Orleans, especially in the French Quarter, there is more than just food. For drinks we went to many different locations, but one of the most interesting was Pirate’s Alley Café, which truly is in an alley. The 21st Amendment where we were treated to live jazz and a few glasses of wine. Finnegan’s was one of our favorite Irish dive bars, but we also enjoyed The Erin Rose where they serve an excellent po-boy. We enjoyed live music at The Drinkery as well as a few other places, including street performers on Bourbon Street.

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Pan Seared Scallops
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Erin Rose Irish Bar
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Crawfish Bread

You won’t go hungry when visiting New Orleans. With so many options and friendly staff wherever you go, there really aren’t too many bad choices. We’d recommend doing what we do, which is to ask the bartenders and wait staff at the places that you visit where they would recommend that you eat, usually requesting that they tell where the locals go, not necessarily the tourists. We were given great recommendations as well as just finding places as walked throughout the French Quarter. As we mentioned before, it is busy, so be sure to either make reservations in advance where you can and expect lines in the places that don’t accept reservations.

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Fried Aligator Bites
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Fresh Oysters

 

Do You Research the Food of a Country?

There is always a lot of planning that occurs before visiting a country for the very first time. What are the important sites to see, which cities should you visit, what are the best transportation options, etc. All of those are obviously important things to research, but what about the foods that you should eat and the restaurants that you should go to? Eating the food that is specific to a country, region, or city is part of the experience that really shouldn’t be an afterthought. It is good to know what you might want to try as well as some things that you probably shouldn’t eat.

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Savory Food
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Primanti Bros Counter in Pittsburgh

In addition to doing some research before going to a country, we also ask a lot of locals about where we should go, especially to find out who might make the most authentic dishes. Obviously, you can’t go to every restaurant that you hear about, but at least you can prioritize the ones you want to visit. It is also important to know what might be in season where you are going so that you can understand what might either not be available or perhaps not the best during your visit.

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Fancy Shrimp Cocktail
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Courtyard Restaurant in Granada, Spain

Mostly we try to find local food prepared by family owned or small restaurants that have a reputation for serving fresh and creative food. Depending upon where we are, getting food from street carts or food trucks is also a favorite option to get a taste of what locals eat on a daily basis. It may seem odd to some people, but we feel that what we eat and drink when we travel is as crucial a part of the experience as the places that we see or the people that we meet.  It is one of the reasons that we also try and replicate meals from some of our favorite journeys so that we can recreate and reminisce about a past experience that is more tangible than just looking at the photos taken during our travels. What are your thoughts, do you research and have a set of foods or drinks that you want to try before you’ve even stepped off of the plane or train?

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Green Chili Cheddar Biscuits
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Cabbage Rolls in Romania