Whenever I’m in between adventures and I want to re-create some of those same feelings of exploration and inquisitiveness, but on a much cheaper scale, I turn to what I like to call “food exploration”. When your in an exotic country browsing local markets seeing…smelling…and tasting…the local delicacies is one of the highlights of the travel experience. But what if your not in an exotic locale? It doesn’t matter. You can explore foreign foods domestically or some of your area’s own local delicacies with a little research. Most of us live in or within driving distance of a fairly large metropolitan area…and with any large city comes diversity. So here are the places I focus on when doing urban domestic food exploration:
Farmer’s Markets – The bad thing about most major supermarkets is that they tend to carry what the majority of the population wants and it tends to get boring. Farmer’s markets are a good option to find local fresh produce, but they are also a good way to find fruits/vegetables/local delicacies that you won’t find at a supermarket. Prime example is the picture above. While exploring a local farmers market that caters heavily to the local Asian population, I discovered the hairy little fruit bugger above called a Rambutan. They are in the same family as the Lychee from southeast Asia and absolutely delicious…. as my girlfriend can attest because she is now addicted to them.
Small Ethnic Groceries – These are a treasure trove of foods and food stuffs that may not be in your normal eating habits. Asian, Latin,…etc groceries are less pressure than going to a restaurant where you can’t even read the menu, but also don’t often have full traditional meals prepared. Doesn’t mean you can’t try those strange looking bean curd desserts though! Just pick items that look good. Some will be winners, and some will be losers.
Ethnic Neighborhoods – Any large city or metropolitan area will have a variety of different cultures represented. These neighborhoods tend to stick together due to familiar culture and traditions… a perfect example being Chinatown in San Francisco, or Little Italy. If you search out these neighborhoods they often offer some amazingly unique eats that people have brought back from cultures abroad.
Local Favorites – If something is good…or a local favorite, word of mouth often spreads pretty quickly. Polling the locals who have lived in a specific area for most, if not all of their lives will lead you to locals only spots that are hidden gems.
Internet Resources – Just like word of mouth, if something is good people will talk about it. Use Yelp and search engines to scope out different cuisines/restaurants/eateries…i.e. searching for (Ethiopian restaurant…etc.)
Some rules of exploration that may help you out.
- Always be inquisitive and friendly. People running these businesses want customers.
- If you don’t know what it is…ask. Most people are friendly and willing to help if they can.
- If it’s for sale and edible… someone ate it and liked it…but it doesn’t mean you will.
- Keep an open mind and don’t judge a whole cuisine based off one item.
- If you have food allergies… ask for help and read labels. No sense going to the hospital when you have a allergy to shellfish and eat something stuffed full of them.
- If all of the menu is in English it might not be as traditional as you think…doesn’t mean its bad.
- If the place is full or there is a line…there’s a reason…it’s good.