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Travelbag's Food Expert Guide to Eating Abroad

by Travelbag on 14 January 2015, 14:01PM Travelbag's Food Expert Guide to Eating Abroad

Where have you been that you would recommend on a purely culinary basis? Where have you been that you wouldn’t recommend food-wise? We teamed up with some fantastic foodie bloggers to get their thoughts, here is what they had to say

Georgina Goodman @xxgeorgina18

Fay Nyberg @foodfablesuk 

Helen Best-Shaw @FussFreeHelen

When deciding where to travel is one of the deciding factors the reputation of the local food?
Georgina - Not usually although once I have booked my holiday I do get very excited about what foods I will get to try when I get there! Trying new foods in new countries is something I really enjoy!

Fay - Food is always one of the fundamentals when I’m planning a trip – whether it’s in the UK or overseas. I’m gradually working through visiting the countries that my favourite cuisines originate from! I like to have the option to try new foods and eat in different places while I’m on holiday, I’m far more likely to book a self catering trip or organise the individual elements of the holiday myself, so I have as much control over eating as possible. It’s also become a bit of a tradition that I book a cookery class as part of my holiday itinerary.

Helen - When we’re planning holidays, one of the first things we think about it the gastronomic possibilities of our planned location. We don’t really think that a trip with bad food could be at all enjoyable: eating well is an essential for a good holiday. 

How much time goes into planning your foodie-inspired trips?
Georgina - Once Thailand was booked for last summer I spent ages talking to anyone and everyone who had already been asking all sorts. I wanted to know the best and be prepared for the worst - I wanted to know what was the best restaurant in Bangkok as well as what they thought of the street food - everyone had said that the street food in Thailand wasn’t the best so I wanted to hear from people who had actually eaten it. 

Fay - I love to plan, so I probably take a little more time than the average holidaymaker! Once I’ve decided where to go I’ll read a lot about the place, the sites and the potential things to do there. The reading stage probably takes about a month, after that I will start looking for accommodation based on my initial plans and book things fairly quickly. I usually start organising things about six months before my trips.

Helen - Never enough! Once we’ve decided where to go, the research starts: restaurants, markets, producers and any other food related attraction that we can find. 

Are there any essentials that you have to plan for e.g. travel time etc.?
Georgina - We decided that it was best to book though a big company just to be covered, I'm not sure either of us would have been confident enough to book each part separately plus it meant that when we arrived we were greeted by one of their representatives who made our holiday so much better by taking us on our own personal tours, we spent most of our time in Bangkok with her.

Fay - I plan my holidays in days – am and pm. Against each day I’ll mark any flights, including when I need to check in by and my essential flight details. I do the same with accommodation – putting which hotel or hostel I’ll be staying at and when check in and out is at each day. It’s a little bit anal but it helps me see how much time I’ll have each day for activities and also allows me to make dinner reservations and book cookery classes. 

Helen - Holiday essentials include the mundane but essential, such as checking the insurance (taking out separate excess insurance when renting cars can result in significant savings), to such things as a good knife and some essentials: salt, pepper, oil, washing-up liquid etc. when self-catering. 

Is there a destination that you wish to travel to due to the reputation of the cuisine?
Georgina - Well since going to Thailand, I would love to go back for the food alone, it was amazing! But for somewhere I haven't been yet, I would really love to try China and Japan! Also, America - Man vs. Food is my favourite program and made both my boyfriend and I desperately want to go to there just for the food!

Fay - I went to Thailand earlier this year because I adore Thai food and I wasn’t disappointed. However, I think my obsession with food really spiralled when I visited Japan aged 18 – I spent lots of time just walking around supermarkets there. You learn so much about a place and its people through food. I’d love to explore more of Asia, China and Hong Kong in particular. Italy is top of the ‘to-do’ list in Europe.

Helen - Gascony, in Southwest France, has always appealed, but we haven’t made it there yet. 

What foods have you chosen to splash the cash on when abroad?
Georgina - This doesn't happen that often as I like to eat food the locals eat, although when I went to Disney Paris last year I did pay extra go to the Blue Lagoon restaurant, firstly because Disney really isn't the place for a foodie and secondly because of the venue - this is a massive thing for me, it is set out inside a ride with the river and boats running though it, all candle lit and it was amazing.

Fay - I try to keep my spending as low as possible so that I can try lots of different things. Japan was quite expensive in comparison to my other trips and I spent quite a lot on sushi and sashimi! In contrast, I had some of the best food I’ve ever tasted in Thailand and meals there cost as little as £3 including a drink and dessert, so I don’t think it’s necessarily about spending huge amounts. 
My biggest spends are usually on organised food tours or cookery lessons, which can add up to as much as a few hundred pounds per trip. I think the most unusual food I’ve eaten so far is the durian, which is a really stinky fruit – it’s quite pricy to buy too. 

Helen - A trip to a really high quality, Michelin starred restaurant can really add a highlight to a holiday. 

What tips would you give to would-be foodie travellers who are looking for their perfect experience abroad? 
Georgina - Make sure you ask questions about where you’re going before you go - you don't want to arrive somewhere without enough money to be able to try everything you want. And I like to try eating local as much as possible, it’s silly to go somewhere exotic and just have a burger and chips. 

Fay - Everyone enjoys different things, especially when it comes to food. Be aware of the local delicacies and specialities and make a point of trying some. If you can book a cookery trip or eat with locals, you’re more likely to be able to replicate some of the tastes you’ve experienced when you return home and you’ll likely make a friend or two along the way. 
We’re all led a little too much by reviews online and I’m sometimes guilty of checking out restaurants in holiday locations like this rather than getting out and finding places for myself, as I don’t like to eat a disappointing meal. 
If you plan to eat at a world-class restaurant you should be prepared to book well in advance and potentially pay quite a lot for the experience. It might be an activity that lasts for a good few hours and a culinary memory you treasure forever. 

Helen - Find the local producers. Many regions have local specialties, and a trip to see where they come from can add some real local flavour to a holiday. 

Do you take time to plan schedules for such a trip abroad?
Georgina - I won’t plan a strict schedule but I will take time to research all the things I want to do while I am there and work them out into days. I'd also leave a day or two for doing local things that you didn’t spot in your research and a day or two for relaxing! 

Fay - I actually use spreadsheets to create a plan for each day. It won’t be totally rigid but it will note any sites I’d like to visit or areas to eat in, sometimes there will be a booking for a tour or a restaurant that needs to be worked around. I find this helps ensure I don’t miss things – for example. Food markets are often at their best early in the morning, so I wouldn’t plan a visit to one after a heavy night of cocktails. There is a little flexibility built into my itineraries though, especially if I’m travelling with others who don’t like the military approach to holiday planning!

Helen - A holiday isn’t really a holiday if it’s overly regimented and one feels that one is permanently ruled by a timetable of iron. However, a little planning can really help make sure that we only discover a wonderful attraction as we leave. A framework around which we can be flexible really works for us. 

What has been or ideally is your ideal destination to travel to for purely cuisine-based indulgence?
Georgina - I have grown up holidaying on cruises since my mum doesn't like to fly and a huge part of that is the amazing food. It’s like nothing you will ever see at home. Huge buffets covering 3 different rooms, midnight feasts and ice cream machines out by the pool and that's all before dinner at a huge posh restaurant that gives you the choice of having 8 courses for dinner each night if you fancy but purely for the food, it has to be America! 

Fay - So far, Thailand has been ‘the one’ for me. There’s so much I love about Thai food and the Thai people. The depth and consideration of flavour in some of the street food you buy at the side of the road is amazing and there’s a huge amount of influence from some of my other favourite cuisines such as Indian and Chinese. I can take my food quite hot too; so Thai food satisfied my spicy urges! Surprisingly, I didn’t put any weight during my time there – probably because it took a lot of energy to walk around in the heat! 

Helen - France has been at the top of our list so far, but there are so many other possibilities. The Canadian Maritime provinces for seafood – clams and lobster, the American South for barbecue, Japan; the list is endless. 

Have you had any bad food-related experiences while abroad?
Georgina - I have a very dodgy stomach at home and strangely foreign food seems to make me feel so much better - that is one of the reasons I look forward to going away. A lot of people diet for their holiday but I feel like I eat so much better when I'm away and I feel so good for it! Also, strangely enough I ate some of the street food in Thailand and I was fine, I think you just have to be careful, I made sure that the one I had chosen had been cooked and stored and covered in a box so there were no flies around it.

Fay - I think we’ve all experienced food problems abroad. Luckily, I’ve never had food poisoning but I have been at the receiving end of a huge bill for a disappointing meal and poor service. This happened more frequently in my younger years before I learnt to avoid the hugely touristy areas when looking for somewhere to dine. 
A few years ago in Barcelona I found an amazing vegan café that served three courses for a few euros. The food and service was so good I returned for lunch three days in a row and by doing so I had enough money to be a little more extravagant in my dining on other days. 

Helen - Of course! While we try and avoid the tourist trap restaurant, churning out pale facsimiles of traditional local food, sometimes we do find ourselves looking at very uninspiring dishes rather wishing we had made a different choice. 

Any final tips on planning a foodie-trip abroad?
Georgina - Do lots of research, ask people who have already been what they liked and didn't like! Also, this sounds silly but every time I go away I always pack snacks to go with me whether it’s a few bags of crisps, a cereal bar or a bar of chocolate. I'm always craving chocolate and I can never find what I want when I'm abroad so its nice to have a little taste of home while your in the hotel room! 

Fay - Even though I love planning, you can get too caught up in the detail of ticking off all of the things you want to do, places you’d like to eat etc. so do try and build in a bit of flexibility. Guidebooks and online reviews will give you some steer on where you may want to eat. The Michelin guide and World’s Best Restaurants may also be worth a peek if you are planning a really special meal during the trip. I always ask on Twitter to see if anyone has visited or lives at the location I’m visiting, this has led to some amazing meals as people will make suggestions and recommendations based on your likes and interests. 

Helen - Be open to the possibilities! Travelling to somewhere new gives the opportunity to expand our flavour experience. A bit of openness to the new can go a long way in making a holiday memorable. And if we find we’ve ordered something that we really don’t like, well, we now know for next time. It’s only one meal. 


Images by Faye Nyberg @foodfablesuk

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