For as long as I can remember, I have planned holidays not only on the basis of the places I wanted to visit but also on the places that I wanted to eat, food markets I wanted to visit and food speciality shops that were a must visit. In some cases, I might not recall the name of the restaurant but if the dish was memorable, I may have tried to recreate it at home and can remember not only what I have eaten but also what others at table had eaten.
Given we are approaching the peak of the holiday season, here are some tips of what to look out for and what to avoid when you are on holiday. It is not a fool-proof method but you can rest assured that you will have some memorable meals. And after all, holidays are all about memories and what better than to have excellent memories related to food.
Here are our tips:
1. Plan you trip before: It might sound obvious but many, including yours truly sometimes don’t find the time to plan ahead. That normally ends up in disappointment particularly in busy periods.
2. Research the places in the city you are visiting. Use all tools at your disposal. Michelin, Gault Milau or local guides but remember they are not the be all and end all. Look at online tools like Tripadvisor and Yelp but also remember that these could have flawed reviews. Use your common sense. If you really want to have memorable meals, then try and find local journalists or bloggers and contact them. They are normally willing to share their favourite places.
3. There is no such thing as a free meal. If it is too good to be true, you will normally end up being disappointed: Sometimes it is better to get a good sandwich than a mediocre meal. What you need to look out for are sure signs of a tourist trap. Is the fresh fish on offer too cheap? It might not be fresh after all. Are there big tourist menus? Maybe you need to avoid the place.
4. You might not be able to eat in an exceptional restaurant every day. But you don’t need to. Head to a food market if you are in doubt. You will normally be able to eat well. And if you cannot spot good places to eat, ask the locals that are shopping there to recommend places close by.
5. Go where the locals go. It might sound like a cliche but there is no better way to guarantee a good meal than to follow the locals. They normally have a better sense of which are the traps to avoid. So if in doubt, ask the locals.
6. Follow your nose: You need to use your common sense. If you are in the most popular tourist spot, you will inevitably find full places. This does not mean that they are excellent. But if you happen to be off the beaten track and see a common sense is essential.
7. Look out for stickers on the door that might recommend the restaurant. If you are in Italy for example, you may want to consider a restaurant that has been recommended by L’Osterie d’Italia or Gambero Rosso or the Espresso Guide. In France, look out for Michelin or Gault Milau. While they might have their flaws or biases, there is nothing more reliable to date.
8. Avoid the tourist traps like the plague: If the restaurant is clearly targeting tourists you should avoid it no matter what. They don’t necessarily care about quality or reputation because they cater to passing trade and one off visits.
9. Always plan in advance: If you are going to a restaurant, it is always a good idea to book. Most of the best restaurants will fill up days if not weeks in advance. Don’t expect to walk into a place and expect to find a table easily, particularly in the holiday season.
10. Enjoy your holidays and take it easy: Sometimes you need to take a calculated risk. Other times it is not the food that counts but the moment. Some of the best surprises come from risk-taking so all things being said, if you have a good feeling about a place, just keep an open mind and try it. You might be surprised. If not, just remember the moment and hope for a better meal next time.
Here is to wishing you great summer holidays.