The smart and some would say adventurous traveler will usually sample the local cuisine. Adventurous, because very often you have no way of knowing the storage and preparation circumstances of your food. That type of dining can be risky. The fact that I have been made sick more times dining in North America may be a matter of numbers, or perhaps I am more careful in foreign locations when dining out.
I mentioned the smart traveler eats the local food as well. Presumably you are traveling and experiencing new cultures and food is a big part of that experience. Its smart as well to avail yourself of local foods if, for no better reason, than to save money. Your favorite brand of peanut butter sits in the import section of a grocery store aisle, and when you read the price you rock back on your heels and put it back on the shelf. The peanut butter can wait till you get home. That jar’s price is equal to 4 lb.s of the local fish, eight meals of grilled fish, tacos de pescado, ceviche, fish burritos with local tomatoes, avocado, lemon and the regional hot sauce.
Last winter in Belize it was cheaper to eat the local lobster than the frozen imported fish sticks. Not a tough choice there. Add some plantain, mangoes, bananas, some fresh tomatoes a little dirty rice and your having a $40.00 lobster dinner for about four bucks.
Belizeans eat off the streets and drive by stands. The same in Mexico. If you like BBQ chicken, you can get half a chicken, beans, rice, slaw, a little side of BBQ or hot sauce for about 4 or 5 Belize dollars. That’s $2-$2.50 U.S. dollars. In Mexico a whole BBQ chicken expertly cooked and sliced before your eyes is stacked on the standard styrafoam tray or plates. Add to that a pint of frioles, salsa, a salad of slaw or macaroni, and a stack of honest to God homemade right there tortillas, now you have lunch and supper for two. Total cost about $5 or $6 U.S. Grab some local fruit in season, maybe one or two of the more than 8 varieties of mangoes, a couple of the local beers and your set.
Here in Italy most people, while much wealthier than most Belizeans and Mexicans, are certainly cost conscious when it comes to food. The Mediterranean diets of Italy and Greece also make use of the fresh produce in season and eat accordingly. My favorite Horayattiki, (Greek Salad) is best in season when tomatoes and peppers are fresh. Some restaurants don’t put it on the menu off season. Italians eat, naturally, a lot of pasta, (thats PAHsta,not paaasta) but what they stuff in it and have with it in their insaladas (salads) varies seasonally and regionally.
If you are in the Baja of Mexico or the Ionian coastal area of Greece, and you like Calamari or its Mexican equivalent Calamar (big difference) you won’t eat any better or any more reasonably either. Its like going to Louisiana and ordering the steak and holding back on the shrimp. Why not eat the way the locals do?
Crayfish etouffee, a big bucket of mudbugs or shrimp boil, soft shelled crab po boy. Oh, man that’s the stuff.
Naturally there are exceptions to every rule and every palate. I have passed on braised horse, dog (I hope), menudo, tripe, and well I have to stop. The point is that you don’t have to try the burgers in Australia and gripe about the beet root ruining the taste. Have the lamb. They have more sheep than people and chances are the locals know a thing or two about preparing it.
You are in a new exotic place, eat local, try international cuisine on a locals budget. It doesn’t get any better than that.