5@5 - How to find the best food when traveling
March 13th, 2012
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

In his new book, "Jeffrey Saad's Global Kitchen: Recipes Without Borders," Cooking Channel host Jeffrey Saad takes home cooks on an international culinary tour without making them ever step foot outside the kitchen.

But never leaving your house doesn't sound like a heck of a lot of fun, now does it? Especially when there's soupe a l'oignon in Paris, ramen in Japan and kiwifruit in New Zealand on the other side.

Here's to eating, drinking and being merry - wherever your passport might take you.

Five Steps to Delicious Travels: Jeffrey Saad

jeffrey saad

1. Technology is delicious!
"If you use an iPad or similar device, download travel guides that focus on food. Read ahead of time (or on the plane) and use the highlight feature to summarize spots you want to hit and specific information about food customs, etc.

Also, download a basic translation software on your phone or device for the language if you’re traveling abroad. Oftentimes, the country itself has an app. I just used Thailand's 'Speak Thai' app, which does not require internet access. It was brilliant! If you can say a few words, it really opens people up to share information with you at the markets and restaurants.

Download a menu translator (or buy the book). When you get a menu with no English (already a good sign!), you want to be able to understand what you are ordering."

2. What is your pleasure?
"Decide what kind of food experience you are after - high-end, market food, street food, country cuisine, city fare, or all of them if you have time. That focus makes it easier to get the most out of my trip, versus trying to pack too much in.

Become an expert on one or two things. Decide on a few of the dishes that inspired you and make it a point to order one of those everywhere you go (in addition to everything else). When I went to Thailand, I focused on the fish cakes, the pad thai, and the Nam Prik (a condiment with many versions based on chilies, fish sauce, lime, dried shrimp, etc.)."

3. Like everything in life, time invested up front will pay off later
"Use the technology mentioned above to study as much as you can ahead of time - 15 minutes before bed, during coffee breaks, lunch, etc. It is always exciting to recognize a dish, a fruit, or a local fish, and fully experience it because you had a base knowledge, rather than returning home after the fact and saying, 'Oh, that is what I had?' Your experience will be tenfold if you go prepared.

Learn ahead of time about the local eating habits and customs. When you respect the locals, they appreciate it. When you understand the culture, you feel like you are part of it. I will never forget the first time I ordered an espresso at the counter of a Parisian cafe and then sat down with it. Big no-no! It’s a different price at the stand-up counter."

4. Sleep well, drink the free coffee, but don't talk to the front desk
"I’ve learned that although they only have good intentions, the concierge/staff of the hotel ALWAYS send you to the obvious, often 'has-been' touristy spots. Even when I’ve told them I am a professional chef/restaurateur, they can't help it.

Who to ask? Retail employees. I had one of the best culinary trips of my life in Montreal when my wife and I went to celebrate our anniversary. I struck up a conversation with a clothing store employee and from the way she was describing her recommendation, I trusted her food knowledge. We went to all six restaurants she suggested and each one was amazing.

Listen for details about the way your local travel guide describes the food and ingredients versus simply saying, 'It's popular.' When there is a language barrier, you’ll understand less, but chances are, their recommendations will be better than the hotel.

Utilize your virtual communities. Tweet, Facebook, e-mail, reach out and ask 'Where shall I eat when I go to X?' You’ll quickly find that you have a great network of people to rely on."

5. Pay attention to your surroundings
"When a place is small and has a line stretching out the door with locals, chances are, the food is spot on."

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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Filed under: 100 Places to Eat • 5@5 • Bite • Think • Travel

soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Dorothée

    Great to see your advice downloading menu translating apps, etc.
    However, more and more restaurants are seeing the value of having at least a good menu translation in English, the international traveling language, and eventually other languages of popular tourist nationalities.
    Should you ever feeling like suggesting to a restaurant that they need their menu translated or revised, don't hesitate to send them to my business' website: http://www.menu-alacarte.com/en
    Looking forward to more of your articles.

    March 19, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  2. Kate

    I completely agree with the guy who said to look for the big trucks. I've traveled a fair amount, and that's good advice. I also think that most truck drivers probably prefer good food to grease and fast food – I'm pretty sure they're just as discerning as the next person – and probably more so because when they do get to stop, it better be enjoyable. That said, I want to add that the same sort of thing is true in other parts of the world. I spent the fall in London, and am living in Paris at the moment, and it's always a good idea to ask the locals, and pay attention to where they eat. Which doesn't mean it isn't a good idea to prepare before you go somewhere (look online, read the guidebooks, etc.) – but consider the source. Most popular tourist places often don't have very good food. A much cheaper alternative might end up being the best place you've ever eaten!

    March 16, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  3. Nophah Kingweigh

    In Hawaii, ask the person at the local t-shirt shop. Works like a charm for me every time. In New Orleans, ask any bartender. In Chicago... you can't go wrong. In Vegas, just get off the strip. In LA, look for food trucks. In Portland, go to Jake's.

    March 14, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  4. The Witty One

    If you really want to have the best tasting food ever, just don't eat for four days. At that point, you could eat anything and it would taste like it was drizzled in truffle oil...just sayin'.

    Hunger is the best sauce!

    March 14, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
  5. Buck

    I agree with the article in that Montreal is a great place for those people that love good food. I went there on a two week business trip and invited my fiance up there for the weekend. Good thing I did because it turned into one of the best trips we've ever experienced mostly due to the food experiences. They also have a convenient subway system that works great for tourists because you can pretty much hit all the interesting locations without ever having to drive or get a taxi.

    March 14, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
  6. Wastrel

    Blah blah. I was on a road trip with a friend, and we stopped in Bishop, CA, while driving up the backbone of the Sierras on the way to Tahoe. We chose a motel, and right across the street was a Denny's, and my friend said, "Oh good, we can have breakfast at Denny's tomorrow," to which I replied that we hadn't driven 2000 miles to eat at a f***ing Denny's. I went out to a watering hole that evening, because I was thirsty of course, and asked where to get the best breakfast in town, and was told where itwas. Make a local friend and ask. That's the best way to do it.

    March 14, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • Loyal Northern Democrat

      Dave's Crazy Turtle?

      March 14, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
  7. Don

    When in Rome, eat at Matricianella. The service will be horrible and you'll get the worst seat as a tourist. However, that's because they're so busy serving regulars. Be patient and you will be rewarded.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  8. ohmy

    Maybe a lot of international tension is why people are reluctant to travel abroad on top of the cost.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  9. @amwaters

    I was recently in a town in California for a few days for my husband's work. I went to check out food specialty shops and came upon a spice shop and also an olive oil shop. Also chatted it up at a kitchen supply store. Great advice on where to eat. I sense these types of places are more likely to be tapped into local food scene. Will do that trick again. Received great ideas. A good way to avoid the chain type recommendations.

    I also find urbanspoon.com to be a good place to start to get ideas or to lend credence to recommendations from the locals.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  10. KMW

    I just returned from London and had a lovely time there. I stayed in a very nice four-star hotel which I found through Orbitz. I was upgraded to a bigger room since I have stayed there a few times before.

    I ate each morning at Costa Bros. cafes and had a delicious cappuccino and blueberry muffin. I splurged a few times and one morning ate at The Wolseley and ordered their eggs benedict which turned out to be the most delicious ones I have ever eaten (I live in Manhattan). The service was excellent and I cannot wait to return the next time I am n London.

    I also had tea at Claridge's which was wonderful. The tearoom was beautiful and the service was one of the best I have experienced. Again, I plan on returning and hope to sit at the same table.

    I had fish and chips a few times and also some very good Italian food near my hotel. You can travel almost anywhere in the world and still truly enjoy yourself. I did not come home penniless but neither did I scrimp during my vacation.

    I planned well in advance and I am now saving for my trip next year. I am buying fewer outfits in department stores and shops (you can only fit so much into a Manhattan apartment) and saving for my next vacation.

    I highly recommend travel as you learn about new cultures and meet so many fascinating people. I did during my travels and have so many wonderful memories. I am already thinking about my next trip and counting the days I will be leaving.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • Maxine

      I couldn't agree with what you said more! Don't stick to constantly traveling in the United States. Branch out and experience other cultures too. London is certainly an easy trip from NYC... but for anyone in the USA Italy, France, England, Spain, & Germany are also very easy to plan and visit. Stay in the big cities and most will speak English. It really has never been easier to travel.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:21 am |
      • KMW

        Thanks Maxine. I also agree with you. We are both on the same page and both love to travel.

        March 14, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
  11. RichardHead

    When I clicked on this, I assumed it meant traveling around the U.S.A. Silly me....with the economy the way that it is,Look for the BIG Trucks. ALL Truck Drivers know where the Best Groceries can be found. Plus,you'll be called HON and get the best cherry pie or chocolate cake ever made.

    March 13, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • Max

      Cherry Pie and Chocolate Cake? Meh. I'll take Pad Thai in Thailand or Duck in Beijing or Pizza in Italy or Coq Au Vin in Paris. You'd be surprised how inexpensive international travel can be these days. I spent a month in Italy & France for about $5,000... and that was staying in moderately price hotels. Hostels are even cheaper. Families spend $5000 in a week in the US going to Disney World. Or $2000 in a week in New York or California. I spent that in an entire month in Italy & France. The U.S.'s overall economy usually has little to do with you or me as an individual (unless you are in the statistics who are unemployed).

      March 14, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • max

      Follow the Big Trucks? To the Truck Stops, Fast Food restaurants, Portable Toilets, and fastest route the greasy deep fried lard joint?

      March 14, 2012 at 10:42 am |
      • Noxious.Sunshine

        I hope this posts.

        I'm honestly sincerely offended by that comment. My parents are/were very hard working truck drivers & the most amazing ppl you could ever hope to meet. They can no longer work due to my dad's latest heart attack in June '11 & just 2 wks ago, his 4th stroke.

        Sure they sometimes dine in truck stops, but my mother most often cooks her famous Southern Comfort fare (no, she rarely fries anything, nor does she use lard) in their truck. She has a 2-eye stove top, convection oven, & ddcent sized fridge/freezer combo that is basically a scaled down version of what you see in a house. Most truck dri ers at the very least have a small bathroom/porta pot in their truck. My parents have a bathroom/shower combo.

        BTW, they did military work & served our country the same as those in the army.

        March 15, 2012 at 2:40 am |
      • Noxious.Sunshine

        Anyway, I can't wait to go to Mexico with my fiancee whenever we get married. He owns a working ranch with his dad & grandfather up in the mountains of Hidalgo (1 of the states). They make their own cheese & whatnot. All that yummy homemade stuff... Um. Except for tripa, menudo, or stomago. Cant do it. Lol.

        March 15, 2012 at 2:46 am |
        • Noxious.Sunshine

          Oops. Didnt mean for that last comment to go there lol.

          1 last thing, yes, there -are- the sleazy meth-head truck drivers, but don't forget... Truck drivers are kind of the backbone of this country... And more often than not, they're more than willing to help out when help is needed.

          And if worse comes to worst (i know I probably flubbed that), 1 can always get a cdl & become a truck driver. Like my Dad says, the pay may decrease & fuel costs increase, but it's a check in the bank account & a profession that will never go away.... Unless we run out of oil to turn into diesel fuel, I guess. Heh.

          March 15, 2012 at 2:52 am |
    • Ms. Grammar

      Right there with you, RH, hon! How's WD?

      March 15, 2012 at 11:48 am |
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