I’ve written in the past about my attempts to eat local food when I am traveling. This may seem obvious while vacationing on an organic farming Tuscany, but less so while in London. Still, the way I eat at home has fundamentally altered the way I eat elsewhere, whether I am working or traveling. While on my latest trip to Italy (a return to the beautiful Spannochia in central Tuscany), I saw three very distinct ways that eating local has actually improved my travel.
Vetting Restaurants. So much dining out when you travel can be a lot of fun, but the search for something worthwhile can also be exhausting. Whether the restaurant has ceased to exist since your guidebook was printed or the address of buildings seem to have no logic whatsoever, we’ve all found ourselves in that miserable state of hunger and fatigue from a fruitless search. You might think that in Italy it’s hard to have a bad meal. While that may be true (though I certainly don’t want to conduct that experiment and be proven wrong), it is also difficult to find a truly outstanding meal in the heavily-touristed places I have recently travelled to in Italy. (E.g., Most of the gelato I tasted was actually inferior to Philly’s own Capogiro.) The Slow Food organization has been indispensable guide to quality restaurants in Italy. Any meal I have eaten at a Slow-Food-endorsed restaurant has been outstanding and because its food is somehow indicative of its location, quite unique and unlike anything I might have here. Also, as much as I love the good folks at Lonely Planet, they are not restaurant critics by any stretch.
Getting off the Beaten Path. Though I am not a particularly intrepid traveller, looking for local food has made it a bit more interesting. Even when I purchase imported wine, I try purchase from small wineries that are organic or biodynamic. (Down to Earth Wines has been a consistently excellent source for them.) In fact, through a recent purchase from Down to Earth, I was very impressed with wines of Montenidoli – so much so that I arranged a tasting when we traveled to Italy. For nearly two hours, our host, Alberto, graciously showed us the estate and discussed their impressive wines. Montenidoli is, however, quite far off the beaten track, even in such a heavily touristed area.
Eating Less Formally. For whatever reason, I tend to think of sitting down to three proper meals when I travel. I have been drifting from that recently, and I suspect it has something to do with years of going to farmers markets and eating from food stalls. Now when I travel, I try to continue this “informal dining.” This was particularly true of our time in London, where we had fantastic – and fantastically cheap – meals at both Borough Market and the Sunday Upmarket. This both left more time for sightseeing and more money to spend on dinner at such fantastic places as Terroirs Wine Bar.