Luxurious restaurants or street food?

Where do you prefer to eat when you’re on your holiday?

Even before people come to visit this diverse country, people are already familiarised with ‘Mexican food’. Although this may not be the type of food that Mexicans would describe as typical, the world outside of its borders does. Therefore I was extremely curious to Mexican cuisine when I first arrived. Immediately I went to a local restaurant and had a delicious dinner: Quesadillas, Arroz, and Tacos. But hey, it didn’t taste at all like the ‘Mexican food’ I was so familiar with. No… this was way better. A new world of foodies opened up to me. Hoping that this will happen to every traveler, I started writing.

Have you ever thought about where your food is coming from? Searching through the internet, there is no need to say that this question arises more and more attention among people from all over the world. Organic food, fair trade – where not only food but also human conditions are considered – meetings, discussions etcetera. All this to raise consciousness. Healthy living, with good nutrition for body and soul – that’s what it is all about these days. And that is something fabulous!

So, what does this narrative have to do with cultural tourism and the tourism industry in general? Well, I am wondering how many people think about where their food comes from when they are eating at (local) restaurants on their travel destination. And how people choose their places to eat when on holiday.

A Mexican street market
A Mexican street market

Arriving at your destination, the choice is up to you. Going to a popular spot, you’ll have a wide variety of restaurants that might even serve dishes from your home country! Isn’t that great? To be honest… I think it’s something revolting. Why on earth would you travel that far to stay in your comfort zone as much as possible, knowing deep down in your heart, which beats with fear for the unknown, that the food has traveled for miles to end up at your plate?

Alternatively, you can choose to overcome your fear for the unfamiliar and go to local restaurants. Yes, there are a lot of stories about people getting really sick after a visit to such a restaurant. But if you take into account the following three golden rules, you should be fine:

  • Count the number of people eating at the local restaurant. If you are still not convinced, count for one or two days. Rule: Is the place empty? Don’t go there. Is the place filled with people of whom your destination is their home? Give it a try! It’s a popular place, which probably means good (and cheap) food.
  • Consider whether it’s a small restaurant, or a road stall. This makes a huge different, and often tourists confuse these two and gather them under the same name: local restaurant. Which is not true. Often, hygienic standards are worse at road stalls and are okay at local restaurants. Rule: is there a roof and official entrée, are there chairs and tables and an inside kitchen? Do the employees use clean cloths? Enjoy your dinner!
  • Make sure you are able to see the kitchen and the ingredients they use. You might come across local restaurants that use food that is exposed to the heath of the sun or dust from the road, because they store it (at times pre-cooked) at the entrée of their restaurant to attract customers. Rule: is the food stored inside in a cool area? Go there! Is the food window-exposed or is there no food visible at all? Don’t go there!

Following these rules, I am sure you will leave these local restaurants with a body that is nourished in a more healthy way than going to your comfort zone restaurant at Tourist Street!

If you have the opportunity to cook your own meals, go and get your ingredients at local restaurants and avoid supermarkets. It will enrich your experience of the culture you visit and gives you better inside into the country’s cuisine. For travelers who are able to speak the destination’s language, a market is the perfect spot to get in touch with their hosts. Before heading to a marketplace, always ask for (safety) information at your hotel/hostel and take the recommended precautions.

Salsas - you will find them everywhere
Salsas – you will find them everywhere

The reason why I wrote this piece is to increase awareness among travelers. Please think twice before choosing your place to fill your body and soul with aliments that will provide energy and health. Going to a local restaurant is not only better for yourself, it also helps the local community, local economy and local food production – which in the end is better for your body, because this means that the food did not have to travel so long before it ended up on your plate!

© 2015 by Debbie Vorachen – Ahorita YA. All rights reserved.

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