No longer a starving college student surviving off of fried rice, Spam, and eggs – I am fortunate enough to satisfy an appetite that doesn’t correlate to my stature and please my curious palette all over the world. Every year I make it a point to take a trip to a destination I’ve never been before. Most often I’m traveling to visit friends, because let’s face it – life’s just better when you share food with delightful human beings. So, this summer I’ll be taking nothing but a carry on size luggage and a drawstring backpack through Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Amsterdam. The lucky girl that I am, I will be making stops to see friends, old and new, in Dublin and Durham. And what the heck, while I’m out there I figured I’d make a few pit stops along the way in Edinburgh, York, Cambridge, and Amsterdam.
This will be my first time traveling to Europe.
My first time traveling internationally without a buddy.
And my first time traveling with the sort of appetite for coziness that I posses today.
If you’re like me when you travel, you plan the living daylights out of everything. Don’t get me wrong, I plan so that when things don’t go as expected I can immediately switch gears and have a plethora of options to choose from. This is especially true when it comes to planning what and where to eat. The food is the part of my trip I care most about getting right. I get it, we all want that magical journey where everywhere you go, you”just so happened” to stop by this amazing hole-in-the-wall restaurant with the world’s greatest fried chicken and biscuits, owned by an adorable elderly couple the locals call Mom and Pops. But let’s be real, how often does this actually happen?
With Cozy in mind and my perpetual quest for unique and delightful dining experiences, I took a new approach to how I planned and will decide on places to eat. Upon my return, I’ll follow up whether it was a success or complete and utter failure.
So here we go, steps for maximizing my dining experience abroad!
Step 1: What is my goal when I eat abroad?
I look for authenticity in ingredients and preparation styles, traditional foods with the flavors of history baked into the soul of the dish, and an experience of food, flavors, and people you just can’t get anywhere else. I’m anticipating what I’m looking for will present itself in independent, local, establishments serving their country’s comfort food. So that leads me to Step 2…
Step 2: Do my research.
This is the part of planning I enjoy the most. I start with the history of the cuisine of the country and get to know what the region is known for. I find that knowing a cuisine’s history gives food meaning and highlights the relationship between people and what nourishes them. After picking the bones dry from a cuisine’s history, I hone in on traditional “comfort foods” as well as modern creations, specialty ingredients and the like. I also like to do a little research on what people find as “cozy” in other places or if there is an equivalent. In Ireland I would suspect the traditional Irish Pub is the epitome of cozy, and in the Netherlands the concept of gezellidheid (similar to the more well-known Dutch concept of hygge) exists in more than just the dining experience. Equipped with such knowledge, I’ll know how to spot a cozy time when I see one!
Step 3: Search for places to eat.
Then, I finally find a few independent establishments serving up no-nonsense dishes letting the raw soul of their country’s cuisine shine. The irony of this all is that, likely the “best” establishments (whatever that means), are ones that don’t have fancy websites or Instagram accounts. Don’t get me wrong, just because a restaurant does have a social media account or website doesn’t mean it won’t be delightful either. One thing I keep in mind here is not to let reviews or the number of stars influence me when listing places to eat. Easier said than done, but poorly gaged expectations can make or break an experience. So, I take the recommendations with a grain of salt, and will form my own opinions.
Here are a few tips on discovering where to eat:
Surf the inter-webs for blogs that feature the city you are visiting. Figure out why you should visit their recommendation? Just because it’s featured doesn’t mean you have to go there. When I create a list of restaurants I always include a note for “Why go there?” (Is the restaurant known for a certain dish or do they have the best service in town? Is it the oldest pub in the country or is the restaurant a building repurposed from the war?
– Surf the inter-webs again for travel and culture publications that feature the city you are visiting. I found Culture Trip, Thrillist, and The Spruce particularly useful for both cuisine history and places to eat.
– Sign up for a food tour?! Um, yes, duh?! Best way to get a little bit of history and back stories. And you don’t have to navigate your way around so all that energy can go into eating and digesting.
– Try out the latest baby of technology meets food through meal sharing sites such as Feastly, VizEat, and Eat With. (No, they did not sponsor me to recommend them, but heck I’d sure love a job there!) These guys and gals connect you with local food enthusiasts or professional chefs who welcome you into their home or event spaces and cook for you! It’s like Uber and Airbnb, but for kitchens. Genius, I tell you.
– Talk to people! *Gasp!* No internet involved? Yes, this is my absolute favorite way to find quality establishments where no one cares what the food looks like, but it tastes heavenly and your meal is accompanied with souls to match. I asked my Airbnb hosts ahead of time and they all gladly provided a plethora of options with more to come.
– Walk around and keep your senses on hyper mode – nostrils open, eyes peeled, and ears clear. Anything that catches your attention, why not check it out? But do be careful, lines form for two reasons…because it’s a legitimate establishment or because it’s a tourist trap.
Step 4: Keep and open mind and open tummy!
Once I arrive at each of my destinations, I will have one or two places that are on my MUST EAT HERE list, but other than that, it’s more about having all of this in the back of my mind so when I do see a comfort food, I know whether to get excited and stop for a taste. Also, I always plan to keep an open mind and try food and establishments I hadn’t even come across in my planning.
Granted this is my first time really planning any trip with Cozy in mind, so let the fun begin!
I’d love to hear from you about how you like to plan the food and dining part of your trips?
Do you like to have specific places or wander around and sit down at the closest restaurant when your feet need a rest. Are you a free spirit who needs to eat anything and everything that you pass by? Do you like to know what you’re eating or be told after you’ve taken a bite off of something bigger than you can chew? Or do you like to know who owns the restaurant, how they came to own the place, what their latest inspirations are, and how they sourced the ingredients? Or if you’re like me, you find yourself asking, how did this food come to be?