Dodge the touristy joints and dine like an insider. Victoria Stewart spills the beans (Image: Victoria Stewart)
We can all spot the dives: laminated menus in five languages; staff outside touting cut-price prix-fixe; plastic food on display… But how do you find those secret spots the savvy locals frequent? Follow these rules and you’ll never eat ‘tourist food’ again…
Broaden your horizons
What restaurants serve and citizens eat can be very different. Across Turkey, for example, tourists go for kebabs, yet karides (baked prawns) with chilli butter is a home staple. For real cuisine, dine at someone’s house. Food-sharing websites such as eatwith.com or vizeat.com hook you up in hundreds of cities, including NYC and Paris, while grubclub.com specialises in (more refined) London supper clubs. Look at star ratings posted by diners: 4/5 or higher equals reliably good. Top picks include host Yo’s ‘Kasseler pork with knödel’ for £21 in Berlin or, in New York, an evening of ‘American home cooking’ for £29 with fashion business consultant Clare (both at vizeat.com).
Spot the online stars
Web reviews are everywhere but many are poorly written or of dubious origin (unlike us, there’s no proof that the ‘reviewer’ actually dined there). So stick to online reviews by accredited local foodies. Search social media such as Twitter, Instagram or Facebook for destination-specific tags (#Oslofood, say, or #Stockholmrestaurant) to find current feeds and blogs run by chefs and regional critics, the people who should know their stuff. And check out cookbook writers for the area — try hashtags such as #Greekcookbook or #Romecookbook — then get in touch for ideas. If they post regularly on social media, chances are they’ll be keen to interact.
Grill your host
Booked with Airbnb? Ask your host for tips when you book, to save time researching on arrival. Quizzing hotel concierges can be iffy, as they might get backhanders from restaurateurs. That said, reception staff and porters like chatting about themselves, so ask what cafes under £10 they love or the great places that never see tourists. Then, ask the staff at those restaurants for more ideas in the area — most small businesses want to promote surrounding trade.
Follow ‘official’ suggestions
Taking a food-specific tour can be a good way to make great finds. For example, in Lisbon, our ‘Culinary Backstreets’ guide ushered us away from the long lines of tourists at famous pastel de nata shop Pastéis de Belém, and we ended up with an even-tastier custard tart in the centre of town, at the much quieter Manteigiara (culinarybackstreets.com). In a London tour of Brixton Market, we were introduced to amazing Caribbean saltfish dumplings from a hole-in-the-wall bakery. We’d have walked on by without our expert’s steer (mindthegaptours.com).
Originally published in The Sunday Times Travel Magazine, September 2016