We have friends we love dearly who are accomplished home cooks and avid travelers. From the moment we met them, my husband, Andrew, and I were drawn to their stories, particularly about food.
These friends love food with a passion that is contagious. They are always in search of the best, flakiest croissant or the freshest seafood the market offers, but never in a pretentious way. They are simply food enthusiasts and take immense joy in a high-quality culinary experience.
A few years ago, when these friends invited us to go on a food-based trip to Savannah, Georgia, Andrew and I said yes immediately. We barely considered that we had a 4-month-old baby or that our schedule was no longer conducive to long, leisurely dinners out at nice restaurants. We wanted to see Savannah through the eyes of our food-loving friends, who had lived there years ago while managing a bed and breakfast.
Savannah is full of gorgeous parks, live oak trees, and old buildings, but what stood out to me the most from our trip was the food. Our friends showed us where to get the fluffiest biscuits downtown and where to sit along the canal with a latte and a baked good so that we felt like we were in France. We enjoyed fresh grouper while our infant daughter slept in the car seat at our feet, and tasted jumbo shrimp dockside on Tybee Island.
The entire trip, from start to finish, was a delight for the senses, and I felt like the way we had really seen Savannah was through its food.
Food and Culture
When I recently interviewed cookbook author Regula Ysewijn, we spoke about the impact of food on culture. Indeed, a culture’s food tells a story about its heritage, pride, and values.
Food-based vacations are a great way to explore a new area because food is always more than just food. Markets, restaurants, vendors, and even grocery stores can teach us so much about what is important to a city or region.
Traveling, and food-based traveling, looks a little different in our current season, but it’s still possible. If a food-based trip is something you’ve always wanted to, here are a few ideas to get you started.
Research Food Typical to the Region
When we traveled to Savannah, we knew we’d be experiencing Southern comfort and low country food. We looked forward to fried chicken and waffles, fresh seafood, barbecue, and shrimp and grits. When we traveled to Tuscany, Italy, we expected to enjoy pasta, pizza, and wine. Of course, that’s not all we ate during our trip: Savannah is home to a variety of restaurants and cuisines, and Tuscany surprised us with the quality of their bakeries, but doing a little research about what the region is known for goes a long way in picking out restaurants and deciding what to order on the menu.
Use a Local Search Tool
Yelp is our best friend when we’re traveling, particularly when it comes to deciding what to eat. Before we travel, I often put together an itinerary of activities for each day. I then use Google Maps and Yelp to search around the areas I know we’ll be in for the highest-rated restaurants. Google Maps has a feature where you can actually save your itinerary.
When we exit a museum or park at lunchtime, it’s helpful to choose between two restaurants, rather than 20.
Pick Your Splurge Meal
Andrew and I have learned that the price of a meal restaurant doesn’t always equate with quality. We like to economize on our trips, but we also like to enjoy one nice meal out. We put a great deal of research into this meal, wanting to make sure it will be worth our time and money.
We make the reservation before we even leave home so that we know there won’t be issues getting in on the day of. Picking one splurge meal allows us to really enjoy and anticipate the food and the atmosphere.
When we went to Washington, D.C., a few years ago, I pored over different restaurants before picking Founding Farmers, a farm-to-table restaurant, for our splurge meal.
Visit a Local Market
We haven’t yet visited a city’s local market and been disappointed. In Pittsburgh, we loved wandering through the Strip District, buying a pizza roll or a pastry from a vendor. In Italy, the best coffee we had was bought on the go from a local bakery. Visiting local markets and vendors, more than any other place, shows the local vibe and flavor of a destination.
Some of the best places and hidden gems are found by asking other locals. We like to ask our Airbnb hosts, waiters, or coffee shop baristas for recommendations for their favorite foods or restaurants. Once, we even had a great cooking class recommended to us.
Food-based vacations are a wonderful, memorable way to explore an area. Wishing you the best of luck as you plan your culinary adventure.
Rachael Dymski is an author, florist, and mom to two little girls. She is currently writing a novel about the German occupation of the Channel Islands and blogs on her website, RachaelDymski.com