(First of all, I really hate the word foodie- anyone else? So just indulge me, and today let’s call ourselves food nerds, ok? I may be crazy but it feels somehow a bit retro + friendlier!)
If you’ve been here awhile, you know we #traveltoeat- so most of our trips are planned completely around food. (Was there ever any doubt?) Eating what and where the locals eat is the best and easiest way to feel the pulse of the local culture, but if you are going to a new place, how do you figure it out?
Whether you consider yourself a food nerd or not – learning how to travel like one has its definite advantages. Since I love searching for ALL the food loving things, I wanted to share what I do when researching + visiting a new destination. When you think like a foodie and scope things out ahead of time, you can connect with locals and get insider info on the best places to eat, shop & wander. I hope these suggestions help make your next trip extra tasty.
(Get a copy of our Travel Like a Foodie Workbook that goes along with this post!)
Travel like a food nerd
1 | First things first- Research! Do a bit of homework ahead of time.
By exploring via Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook & Instagram- you can uncover lots of great tips. Find out what the local specialties are where you are going, how to tip, where to eat and shop. That way as you follow some of the other suggestions below, you already know a little bit about the basics and what dish or ingredient you HAVE to try. (are you on Pinterest? Come visit my Italy Travel Tips Board!)
2 | Plan your itinerary around food stops.
Ok, I’ll admit that this is my favorite thing ever- I love creating itineraries for food lovers. Tailoring the day around the best gourmet shops, kitchen stores, and markets to visit and explore in a certain area. Followed by, of course where we should have coffee, lunch, and dinner. Once those are figured out, I pick other non-food activities around those spots for us to visit. The makings of a perfect day in this food nerd’s world.
3 | Ask for food and restaurant recommendations on social media.
What did we ever do before social media? People love to help! By tweeting or posting your question using hashtags to identify the city or region or food you are asking about- you’ll get a lot of ideas.
4 | Do some digging with strategic hashtags on IG/Twitter
I used to think that hashtags were ridiculous until I realized how helpful they can be for research! By searching on Instagram and twitter using hashtags, you can find photos, experts, and opinions on nearly everything. It can be a bit of a rabbit hole, but also a fun project as you are planning your travels. (download my hashtag cheat sheet here)
5 | Follow Bloggers that live in or write about your destination.
Bloggers are well connected with the best places in town. By reading their blogs or following them on social media, you can get a wealth of knowledge, whether they are a food blogger or not. (Here are some of my favorite Italy Blogs to get you started.)
Insider tip: If you find their info helpful, why not write them a note and tell them? I know how much it means to hear from readers and you will make their day!
6 | Take a Food + Wine Tour
It just goes without saying that people in the food + wine business are perfect to get delicious advice from. They can tell you what is worth your time, what is not and everything in between. Food + wine tours can sometimes be expensive depending on your location, but I have always found them to be worth their weight in gold when it comes to having a meaningful experience, learning, and getting an insiders glimpse of life in Italy. Here are some of my favorite Italy Food Tours + Resources.
Insider tip: Do this early in your trip. (the first day or 2 is optimal) You will learn so much from your guide that will help you during the rest of your travels, like where to find the best coffee, gelato, how to use public transportation etc.
7 | Go to a local grocery store and explore.
This is a must do for all food nerds on any trip, in my opinion. Going grocery shopping at home can be boring, but seeing shelves of unfamiliar food, labels, and new options is intoxicating! I love to see what people in other parts of the world eat for breakfast, lunch or snacks and one of my favorite aisles is the spice aisle. I’m a sucker for branding and typography- so give me a little bottle of dried “rosemarino” to take home and I am a happy happy girl.
8 | Take a cooking class.
Even if you don’t think you like to cook- take a cooking class! Italian home cooks are a wonderful source of knowledge when it comes to practical ways to bring Italy home with you via the kitchen. They can share recipes, tips & tricks that you will never learn by reading a cookbook. Plus it’s a wonderful way to eat a meal with others, and get to know the area and your fellow travelers better. (bonus points if you learn to make a local specialty)
Insider Tip: If you have a dietary concern or allergy let your teacher know well in advance. They are happy to make sure the menu will work for your needs but the more notice, the better!
9 | Explore a local street market.
Get up early and shop with the locals. Villages in Italy are bursting with life and delicious things on market day, which varies from town to town. Here is a great roundup of markets from Eating Italy Food Tours to explore, and some more here from In Italy.
Insider Tip: Markets usually close around 1pm-(lunch time) So plan your days’ activities around when the market is open.
10 | Eat with a local.
This used to be difficult to experience unless you were really connected. I love that there are small companies popping up in Italy where you can dine with a local, both with and without a cooking class. I really enjoyed my time with Ristomama when I was in Rome a few months ago, and definitely recommend trying it on your next trip, whether you are alone or have friends traveling with you. It’s a great way to pretend to be a local, just for a night.
11 | Try something new.
Don’t order the same familiar thing (unless you are doing this)- try something new! Travel is all about new experiences, so try the special local dishes, order several things at your table and share them. It’s what all good foodies do. 😉
12 | Get advice from your waiter.
Be friendly with your waitstaff. Ask them what their favorite dish is and order it. If they seem friendly, I also like to ask them where their favorite place to get coffee (bar) is.
Insider Tip: Ok, you probably know that learning a bit of Italian will do you and your trip a world of good. Practice on your waiter! They love that you’re trying, especially if you laugh at yourself and have fun with it.
13 | Ditch the diet.
Really. Going to Italy is not the time to be dieting. Don’t binge and make yourself sick, but by all means, revel in your destination and taste everything you can! You’ll be walking everywhere, (and possibly up 5 flights of stairs) so it will all even out in the end.
14 | Take notes.
This may seem overkill, but even the best foodie can get details lost in the shuffle of a good trip. I love to carry a small notebook to write down the food I try, where I had it, and any other details I want to remember. (if you don’t want to take notes, take a quick photo of the menu with your phone of the dishes you order.)
Insider Tip: My favorite notebook for this purpose is a small Moleskine. I love to write down the dishes I loved, the atmosphere, details about the staff to help me remember the experience and be able to share with others. Bonus points for picking up a business card so you have the name and contact info on hand.
15| Eat local & Support small.
One of the most important food nerd commandments >> Avoid chain restaurants. (if you must, you can do that when you are home.) Support a family business by eating at local small restaurants and make friends while you are at it!
16 | Travel with a Fellow Food Lover.
By traveling with a kindred spirit you know you won’t get the stink eye when you take 12 photos of your cappuccino at varying angles, and you also know you’ll be allowed to taste everything they order. Win, win- if you ask me!
17 | Try Street Food.
You don’t have to be a food snob to be a food nerd. Delicious street food abounds in Italy. Try anything and everything you have time and room for. One of our favorite things to do in Rome is to make a whole meal out of street food- (a whole different take on a progressive dinner)
Insider Tip: Weekly markets often have great choices of street food/snack vendors.
18 | Visit Bakeries, Bars & Gourmet Shops.
Get your foodie fix by visiting local bakeries, coffee bars & gourmet or kitchen shops. While I love visiting churches & museums, I adore tiny little shops filled with kitchen equipment, fresh bread, espresso cups clinking or stacks of condiments in jars with tiny spoons.
19 | Travel during a food festival.
Ahhhh the food festival! Italy is bursting at the seams with festivals, especially in the summer and fall. The best ones are small local affairs in villages and centered around 1 singular ingredient. I’m looking at you San Miniato & Cannara! I dream of attending the truffle festival (San Miniato) and onion festival (Cannara) For extra credit- plan your travels completely around a food festival or event. The Olive harvest in Umbria perhaps?
Insider Tip: Check this website for food festival information. Dates can vary from year to year, but often they are in the same general time frame. (i.e. the 3rd Sunday in September)
20 | Edible Souvenirs.
Don’t forget to bring home a few goodies in your suitcase. Every good food nerd knows that the best souvenirs are edible. Locally made jams, homemade dry pasta & spices are just a few of my favorites. Make sure it’s allowed when you go through customs– and get things that are made by locals + hard to find where you live.
21 | Food Photos.
Finally, please take all the photos you want. If I was there I’d totally be helping you hold your plate at just the right angle to catch the evening light. Take lots- In fact, I want to see them when you get back!
p.s. Tag your Italy food + travel photos #smittenwithitaly on social media and I’ll share them!
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