Cuy Chactado (fried guinea pig), Cusco, Peru/Photo: Authentic Food Quest

By Rosemary and Claire, Authentic Food Quest

Note: the following tips are provided by Oak Parkers Rosemary and Claire, who offer solid suggestions for locating good, traditional food in other countries, food that provides a bridge to another way of life. Claire and Rosemary are co-founders of Authentic Food Quest.

When it comes to traveling, most people play it safe. The more exotic the place, the safer people tend to become with their food choices. At Authentic Food Quest, we aim to inspire you to travel through authentic food. By approaching your travels through food, you’ll find that you’ll be much more engaged, more deliberate and more immersed in the local culture. Even though you may be unfamiliar with the local food, work up some courage and consider giving it a try. Put any trepidation aside and follow these 5 tips.

1. Adjust Your Expectations

Imagine you have arrived at your new destination and food is on your mind. You can’t wait to try all the delicious local meals that are tempting you all over the place.

When it comes to the eating environments, you may want to adjust your expectations. For authentic foodie experiences, don’t expect 5 star service at your new destination. The standards of hygiene may also be lower than what you are used to. For foodie travelers, one thing to keep in mind is that the tastiest food may well be offered at venues that are maybe less outwardly inviting.

2. Dump Your Guide Book and Tourist Office Recommendations

When you want to understand what’s local, don’t simply ask your hotel for places to go. They will send you to the restaurants they think most tourists will like. Your guidebook will essentially do the same. For foodie travelers, the worst thing is to find yourself at a “recommended” restaurant eating with everyone else who read the same recommendation.

The tourist office is a great place to familiarize yourself with the local foods. You can get information about the local markets, food festivals and the vocabulary of the local specialties.

However, like the hotel or guidebooks, be wary of their restaurant recommendations.

Gather this list of tourist-safe recommendations – and then avoid these places! Venture out. See where your search takes you. Try something new. It would be a shame to go the distance and not try the local and authentic foods.

3. Explore the Markets and Food Stores

Follow your nose at the markets and food stores. At the markets, you get to see the local fruits and vegetables. You also immediately see what is fresh and in season. If something catches your eye, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Smile and use gestures if the language is foreign.

Try the local fruits. Buy prepared local traditional meals. Sample the specialties. Seek to understand more about the local specialties to help guide your food choices on your travels.

4. Stay Where Locals Stay, Eat Where Locals Eat

When making your hotel or lodging reservations, stay outside the popular tourist areas. Book in the residential areas. When you’re there, observe and tune into the local rhythm. Wander around the neighborhood and visit the food stores. Pop into the corner stores and ask about the local food specialties.

Most cities have touristy neighborhoods. These are usually very clean, with plenty of upscale restaurants and familiar foods. You will not have authentic food experiences in sanitized areas like these. In the local up-and-coming neighborhoods, you will be surprised at what you may find. You will discover eateries popular with locals that you would otherwise not find. You’ll have some of your best meals, at a fraction of the tourist neighborhood prices. One great way to discover authentic experiences is to stay where the locals stay and eat where the locals eat. 

5. Go to Specialty Restaurants for Unusual Foods

Sometimes, the local and authentic specialties may not excite you. In some places, the ingredients may be downright off-putting. If you are traveling for foodie experiences, don’t miss out on delicacies you may never have a chance to try again.

Cuy, or Guinea pig, is a specialty of Cusco, Peru. We were not particularly excited about trying it but felt we needed to as part of our quest for authentic food. For this once in a lifetime experience, we tried it at a restaurant that specializes in cuy. The only two available options were Cuy Chactado (fried guinea pig) or Cuy al Horno (baked guinea pig). We ordered the Cuy Chactado and looked to the locals for how to eat it.

Though we didn’t find the taste particularly distinctive, we were glad to have tried this indigenous delicacy, which dates back to the time of the Incas. Don’t fear the non-traditional ingredients on your foodie travels. Try them at specialty restaurants and create experiences that will last a lifetime.

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...