Last Word: When a love of dining and travel collide

Divine intersection.

  • Category
    Eat & Drink
  • Written by
    Michele Garber
  • Illustrated by
    Christine Georgiades

The pure joy of travel lies in discovering a destination’s uniqueness. Its sense of place. Though there are many reasons people choose to travel and innumerable attributes that draw people to visit a particular place, there is perhaps no better way to truly experience a destination and understand its essence than to eat the local cuisine.

Most avid travelers know this instinctively. It’s one of the most wonderful aspects of a journey. The scents and flavors to be discovered in some far-off place and the camaraderie created over a shared meal make a trip memorable.

Anthony Bourdain knew this. He understood the intersection of food and travel. He captured this magic and shared it with his legions of fans in his show Parts Unknown. Though Bourdain could be sardonic and snarky, he managed to communicate the beauty of a lesser-known place through its culture and cuisine, making our world a little bit smaller.

Bourdain visited some remarkable places where I may never go, and he ate some unusual foods that with certainty I will absolutely not eat. Yet he also ignited in me a desire to expand my horizons, piquing my interest to visit places and try things I hadn’t previously considered. It was his ability to expand one’s interest in the world that made him so compelling and made his tragic death feel so personal.

For decades—long before Parts Unknown aired—a core tenet of mine has always been that when traveling I purposely avoid places where tourists eat and seek out the local spots. There is an easy way to do this.

First, and somewhat obvious, ask locals where they eat. This works especially well for domestic travel, as you can seek out locals you trust and ask questions to shape the suggestions you receive.

Second, if you are independently looking for a place to eat—especially when traveling abroad—avoid restaurants if their posted menu has pictures of the food or is translated into multiple languages or offered in multiple currencies. And don’t be afraid to wander off the main roads. It’s often the tiny hole-in-the-wall with 10 tables that may be a hidden gem.

Once you’ve found a local joint, entrust your order to the chef or server. They can be your Sherpa—guiding you through what is fresh, unique to the locale and their house specialty. This maxim works especially well in Italy and Greece. If you surrender ordering to the house, you likely will be enchanted by a multi-course, perfectly portioned and paired meal to remember … most often at a remarkably reasonable price.