PHOTO: A bowl of pho. (photo via Flickr/DeaShoot)
Not only is Lainey Melnick a travel agent, but she’s also the mother of a Cordon Bleu Trained Chef.
Thus, her family vacations are all about the food.
“When we were in Japan and visited Hiroshima, we made a special effort to stop and try Okonomiyaki, a special layered pancake,” says Melnick, a Dream Vacations Franchise Owner and Vacation Specialist with ACC & Associates in Austin, Texas.
“You can take the recipe and try to make it yourself, but you can’t replicate this delicacy and many other local specialties exactly the same way that you can get it in the original locations. The best thing that you can do is experience the food of the culture that you are visiting.”
Imagine savoring the pizza and pasta in Rome, the schnitzel in Germany, the Borscht in Russia or the dumplings in China.
“Foodie travel is all about indulgence, tasting each bite and satisfaction through all of your senses,” Melnick says.
Having a positive culinary experience does require some strategy, however.
“Look for the local haunts and unusual experiences by getting some local intel, but don't simply ask your local concierge where to eat because they will most likely send you to a place they know tourists enjoy,” said Steve Lassman, vice president of product & agency relations for Villas of Distinction.
“If you want to try a little bit of every type of cuisine, plan your meals and restaurant outings ahead of time to ensure you get a taste of everything that culture’s cuisine has to offer.”
The best way to enjoy the food of a country is to eat it the way that the residents do.
“Ask people that live in the area or your villa staff where they like to eat,” said Lassman. “If you get to the restaurant and the place is crowded with people from the U.S., then you are in the wrong spot.”
Lassman also suggests enjoying a farm-to-table experience: “They usually are local foods that you have not tried before, like Stush in the Bush in Jamaica, a great vegetarian farm-to-table or Flora Farms in Los Cabos, Mexico.”
Local cuisine goes beyond the restaurant table, however.
“If you are booking a villa vacation, find out if a personal chef is included in the price of the villa,” said Lassman. “Chefs can create meals based on a guest's dietary needs and tastes. In some cases, they can choose local, fresh ingredients from the villa’s garden or a nearby market, bringing that area’s cuisine to the table.”
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Finding culinary experiences that are worthwhile can be a challenge. For example, Anthony Tucker, of All Inclusive Outlet said that looking for a great culinary experience when traveling to the Caribbean can be hard.
“In the all-inclusive sector, do your research and find hotels or brands of hotels that put a big emphasis in their advertisements on their dining experience,” he said.
“When looking for a resort with great food, the biggest mistake you can make is assuming that paying more to go to a resort equates to better food. Be sure to check out the restaurants that are on-property and nearby. Even though they are hotels first and foremost, some resorts will have such great restaurant options that travelers staying at nearby properties will come just for the evening to eat.”
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Tucker cited Karisma Resorts' "Gourmet Inclusive" experiences as a great example of a culinary focus.
“Offering "Chef's Table" dining experiences, special wine pairings from great sommeliers and a private greenhouse that puts an emphasis on responsible and sustainable farming, you really cannot go wrong,” he said.
Melnick researches the cities that her clients will visit and recommends the local delicacy.
“Whether it’s poutine in Quebec or travel to Girona, Spain, [I] specifically to try the famous restaurant El Cellar de Can Roca,” she said.
Melnick has a final, important piece of advice for all foodie travelers:
“It’s important to try new things, but don’t eat anything that makes you uncomfortable. That won’t be a good experience.”