By Cordelia Solomon
Food is an important part of every culture. Traditional cuisine is passed down from generation to generation and functions as an expression of a places’ identity. As such, it offers travelers a unique lens from which to explore the culture of their locale. By taking your taste buds on a culinary adventure and exposing them to a range of authentic foods and flavors you’ll not only get to eat things that you’d have likely never otherwise tried, but you’ll also gain a deeper understanding of your destination’s history and traditions.
All that said, enjoying local cuisine does mean deviating from your normal diet, which can be stressful and scary. If you've ever had food poisoning, you know what we mean! But, don’t let it stop you. After years of traveling, we’ve come up with some simple hacks for maintaining a healthy and happy gut without missing out on local cuisine.
Ease into it.
The first couple of days in a new place are always the most exciting and usually when we overindulge. Instead of jumping right in and trying everything at once, take it slow. Our bodies are used to processing a certain diet, so introducing unfamiliar foods can be a shock to the system. To give your body time to adjust, start with milder foods before gradually moving onto more unique flavors. If your gut is happy, you’ll be able to properly enjoy your meals, and your trip!
Mix it up.
Don’t feel pressured to eat local food at every meal. Listen to your body and nourish yourself with food that make your stomach happy and energize you. For example, a traditional breakfast in most non-western countries consists of foods you typically would consider lunch or dinner. While you should certainly try it at least once, it’s also understandable to want a lighter fare. Starting the day with the right food for your body will not only make you feel better but will give you more freedom to taste the local delicacies you come across during your day.
Drink lots of water.
This is nothing revolutionary. Staying hydrated is important no matter where you are. But, drinking lots of water can also help avoid overindulging and other sicknesses. It’s hard to eat just one of something, especially traditional treats like Portuguese pastel de nata or Turkish baklava. And, feeling hungry makes it even harder! Filling up on water will not only keep you hydrated, but it’ll also leave you feeling fuller--a helpful hack for those of us that struggle with self control!
Eat your veggies.
Maintaining a balanced diet is important for your health. This is especially true when traveling. Eating vegetables is not only good for you because of the nutrients they provide, but also because their high fiber content helps your digestive system work more efficiently. As a result, you’ll feel more “normal” as you’re introducing new foods and flavors into your diet. To avoid getting sick in destinations without potable water make sure your vegetables and fruits are either cooked or peeled. Raw fruits or vegetables can be safe to eat if you wash them thoroughly yourself with clean (bottled) water.
Listen to your body.
When you immerse yourself in local cuisine, you’re exposing your gut to a lot of unfamiliar foods. Some things will settle well, while others might overwhelm your system. Pay attention to how you feel after you eat and avoid any spices or foods that make you feel bloated or sick in any way. These adverse reactions are your body’s way of telling you that it doesn’t like something. Listen to it and it’ll thank you!
Part of fully immersing yourself in and adapting to the customs of a place for a truly authentic travel experience, is eating as the locals do. The traditions that come out of the kitchen have long served as a way of preserving cultures and will teach you a lot about a places‘ history. Getting to experience these traditions by eating all the different cuisines from around the world and breaking bread with locals is one of the greatest gifts of travel. So, on your next trip don’t be afraid to deviate from your normal diet. Instead, practice these healthy habits and you’ll find it easier to enjoy every meal!