Why do Travelers Eat in Tourist Restaurants?

Delicious vegetables on display in Java food shop

Delicious vegetables on display in Java food shop

Quite frankly, I don’t understand why anybody eats in tourist restaurants. Those places are way over-priced, charging two to four times the real prices for local dishes. The food is invariably a westernized version of the real thing, and not nearly as delicious. The settings are ho-hum and blasé. And they’re filled with other westerners. Is that really where you want to be when you visit a new country? Really?

Why would you travel all the way to a country that has a distinctive culture and cuisine then not eat at local restaurants? And sample the country’s authentic cuisine? With local people?

Afraid of the unknown?

Sure, local shops might not be as beautiful or as clean as westerners are accustomed to. Yeah, you might not know what the heck you’re about to eat. (though most of the time you can figure it out) And most likely the staff won’t speak English. The menu won’t be in English either, if a menu even exists. And you also won’t be in the company of other westerners, like yourself. But so what? That’s all wonderful, isn’t it?

Intimidated?

Is that scenario really so uncomfortable, so intimidating to everyone? Is it so beyond most people’s comfort zone that they won’t even try? I genuinely wonder what’s going on. Everywhere I’ve traveled, in every country I’ve visited since 1998, I’ve seen tourist restaurants packed to the gills with western travelers while local shops, just around the corner, have no western guests at all. Zilch. Just me.

Seriously, what’s up with that? Can anyone explain that to me? Please?

What’s stopping people? Aren’t new experiences and new cuisines part of the travel adventure?

Lash eating at warung in Java

Lash eating at warung in Java

It’s an adventure!

Anyone who makes the extensive preparations and planning entailed in traveling overseas to a new country, obviously has a sense of adventure, of curiosity, of risk-taking. So why does all that quizzical energy disappear when it comes time to eat?

What is so scary or unpalatable about local shops and food stalls? What ‘terrible’ thing is going to happen to you?

Get out of your comfort zone!

So what if you step into a restaurant and you get blank stares? So what if you can’t speak their language and they don’t speak yours? Smile! You can make yourself clear. Point to food on display or to another customer’s dishes. Smile and look friendly. You could always gesture that you’re not sure and you’d like to sample some food first. They’ll probably be happy to let you taste it. They’ll be delighted you stopped in. You’ll get some food. Eat it.

Outdoor food shop in Malaysia

Outdoor food shop in Malaysia

Meet locals!

So what if no other westerners are there? So what if you’re going to sit entirely with locals? Isn’t that why you’re visiting a different country- to see how other people live, to interact with them, to make new friends? How are you going to do that if you hang out with other travelers all the time?

Anyhow, why would you want to hang out with other westerners in foreign countries? You can do that back home.

Worried about a eating in a less than beautiful space? Last I heard, an unpainted wall, a dirty floor, a dim light bulb isn’t going to hurt anyone. Aside from perhaps members of a royal family, nobody’s going to salvage their reputation by eating with locals in a less-than-posh dining venue.

Local Indian restaurant in Malaysia

Local Indian restaurant in Malaysia

You’ll be fine!

Worried about sanitation of food, kitchen or eating spaces? Afraid you’re going to get sick? Well, I’ve been eating in such places for over 14 years and I’m still healthy and kicking. I’m living proof that you’re not going to die or even get seriously ill from eating in local shops, street stalls and markets.

Have I ever been sick? Sure, I’ve had minor food upsets. Travelers’ tummy. But I’ve also been sick from tourist restaurants and even upscale restaurants. In fact the worst food poisoning I ever suffered was from a upscale seafood restaurant. And that was the result of a fridge turned off at my guest house, nothing to do with the restaurant at all.

Skipping local shops and food stalls is not going to ensure you avoid bad food episodes while traveling. You’re likely to get sick from tourist restaurants, too. That’s part of the traveling terrain, no matter where you eat. In fact, even in the USA several outbreaks of food poisoning of one sort or other happen every year.

Any other objections?

Food stalls in Bali

Food stalls in Bali

Go try some local shops and food stalls!

Personally, I advocate skipping tourist restaurants and western cuisine entirely when traveling overseas. You’ll gain so much by taking the chance to eat at local shops and street stalls.

The food is invariably more delicious. It’s authenticity is without question. Prices are much lower. Eating with locals, who are not accustomed to westerners eating at their shops, is an entire experience in itself. Locals will be curious, shy, surprised, amused, intrigued, excited. You’ll get smiles and appreciative gestures. You’ll get hospitality. You’ll get appreciation.

Go on, make their day. I dare you.

Oh yeah: full reports, please.

Typical noodle dish in Indonesia

Typical noodle dish in Indonesia

  • http://www.migrationexpert.com/visa_us/ Chit of Visa USA

    Trying local dishes of the counties I’ve visited is a new
    thing and fun way to know the culinary cuisine of that particular place. I
    enjoy a lot on trying new dishes that’s foreign to me. I usually try local
    desserts because I love eating sweets.

    • Lash

      Hey Chit,  great- yet another traveler who loves trying new local foods! awesome. 
      cheers, Lash 

  • http://www.migrationexpert.com/visa_us/ Chit of Visa USA

    Trying local dishes of the counties I’ve visited is a new
    thing and fun way to know the culinary cuisine of that particular place. I
    enjoy a lot on trying new dishes that’s foreign to me. I usually try local
    desserts because I love eating sweets.

    • Lash

      Hey Chit,  great- yet another traveler who loves trying new local foods! awesome. 
      cheers, Lash 

  • Jake

    Just subscribed to your newsletter…can’t wait for the 100 Free Things in Asia guidebook!

    • Lash

      Hey Jake,

      Wow, thanks! HOpe you find loads of great things that you like to do… ARe you in Asia now? Or planning a trip there soon? Where will you go?  cheers, Lash 

  • Jake

    Just subscribed to your newsletter…can’t wait for the 100 Free Things in Asia guidebook!

    • Lash

      Hey Jake,

      Wow, thanks! HOpe you find loads of great things that you like to do… ARe you in Asia now? Or planning a trip there soon? Where will you go?  cheers, Lash 

  • http://www.GQtrippin.com/ Kieu – GQ trippin

    Wow. Looks like Java had better food than Bali! 

    • Lash

      yeah, Kieu, Java does have even better food than Bali!  …I actually eat Javanese food quite often when I’m in Bali too. But I was surprised to find a bunch of Javanese dishes that I’d never had before. Yum to  Java!  cheers, lash 

  • http://www.GQtrippin.com/ Kieu – GQ trippin

    Wow. Looks like Java had better food than Bali! 

    • Lash

      yeah, Kieu, Java does have even better food than Bali!  …I actually eat Javanese food quite often when I’m in Bali too. But I was surprised to find a bunch of Javanese dishes that I’d never had before. Yum to  Java!  cheers, lash 

  • http://traveljunkette.com/ Susan @ Travel Junkette

    Totally agree — street food and tiny food shacks are my kryptonite! 

    • Lash

      Yeah, more travelers who love street food!  great! Lash 

  • http://twitter.com/TravlJunkette Travel Junkette

    Totally agree — street food and tiny food shacks are my kryptonite! 

    • Lash

      Yeah, more travelers who love street food!  great! Lash 

  • Kathylittle8

    I have done what you do in several countries including The philipnes where I had no idea what it was and the people dint speak English either s had to work it out 

    • Lash

      Hey Kathy,

      GReat! I always love to hear about other adventurous travelers! Do you usually find good food? And is it fun? 

      cheers, Lash 

  • Kathylittle8

    I have done what you do in several countries including The philipnes where I had no idea what it was and the people dint speak English either s had to work it out 

    • Lash

      Hey Kathy,

      GReat! I always love to hear about other adventurous travelers! Do you usually find good food? And is it fun? 

      cheers, Lash 

  • Liz

    Great post! It always cracks me up when a TGI Fridays in Scandinavia or a McDonalds in Australia is full of tourists. You make good points… Why travel if you aren’t willing to try something new!

  • Liz

    Great post! It always cracks me up when a TGI Fridays in Scandinavia or a McDonalds in Australia is full of tourists. You make good points… Why travel if you aren’t willing to try something new!

  • Logonui1

    I think the issue with a lot of westerners is that they don’t go to a different country to experience the culture they go for the weather and to get away from work. If it was sunny and they had the same tourist type attractions in their home town a lot of people wouldn’t go anywhere.

    I think that’s the difference between travelling and taking a vacation. You may end up in the same country but the underlying reasons for going are very different.

  • Logonui1

    I think the issue with a lot of westerners is that they don’t go to a different country to experience the culture they go for the weather and to get away from work. If it was sunny and they had the same tourist type attractions in their home town a lot of people wouldn’t go anywhere.

    I think that’s the difference between travelling and taking a vacation. You may end up in the same country but the underlying reasons for going are very different.

  • http://www.ecotravellerguide.com/ Linda @EcoTraveller

    The reason I travel is to taste the food! For me it’s all about food stalls. Once you’ve had roti canai or nasi lemak for breakfast it’s hard to go back to boring old toast.

  • http://www.ecotravellerguide.com/ Linda @EcoTraveller

    The reason I travel is to taste the food! For me it’s all about food stalls. Once you’ve had roti canai or nasi lemak for breakfast it’s hard to go back to boring old toast.

  • Ego Bond

    Lash, the reason sometimes is very simple. It is very difficult in a short timespan to find a proper local spot. Try to find one in a center of Paris for example (most what you can find will be the touristic rests).

  • Ego Bond

    Lash, the reason sometimes is very simple. It is very difficult in a short timespan to find a proper local spot. Try to find one in a center of Paris for example (most what you can find will be the touristic rests).

  • http://www.smallworldbigmouth.wordpress.com/ SmallWorldBIGMouth

    I’ve just been writing about the same thing! (but specifically on Thailand) I actually get excited when I see those shoddy looking menus, plastic chairs and tables well stocked with sweet chilli sauce. I know that when I see these locals food haunts I’m guaranteed delicious food for next to nothing! But, I nearly always leave tourist restaurants disappointed. I took a driver around Bali and they kept on trying to make us eat at overpriced tourist places- thankfully the word Warung was a saving grace!

  • http://traveldestinationbucketlist.com/ Anita Mac

    I am with you…getting the local restaurant experience is such a huge part of experiencing the culture! Sure, if you are in a place for weeks or months at a time, tastes of home might be comforting, but really…you can eat that at home too!
    Happy travels.

  • http://traveldestinationbucketlist.com/ Anita Mac

    I am with you…getting the local restaurant experience is such a huge part of experiencing the culture! Sure, if you are in a place for weeks or months at a time, tastes of home might be comforting, but really…you can eat that at home too!
    Happy travels.

  • steph

    listen to yourself about the article

  • steph

    listen to yourself about the article