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?


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

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Lash, an expat American who's been traveling the world solo since 1998, immerses herself in nature, culture and the arts of countries she visits. She aims to inspire others to follow their dreams by sharing her cultural insights, narrative adventure tales, travel tips and photos at LashWorldTour.

Lash is the author of two adventuring guidebooks to Bali, which are available in 3 eBook formats on LashWorldTour and in print on Amazon: Hiking in Bali / Cycling Bali.

Catch up with Lash on Facebook or Twitter.

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