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Immerse Yourself In Local Food Culture On The Cheap

Mmm, fugu.

When traveling, it can be rough to figure out where to eat. Of course you want delicious food, but it can be difficult to find. Eating in tourist spots can be a real gamble. A place might be famous because it has amazing food, or it may just be in business because they have such high traffic it doesn’t matter if anybody eats there twice. Either way, they tend to be expensive and not where the locals eat.

Finding where the locals eat is also a tricky proposition. How do you decide what neighborhood to go to, or figure out which places are any good without giant stickers from Zagat and Yelp on the windows proclaiming their greatness? Without a guide who is an insider, it becomes an even bigger risk than the tourist spots.

What you should do is find a happy hour. It’s guaranteed to be cheap food that the locals like, and they are generally well-attended by adventure-seekers with lots of great stories to tell. Throw yourself into the situation and try some new foods by asking other people what they think is the best thing on the menu. As an absolute worst scenario, you’ve lost a small investment and can ask your new friends where to find some food that’s actually good.

Happy hours are always advertised inside hostels (they know their crowd), and any hotel concierge will be able to find one for you quickly if you just walk in off the street. Failing that, it is a safe bet that someone in their 20s on the street will be able to tell you more about the local happy hours than you ever wanted to know. Having a range of options means you can try different ones over the course of your trip to get a thorough experience of how the locals spend their time.

Justine Sharrock spent two weeks in San Francisco just eating at happy hours where the food was free. While I wouldn’t recommend this purely for the sake of your arteries, she demonstrates that you can get a wide range of food for free in major cities, and even in small towns and rural areas they have unique selections of cheap eats. For example, in Missouri and Arkansas you will regularly find a large jar on the counter full of pickled eggs. If you go deeper south, you may find a similar jar full of large pickles that have been marinating in Kool-Aid, turning them red and sweet.

While these may not be the kinds of foods you typically look for, they are unique and more delicious than they sound. You will definitely gain the respect of the locals sitting at the bar when you go up and order a side of pickled eggs with your drink.

The picture up top is some fugu (pufferfish) that I ate in Hiroshima. The pufferfish has a deadly poison in certain parts of its body that can kill you within 24 hours after slowly paralyzing you, and there is no antidote. Very few people in the world are licensed to make fugu, as the cuts have to be made very precisely. When I found a place that had some, I knew I had to try it. It was absolutely delicious, and I’m still alive to tell you how delicious it was.

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