As summer is upon us, we dream about vacation and all of the delightful meals we will allow ourselves to enjoy while taking time out from our normal routine. In addition to indulging this summer, take the opportunity to open your mind (and palate) to healthy, delicious and locally sourced options available along your travels!
As the focus on fresh local food becomes more popular around the world, interesting alternatives to expensive and touristy restaurants are popping up everywhere you look. Traveling is my favorite pastime and as a registered dietitian who practices what she preaches, I am always on the quest to find equally tasty and healthy options while visiting new places. I have realized that my favorite food stops are often those frequented by locals, celebrating regional cuisine and produce, and sometimes located off the beaten path.
Here are my tips for finding locally sourced vacation meals:
Do some quick Internet research ahead of time for ideas.
Before a recent trip to Vermont, I found out about the Vermont Fresh Network, an organization focused on creating relationships among farmers, chefs and consumers to encourage more consumption of locally grown food. Sites like these are more prevalent as interest in locally grown food increases.
When you are in an area with an abundance of locally grown produce, take advantage.
Farmers markets are a perfect place to stop for enjoyable and low cost snacks or meals. You might also get a chance to meet locals and discover which restaurants serve the area's produce. While visiting Martha's Vineyard last summer, I found a hidden treasure — the Scottish Bakehouse, a bakery and café that uses local, homegrown ingredients from the farm situated right out back. We even had an al fresco meal while overlooking the farm! It was a great alternative to a fancy "farm-to-table" restaurant.
Find out which foods are local to the area you are visiting and search for places that specialize in native fare.
When foods are very fresh they hold their own delicious flavors — and are often prepared traditionally and simply, and as a result, healthfully. I recently took a trip to Barbados. There was a big buzz about the local Friday night fish fry in which different vendors would reportedly set up stations serving local catches in a beautiful setting right along the shore. Since everyone called it a "fish fry," I was a little worried the options would not be healthy. To my surprise, most vendors also offered everything grilled! It was all cooked on the spot and was some of the freshest seafood I have ever tasted.
Don't be afraid to ask around or listen in on where the locals are dining.
When you venture to areas where people live all year round you usually discover better food options that are also more budget-friendly. On a recent trip to Barcelona, while staying in the bohemian Gràcia neighborhood, I was lucky enough to stumble upon FASTVÍNIC! This is a place with a strong commitment to sustainable development, an eco-designed space, and a simple menu full of local, organic produce. The very casual setting allows for much better value than other restaurants offering fresh organic food of this quality in the Spanish city. Besides the delicious food, the coolest part of FASTVÍNIC is the 20 local and inexpensive wines available by the glass and rotating daily, served out of a do-it-yourself wine dispenser portioning out perfect 4-ounce, dietitian-approved servings!
So remember to keep your eyes open for nature's bounty this summer! Just because places aren't in a guidebook doesn't mean they're not the best options for your taste buds and your health.