Do you only eat local food when you travel? If you eat at a fast food or chain restaurant, does that make you a bad traveler? Let’s discuss.

Should You Only Eat Local Food When You Travel?

Recently, I was having dinner with a good friend of mine and we were talking about our travels and all of the different kinds of food we’d eaten along the way. We got into the topic of fast food restaurants and chain restaurants such as McDonald’s and Starbucks and whether or not we eat at them while we travel.

Eating local food like curry chicken in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Eating curry chicken in Siem Reap, Cambodia

I know there are a lot of people out there that will not eat at a chain restaurant while they travel. They want their experience to be more authentic and will only eat where the locals eat. They search for hole-in-the-wall eateries and little known hidden gems.

Eating escargot in Paris, France
Eating escargot in Paris, France

I think that is what travelers should do to really get to know the people and culture of an area. I know that when I travel I try to experience new things. I’ll try anything once. However, I do also go to places like McDonald’s, Hard Rock Cafe, and Starbucks.

Why? There are two main reasons…

1. Curiosity

I think it’s pretty cool that when you eat at McDonald’s in different countries, their menu is tailored more towards local favorites. For example, the McDonald’s in Thailand serve pineapple pies instead of apple pies. In Germany, they serve the McNürnburger, which has three Bratwurst served on a bun with mustard and onions.

I stopped in to this McDonald's on Kuta Beach in Bali, Indonesia
I stopped in to this McDonald’s on Kuta Beach in Bali, Indonesia

Our friend Steven of Steven On The Move currently lives in Japan with his wife, Katie. I always see on Instagram that they are eating and drinking at local bars and restaurants. However, that doesn’t stop them from going to chain restaurants too. The Japanese fast food items that they’ve tried look pretty interesting and I think it’s cool that they get to try these different meals.

McDonald's Gohan chicken sandwiches have rice patties in place of buns. Photo Credit: Steven Ericson
McDonald’s Gohan chicken sandwiches have rice patties instead of buns. Photo Credit: Steven Ericson
KFC Tsukimi Sandwiches are seasonal sandwiches to celebrate the autumn festival Tsukimi. Photo Credit: Steven Ericson
KFC Tsukimi Sandwiches are seasonal sandwiches to celebrate the autumn festival Tsukimi. Photo Credit: Steven Ericson

So I think it’s great to eat local food when you travel, but if you’re curious about local dishes that are incorporated into fast food menus, feel free to check out a chain restaurant like McDonald’s or KFC.

2. It’s Familiar

Being open to trying new things is adventurous and awesome. So let’s say you tried those crickets in Cambodia (good for you!) but now you just want to eat something that you know will not make your stomach turn. Then maybe it’s ok to go and get something that you’re familiar with? Yes!

I know there have been times when I ate only local cuisine for a week. It was great and really tasty. But then there came a point where I just wanted a Papa Johns pizza. Does that make me a bad traveler? No!

eating local food like cuy when you travel
Eating cuy in Cusco, Peru
Breakfast at McDonald's in Bali
Breakfast at McDonald’s in Bali

Traveler VS Tourist

I think it all boils down to the constant debate of traveler vs tourist. If you don’t eat at local establishments, you’re an icky tourist. But I don’t think it has to be so black and white. Go ahead and get breakfast at a fast food restaurant, but make sure to try local restaurants for lunch and dinner.

While exploring Thailand, I ate breakfast at a Burger King but I also took a Thai cooking class where I learned all about local dishes and ingredients. I also became addicted to Pad Thai, but that’s a different story…

Learning how to cook Thai food in Chiang Mai
Learning how to cook Thai food in Chiang Mai
Having a White Chocolate Mocha in Mexico.
Having a White Chocolate Mocha in Mexico.

Final Thoughts On Eating Local Food When You Travel

It’s important that when we visit new countries and cities we are open to trying new things and having new experiences. But that doesn’t mean I can’t stop in to a Starbucks if I’m craving a white chocolate mocha. It’s all about finding a balance…

What are your thoughts? Do you think it’s ok to eat at chain restaurants? Or should you only eat local food when you travel? We’d love to read your comments below. 🙂

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Do you only eat local food when you travel? If you eat at a fast food or chain restaurant, does that make you a bad traveler? Let's discuss.