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?

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.

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  1. There was a Burger King in Germany that we loved stopping at on the way to other destinations. It was part of a gas station stop, so very convenient. I also admit, every once in awhile I live a Starbucks coffee, regardless of where I am. Finally, in Rome, the Hard Rock Cafe was the only restaurant that was open past 11pm, which was the time we had arrived there and were starving!!!!

    1. Nothing wrong with any of that Michele! I don’t think anyone should be stigmatized for what they eat lol

    1. The great thing is that you’re open to both Stephen! 🙂

  2. Jake Wengroff says:

    You nailed it: it is indeed all about finding the right balance between cultural curiosity and familiarity. Bravo, Vicky, bravo!

    1. Thanks so much Jake!! 😀 It really is all about balance.

  3. We make it a point to eat at non-chains when we travel. We can get the chain food at home!

    1. That’s true Scott, but keep in mind that the chain restaurants might serve different items. 😉

  4. We almost always try to eat at local restaurants both at home and when we travel. Sometimes, however, there’s comfort in the old favorites.

  5. I’m very adamant about buying and eating at local places so this definitely hits home with me. While I cook the majority of our meals at home, I like to keep the money local for those small business owners supporting their families. However, that McDonald’s Diet Coke is a weakness. 🙂 But I agree, you really don’t get all you can from traveling unless you indulge in the local culture, food and all.

    1. Hi Melody! I think we all have a weakness when it comes to certain fast foods. I don’t see anything wrong with the occasional indulgence as long as we’re also trying to experience new local foods as well.

  6. Definitely finding the balance. We live in Chiang Mai and although we LOVE thai food…sometimes we find ourselves craving for burgers and pizza!

  7. if you are travelling with kids it’s something of a necessity sometimes I think. And, if you just want something familiar, why not!

    1. Hi Fiona! That’s a great point. Kids aren’t always as adventurous when it comes to trying new food.

  8. I agree that when feeling a bit out of place in a foreign places, chain restaurants can make you feel a bit more at home I would never judge anyone for eating wherever the hell they want! I think it is nice to give back to the community a bit by buying from local businesses 🙂

    1. Hi Natasha! Thank you for your comment, I think it’s important that we never judge each other. The whole point of traveling is to learn and be more open minded right?

  9. I usually just try local cuisines and avoid chains but then I noticed McDonalds would have local specials per country. I go for those too— what’s different. Back home we have chicken and rice.

  10. I am alway advicing people to eat at local places, but that also applies to your own hometown. I don’t particularly liek chain restaurants in general let alone fast food liek Mcdonalds. Of course sometimes you would crave pizz so why not hop into an italian restaurant and have a delicious Margarita. It doesn give a sense of familiarity.

    1. Hi Sia! That’s true, we should always remember that this topic can apply to our own hometowns as well, not just when we travel.

  11. I think that each person should do whatever they want and not worry about being judged! Sometimes, if I’m traveling for a long time, and I see a Starbucks or McDonald’s I pop in just because! And you’re right – the fast food chains all over the world are different! Here in korea, there are bulgogi burgers and kimchi burgers at McDonald’s!

    1. Omg, I’d love to try a bulgogi burger!! And thanks for thoughts on this topic Katie! 🙂

  12. Lorayne Woodend says:

    Fully agree with your article ! McDonalds in Japan for instance will allow you to try all sorts you’d not find anywhere else but I wouldn’t think domeone was really experiencing a place if they didn’t try some local places/foods

    1. Hi Lorayne! Thank you, I would love to see the menu at a Japanese McDonalds!

  13. I am a big one on embracing local cuisine, but I don’t feel like I should be judged for sneaking a maccas to try if I feel like it.

  14. Interesting! I always try to eat at local restaurants, unless I’m not sure about the levels of hygiene. But each to their own, whatever people feel more comfortable with. I like going to McDonald’s when I’m travelling, as in many countries they have sandwiches based on local cuisine. It’s quite fun. 🙂

    1. Exactly! It can be very fun Pedro. Glad you agree! 😀

  15. Shane Prather says:

    I agree – this is very two sided debate. I love checking out the differences in menus at McDs and Sbux around the world, but of course it’s always best to get a taste of culture by eating local 🙂

    1. Hi Shane! I think it’s ok to have both, but of course local is better to really learn about the place you’re visiting. 🙂

  16. I do both. Cuisine is a huge part of the travel experience for me, so I eat local as much as I can. But sometimes you just have a bad day, all you want is a reminder of home, and nothing beats those too salty fries and a coke from McDonalds.

  17. We travel to get a taste of the country’s finest stuff they can offer. From their beautiful scenic spots down to their interesting food.
    We can get chain food easily. 🙂

    1. That’s very true Dave. Keep in mind though that sometimes chains can have area specific items on their menus as well. It might be cool to try it! 😉

  18. Great point on blending in with the locals where they eat. It’s a mixed bag for me regarding chains but I do notice when I go to places like McDonald or the last time was Chili’s in San Juan that zero tourists were there. It does make me appreciate the atmosphere if not the chain.

    I also do tend to put a higher priority towards local mom/pop restaurants because toursits hardly go there. Just the serious foodie traveler. Again, a mixed bag type of feel but in the end both types of places are supporting the locals.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Mark! I might have gone to the same Chili’s in San Juan! lol Not by choice though. The group I was with insisted, I would have rather gone to a local restaurant. But like you said, both support locals. So it’s not all bad.

  19. Sometimes when we travel our budget requires us to do that $4 Wendy’s meal or perhaps pick up a sub at Walmart. Not ideal. We do strive to eat at local places and sometimes that can include a local and/or regional fast food chain that we do not have where we live. In fact, I wrote a piece just on these chains we’ve found in our travels. In specific parts of the country, there are items we seek out that we can’t get easily at home and often that means eating locally or shopping locally.

    I also remember the day my son and I spend in New York City. We were in that part of Manhattan where things were either way to pricey or it was all chain restaurants. We ended up eating at a McDonald’s and much to our surprise, they had the same value menu pricing we had back home in TN.

    1. Hi Clayton, thank you for your perspective. I think it’s great that you do strive for local restaurants but are still open to chains. Sometimes you just gotta take what you can get.

  20. This is an excellent post. I think people can get too wrapped up in being “authentic” rather than going with the flow. Also, the corporate restaurants do employ local people, so it isn’t ll that bad. This being said, I think you nailed that it is really about balance.

    1. Thank you Kevin! Yes, balance is key. So glad you enjoyed the article!

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