New Place Presents New Tastes

by Alex Cheser
Columnist

I can’t stand Guy Fieri. Anyone who names dishes “No Can Beato This Taquito” or “Taj Maholla! Chicken” lacks culinary validity. However, there is merit in his popular Food Network show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” It is not only exciting but also very important to highlight the local food and restaurants that make your place of living and eating unique. People take pride in their local café, bakery or burger joint. It would make sense then to seek out these places when you’re traveling away from home, but often people will stick with fast food or national chains that they know. When I found out that I was going to Bloomington, Ind., this past weekend for the Out & Greek National Leadership Conference, I vowed not to do that.

There are several ways to search for restaurants. Do some research beforehand. There will always be reviews of places on the Internet, or you can just browse an online map to see what’s available. Most larger cities have some sort of tourism website through their city government or travel office. In reality though, what’s most effective is talking to locals. I knew Ashley Stafford was from Bloomington, so I inquired before I left and she excitedly gave me a list of her favorite restaurants. Even if you don’t know anyone from your destination, just ask around once you get there. Don’t be afraid to ask your hotel front desk or even people you come across in public because they won’t think it’s weird. It’s not like you’re asking them for a kidney. Main Streets, downtown areas and the areas near or on college campuses are usually great place to start looking for good and often affordable food.

Luckily for us, all of the places Ashley recommended were in between our hotel and Indiana University’s campus in the downtown area named Kirkwood. On the first day we stopped by Noodles & Company for lunch. It had the feel of a Chipotle but with noodles, obviously, and the pad thai I ate was pretty tasty. That night our group dined at Anatolia, a Turkish restaurant. I’d never had Turkish food before and was thoroughly excited. I ordered a delicious pide with feta cheese, spinach and sujuk, a Turkish-style pepperoni. A pide is similar to a pizza but was in a rounded diamond shape and had a light, buttery dough. We went to the Bloomington Bagel Company for breakfast both days. These were literally the best, freshest bagels I’ve ever had. I tried the Asiago cheese bagel with lox schmear and, at Ashley’s suggestion, the cinnamon sugar bagel with a mixed berry schmear. I know they were just bagels, but they were my favorite meals from the trip hands down. We ate lunch in IU’s student union once and I noticed they used Sodexho, too. There was a Sub Connection but most of us ate at Baja Fresh Express, which was like a Chipotle or Qdoba with a fresher menu. I had the mahimahi tacos with fresh avocado and enjoyed it quite a bit for a Sodexho restaurant.

Exploring local restaurants or even just new restaurants should be a priority when you travel. Eating what you already know from home is boring when you have the chance to try something brand-new. Plus, dining at locally owned restaurants puts money in the pockets of local people, not corporations. Besides, local restaurants are a better representation of the people who live there and their tastes. Eating provides such a sensual and cultural experience to begin with that engaging in food travel can be one of the best ways to become acquainted with an area or group of people.

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