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It’s happened to most of us. Your aircraft touches down at an airport where you’ve never before been. You ride the shuttle bus to your hotel. Once you get through checking in and have a chance to see what sort of room you have, you sit on the edge of the bed and wonder where you might get a good dinner.
Tomorrow will be soon enough to consider museums, the ancient ruins or business meetings, or perhaps to go to a zoo to see the monkeys, or the dolphins, weird bugs, or whatever. Right now you’re tired, you’re suffering jet lag, and you’re hungry.
Of course, there’s no sure-fire way to guarantee three perfect meals a day wherever you are. A restaurant that usually serves the best food will pick the day you invite your boss or a client for lunch that they screw everything up. That’s life. Out on the road in strange cities or even more challenging, in strange countries.
Here I’ve listed some rules that have served me well for more than a decade. I’m a food writer and restaurant critic. This can be a real challenge because I sometimes have to go to iffy restaurants and look at the food that appears to me quite suspicious. Somehow over the years, I’ve learned to manage to do this without getting poisoned or wasting my time.
I wouldn’t advise this for the timid or picky, or for travelers satisfied with whatever is close to the hotel. But if you’re the more adventurous, and can face the thought of talking to prostitutes about goat meat, we can start with rule 1:
Rule No. 1: Get out of your hotel
You may be surprised to learn who best can steer you to a good meal in a strange town and country at two in the morning. At two in the morning? Who’s out and about at that hour? Strippers, escorts and working girls are up and about all night long. They know the town, and they’ve been inside every eatery that stays open past nine p.m. Therefore I say Rule No. 1 is that you must put your shoes on and get out of that hotel.
If you stubbornly decide to hide inside your hotel room, you may or may not be able to find a bite to eat in the middle of the night. Have you ever eaten a sandwich that came out of a vending machine? You have to get out of your hotel. Simple as that.
Great restaurants are outside the hotel for you to find. Some in areas that you wouldn’t expect a restaurant to be, like Kingfishers.
Sure, you say, but there must be exceptions to Rule 1. Trust me on this. There are no exceptions to Rule No. 1. It doesn’t matter if you’re stopping at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo and the great Monégasque chef, Alain Ducasse himself is ensconced downstairs in Le Louis XV and personally handing out free corn dogs.
You have to explore. Get lost. Eat. Experience. Later, perhaps, you can indulge your appetite with a Ducasse Dog, but first, you have to earn the right.
Rule No. 2: Forget technology. It’s stupid.
I don’t care how much money you spend on your gadgets with all their cutting edge technology. It doesn’t matter how much time you waste as you study online reviews posted by travelers who have gone before you, Murphy’s Law holds. You’ve been planning to visit the one restaurant you’ve read so much about. This is the one that gets all the accolades, the one you’re planning to visit, Guess what? The restaurant was recently destroyed by a freak cyclone or has simply closed or sold to the former owner’s idiot cousin who re-opened it as a combination discotheque and sushi bar only yesterday. Sorry, but that’s reality.
I have a three-step process I use to get quickly and intimately acquainted with any new city.
Step 1: I walk. You’ve heard the old saw: ‘Not all who wander are lost.’ Well, if you’re out walking without a fixed destination you can’t get lost since it doesn’t matter where you are. And when you get hungry…
Step 2: Stop and look around you.…