How to Explore Your Local Food Culture: A Step-by-Step Guide

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I moved to a new city six years ago with two friends, big dreams, and no direction. I had no idea what the city was like or how to become a part of it, so I started with the best way I knew how—food! Today, I’m sharing a guide from experience gained through trial and error. 

First off, it’s important to know why explicitly local food is so important. The heart of a city’s culture is often in its local growers, chefs, roasters, and markets. Exploring each of these outlets will give you the chance to connect with the community. Interacting with the people that make up the culture can bring you closer to a sense of belonging in the area. Keeping an eye out for locally owned and sourced products also allows you to contribute to the local economy and promote sustainable farming and shipping practices.

Without further ado, here is my step-by-step process for exploring your town’s vitality!

Step 1: Start a list.

Before you think about what you’re craving for lunch, which is usually tacos for me, find a convenient way to keep ideas saved in a separate (and safe) place for later. You’re not going to have the time, or the cash, to visit everywhere you want to go in one day, but you might hit a streak of discovery and find your next brunch spot, a secret blueberry patch, and your next coffee roaster, all in the same hour. 

Need help getting started? Here are a few ideas: 

  • Start a list in the Notes app on your phone
  • “Like” places on Instagram or “bookmark” them 
  • Mark “favorites” on Google Maps 
  • Start a bullet journal 

There’s no wrong way to do it as long as it keeps you from forgetting a golden idea.

Step 2: Use multiple forms of media.

Once you have a way to keep track of the places you’d like to go to, you can start searching for your town’s hidden treasures. Here is a (not at all) comprehensive list of ways to discover local places:

Additionally, always be on the lookout during your commute or driving through a new area as using Google may lead you to ads for corporate-owned businesses, which can overshadow local businesses that don’t have the capital or the resources to buy ads themselves. Choosing the first thing on the list could cause you to lose out on some real gems!

Step 3: Start with what you love.

The initial search can be overwhelming, so start with what you know and love. Have a fully embraced caffeine addiction (I do!)? Skip Starbucks and stop in that local coffee shop with the tiny, blue door and order a mocha with extra whip and housemade chocolate sauce. Interested in finding the best fried chicken in town? Ask for recommendations on Facebook or Twitter. The possibilities are endless when it comes to finding delicious food and unique drinks. 

Step 4: Explore!

Your research will most likely be ongoing (as I’m sure you’ll want to continue exploring well into your golden years), but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun and learn a bit on the way. As you continue to interact with your community, be sure to ask others about their favorite spots, too. Research surrounding farms and see if they’re willing to sell directly to customers. Who knows? Learning about the town’s history could lead you to a long-established local classic. 

Summary 

Some final thoughts: If you have dietary restrictions don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and give the place a call. Any establishment worth visiting will be able to tell you what’s in what and whether or not they can accommodate your needs. 

Don’t go alone! Not just for safety, sharing time together while eating is a tradition that predates formal spoken language. According to anthropologist Robin Dunabr, eating together can strengthen relationships and improve your mental wellbeing. And, of course, you can order and try more that way.

Always have fun! If the pressure of broadening your horizons is stressing you out, take a break. Go back to a known favorite. Don’t let the fear of missing out turn your experience sour. If you aren’t having a good time, move on and find joy in what you do. Now go love your community with your hunger unleashed!

Looking for more ways to find local eateries? Download the Plates Diner app to see an interactive map of your neighborhood. 

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