I am going to say something that could seem rather controversial. (Or, at least it does to me anyway.) I am not a professional food critic. Nor am I even a novice food critic. I am just a lover of food and a lover of travel. But I have a thought.
I believe local street food or local dining, whatever one wants to call it, can and often does beat a four or five star restaurant in quality and ambiance any day. What? Who does she think she is making a statement like that? I am no Anthony Bordain, Food Chanel critic, or French Michelin star aficionado by any means.
But, I want you to look at a photo for a moment and bear with me. The below photo of this little boy was taken outside of Maggie’s on Caye Caulker in Belize. He was trying to be like his Grandmother who owned the restaurant. He was trying to clean and BBQ his own fish. He was very proud and showed off his fish cleaning prowess to all of the guests much to their pleasure and his grandmother’s chagrin. He even got a curt warning when he tried to BBQ it himself. Clearly he wasn’t old enough to do so per his family. This little interaction in front of this beautiful view was one of my favorite and sweetest memories in all of Belize. Small local places often have ambiance that one would not necessarily expect.
While in Belize I had glorious street food daily. (See another post on Street Food.) I had meals that were extremely inexpensive, fresh, and local. But, what’s more the ambiance of these places added to the food experience. Eating lobster that was no more than four hours old from the sea at a restaurant where the owner’s children were running around barefoot and free is what eating and traveling is about for me. Additionally one’s expectations for a knock-out experience are far lower than when that same person makes reservations, valet parks their car, gets all dolled up, and orders four courses off of an expensive menu full of items that are hard to understand. Now mind you, I have had some delicious and memorable meals at fancy places and I don’t mean to discount them necessarily. Doing so would probably be silly and against the better judgment of people far more knowledgeable than me.
But eating at a local place feels good for a number of reasons. I feel like I am giving money to people who truly need it. I feel like I am getting away with something by paying little to nothing for fresh, local, and interesting cuisine. I feel like I am learning something about the local people and their food history. Eating at small places often sparks conversation with other locals or the owners of the establishment. And, I feel like I often have a memorable experience that oftentimes makes a trip.
I would argue that fresh local “negative star” restaurants outshine any four or five star place any day. I have experienced this over and over again traveling throughout the world and felt like talking about it on the blogosphere.
Tell me, have you ever had a fresh local eating experience that was memorable that you care to share? Do you share my regard for street food?