We are all familiar with shows like “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” or Andrew Zimmern’s “Bizarre Foods.” Aside from popularity, these shows are really on to something. Food is such a central part of the culture of a place, both internationally and regionally. (You don’t go to Maine for the best catfish.) Food is an integral part of the travel experience. Food is a way to get to know a place. In Japan, eat the best ramen of your life; in New York eat a hot dog from a cart. In Italy, try every flavor of gelato. The types of food, the way you eat them, and when and why are all part of experiencing a place. If you stick to chains and familiar entrees everywhere you go, you are missing out on one of the biggest pleasures of travel. In many countries, there are traditional foods you really only eat for special occasions. Most of us are well acquainted with the Christmas turkey, but have never heard of a mooncake –– a delicious treat you must try if you are ever in China for the Mid-Autumn Festival. If you know you are going to be in town for a festival in any city or country, it’s a great opportunity to try exotic and interesting foods. People like Guy Fieri (of Diners, Drive-in and Dives) and Andrew Zimmern travel all over the place to try new foods. And they aren’t the only ones cataloging food adventures. There are food bloggers in basically every city. I highly suggest finding a food blog dedicated to your next destination city before you leave. I’ve recently started following Serious Eats, a food blog for New York. I wish I had started reading it before my last trip to the Big Apple. I would have eaten so well. Food blogs are great resources to find quality recommendations, and you’ll usually know what you’re in for as far as price and atmosphere too. Benefits to eating local foods, aside from experiencing the culture of a city, include better health on the road. You may have heard this before, but it’s one of the best pieces of travel advice I’ve ever been given: eat yogurt. This is especially important if you are traveling internationally. Yogurt is a surprisingly advantageous travel food. It has probiotics and cultures that will help your stomach adjust to new cuisines. Unless you are lactose intolerant, yogurt will save you a lot of intestinal grief. Also, eat the honey. For those of us who suffer from allergies, local honey is an extremely important condiment. Local honey helps build your immunity to pollen allergens prominent in a specific area. On your next trip, try the local food. Eat the honey and the yogurt for preventative measures. Eat the festival food, and try all the prominent local entrees. Worst-case scenario: you hate it, but you have a great story.