While traveling, your best bet at finding authentically local food is to stop by a farmers market. The fruits, vegetables, cheeses, wines, baked goods and other food items for sale will be locally grown or made, then distributed straight from a farm or kitchen to you - a system that eschews the typical waste and pollution caused by long-distance shipping and packaging.
While reducing your ecological footprint and supporting small businesses, you’ll also be able to enjoy fresh snacks (native fruits, homemade cookies, just-blended juices), find unique gifts to bring home (honey, salsa, pies, plants, crafts), or get ingredients to cook in your rental home (recently picked herbs, seasonal vegetables, freshly churned butter). You’ll also have great opportunities for colorful photos.
You may even come across a food you’ve never seen anywhere else. At the University District Farmers Market in Seattle, you can get a potato variety that was cultivated by the Makah Native Americans 200 years ago. At the Green City Market in Chicago, one stand offers elk-meat sausages and burgers. At the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City, keep an eye out for emu and ostrich eggs. Finally, at the Santa Fe Farmers Market, you can track down jujubes and a red desert fruit common in Asia and the Middle East. Such unique finds will stimulate your taste buds and expand your sense of the local culture.
In addition to raw ingredients, many markets include stands where you can find entire meals made to order. The Ithaca Farmers Market in worldly Ithaca, New York, is a popular lunch destination where market goers have their choice of Cambodian, Cuban, Sri Lankan, Tibetan, and Hungarian cuisines. These types of farmers markets offer a way to sample the regional cuisines, as if you are at a food court, but everything is fresher and made with care.
Farmers markets are not just about the food - it’s not uncommon to find one with lively musical performances. At the Grand Lake Farmers Market in Oakland, California, you might find a diverse crowd dancing wildly to a salsa band’s beats in the middle of the day. The Memphis Farmers Market showcases an array of local artists, rotating each week to give you a taste of roots music, from bluegrass to jazz to Celtic folk. With activities like these, you could really spend all day at the farmers market, soaking up the sounds, tastes, smells, and colors of the area.
Whenever you are planning a trip in the U.S., check LocalHarvest.org for nearby farmers' markets. If your vacation is not during harvest season, you may not have to miss out on the fun. Even in places with short growing seasons many markets are open year round with offerings like pickled vegetables, sauces, wine, baked goods, dairy and meat, and produce grown in greenhouses.