An afternoon in the centre of Milan was enough of a reminder why local towns are preferable when tasting local cuisine. First, prices are lower and often food is made using a family recipe or at least a local recipe. The bonus here is also finding a dish or a variation that cannot be found in major towns or tourist areas (often, they are more than willing to share their recipe). Particularly in Italy, restaurants and caffeterias tend to offer food that appeals to the tourist; for example, spaghetti bolognese, lasagna, pizza, tiramisu etc…, meaning there’s less inclination to order food that’s different.
For those that are a bit more adventurous with their cuisine, tourist restaurants often offer taster menus consisting of local recipes or have deals on a set menu “Primi, Seconde, dessert and caffé”, which knocks a fair amount off the bill.
Service tends to be slower, but friendlier in family-owned restaurants as there aren’t hoards of people waiting to be served; there is time to chat and sit and watch the world go by. Just by walking past cafes and bars, it seems watching the world go by is a national pastime, people sit with their coffee and snacks (often long since consumed) for what seems like hours. For a Brit, staying put after finishing or taking our time to eat and drink is uncommon, except when in a pub. There isn’t a hurry from the waiters/waitresses either, they seem content letting with letting people take their sweet time. Many of these bars and cafes have regulars, similar to a local pub, which when compared as such, puts the sitting around for hours into context. Again, similar to a family food orientated pub whose income relies on food, tourist restaurants and cafes do too, therefore table turnover is a must. Meals may be served quickly, however there is no request to leave.
Yet another bonus of going local is the quality of service, which has been alluded to previously. This isn’t saying that ‘tourist’ restaurants/ cafes have poor service or that local places don’t, service quality is dependant on the staff and customer relationship. Two different people will each perceive a different quality of service despite the other variables (server, food and price…) remaining constant. What this point aims to further is the benefit of slower service. Not that meals take hours to be served, but little things. For example, a dog face in the coffee froth (pictured).
Although this example focusses on Italy, going local anywhere gives the best insight into life and culture. Food is just one example. So, get out there and have fun!