Ask locals, and "the keys to the culinary kingdom can be yours." That's the best strategy for linking cuisine and culture when traveling, TV travel host Adam Richman said at the L.A. Times Travel Show on Sunday.
Richman, host of "Adam Richman's Fandemonium" on Travel Channel and "Food Fighters" on NBC, advised travelers to get the "greatest experience" by immersing themselves in their surroundings. "Find out about those local gems," he said to a room of hundreds of attendees.
Richman, who sprinkled in jokes while showcasing his culinary knowledge, recommended asking the "nonconventional sources" such as a hotel bellman or a parking attendant about what and where to eat in the area.
He said even though talking aloud while scanning the menu at a restaurant may seem crazy, pondering what to eat may solicit some excellent recommendations. "Everyone likes to share their opinions," he said.
Sometimes, searching for good food is about wandering to locations that don't look like the usual stops, such as places that don't have signs or have "crappy signs" but still have lines out the door.
One time, Richman discovered one of his favorite places in Hawaii by wandering into a restaurant that looked like a house -- just because he saw a line outside. "That's a good sign," he said. "When you realize these places are as much a reflection of local identity … then you have opportunity to be part of that continuum."
Whether it's eating pizza in New York or tacos in Los Angeles, travelers should shy away from tourist hot spots to get the best signature dishes in cities. "Places where tourists are going will have food catered to tourists," Richman said. "Don't be afraid to go to other neighborhoods for these eating experiences."
Richman, who admitted he's experienced many food comas in his lifetime, acknowledged finding the hidden gems may be tough but worthwhile. "Sometimes off-the-beaten-track things might be dangerous or sketchy … but understand these places are in business in these odd areas because of the quality of food," he said.
In fact, where you eat can be as important as the historic and cultural sites you visit. "The memories you make [while eating] are just as potent," he said.
Richman said travelers should always take pictures of everything, write everything down and "obviously take [hand sanitizer] Purell with you" when eating at new places.
When asked about his 60-pound weight loss in the years since his "Man v. Food" days, Richman said he started keeping track of his calories to adopt a healthier lifestyle. "I still feel like it's OK to indulge," he said. "It's the difference between doing it as a momentary indulgence and as a lifestyle choice."