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Experts dish out secrets for finding local flavors

By Kristi Keck
CNN
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(CNN) -- If you truly want to get the feel for a city, you need to get a taste of the city first.

"You don't really understand a place unless you've eaten its specialties. It's what they pour their hearts into. It's where their pride lies, and it's one of the greatest delights of travel," said Pauline Frommer, creator of the Pauline Frommer travel guides.

Take a look at some tips from Frommer and other experienced travelers on how to make sure eating like a local is a piece of cake.

Do your homework

Before you venture to a new city, you need to find out some basic background information about your destination.

"Why eat seafood if you are in the middle of a desert? It is important to know what that area of the world is known for," said Zay Harding, a host of the travel TV show "Globe Trekker." (Interactive: Top 10 dining experiences)

Once you familiarize yourself with the area's specialties, you can start making some concrete plans. You don't need to pick out restaurants just yet, but you'll want to get an idea of the types of places you should be targeting.

"Take some simple time ahead and actually map out your trip and plan out your trip. Get online and do the research to find the places so that you don't find yourself stuck at the hotel asking the question, 'OK, what do I want to eat tonight? Where do I want to go?'" said Jeremy Reed, a content editor for CitySearch.com.

Make a list of several spots you might want to check out, but don't get locked in on any particular place just yet.

Ask before you eat

You need to check in with the right sources when scoping out potential restaurants.

"Never ask the concierge where to eat at your hotel because they often get kickbacks, and they'll send you somewhere very touristy. In fact, you should probably not ask anybody who works at your hotel," advised Frommer.

Instead, get outside the tourism industry. When you are looking for the best local restaurants, stick with asking the locals.

"Ask, ask, ask," Harding said. "Always ask the locals. Get lots of opinions so that way you have lots to choose from."

Harding recommended targeting your questions. If are looking for a really nice restaurant, ask someone who is dressed up. If you want to try some cheap eats, don't ask the man in the tuxedo. College students always know where to find the best deals in town.

Shop around

Ask around, get your options, but don't commit yet.

"The neat thing about restaurants is that you can window shop. You don't always have to just stay and get stuck in something," Harding said.

Try to find places with a personal touch, then go inside and ask to see the menu. If it doesn't look like the restaurant is serving what your after, go somewhere else. When traveling, you have limited meals, so don't waste one on a restaurant that doesn't measure up.

Off the beaten track

If you are at a big shopping mall or in the center of some major tourist attractions, you'll need to do a little walking to get away from the tourist traps.

"To actually experience the city the way somebody who actually lives there experiences it day in and day out, you have to get off the beaten track. That doesn't necessarily mean that you don't go to the tourist places, but that you make sure that's not the only thing you see in a city," said Reed.

Sometimes, a few minutes of walking it all it takes to find a local treat.

"If you actually step off the block two or three blocks you might find those hidden finds. It might be the great place that's not centrally located," Reed added.

Park it

If you want local food but you don't feel like dining out, pick something up at a deli or farmer's market. Grab something to go and head to a local park for a picnic.

"Not only is that a terrific way to save money, you often get great food because that's often what people in the areas do. Nobody goes out for meals three times a day. If you want to eat like the locals do, sometimes that means eating on the run," Frommer said.

Venture out

Great food is what you are after, so don't be afraid to try new things.

"The thing is when you eat where the locals eat as opposed to where the tourists eat, you almost always get better food because those people who run those restaurants rely on return customers, so they have to keep their standards higher than the places that just cater to tourists," said Frommer.

With this in mind, venture out, dine out, dig in and enjoy. Whether you end up with a new favorite dish or just a more refined palate, you're sure to have a fulfilling experience.


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A tourist trap or a traveler's dream meal: a few blocks can make the difference.

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