This May, I spent a week exploring metropolitan French Canada: Québec City, Montréal and Ottawa City. When I travel, I love to try new foods and taste dishes I never thought I would eat. I'm an adventurous eater, but for those who are not, here are some food guidelines to follow when dining abroad.

These tips will give you guidance on how to to explore the region's culture through food. My examples are Canadian, but this can apply to wherever you are visiting, from Armenia to Zimbabwe.

1. Eat at a local chain restaurant

sandwich, lettuce, cheese, tomato, turkey, bread, ham
Dene Dryden

This seems like an unusual first rule; why would you want to get fast food on vacation? But, my very first meal in Canada was a sandwich from Tim Hortons. I noticed the differences compared to American fast food right away. There were no free-range ketchup dispensers, just the one or two packets they gave me. The default drink for some of the meals was water, not soda. Eating at Tim Hortons or the local equivalent of a fast food chain can reveal some interesting cultural differences.

2. Try some cross-culture foods

bread, cookie
Dene Dryden

Again, another interesting start to this list. I actually did this on accident. While at a small deli shop, sampling Montréal's timeless smoked meat (pictured below), I picked up a small pistachio cake for a snack later. The packaging says it was maamoul, made in the province I was in, but the recipe originates from the Middle East.

When you eat abroad, watch for the intersections of culture in the region. If you're not in Asia, see if the city has a Chinatown enclave and try a red bean cake. See what subcultures lie within the major culture of your vacation destination.

3. Sample a food made locally or by a small business

sandwich, ham, cheese, pastrami, lettuce, bacon, bread, meat, turkey
Dene Dryden

This is the true way to get a taste of the region. When finding places to eat lunch or get a snack, keep an eye out for small, family-owned restaurants and shops. By supporting their business, you're directly helping people in that country. You can also find some great foods to sample, too—I tried mead for the first time after buying a sample bottle from a local Québec beekeeper.

4. Try a staple, traditional food in that country

poutine, cheese, chips, french fries
Dene Dryden

Learn about the culture you are in directly by trying their cuisine. A typical Canadian dish is poutine: fries topped with a brown gravy and cheese curds. I even sampled it at a few different restaurants to compare the differences. (The best bowl of poutine I had also had pulled pork and carmelized onions in it.)

By finding foods that are foreign to you but familiar to the locals, you can literally dig in to the culture of the country or the region.

5. Eat something you can find at home but have never tried

Dene Dryden

Carpe diem! Yes, I could have had mussels in Kansas, but I ate them for the first time in Canada. Trying a food you can eat back at home is an enriching experience. When you eat it again sitting on your couch or in a local restaurant, you can always think back to the moment you first ate that very food item abroad. Memory lane, here we come.

6. Explore your libation options

coffee, ice, beer, ice cream, cream
Dene Dryden

If you can legally drink in the country you are in and want to imbibe, sampling locally-brewed drinks is another way to travel with your tongue. In countries other than the U.S., the culture around alcohol is different, and I picked up on that difference in Canada. Go ahead, try Chianti because it was referenced in Silence of the Lambs (like I did) or sip microbrewery beers. As always, drink responsibly.

7. Get some comfort food

cheese, pasta, sauce, chicken
Dene Dryden

It's okay to play it safe on the menu sometimes. With culture shock and the stresses of travel, eating a meal you enjoy at home can be a nice comfort. I didn't stay away from a burger or two on this trip, and my friend Ryan enjoyed the mac and cheese above.

8. Eat somewhere alone

tea, coffee
Dene Dryden

If you're traveling solo, this tip is moot. However, traveling with a group can make eating stressful, especially when everyone can't decide what time to go to dinner or where to eat.

With a few hours to spare before my tattoo appointment in Montréal, I split from my study abroad group to explore the area near the pier and had a relaxing moment in a little café with a cup of tea and a chocolate, matcha and strawberry tart. Treat yourself with some clarifying solitude and good food.

9. Splurge on a finer dining experience

Dene Dryden

To top off your experience dining abroad, be sure to include a meal at an upscale, fancy restaurant. Though it is important to stick to a budget, enjoying at least one pricier meal can open the door to new opportunities you'd never be exposed to at a deli or fast food joint. At a nicer restaurant in Montréal, I tried calamari, caviar, mussels and salmon tartare for the first time, and I felt fancier than hell.

Traveling abroad is an amazing experience. Hopefully these guidelines for discovering new foods enhance your vacation or semester abroad.