We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open. ~ Jawaharal Nehru
The experience around food is what makes a particular meal, dish, or destination unique and able to stand out above all others. It’s about the place, the time, and the people and “the best meal” can be found in a fine dining restaurant or in a crowded street market. If you’ve ever heard the expression, “Food doesn’t travel well,” it’s true. How can you recreate that special moment influenced by place and time and have it be as memorable for someone else as it was for you?
With our current food obsessed culture, culinary travel is becoming the most popular reason to visit many places around the world. While we travel great distances to enjoy unique food, wine, and spirits, it is also important to be educated about the region and its people, learn about the history and architecture, and have time to take in the scenery and the surroundings. Those things have as much impact on the food experience as does the food itself.
With that in mind, here are the ten places that consistently excite the senses and the palate.
South of France
A food lover’s destination for many years and a favorite place to visit of Julia Child and James Beard, the South of France combines the most incredible sensory inspiration possible with some of the best local ingredients available anywhere in the world. Markets with fresh fruits and vegetables, butcher shops, fishmongers, and cheese purveyors are abundant. Regional wines are excellent and freshly baked French bread with French butter is the stuff that memories are made of. Grab a seat high above the rocky cliffs along the Mediterranean or a chair in a medieval walled city for a meal with a view that you will never forget.
This bustling city filled with unique buildings and the stunning cathedral, Sagrada Familia, designed by Antoni Gaudí, is a city for passionate lovers of history, architecture, and food. The Mercat de la Boqueria is a feast for the eyes and senses with meats, cheeses, spices, seafood, and fresh produce as far as the eye can see. Kiosko Universal, a counter restaurant at one corner of the market, prepares some of the simplest and best food we’ve ever had: razor clams sautéed with a mixture of olive oil, garlic and parsley along with generous platters piled high with exotic mushrooms prepared in much the same way. Fabulous tapas restaurants abound in this gorgeous city. Give yourself a week to explore and see everything the city offers. Barcelona is not to be missed.
It’s hard to chose one place or city in Italy to visit or dine. Depending on the terroir and the regional specialties of wine, aged meats, cheeses, olive oil, seafood, and pasta, you can visit almost any town in Italy and have a great and often, unforgettable meal. Some of our favorite places include: the coastal regions on the Adriatic where the wines are crisp and dry and compliment the brininess of the fresh seafood; and Tuscany, where the bold, red wines are perfect with the heavier pasta dishes and the views of the vineyards and rolling hills are breathtaking. Friuli stole our hearts last year with its many unique wines, small artisan food producers, and influences from neighboring countries like Austria and Germany. Who knew grilled meats so simply prepared could be so incredibly good? Only in a small trattoria in Friuli. You can’t replicate that.
Up and coming on the culinary scene, Mexico City gives us a great reason to venture South of the Border. From incredible food markets and casual street stands, to posh restaurants serving globally inspired cuisine, Mexico City has become the place to travel for the culinarily minded. If you want to eat locally, order a Hurache, a street food specialty. Made from fried masa dough and topped with meat and other accompaniments, all you will need is a local microbrew or Mezcal to wash it down.
Speaking of street food, Taipei has some of the world’s best with it’s rich noodle soups, steamed buns, and dumplings. With influences from China and Taiwan, seasonings include taste bud tantalizing Taiwanese basil, white pepper, cilantro, pickled vegetables, and star anise. Gua Bao is one of the most popular street foods in Taipei that has made its way to the United States via many well-known chefs. If you think this braised pork belly on a steamed bun with pickled mustard greens, cilantro, and chopped peanuts is tasty here, just wait until you try it late night on the streets of Taipei.
Head to Morocco for one of the most diverse food cultures in the world. With Arab, European, and Berber influences, the sights, sounds, and aromas of the street vendors in Fes are intoxicating. While steamed sheep’s head and stuffed camel spleen may not be on your food bucket list, there are plenty of other dishes to try in the souks. Chicken brochettes rubbed with a mixed of spices, like cumin and paprika, are cooked over hot coals and served on large rounds of pan fried bread. Moroccans like their desserts extra sweet, so be prepared when trying a pastry called Briwat (a fried triangle of filo pastry with almonds) and don’t expect to find a cold beer to enjoy with your meal in this destination. The national drink is sweet mint tea, which is consumed by the gallons.
The city that many years ago was known for Fish and Chips, Peking Duck, Indian curries, and pubs with warm beer, is now quite the culinary hub. With many star chefs and hip new restaurants and bars, there is much more to see and do in London now besides watching the changing of the palace guard, visiting the Queen, or ogling Prince George. Neal’s Yard Dairy sells their artisan cheeses from the British Isles in two local stores and there is a plethera of bakeries with beautiful artisinal breads and pastries. One of the newer and notable hot spots is Momo, a North African inspired restaurant. Since the owner is rumored to be a friend of Madonna’s, you might have a chance to see her dining out in town right after your trip to Buckingham Palace and audience with the Queen.
There is no other city like it with its unusual food culture, architecture, interesting people watching, and resilience. Influences on the cuisine of this city originally came from Europe, the Caribbean, Haiti, and Africa, however, with the city’s new and large Vietnamese population, the food is evolving and there is a generation of chefs coming up with their own unique style and sense of place. Old favorites always include classic Creole dishes like gumbo or Crawfish Étouffée, beignets at Café du Mode, a mufaletta at Central Grocery, or a Sazerac at the famous Sazerac Bar in The Roosevelt Hotel. For an elegant night out, John Besh’s Restaurant August will not disappoint and Donald Link’s famed charcuterie at Cochon Butcher is not to be missed while in town.
New York City
With so many excellent ethnic restaurants and fine dining establishments, many will argue that New York City is not only the culinary hub of the United States, but of the world. The list of extraordinarily talented and award-winning chefs and restaurants in the city is endless. A favorite way to spend a day in New York is to wander through Eataly, the 50,000 square foot artisanal food market created by Oscar Farinetti, Mario Batali, Lidia Bastianich, and her son, Joe Bastianich. With impeccable imported and specialty foods, casual eateries, and more formal dining options, it’s a food lover’s dream come true. Don’t eat before you go and bring a rolling suitcase to haul your goodies home.
Charleston, South Carolina is now the No. 1 travel destination in the world and much of that success is due to its booming food culture and the region’s Lowcountry cuisine. This charming coastal town with its stunning architecture has a restaurant nearly every few feet. There is an abundance of incredibly talented chefs, fabulous local produce, and access to some of the freshest seafood on the East Coast. It’s a winning combination. While classic Southern dishes, like Shrimp and Grits and a multitude of versions of Fried Chicken, appear on many menus, don’t overlook the new generation of chefs making their mark reviving heirloom ingredients, ,making world class charcuterie, and using the whole animal (from snout to tail) on their menus.
A version of this article was used for an interview on our culinary travels for SheKnows.com. Here is her article based on my responses to her questions.
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