40 Foods Worth Traveling Around the World For
Oh! You've got to try the food, people tell you when you book a trip to -- well, practically anywhere these days. This is, in one sense, self-evident: A person cannot live on bottled water alone. But it also speaks to how much our tongues and bellies shape our view of the rest of the world. Your friends may not have been to Thailand, but they do know the wonders of pad Thai and green papaya salad. They may not have been to Beirut, but just ask their opinion on what makes great hummus.
Food is how the world comes to us, as eaters. And occasionally, it’s the best reason for us travelers to go explore the world. We asked some wide-ranging chowhounds -- travelers known to obsess over dumplings or raw fish or curries to the end of a bus route or a train line or across oceans -- what are the foods worth an international trip to find. Here we've assembled their most extravagant, most essential, most sensual reasons to stamp your passport. These aren't merely great foods -- they're foods that you simply must seek at their source. Meals like this are why even love and pray take a backseat to straight-up getting your eat on.
Wake up with kaya toast in SingaporeBefore you stand in line for chicken rice, before you tear apart your chili crab, before you Instagram your laksa, you'll need some coffee and breakfast. To do that like a Singaporean, find your nearest kopitiam (coffee house). The chairs should be janky, the service stilted, and the coffee hot, fast, and cheap. The soundtrack will include the scraping of the burnt parts of the toast before it's slathered generously with the creamy kaya (coconut jam) and served with soft-boiled, soy-sauce-bathed, white-peppered eggs. The crunch of the bread and the runny yolk, the sweet spread and the saltiness of the sauce: This breakfast of contrasts is like stepping out of an air-conditioned hotel onto the muggy Singapore streets. -- Naomi Tomky
Have high tea in LondonPinkies up, y’all. If your idea of a scone is that graceless dough ball in the Starbucks pastry case, get thee to Londontown, stat. High tea can be pricey, but it’s worth doing, even just once, to experience what flour and butter can be when baked to their highest expression and topped with a dollop of the richest, sweetest cream and fresh berry jam. -- Maya Kroth
Knuckle down on a meaty sandwich at a Bavarian butcherIn southern Germany, a stop into a butcher shop, or Metzgerei, can eradicate hangover in five minutes or less. Just rock up to the vitrine and pick: two trusty options are juicy bratwurst and roasted pork carved right off the shoulder. Your hunk of desire then gets slapped onto a fresh roll (or what Bavarians call semmel) with as many packets of sweet or regular mustard as you desire. It’s a fast food bite best devoured at a standing table between a high stack of napkins and dudes wearing lederhosen. -- Barbara Woolsey
Learn to love lambs brains in MarrakechGastronomes love Morocco for its elaborately poured mint tea and the colorful pyramids of spices at the markets. But you haven’t really had tagine until you try the saffron and lobster version at Le Marocain, the upscale restaurant at the ultra-luxe La Mamounia hotel. Blow your last dirhams on elevated traditional dishes, like pigeon pastilla (a filo-wrapped parcel of spiced fowl, almonds, and apricots) in a dining room that would make a visiting Saudi oil sheik feel at home. The boring-sounding “selection of Moroccan salads” is a stealthy highlight of a dozen or so little dishes, including a bowl of deliciously soft, creamy white stuff. Don’t ask, just eat. -- Sarah Theeboom
Float through the streets of Paris, warm crêpe in handBaguettes may be king when it comes to national culinary treasures in France, but they’re not the only reason you get on that plane. Walk down any street in Paris and there are hordes of street vendors pouring crêpe batter and spoonfuls of Nutella onto round black grills. If you need a quest, hunt down La Drougerie on the bustling Rue des Rosiers. Just follow the thick scent of butter and scorched sugar crystals. -- Amy Schulman
Have pho for breakfast in Hanoi, VietnamWhile we in the States might enjoy pho for lunch or dinner, to get the good soup in Hanoi, where it hails from, you have to get up early -- when the herbs are fresh, the noodles supple, and the broth fragrant. Set your alarm on day one for a bowl of this long-simmered, spice-rich street food and you’ll be back each morning thereafter. -- NT
Go vegan in the Holy Land of Tel Aviv, IsraelNot to rag on LA, but it’s hardly the world’s top spot for vegan-/vegetarianism. That honor belongs to Tel Aviv. This Holy Land burg has the highest percentage of vegans per capita and the most vegan-friendly restaurants. And it has perfected the art of making veggies look and taste divine. Crispy falafels and heaping bowls of hummus, feasts of pita bread, eggplant salad, tabbouleh and tahini make regular appearances at the dinner table. Vegan must-stops include Anastasia for its vegan breakfasts, Nanuchka, with its vegan Gregorian fare, and Goodness in Tel Aviv for the artichoke shawarma. -- Michelle Rae Uy
Try a sauce in Mexico City that's older than your nieceMaking a deep, complex mole takes time. Chef Enrique Olvera takes the concept to a whole new level. At Pujol, his signature restaurant in Mexico City, he’s been adding to and reheating his mole madre every day for more than four years, its age handwritten daily right on the menu (1,547 days, at last count). A duo of dark, rich mole madre and bright, new mole nuevo, pooled in concentric circles on a simple ceramic plate, is meant to be scooped up by the accompanying pillowy tortilla, pressed with a bright-green leaf of aromatic hoja santa. -- MK
Sample the streets of IndiaWhen you travel, eat what the locals love. In India, that means hitting the streets. A stroll through any large city will reveal colorful, vibrant food stalls and carts. Sweet and juicy bright yellow mangoes of summer. Young, tender coconuts waiting to be sliced open. Hot iron skillets on which cooks unspool dosa batters ease to create a thin, crispy crepe.
In Mumbai, start with the chaat, a collection of snacks that marries the crunchy and soft textures of puffed rice and crackers with the sweet, tart flavors of chutneys. Try the pani puri, in which thin, crispy balls of bread are hollowed out and filled with potatoes, sprouted mung beans, onion, and chickpeas before getting dunked into water infused with mint and cilantro. Then there’s the pav bhaji, a spiced mixed vegetable concoction, slathered with butter and drizzled with lemon juice, that you’ve got to grab with the toasted buns served on the side. And behind the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai is Bademiya, where skewers of succulent kebabs are grilled on hot coals and then wrapped and served in kerchief-thin sheets of flatbread. Wash it down with a glass of hot masala chai or freshly squeezed sugarcane juice. -- Nik Sharma
Hit up a 7-Eleven in JapanGenerally, convenience stores rate low on any list of culinary destinations. Your noted exception: Japan. Their stores may look like what we have in the States -- the same white-out fluorescent lights, 24-hour service, and dead-eyed cashiers -- but the food is on a completely different level. Swing by for a quick meal on the cheap or a midday pick-me-up. At 7-Eleven, opt for triangular onigiri, seaweed-wrapped rice balls stuffed with fillings like spicy tuna or salted plum. Deep-fried pork sandwiches called katsu sando are the move at Family Mart, while honenashi, or fried boneless chicken, is a must at a Lawson. When in doubt, snag a few bags of rice crackers from all of the above. -- Rachel Tepper Paley
Tuck into some late-night poutine in MontrealMontreal’s wily nightlife scene can leave you with what the Québécois call a “mal aux cheveux,” a.k.a. “hair ache” or nasty hangover. The cure is to line your stomach with poutine. The home of this blessed compilation of fries, gravy, and cheese curds in Canada’s party capital is undoubtedly La Banquise, an all-night poutine diner. Nothing will sort you out better at 4am than a deep dish with extra bacon and mushrooms and one last guzzle of La Fin du Monde. -- BW
Indulge in the world’s best Guinness stew, in IrelandThe silky, chocolatey, lightly carbonated Guinness is admittedly not for everyone. “Too heavy,” they’ll say. “Drinks like a meal.” Even if you fall into that dainty camp, there’s a way to experience Dublin’s famed brew: make it a meal. You won’t find Guinness stew quite like this in States -- having a couple of hundred years to perfect the recipe will do that. You flat-out won’t find a better bowl of this savory, spice beef stew than at the Guinness Storehouse’s restaurant 1837. The recipe is crafted with steak, veggies, and spices all selected for their uncanny pairing with Guinness. As you chow down, you can look out at the concrete jungle and steam pipes that make the beer. -- Matt Meltzer
Try raw Dutch herring at a fish stand in the NetherlandsOn a humid summer afternoon, my Dutch cousins and I stopped after a long walk on the beach for a snack they assured me would hold over my “bottomless pit” appetite until dinner. They led me to a boardwalk food truck dishing up Dutch herring on paper plates piled with chopped, raw white onions and what looked like a whole fish -- scales, tail, fins, everything sans head, fresh from the sea. Soft and buttery-fatty, slightly smelly, this salty fish and its crunchy onions were exactly what my body was unknowingly craving. -- Nisa Sedaghat
Down all the dim sum in Hong KongYou can spend hundreds of dollars on foie-gras-laden, Michelin-starred dumplings -- or walk down into a basement shop and share a table with a six-fingered man and two old ladies gossiping in Chinese mere feet from a steam table. Ideally, do both. This city lives for dim sum, a tea time tradition of small bites that Hong Kong has turned into a signature meal. Just don’t look for the cart-style service common in American dim sum houses: since freshness matters in dumplings, those carts have mostly gone the way of yesterday’s tea. -- NT
Dine in an underground house in CubaWhen Fidel Castro made self-employment sorta legal in the early ‘90s, Cubans started quietly inviting paying diners into their private homes. These semi-underground restaurants, called paladares, are where capitalist-pig tourists can find some of the most creative (by necessity) cooking on an island otherwise filled with ham-and-cheese sandwiches and ropa vieja. -- MK
Eat the king of hams in SpainTo understand the extreme, obsessive care that goes into producing Spain’s jamon iberico de bellota, scope out the extensive list of requirements EU bureaucrats have devised to define it. Dark red, almost purple, salty, and silky smooth, this is no average sandwich meat. No, this cold cut is best eaten straight up -- carved directly from the leg, if you please, paired with some Spanish olives and the neutral crackers called colines. Due to US Customs rules, this stuff is notoriously difficult to find in the States, but just about every bar, cafe, and restaurant in Spain has a leg of it on deck. -- Conor O’Rourke
Go to a gelateria in ItalyA trip to Italy warrants barrels of pasta and pizza, true, but there’s a reason every town in Italy has at least one gelateria. Italy’s creamier, silkier alternative to ice cream is served at warmer temperatures and tastes different than anything you’ve had in the US. Sample flavors like stracciatella (milky gelato swirled with chunks of chocolate), pistachio, hazelnut, and panna cotta, then watch as the scoopers twirl swirls of gelato onto cones and cups. Even if you stain your shirt while clutching a drippy, messy cone, well, at least you’re blending in with the locals. -- AS
Taste ceviche at its absolute freshest on a beach in PeruPeru's 1,500 miles of coastline and its oceanfront capital, Lima, birthed and perfected the art of ceviche -- fish, cooked by marinating in lime juices, spiced up with local aji (peppers). Get to a beach, any beach, to partake in its tastiest, most refreshing version. Ceviche is best eaten with toes firmly planted in the sand where the fish most recently arrived -- and first thing in the morning, when you can wash it down with the leftover marinating liquid, leche de tigre, a surefire cure for any hangover. -- NT
Eat fried tarantulas in Siem Reap, CambodiaListen, they taste like crab and they’re delicious. Tossed in salt, sugar, and seasonings and then fried in a wok, fried tarantulas are a delicacy that most locals save for special occasions. (For one, these babies go for $1 a pop, a weighty sum in a country where the minimum wage is around $6 a day). Eating spiders can be a mind-over-matter scenario, so close your eyes, start with the soft white meat of the body, and finish off with the crunchy legs and a satisfying swish of a cold beer. -- NS
Sip coffee in a Melbourne cafeAustralia isn’t all boardshorts and beaches. In Melbourne, you’re more likely to find people sipping long blacks -- aka Americanos -- in graffitied laneways and arguing over which cafe does the best 63-degree eggs. (An upgrade on poached eggs, these are slow cooked at 63 degrees Celsius for a runnier consistency.) The city owes its sophisticated cafe culture to the Italian and Greek immigrants who settled there after World War II and brought a penchant for chatting over excellent espressos. Add Australia’s amazing produce, great bread and love of fresh, inventive breakfast dishes and you’ll understand why flat whites and avocado toasts now grace brunch menus from Sydney to Brooklyn. -- ST
Trace the history of tacos al pastor in Mexico CityAhhh, tacos al pastor, perhaps the most iconic taco. You’ll recognize its home when you see that trompo -- the meaty, glistening obelisk of spicy pork shining in its neverending pirouette, crowned with a pineapple sweating sugar down the sides. Nowadays, you can get tacos al pastor all over the place. But to really understand the dish, you need to head to Mexico City, where, more than a hundred years ago, the children of Lebanese immigrants from the Ottoman Empire began applying Middle Eastern techniques to Mexican ingredients.
A few turns of the spit later, the shawarma has become the trompo, the lamb has become pork, and tacos al pastor has become a national treasure. Plenty of the city’s taquerias claim to be the inventors of al pastor: check out El Tizoncito, La Califa, and El Vilsito. Those in the know will wander the late night streets of la Condesa, la Roma, or Navarte for the elusive, mobile food carts that made this meal part of the fabric of this city. -- CO