When choosing where in the world to travel, food is a great way to narrow your choices. While I think many countries offer excellent food experiences, some stand out more than others. While I found it tough to narrow down my recommendations, I offer you some of my favorite foods from my recent travels around the world:
Lima And Arequipa, Peru
The first thing that amazed me in Peru was the corn. I’ve never seen such large kernels in my life, and they’re delicious when served in Peruvian dishes, as well as some of the dried corn snacks unique to this country. A must-do activity is a food walking tour, ideally on one of your first days in Lima. You’ll get an excellent feel for the variety of foods typical to Peru, and a chance to see fun neighborhoods like Barranco.
I learned that restaurants in Lima are so popular you might not get to eat in them without a reservation, in many cases, a month ahead of time. Even in New York City, where I’m from, you can usually find a table at a popular restaurant a week out, so Lima surprised me. I treated myself to an excellent seafood lunch at La Mar and loved the wine, the food, and the atmosphere.
Pro Tip: if you can’t get a dinner reservation, try lunch instead.)
For me, the allure of the Peruvian food is how elegantly it’s served, combined with the ingredients, that brought out intense flavors, without being overly spicy. Here are some of my favorites.
I ate this delicacy in several South American countries and felt that Peru made one of the best. Ceviche is pieces of raw fish cured in lemon or lime juice. There are usually also onions and other ingredients that pull the flavors together. It definitely is an acquired taste, and liking raw fish is a prerequisite.
Eating these cute animals took some getting used to. On the plus side, they have very low cholesterol! Throughout Argentina and parts of Peru, I was accustomed to alpaca stew. So, my curiosity was piqued when I got to Arequipa and ate at a rooftop restaurant, Sonccollay. They served an alpaca dish where it was cooked three ways, grilled, pan fried, and oven baked. Each piece had different flavors, and I most enjoyed the one delivered to my table on a hot stone, so I had the option to cook it more and taste how more or less cooking impacted the flavor of the meat.
Don’t miss out on Peruvian chocolate; both eating it and having it as hot chocolate. It really does taste like the food of the gods. Finally, you can’t leave Peru without at least one pisco sour.
Cape Town, South Africa
Africa is known for gamey meats. As a kid, the only game-meat I tasted was venison. I didn’t like it. I think of Africa as a foodie destination because if you’ve spent most of your travels in America, Europe, and Asia, this food is radically different from anything you’ve tasted before.
I enjoyed meats I’d never heard of, and, once again, was pleased to learn they are low in cholesterol. Cape Town also has a huge amount of Malay cuisine and is known for fish ‘n chips. South Africa also has some of the best coffee I’ve ever tasted (typically a blend of several African countries’ best beans) and if you’ve never tried a rooibos cappuccino, they’re delectable. It’s rooibos tea, processed in a way that with water, is as thick and flavorful as an espresso. You have to try one for yourself to understand.
Here are some favorite foods I recommend:
This is an animal a bit like an antelope. I ate kudu steak, which is very similar to a beefsteak minus the fat and cholesterol. It was pan seared and had a very hearty taste. It’s equally delicious served in a stew.
You can get it hamburger or filet style, both are excellent. One of my favorite places to eat it was on a street near Greenmarket Square where it was served grilled, with salad.
You can even eat this bristly animal, which may, unfortunately, make you feel guilty if you’ve watched The Lion King recently. I recommend the ribs — as good as, and sometimes better than, U.S. barbequed ribs because it has a richer flavor and is less fatty. Try Arnolds for one of the best in Cape Town.
This isn’t really a food, it’s a snack very similar to Cheetos. But, if you’re going to Africa, you need to eat them at least once. If you take a safari, this may become an unfortunate staple food, but I can’t think of my time in Africa without them!
Similar to beef jerky, this is another staple snack in Africa. The difference is, it’s not only made from beef, but you can also find kudu, ostrich, and most of the game meats. If you can get fresh biltong, instead of packaged, it makes a world of difference.
Finally, make sure to have some of the foods typical to the South African townships, like bobotie (curried mince pie), and, if you can, get invited to a brai (barbeque)!
Buenos Aires And Patagonia, Argentina
If you love meat, you have to get to Argentina. There are three things you can’t leave without eating.
You can eat steak pretty much anyplace in Argentina, and it will be the best steak you’ve ever eaten. I tend to eat red meat once a month, but, when in Argentina, found it so good I began eating it daily. And, it’s pretty cheap if you’re traveling on the dollar or euro. Don Julio was one of the best steaks in the country, for a fancier experience. (You’ll need to reserve a table, or sit at the bar without one.)
I’ll admit, Uruguay has the best lamb in the world, in my opinion. But Argentina is a close second. You’ll find it more available in Patagonia than in the rest of the country. El Calafate was my first choice for lamb dishes. If you can get there, go to La Zaina. It’s small, so make a reservation. You won’t regret it! The lamb dish I ate here was lamb shank cooked in such a way that the rich flavors melted in my mouth and the accompanying sauce only highlighted the lamb flavor, instead of overwhelming it.
This is the meat lover’s haven. A mixed grill that’s got every meat you could possibly want, and it’s all delicious. You should have no problem finding restaurants throughout the country that serve an asado. One of my favorites was in Tigre at Vivanco. El Tenedor Libre is a buffet option. You walk up to the grill window and request any meat you want, prepared how you like it.
Obviously, drinking malbec in Mendoza is a compulsory activity as well!
I can’t possibly talk about great food without including France! Chefs have a way of magically combining any ingredients and it’s a gourmet meal, even in the most casual of cafes. This is the place to come if you enjoy food that looks as good as it tastes. Add to that, the perfect wine (pretty much any French wine) and stinky French cheese, and you’ll be in food heaven.
When I go to France, some of my favorite things to eat in restaurants are escargot, foie gras, and confit de canard (the crispy duck). When I visit my host family in Normandie, I of course drink lots of cider and calvados and particularly enjoy boudin noir (blood sausage) and a favorite treat, which is more and more difficult to find in France — the perfect Moka. This is a dessert made of Moka cream and cake. The best one in the entire country is made at the Confiserie Reine Mathilde in Bayeux.
One of the best places to eat, because it’s great food, and a spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower, is Les Ombres.
Pro Tip: reserve your table a month or more in advance and you’re more likely to get a table by the window, with the perfect view. Put the request in for a table by the window, when you book, and arrive a little early for the reservation to increase your chances of getting one.
Among my favorite real Vietnamese dishes is the Hanoi spring roll. It’s double-cooked, and exploding with the perfect mix of vegetable and/or meat filling. I’ve never found it again since leaving this spectacular country. I’d suggest a few food tours in Vietnam. While you’ll delight in various meat and noodle dishes on your own, the thing you want to try is street meat. However, you want to do it as safely as possible. A walking tour gives you the best option for this. I’d also recommend taking a Vietnamese cooking class in Hanoi. I loved mine at Blue Butterfly.
Moving from food to coffee, Vietnamese coffee is not just delicious, but an experience. You watch it drip, slowly, on top of condensed milk. The suspense combines with your excitement, making it taste even better. Egg coffee is another surprise! I wouldn’t drink it every day, as it’s fairly rich, but it’s an unexpected blend of coffee worth the trip.
Thailand ruined Tom Kha soup for me. In New York, I grew accustomed to a milky broth with a few pieces of meat and vegetables. I took a cooking class in Chiang Mai and learned the ingredients should reach all the taste buds — sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. If you think that’s impossible, it’s because you don’t have access to the fresh ingredients direct from Thailand. It was heaven in a bowl. In Thailand, this soup is mostly meat and vegetables, and the broth is thicker and the combination leaves you speechless. I’d recommend shrimp dishes, mango sticky rice, and curries. Street markets offer a huge variety of fascinating foods as well.
Pro Tip: real Thai food is “burn your mouth” spicy. If that’s not your preference, you’ll have to ask for dishes to be made mild.
I’ll end my list of recommendations with this surprise. Reykjavik is full of amazing foods to try. In particular, lamb dishes, and of course, the local hot dog stand. Though I’m not a big hot dog fan, the ones in Reykjavik are insane with a blend of condiments topped with cooked and raw onions. They are also lamb-based and extremely filling, and though I couldn’t possibly finish my entire hot dog, I was glad to have tried it. This is another city where a food walking tour is compulsory, in my opinion, as is an open mind to trying everything. Okay, perhaps not fermented shark, but everything else!
Everyone has a favorite food or a place they remember for its delicious cuisine, like these examples: