“First we eat…then we do everything else.” Wise words indeed from M.F.K Fisher and wise advice for all travel.
Food is not merely a fuel for adventure, it forms a paradigm from which to explore the planet. Cuisine can personify cultural inimitability and reflect the traditions of a destination. So get ready for tantalized taste buds, sensual feasts, and passing into obscene food comas. Here are the ultimate destinations for foodies; some you’ll expect, others may be a surprise.
1. Baiersbronn, Germany
Baiersbronn, a tiny town in Germany’s Black Forest has a few thousand people and eight Michelin stars. You might be thinking bratwurst and dumplings, but this remote alpine destination has been at the center of a chefs’ rivalry for decades. The three restaurants are booked out months in advance and the tantalizing five course menus are redefining stereotypes about German food. Other than New York, Baiersbronn has got more triple starred Michelin restaurants than any US city.
Tip: Book well in advance for your tables at Schwarzaldstube, Bareiss, and Schlossberg.
2. Florence, Italy
We couldn’t even make it to number three without a herb infused delivery of Italian bliss. Rome is an obvious choice but the artistic elegance of Florence provides food for thought as well as food for the soul. Pizza, gelatto ice cream, espresso, pasta starters, grilled steaks…sorry, there’s no need to outline the types of food on offer. Instead, let’s just provide the number one advice. If a restaurant doesn’t have a menu in English then it’s going to be a winner (and who needs a translation for tagliatelle).
Tip: For the complete journey through Italian flavors try a Florence for Foodies tour.
3. Tokyo, Japan
All you can eat sushi buffets have downgraded Japanese food from graceful indulgence to a stuff your face competition. Japanese sushi has never been cheap or particularly filling. It’s a delicacy on which Tokyo’s restaurant’s thrive, the slices of sashimi featuring all those marine creatures that you really shouldn’t eat but you’re intrigued to try. A trip to Tokyo also showcases Japan’s surprising culinary diversity. Even the fast food joints are tasty and surreal, with raw eggs getting cracked over bowls of noodles.
Tip: Make sure you can use chopsticks. The locals don’t need any more excuses to stare at the foreigner.
4. Cape Winelands, South Africa
South Africa holds all the ingredients for a meat obsessed foodie; fresh game plucked from lion filled plains, a world renowned wine industry, and a dedication to huge portions. While most of the world barbecues burgers and sausages (the cheap cuts), South Africans light a fire and flame grill whole fillet steaks and slabs of rare antelope. The country’s gourmet focus is the Cape Winelands, an area of boutique restaurants, getting wine drunk by midday, and then consuming ten different meats in two days.
Tip: Most of the wine farms offer astonishingly cheap tasting (something like $2 for 10 wines). So don’t buy a bottle before cruising the vineyards.
It’s rare to find a foodie who isn’t intoxicated by Asian food. It has a dazzling ability to stuff dozens of flavors into a single mouthful. The main problem is that most Asian food has been deep fried and then deep fried some more. Vietnam’s cuisine is sparse with the oil. There’s the same explosively sharp flavors just without the soggy coating of fat. That allows the freshness of the ingredients to really shine.
Tip: For a cheap local breakfast, join the locals in drinking pho, a chilli soup that really gets the insides moving.
It’s easy to stereotype a country. Congolese diamond bandits, Colombian coke addicts, Australian crocodile wrestlers, and Iranian terrorists. But think about it: no Iranian could ever become a suicidal jihadi when the home cooking is so good. For many centuries, Iran was at the heart of the Silk Road. Spices came from around the world and the Persians were eating gourme centuries before the French made it fashionable. Visit Iran and the food is a continual highlight, especially as you’ll be invited into homes on an almost daily basis.
Tip: Camel meatballs are surprisingly tasty.
7. Texas, USA
America means insane portions. The only people who could argue otherwise are Americans who’ve never left their own state. No other country measures burritos in feet, not inches. Texas is where the portions reach stratospheric levels and it’s not just size that makes the state stand out. This may be the home of insane steaks and all you can eat, but it’s started to show a bit of panache and diversity in recent years. So those half kilo burgers now have a fragrant twist.
Tip: Check out Austin’s food and wine festival in April and search for the state’s best barbecue sauce.
Africa’s number one food involves mixing maize powder with boiling water. It looks like congealed mashed potato and tastes of nothing. But across the continent there are exceptions to the carb feast, the most surprising being Togo. After throwing out the colonial French, the country retained a dedication to fresh croissants and luxuriant coffee. Street food always comes with gourmet French influence and the highlands are filled with fresh coffee and cacao plantations. If you’re brave, you can also try the bush meat on offer.
Tip: Eat, eat, and eat some more. Because the food in the rest of West Africa sucks.
9. Paris, France
How could a list of destinations for foodies not include the country that came up with Michelin stars, as well as a cooking style replicated by most of the world? The great thing about Paris is that you know you’re going to get great food. You’re expecting a marvelous restaurant meal. But you can never predict the ubiquitous quality of what’s on offer. It’s almost impossible to take a bite and not close your eyes and smile. Even the hotel breakfasts are handcrafted to perfection.
Tip: The best food isn’t found beside the Eiffel Tower or Champs-Elysees. It’s found just about everywhere else.
10. Sao Paulo, Brazil
Brazil’s giant metropolis divides. Few world cities show such a disparity in wealth and the free spending rich will only accept the best. Elite restaurants cover the city, blending cuisine from around the world into something that distinctly Brazilian. This might not be a pretty city, but if you’ve got the cash, it takes you on sensual journeys that are difficult to find elsewhere on the continent.
11. Istanbul, Turkey
Straddling a continental divide and absorbing exotic influence for a few millennia, Istanbul is the archetypal blend of East and West cuisine. It’s spice markets spill exotic flavors onto the streets and the restaurants offer feasts of color. Two dishes stand out. The traditional meze, a starter of multiple dishes that is so good you’re too full for the main. And the omnipresent doner kebab, created from a two foot wide spinning skewer of fresh meat.
Tip: For the most indulgent platter try Ciya Restaurant, a one time street food stall that’s blossomed into the city’s most famed restaurant.
Waffles, chocolate, and beer…what more reason do you want to visit Belgium? Wait, they’re also the inventors of fries and have been crafting tasty potatoes since long before McDonalds bastardized the idea. It might not be healthy but the four foods neatly complement each other. Wash down one of the country’s 1000+ beers with a portion of waffles, grab some fries with mayonnaise as you start to get drunk, and then combine a 12% dark beer with some famous chocolate.
Tip: Visit the old towns of Bruges or Ghent and smells of indulgence come from every street.
13. Goa, India
Indian food is a spice tingling concoction of exoticism. It burns. The chilli tears insides apart but it’s worth it for another mouthful of local curry. Forget what you might have tried at an Indian restaurant at home. In India, the curries are far hotter. Almost everywhere in the country is a destination for foodies. However, Christian dominated Goa excels because it’s one of the few states where meat is a regular part of the menu. Then just throw in some freshly caught seafood and an ocean view.
Tip: As a general rule, the cheaper the restaurant the better the food. Tourist restaurants inflate prices and then remove flavors as they try to cater for foreign palates.
14. Madrid, Spain
Tapas is not a meal. It’s a snack, a little plate of something that accompanies your beer (originally it was placed on top of your glass – tapa literally translates as lid or top). So rather than visit a tapas restaurant, visit Madrid, sit in a bar, and get slowly drunk and full. With each beer you receive another tapa. At first that might be olives or bread. But show loyalty to a bar and the quality of snack dramatically improves. After a few orders you’ll be getting hand delivered roasted meat from the chef. Even better, Spanish beer comes in a pitifully small size. So all healthy drinking habits mean dozens of tapa.
Tip: The Jamon Museum is not a museum. It’s a cafe filled with cured ham and the cheapest beer in the city.
15. Lima, Peru
Any guesses which city has the most entries in Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards. Of course you’re going to guess Lima because that’s the title of the entry. But…well, okay, it is Lima. The Peruvian capital has eight entries on the list and has a hotly growing reputation for excellent grub, whether that’s in Michelin starred restaurants or from random street cafes. It’s particularly invigorating if you’ve spent some time surviving off staple foods in the Andes Mountains.
Tip: Just go and enjoy. Lima has some of the cheapest Michelin starred restaurants in the world.
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