My Favorite Food Experiences and How You Can Get the Best Food on the Road, Too.
¨The gentle art of gastronomy is a friendly one. It hurdles the language barrier, makes friends among civilized people, and warms the heart¨.
Discovering New Culinary Experiences is One of the Best Parts of Traveling
Trying new dishes is one of the top reasons why I love traveling. I enjoy eating in every restaurant, from small market kiosks to five-star venues with renowned chefs. Nothing makes me happier than trying all kinds of tastes- spicy, sweet, sour, and savory. (Many of my favorite plates feature ¨exotic¨ ingredients like beef cheek, horse, eel, etc.). Experiencing different meals is an essential part of learning about and enjoying a destination. I particularly love discovering unexpected foods and culinary destinations. Other Fifty-Plus Nomads are encouraged to follow in my footsteps.
Unlike many other parts of travel, I enjoy spontaneity when choosing my food experiences. I do not make reservations in advance and often select a restaurant simply because I crave a particular dish, the food smells or looks good, or I like the ambiance. That said, many of my best experiences came from recommendations from guidebooks, blogs, TV shows, and websites.
Food Related Resources
- Kindle book. Jodi Ettenberg’s The Food Traveler’s Handbook: How to Find Cheap, Safe and Delicious Food Anywhere in the World is well written and offers loads of excellent tips.
- Claim Compass and Happy Belly Fish provide an excellent blog directory. (Check out their food pages for details)
- People’s Guide to Mexico after forty years remains the best guidebook in my opinion to any country in the world. I reread their sections on food every chance I get.
- Lonely Planet has many excellent food-related guides. Unfortunately, they have stopped publishing their excellent guides to the cuisine in different countries around the world. (They now offer cookbooks instead). However, their comprehensive Ultimate Eat List is still worthwhile and fun to read.
- TV shows. I enjoyed watching all the shows with Anthony Bourdain before he died. He had a very fresh, often incredibly insightful take on the places and the foods in the places he visited. He also visited more countries than anyone else. I usually make a point of going on I-Tunes to download one of his No Reservations or Parts Unknown episodes before I visit a new country. (The episodes typically cost around $1.95-$3.95 on I-Tunes).
- I also have seen two Netflix series that I love: The Chef´s Table and Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. (I was delighted that Samin Nosrat, the host, chose my adopted home state of the Yucatan in Mexico for her episode on acidic foods).
Some of My Favorite Dishes, Drinks, and Foodie Cities
- One of my great joys of traveling is trying different drinks. I particularly love drinking enjoy fizzy, Lambrusco wine (from the Emilia-Romagna area of Italy), amaro (bitters), prosecco (champagne), spritz (aperol), grappa (the Croatians have a similar drink called Rakiya which is infused with many different flavors), and limoncello in Italy. I adore Mexican juices (usually called agua) like tamarindo, jamaica (dried hibiscus leaves), chaya (a type of spinach in the Yucatan). I also love most tequila drinks especially margaritas. I sometimes dream about the fabulous Pisco (a type of Brandy) sours in Peru.
- Look for unexpected flavors of familiar dishes. One of my favorite things to do is try unexpected flavors of ice cream. Some of my favorite flavors include green apple, grapefruit, and lemon gelatos in Italy; fig, tequila, guanabana (guava), and corn nieves (ices, website is in Spanish) in Mexico; and sour cream ice cream in Poland. My heart skips a beat whenever I see an outlet of Tepoznieves in Mexico. (Their main outlet in Tepoztlan has over 100 delicious flavors including some with chile)! My love for wonderful flavors does not end with ice cream. Some of my favorite Mexican dishes include sweet tamales (with raisins and cinnamon- my mouth waters just writing about it) and tacos de seso (brain).
- I love going to places with unexpectedly great food. While I loved the food in France and Italy, I cannot think about Copenhagen, Denmark or Cuzco, Peru without reflecting on the outstanding restaurants in both cities. (In fact, I never had anything other than an exceptional meal in either city)! I also have had some unexpectedly tasty meals in Haiti, Germany, Poland and Bulgaria.
Some of My Top Food-Related Travel Experiences
- Staying with locals can be an excellent way to get some good food. As I talk about in other partsthis blog, I have stayed with many families around the world as part of my efforts to learn other languages. Some of the families were fantastic cooks. One of the families in Oaxaca, Mexico even prepared many different types of mole so that I could try them all.
- Visiting places where food and drinks are made like breweries, cheese making factories and distilleries. Check out seasonal happenings in your destination such as the cabane a sucre (sugar shack) where maple syrup is made in Quebec and the Northeast US and Canada.
- Sometimes you can have a great time visiting food manufacturers in unexpected places. I enjoyed my visit to the food and drink manufacturers, for example, in Bolivia and Peru. (Fruto de Leche Cheese factory/restaurant in Achacolla, Bolivia; the Matahualpa Coffee Plantation in Coroico Bolivia; and Museo de Cocoa: Chocolate Making Workshop in Cuzco, Peru). (Note: I could not find a website for Fruto de leche or Matahualpa Coffee Plantation).
- Taking multi-day, culinary tour. I had a great time on a week-long tour in Oaxaca, Mexico with Season of My Heart Cooking School founder, Susana Trilling. She arranged for us to eat with some excellent home cooks in small villages throughout Oaxaca. We even ate a delicious gourmet meal in the middle of a chile de arbol field and prepared one of the best meals I have ever eaten at her school.
- I enjoy cooking classes even though I do not cook very much. Many of the tours feature cooking demonstrations and market visits. Some (usually more expensive) are more active cooking classes. I find that either way cooking classes are a fun way to get up and close with the ingredients, smells, and colors of food. If you want to cook during the course and have a limited budget, I would suggest that you go to schools in Thailand. Chiang Mai has many cooking schools for around $50 for a whole day of activities.
- Taking food tours. I have been on these tours in approximately twenty different cities worldwide. I have always found them to be a fun way to try different foods, learn about the market and food culture, and get to know my fellow travelers. I have taken over 12 tours just in Montreal. (Round Table Tours in Montreal is my favorite food tour company anywhere. I particularly recommend their tea and chocolate tours).
Some of My Top Food-Related Travel Advice
- Obsession with food can be a great way to connect with locals and other travelers. Some of my, and other travel experts, favorite ways to share our love of different dishes with locals include:
- Asking people where you can find the best local delicacies.
- Eating in a market and talking to other diners about what they like.
- Requesting recipes. Most people will gladly oblige if they think there is some benefit for them such as a future client or a tip.
- Talking to fellow dinners about condiments. In Mexico and much of Southeast Asia, condiments dishes arrive with many spices. Asking locals about which sauces to use can be fun. If you can tolerate spicy dishes, locals will be impressed by your fortitude.
- Asking waiters for their recommendations can be a great way to break the ice with seemingly fussy waiters in France and Italy. Several times, waiters warmed to me when I ordered dishes that most tourists did not try including andouille (sausages from pork stomaches) and joue (beef cheeks).
- If you do not like something, play with condiments. At first, I did not like much spice in my food. Now, whenever I eat Mexican food in the USA or Canada, I find myself asking for some hot sauce. I always apply a couple of drops of salsa on my hand and lick it to see how hot it is before adding it to my dish. Be aware, some plates in different countries vary a lot depending on the spices that the cook chooses (i.e., Indian curry and Mexican mole).
- l like to eat at restaurants primarily because I enjoy relaxing and be served when I eat. I also like to be in a clean and comfortable place. I often linger for a while. If you, like me, do not like crowds, check for places that are full during the busiest period of the day and visit them when things are slower. Busyness is a good sign that the food is safe and tasty.
- Some meals are well-suited to restaurants and others to street vendors. Restaurants are great places to try European foods. Southeast Asia and Mexico are perfect places for street food. The kiosks usually have very clean, simple, and tasty foods. Who can resist a delicious Mexican taco stand? Singapore has the best street food in the world. Singaporeans are ardent foodies, and the health and safety standards are very high. Middle Eastern countries have some dishes that street vendors do well (tagines) and others that, because they are complex to prepare (like B’stilla in Morocco), are mostly available in restaurants.
- Eat at least one or two fancy restaurants in a new destination. I like to have a multiple course extravaganza to see the creative efforts of well-known chefs. Some of my favorite fancy restaurants include La Toque (Montreal), Ku’uk (Merida, Mexico), the Chanteclair at Hotel Negresco (Nice, France) and any restaurant by Gaston Acuario in Cuzco, Peru. If you need to save money, wait until you visit smaller towns, suburbs, or out of the way, inner-city neighborhoods. One of the best gourmet meals I ever ate was a seven-course extravaganza in Blois, France. While it was certainly not cheap (over $100 for three people in 1990), it would have cost even more ($150) in a similar quality restaurant in Paris
- I enjoy visiting McDonald’s worldwide to see how they integrate local tastes and cultural values into their restaurants. In Bangkok, I have seen statues of Ronald McDonald wai’ing (a wai is a form of respect in which people gently place the palms of their hands together while making a slight bow to another person). I have ordered shrimp congee (a type of Chinese porridge) at McDonald’s in Hong Kong, gallo pinto (rice and beans) for breakfast in Costa Rica, wine with my Greekburger in France, pork burgers with buns made from rice in Thailand, McLobster rolls in the Canadian Maritimes, and spicy chicken curry burgers in India. (In India, no hamburgers were even available).
Different Eating Habits and Culture Around the World
Learning about food also challenges us to consider different ways of living. Almost every rule that we consider essential, probably somewhere in the world, is done entirely differently.
- Foods can vary a lot by region. Many of the foods we in the US associate with a particular cuisine come from one region of the featured country. (Mexican food in the US is from near the US-Mexican border; Chinese food is from Canton; Italian food from Naples; Indian food from the Punjab and North). Many travelers are surprised by how different food can be in other regions of the same country. The Yucatan has a very different diet than the rest of Mexico (a lot of turkey, duck, chaya, and sour oranges). Sichuan Chinese is much spicier than Cantonese food. Northern Italian cuisine, to me, has a lot more similarities with French food than its more tomato-based Neapolitan cousin. (Sicilian cusine even has an Arabic touch). Southern Indian cuisine is spicier and has a lot more vegetables and legumes than Northern Indian food. While I like the food in Spain, the Basque region (I can wax poetic about the pintxos) has some of the best food in Europe. I love learning about these regional differences and encourage all Fifty-Plus Nomads to explore these cuisines, too.
- Food is a fascinating way to learn about history and culture. In recent years there has been a spate of books that talk about the origins and dispersion of different foods. I have read books about vanilla, coffee, cod, chocolate, and sugar. Learning about these foods can provide a background to your travels, particularly if you are going to visit the origin of a particular ingredient. (Mexico is home to chocolate, corn, and vanilla. Ethiopia is the origin of coffee. Potatoes come from Peru).
- Almost every country eat different types of food during their meals than we are accustomed to eating. Take breakfast, for example. In Arab countries, they eat salad and vegetables. In many Asian countries, breakfasts are similar to our lunch or dinner. In Europe and the Southern end of South America, breakfast is light- just coffee and pastry. (While I love a traditional American or British breakfast, my favorite breakfasts are in Mexico and India. I like a little spice early in the morning)! In many countries (including Mexico), their main meal is lunch, and they only eat dinner (usually at a restaurant) on special occasions like a birthday. In much of the Southern part of South America, people eat dinner at around 10 p.m. The Chinese eat ample banquets with a large group of friends. In Italy, pasta is an appetizer. Many upper-end restaurants in France have a cheese course and eat salad before dessert. Some countries, like Spain, Turkey, and Russia, often eat multiple, small plates instead of the main dish. Even the name of a meal differs between countries. An entrée in France is the appetizer, not the main course.
- People also eat in many different ways. Many countries eat with their hands; others eat with chopsticks. Often, people roll their food in tortillas, roti, pita, or wraps.
- Meal etiquette also varies a lot from country to country. In some countries, if you leave food, you do not want more. In others, leftover food means you want more. Many countries consider it good manners to leave your elbows (several Latin American countries) on the table. Some countries (particularly in Asia) consider slurping soup a sign that the soup is delicious.
Some Additional Food-Related Posts
- Top 7 Budget Travel Food TipsSome of my favorite food-related experiences were also very inexpensive. Sometimes, modest hole in the walls restaurants, kiosks, and street carts can feature some of the country’s best chefs.
- 12 Top Restaurant TipsHere are the Fifty Plus Nomad’s top twelve tips for finding a good restaurant, avoiding problems with your bill, and tipping appropriately.
- Top 11 Food Safety TipsNothing can ruin your Fifty-Plus Nomad adventures faster than diarrhea, parasite, or other food-borne illness. Read here to discover 11 tips to avoid food safety problems. Hopefully, like me, you’ll find that you have fewer food-related problems as you travel for more time.
- 24 Top Food Tips for TravelersDiscover tons of tips for finding authentic food while traveling. Learn about some of my favorite dishes and drinks.