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.”
Foodie Tips for Long-Term Travelers
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 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, and I particularly love discovering unexpected foods and culinary destinations. Other Fifty Plus Nomads are encouraged to follow me.
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. Many of my best experiences came from recommendations from guidebooks, blogs, TV shows, and websites.
Some of My Favorite Foods, Drinks, and Foodie Cities
- One of my great joys of traveling is trying different drinks. I particularly love drinking
- I adore Mexican juices (usually called agua) like tamarindo, jamaica (dried hibiscus leaves), and chaya (a type of spinach in the Yucatan). I also love most tequila drinks, especially margaritas (Check out these recipes). . I sometimes dream about the fabulous Pisco (a type of Brandy) sours in Peru.
- Look for unexpected flavors in familiar dishes. One of my favorite things is trying incredible ice cream flavors. My favorite flavors include
- 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 Travel Tips for Food Lovers
- Staying with locals can be an excellent way to get some tasty food. As I talk about in other parts of this blog, I have stayed with many families worldwide 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 distinct types of molé so I could try them all.
- Visiting places where locals make food and drinks like breweries, cheese-making factories, and distilleries. Check out seasonal happenings in your destination, such as the cabane a sucre (sugar shack), where you can learn about maple syrup production while celebrating the joys of winter in Quebec, the Northeast US, and Canada.
- Sometimes you can have a fun time visiting food manufacturers in unexpected places. I enjoyed visiting 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 tours. I had a wonderful 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 to the ingredients, smells, and colors of food. If you want to cook during the course and have a limited budget,
- I suggest that you go to schools in Thailand. Chiang Mai has many cooking schools for around $50 for a full day of activities. (Chiang Mai also offers an impressive list of other classes such as jewelry making, Muay Thai boxing, and even a class about Thai transgender life)
- Taking food tours. I have been on these tours in approximately twenty different cities worldwide. I have always found them a fun way to try other 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. I recommend their tea and chocolate tours).
- Many “foodie” travelers love touring local markets. In Latin America and Asia, these markets operate daily, are a vital part of the community, and sell anything you can imagine. Often cooking schools and food tours offer visits to these markets as part of their activities. (The markets are often great places to buy souvenirs as well).
- In much of the US/Canada and Europe, there are weekly farmers’ markets where you can join locals in buying cheese, meat, fruit, and whatever else is interesting. Making a picnic out of local delicacies, bread, and wine from the local markets can be a fun, inexpensive, and memorable change of pace from eating out in restaurants all the time. One of the largest farmers’ markets in North America is the Marché Jean-Talon in Montreal; so much variety that I spent almost a full day exploring the market.
Some of My Top Travel Tips for Food Lovers
- Obsession with food can be a terrific 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 there is some benefit, 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. Locals will be impressed by your fortitude if you can tolerate spicy dishes.
- Asking waiters for their recommendations can be a fantastic 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 stomachs) and joue (beef cheeks).
- If you do not like a dish, play with condiments. At first, I did not like much spice in my food, but after living in Mexico for six years, I now ask for spicy sauce whenever I eat Mexican food in the USA or Canada. I always apply a few drops of salsa to my hand and lick it to see how hot it is before adding it to my dish. Some plates in different countries vary greatly depending on the cook’s spices (i.e., Indian curry and Mexican mole).
- I like to eat at restaurants over street food primarily because I enjoy relaxing and being served when I eat. I also want 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 for restaurants and others for street vendors. Restaurants are lovely places to try European foods. Thailand and Mexico are perfect places for street food. The kiosks usually have 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 exceedingly 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 primarily available in restaurants. (Singapore hawkers, or street food kiosks, are even on the UNESCO intangible heritage list).
- 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 want to save money and try some fancy restaurants, 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:
- Gallo pinto (rice and beans) for breakfast in Costa Rica
- Beer with my Greekburger in France,
- Pork burgers with buns made from rice in Thailand,
- McLobster rolls in the Canadian Maritimes,
- Spicy chicken curry burgers in India. (In India, McDonald’s doesn’t serve hamburgers)
- Shrimp congee (a type of Chinese porridge) at McDonald’s in Hong Kong.
Different Eating Habits and Culture Around the World
- Learning about food also challenges us to consider diverse ways of living. Almost every rule that we consider essential, somewhere in the world, is done entirely differently.
- Foods can vary a lot by region. Many 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 Guangzhou; 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. Here are some examples.
- Sichuan Chinese is much spicier than Cantonese food.
- Northern Italian cuisine has many more similarities with French food than its more tomato-based Neapolitan cousin. (Sicilian cuisine even has an Arabic touch).
- Southern Indian cuisine is spicier and has 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.
- The Yucatan diet differs from the rest of Mexico (many turkeys, duck, venison, chaya, and sour oranges).
- 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, mainly if you 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 eats distinct 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 like 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 a 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 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, you do not want more if you leave food. 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.