Sometimes the joy of travel equals the joy of eating. Discovery, mixing with the locals, taking a chance that gloriously pays off – adventurous travelling and emboldened eating share the same delights. Here’s a globetrotting selection of some cities where we particularly enjoy what’s on the menu.
Ever ordered some enticing-sounding dish at a Vietnamese restaurant, only to be served oleaginous, unidentifiable brown sludge that has barely the energy to offend the tastebuds? Now think of the opposite: that’s what to expect in Hanoi. Nuanced and balanced flavours, delicately herby dishes await, each harbouring international influences from French to Indian.
Eating your way through Hanoi is the best way to explore the city. Get appreciative nods from the locals as you join them on a breakfast slurp of their staple, beef and noodle soup. Then head for the old quarter’s street kitchens, wrestle a spot to sit on and work your way through noodle dishes, papaya and shredded beef, and maybe some barbecued quail. Come evening, you might want to go glam in the French Quarter, where the city’s swankiest eateries serve some of Vietnam’s best food. Just be sure to round off meals with hefty doses of ice cream. You can diet when you get home.
Just as the most-Michelin-starred city in the world makes you look at cities anew, so its wares leaves you rethinking food. Forget fusion, zeitgeist cooking or platefuls of barely edible grace notes, Tokyo’s food finds poetry in simplicity: restaurants attaining perfection in serving one thing and one thing only; chefs who know their produce and craft inside-out after years of study and practice; freshness and ingredients the twin kings for restaurateurs and customers alike.
Breakfast at Tsukiji fish market, and some dishes might have you squirming beforehand – raw squid topped with urchin; octopus with salmon eggs – but courage is rewarded with the realisation that you’re feasting on the world’s best seafood. A couple of other options worth considering: visit noodle-houses in Ogikubo, birthplace of the ramen and still the best area to wolf down a bowlful. Or go upscale in Omotesando, where among cutting edge design and architecture you’ll find some of Japan’s best restaurants.
Jolt the day awake with treacly-thick, caffeine-high-guaranteed Turkish coffee, then hit the streets for foraging. Istanbul is one of the world’s great cities for street food, and whatever the time you’ll find an array of mouth-watering morsels. Lahmacun, a delicious staple of street food, will undoubtedly feature – lamb, pickles, a squeeze of lemon and sprinkling of parsley. For many Turks, it’s the perfect mid-morning snack. We’re not going to disagree.
To accompany your souk exploration, indulge your sweet tooth with some cezeriye, a cousin of Turkish delight, typically made from carrot juice, honey and pistachios. Evenings, hunt out a meyhani – tavern – where mezes are served up amid a bustling atmosphere, then treat yourself to a generous portion of syrup-laden baklava and pistachio-crusted Turkish delight.
Pile your plate sky-high with pintxos in Bilbao – the city’s got bar food down to a fine art. It’s not an idle description: the decorative preparation that goes into these bite-sized treats is legendary, and the annual competition to find the city’s best is as competitive as any Olympic event.
The best way to sample Bilbao is on a atxikiteo — roughly speaking, a bar crawl that takes in plenty of food, as well as liberal amounts of txakoli, the local bone-dry white wine. Do as locals do and stand at the bar, debating the merits of each offering before heading on to the next place.
Portuguese colonial history, African heritage, tropical climate, abundant riches from land and sea... how could Salvador not have great food? You can get your fill of international cuisine here, but what’s the point? The moreish local dishes reflect Salvador’s complex identity, and the way they’re eaten flaunts the city’s zesty love of life. The quintessential comida baianaexperience: get beachside, catch some capoeira, and snack on moqueca – traditional seafood stew, slow cooked. Or pick a dish that features two mainstays of local cooking, coconut milk and delicious azeite-de-dende, oil extracted from palms. Don’t leave town without grazing on Salvador’s street food of choice, acaraje, deep-fried black-eyed peas smothered in a shrimpy, nutty paste. One is never enough.
A pulsating encyclopaedia of food, not only Chinese, not just Asian, but great cuisines from across the world. From Michelin-starred restaurants where you can eat for a mere few bucks to all-night dim sim joints; overblown temples of food where celebrity chefs cook up galactically expensive dining experiences, to streets lined with markets brimful of fresh produce and the air heavy with the scent of hawker wares – if you don’t find great food here, your tastebuds might be switched to the ‘off’ setting.
Several worthy options: visit a dim sim restaurant and indulge in what may be the world’s most addictive food. It’s a grand yet homely affair, sometimes cathedral-esque in size but never intimidating, and invariably abuzz with the clattering dim sim carts and satisfied diners. Also, you can’t go wrong spending time with a hotpot and some choice ingredients. Family or friends gathered around the soup of their choice, ready to while away hours dunking in strips of meat and the freshest seafood. Delicious.