Treating yourself to the world’s tastiest food and drink can be a fantastic treat and a great cultural experience — not to mention delicious reward for enduring jet lag.
Napoleon said “an army travels on its stomach.” So do travelers. These days, however, food itself is grounds to break out your passport. There’s a whole world of flavor waiting for you. High-end or low-end, it’s all out there to no end.
Moreover, strict national laws governing the quality and preparation of foods often lead to foods that aren’t just good-tasting, but healthier for you. Travelers often marvel at the amount of incredible foods they consumed on their international trips, only to find on returning home that they actually lost weight.
Foodie travel can come at you in places and ways you don’t expect. I once took a date to San Francisco International Airport — for dinner. Linen tablecloths, real silverware, gorgeous panoramic views of planes taking off and landing with San Francisco Bay as a backdrop — and the best prime rib of my life.
That resto is long gone, but the memory of that night will be with me forever.
Train stations are mostly staid, pedestrian places, and so are their restaurants. Until you come to Le Train Bleu (“the blue train”) in the Gare de Lyon in Paris, in business since 1901. Take a look — and prepare to be BLOWN AWAY.
But don’t limit yourself to palaces of the palate. The local joints, the pubs, cafes and holes-in-the-proverbial-wall, can be just as good — and a whole lot cheaper. The best are often away from the tourist zones. Ask locals for guidance.
Open-air markets, indoor or outdoor, often include stands serving up great food, created by cooks who honed their skills at home rather than culinary academies.
Examples abound: Pike Place Market in Seattle. Camden Market in London or La Boqueria in Barcelona. Hawker centres (that’s how they spell it over there) in Singapore and Tsukiji Outer Market in Tokyo. Any of a hundred Asian night markets from British Columbia to Beijing.
Some cities feature eateries that combine cuisine and culture, serving you dishes with a backdrop of traditional music and dance. Two good examples are 2000Habesha and Yod Abyssinia in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.
Don’t feel comfortable exploring foreign food scenes on your own, especially in a place where you don’t speak the language and can’t read the signs? Culinary tours are available in the world’s great capitals and often small rural communities, as well.
You can even stay at rural farms and villas that include gourmet meals as part of your package.
Given so many authentic local choices, small wonder that some travelers cringe at the idea of checking out a McDonald’s or Pizza Hut or some other familiar fast-food joint they find overseas. But that would be a mistake. It can be a real eye-opener to see how the rest of the world does American fast food.
Even in the most familiar big-name chains, you’ll find dishes that you’ll never see at home. Factors ranging from local tastes to religious dictates lead to even familiar items being prepared in wonderfully different ways.
And that’s just food. We haven’t gotten to the world’s drink menu yet.
It’s hard nowadays to find a country not producing a world-class beer or wine or spirit. The famed Storehouse at Dublin’s Guinness Brewery. Whiskey distilleries from Ireland to India (yes, India) Gin. Vodka. Japanese sake and Korean soju. Just to name a few.
And if I tried to list all the world-class wineries in even three countries in Europe, we’d be here all day. Maybe two.
Foodie travel also offers a chance to learn through cooking classes, taught by everyone from family cook to formally trained chefs.
Shop the local markets with your instructors and see how they pick the best ingredients to turn them into delectable dishes. Bakeries, butcher shops, delis. Oh, my…
The best part: You get to eat your homework.
Share the learning and the tasting with fellow travelers in professional kitchen classrooms — or, if you’re staying in a vacation rental with its own kitchen, have you cooking instructor come to you for private lessons.
So when you head out to see the world, make sure to bring your sense of adventure — and your sense of taste — with you.