Travel: Foodie Destinations
Karen Creed's Top 5 Foodie Destinations
Piemonte region in Italy
I lived in the Piemonte region for about a year (almost a decade ago) and it was my first proper introduction to Italian cuisine. It is only when I started to travel extensively around Italy in recent years that I began to appreciate just how good the food and wine is in this northern region - and the prices. I would recommend basing yourself in Turin to savour the best of the region's local produce as this city is close to many villages and towns like Alba that have become famous for their savoury and sweet offerings.
In many ways, Piedmont is Italy's gastronomic capital, thanks to the frenzy that surrounds white truffle season each autumn where you can join the crowds to hunt for truffles – or wait for their arrival in the restaurants and have them sprinkled on your pasta dish. It is also here in this region that the grapes for Barolos and Barbarescos wines have been cultivated for centuries. And you will find Cherasco, a hilltop town with a reputation for having the tastiest snails in the world. Bra is the seat of Slow Food, the international movement of people dedicated to preserving the tradition of handmade, artisanal cuisine. This slow food movement has also boosted the importance of the region when it comes to gastronomy and you will see it advertised on much of the produce, especially cheese.
Piedmont's cuisine is famous for the immense variety of antipasti. These filling dishes and the ubiquitous grissini, or long breadsticks, will often qualify as main courses. The famous bagna càuda is often the start to a meal with pieces of raw vegetables served with a heated sauce of garlic and anchovies in mixed olive oil and butter. The flatlands of Piemonte are Europe’s prominent supplier of Carnaroli rice, prized for creamy risotto which can be served a variety of ways. You can head a little south to the wine-making towns scattered among the vine-covered hills of Asti and Alba for wine tasting and tours. Traditionally, Asti and Alba stand tallest in the culinary stakes, while understated Cuneo has a long-standing chocolate obsession.
Turin has been the chocolate heart of Europe since the 17th century. The history of chocolate is strictly connected to Turin and Piedmont, where the very first hot chocolate, chocolate houses and chocolate spread were invented. The shortage of cocoa due to the Napoleonic war pushed the Piedmontese chocolate makers to be creative and experiment with new textures and flavours and by simply adding the local hazelnut meal to their chocolates, gianduiotto, the traditional Turin chocolate, was born. Ferrero Rocher also hails from this region.
My favourite country in Asia for cuisine is Malaysia. Malaysian food mixes in so many cultures—Arabic, Chinese, Thai, Indian, and more—that you could never appreciate them all in one sitting so bring your appetite. Within the country, the culinary landscape changes dramatically from one region to the next, which is why any tourist with a fondness for exploring new food won't want to stop at just one. To take in the full scope of Malaysian flavours, it's essential to explore. The popular island of Penang was voted by Lonely Planet last year as one of the top foodie destinations but to be honest anywhere I have travelled in Malaysia I have eaten extremely well.
Kick start your taste buds in the morning with a sweet treat like Apam Balik. It's a pancake-style snack stuffed with more than a sufficient amount of sugar, peanuts and the occasional sprinkle of corn - it's a dish that's constantly being reinvented. Some call nasi lemak Malaysia’s unofficial national dish which is basically rice cooked in coconut milk. Depending on where you are in Malaysia, it comes with a variety of accompaniments such as hard-boiled egg, vegetables, lamb/chicken/or beef curry, seafood and sambal (chilli-based sauce).Nasi lemak is traditionally eaten for breakfast but nowadays people are ordering it any time of day. Air bandung – rose syrup and evaporated or condensed milk makes a great accompaniment to spicy Malay food.
Some of my best experiences of food were in Kuala Lumpur, the capital and in the eastern coastal village of Terengganu, where I tasted some of the best seafood. I remember a particular restaurant called Ask Ann where the maitre d’ was called Ann and there was no menu as you just told Ann the food mood you were in and she would go in to her team of chefs and have them whip up your personal customised dish. Because many Malay dishes are often so quick to make, this concept worked well here.
Just like in neighbouring Thailand, cookery schools are extremely popular in Malaysia and many tourists will sign up to a day or week course to learn how to recreate their favourite Malay dishes back home. Tropical Spice Garden is one of the most popular places to learn to cook on the exotic island of Penang.
"I know of only one thing that you can do well in Lyon and that’s eat,” The words of 19th-century French novelist Stendhal. Two centuries later, the image of France’s third-largest city is still linked with food. The city’s bouchons (cosy restaurants serving rustic, traditional cuisine) are famous. And once you devour tons of blood sausage and St. Marcellin cheese, you can find more than just a picturesque place to dine. Lyon is the gateway to the Alps and enfolds Roman ruins, Renaissance-era architecture, abundant art spaces, renovated riverfronts and a futuristic architecture.
Eating out is not just about traditional bouchons and Michelin-starred venues of gastronomy. There are several new affordable contemporary restaurants run by up-and-coming young chefs who are redefining gourmet cuisine and tempting diners with their tasting menus.
There are 2,000 restaurants in Lyon with a total of 31 Michelin stars on the last count. Renowned "chef of the century" Paul Bocuse hails from Lyon and the Les Halles markets have been renamed in his honour to Les Halles Paul Bocuse. His restaurant has been open in Lyon for 42 years and has held the Michelin stars for the entire time.
Lyon is also the city of charcuterie, a branch of cooking devoted to prepared meat products, primarily pork. In fact, Lyon is all about enjoying pig in more ways than imaginable — pig fried in pig fat, pig brain dressed in a porky vinaigrette, creamy pig lard salad, pig belly mixed with vinegary lentils, pig intenstines blown up like a balloon and stuffed with none other than pig intestines, pig bladder stuffed with chicken, pig intestines filled with pig blood, pig stuffed with sausage. If you’re looking for a salad or vegetarian dish, don’t expect much. The focus is really on the other side of the gastronomic spectrum
Think fish, fish and more Nordic fish. If you are short on time then make Helsinki, the capital, your stop to explore the finest food of Finland. A new map called Food Helsinki?Hell yeah makes the compact capital even easier to navigate by breaking it into quarters, like the hipster district, green district, SOPA district and the historical district. It’s all colour coded and each district has a list of great restaurants to try. The map is brimming with information showing Michelin starred restaurants (Helsinki currently has six) seaside cafes, little neighbourhood cafes, foodie tram routes and a timeline of Helsinki’s food culture history. It is beautifully illustrated and a must have item for anyone venturing to Helsinki with food in mind.
The icy cold waters of Finland produce very fine fish, some of which are unknown elsewhere in the world. A cousin to the salmon, the muikku fritti is one of its most prized, but the most common fish you will eat during a visit is Baltic herring which is consumed in vast quantities and is not only pickled, but fried or grilled. Sometimes it's baked between layers of potatoes with milk, cheese, and egg. Finland's version of the Swedish smörgåsbord (which means "bread and butter table") is not only bread and butter but an array of dishes, including many varieties of fish and several cold meat dishes, including smoked reindeer - all at a fixed price.
Every Finn looks forward to the crayfish season between July and September and after devouring half a dozen, they down a glass of schnapps. Don’t be surprised to see reindeer hamburgers on menus, served with onion and sweet pepper braised in sour cream with salad in a Lapland-style flat bread pocket. For something lighter like a salmon sandwich go to Kappeli and enjoy the beautiful terrace on the Esplanadi.
Along with elk, bear, and reindeer, Finns like the sharp taste of lingonberry. The Arctic cloudberry is a rare delicacy. Some Finnish hors d'oeuvres are especially good, particularly vorschmack (herring with garlic onions and lamb) The national beverage of Finland is milk (sometimes curdled).Two famous Finnish liqueurs should be tasted: lakka, made from the saffron-colored wild cloudberry, and mesimarja, made from the Arctic brambleberry.Fully-fledged restaurants are called ravintola. In fine dining restaurants, you may be served a convoluted morel known as "the black truffle of the north." Inexpensive lunches are available at places called kahvila and baari. A baari serves light food and perhaps a mild beer, although coffee is more common.
Mexico (focusing on Yucatan peninsula)
A trip here made me think very differently about Mexican food, how guacamole and salsa should taste and just how varied the cuisine is as you travel around this vast country. While in Mexico city I have tasted dome of the best tacos, I would recommend a tour of the Yucatan peninsula if you want a food adventure, putting your focus on Merida. It's an ancient city on the western tip of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. It has blossomed into Mexico’s latest foodie destination, redeeming a region long marred by fruity frozen drinks and all-you-can-eat buffets. Though Cancun is just a four-hour drive east, Mérida feels a world apart from the bustling tourist resorts.
Throughout Mexico, home cooks often surpass professional chefs, and the same is true in Merida. An array of recently opened cooking schools are bringing Mexican home cooking to those curious enough to learn how to create the dishes. The Yucatán table is densely layered as you have the foundation of the Mayans, the Moorish influences of the Spanish, the Caribbean elements and other European influences on top. Almost everything is served with the preferred local condiment, fresh habanero salsa. Despite the fact that menus with food photos nearly always spell disaster, in this case it was helpful to those not familiar with local food. Chilmole, for example, although scrumptious, might come as a shock to a diner not expecting turkey covered with a nearly jet-black sauce.
The use of typical ingredients from the region, such as habanero pepper, xcatic pepper, or pumpkin seed to prepare traditional dishes, is very popular and it gives the cuisine of Yucatan most of its charm. Probably one of the most famous dishes of the region is “Cochinita Pibil”. This dish consists of pork prepared with bitter orange and a local condiment known as “achiote”. The original dish is made by wrapping the meat in banana leaves and cooking it in a ground oven. When you try the traditional cuisine of Merida, remember to be very careful with the habanero sauces, since you can find them in most of the dishes and they are very hot. A delicious pitcher “chaya” water (a local plant) will be paradise for you if you eat too much habanero sauce.
In addition to eating in restaurants, exploring Merida's markets is another enlightening culinary experience tasting everything from seasoning pastes, to simple pork Picadillo to the baroque Queso Relleno (stuffed cheese).
Fionn Davenport's Top 5 Foodie Destinations
Italy’s food basket and the unofficial capital of Italian gastronomy is Emilia-Romagna, with a quality and range of food that is unrivalled in Italy.
- From Parma comes Parmigiano-Reggiano, the poor imitation of which is mistakenly called parmesan abroad: the original, produced by 737 producers throughout the province, is stamped with a seal of approval as rigorous as that given to the best wines.
- The best Parma ham, or prosciutto crudo, is produced in the Appennine town of Langhirano, just above Parma; but locals are just as devoted to their boiled ham (prosciutto cotto), mortadella and culatello, cut from the leanest part of the hind leg.
- Modena is the birthplace of Pavarotti and the world’s most famous vinegar, although to call aceto balsamico tradizionale just a vinegar is like saying Luciano could carry a tune: it hardly does justice to its ability to exalt virtually everything it touches, from cheese to strawberries.
- The region’s pasta courses are unmatched anywhere. Unlike the dry pastas (pastasciutta) of the south, in Romagna they use pasta all’uovo, a more golden pasta made with flour and eggs.
- A popular dish throughout the region is the tris, where you’re served three different pasta courses, such as lasagne verdi (which uses a green pasta made with pesto), filled pastas like tortelloni al pomodoro and the ubiquitous tagliatelle al ragú, made with a sauce English-speakers know as Bolognese, after the city of its birth.
This is one of the world’s most delicious cities. Every cuisine is represented, including every variation of Chinese cuisine, but also every other international cuisine too. It’s got a ton of top class restaurants, including dozens of Michelin-starred ones, but Hong Kong is really the Asian capital of street food and dim sum.
- Dim sum are Cantonese tidbits consumed with tea for breakfast or lunch. Opened by a former Four Seasons chef, Tim Ho Wan (8 Finance St) was the first ever budget dim sum place to receive a Michelin star. Expect to wait 15 to 40 minutes for a table.
- Tea cafes (???, cha chaan tang) are cheap and cheery neighbourhood eateries.
- A dai pai dong (???) is a food stall, hawker-style or built into a rickety hut crammed with tables and stools that sometimes spill out onto the pavement. In places where there’s a cluster of dai pai dong, you can order dishes from different operators.
Forget Paris – the real capital of French gastronomy is Lyon. A flurry of big-name chefs presides over a sparkling restaurant line-up that embraces all genres: French, fusion, fast and international, as well as traditional Lyonnais bouchons.
- The granddaddy of Lyon's gastronomic scene is octogenarian chef Paul Bocuse, whose empire includes his flagship Auberge du Pont de Collonges, a quartet of brasseries spread about the city and the newly opened L'Institut, run by students from his culinary arts academy.
- Bouchons – small bistros that blossomed in the first half the 20th century when big bourgeois houses downsized and let go of their in-house cooks (meres), forcing them to set up their own businesses…. The first of these mères (mothers) was Mère Guy, followed by Mère Filloux, Mère Brazier (under whom Paul Bocuse trained) and others. Many of the best are certified by the organisation Les Authentiques Bouchons Lyonnais – look for the metal plate on their facades depicting traditional puppet Gnafron with his glass of Beaujolais.
- Recommended are: Le Garet, Chez Hugon, Le Poêlon d'Or, Chez Paul and Le Tire Bouchon – all of whom do menus for around €25
- Many restaurants offer cheaper lunch menus on weekdays only.
- Don't miss Lyon's colourful outdoor food markets: Marché de la Croix Rousse and Marché St-Antoine.
- Lyon's famed indoor food market Les Halles de Lyon has over 60 stalls selling their renowned wares. Pick up a round of impossibly runny St Marcellin from legendary cheesemonger Mère Richard, and a knobbly Jésus de Lyon from pork butcher Collette Sibilia. Or enjoy a sit-down lunch of local produce at the stalls, lip-smacking coquillages (shellfish) included.
A typical Lyonnais meal begins with a communard, a blood-red aperitif of Beaujolais wine mixed with crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur), named after the supporters of the Paris Commune killed in 1871. When ordering wine with your meal, ask for a pot – a classically Lyonnais 46cL glass bottle adorned with an elastic band to prevent wine drips – of local Brouilly, Beaujolais, Côtes du Rhône or Mâcon, costing around €9 to €12; a smaller, 25cL version called a fillette costs between €5 and €7.
For starters (entrees) you could try the tablier de sapeur ('fireman's apron'; actually meaning breaded, fried tripe), salade de cervelas (salad of boiled pork sausage sometimes studded with pistachio nuts or black truffle specks), or caviar de la Croix Rousse (lentils in creamy sauce). Main dishes include boudin blanc (veal sausage), boudin noir aux pommes (blood sausage with apples), quenelles (feather-light flour, egg and cream dumplings), quenelles de brochet (pike dumplings served in a creamy crayfish sauce), andouillette (sausage made from pigs' intestines), gras double (a type of tripe) and pieds de mouton/veau/couchon (sheep/calf/pig trotters).
With 16 Michelin stars (including three restaurants with the coveted three stars) and a population of 183,000, San Sebastián stands atop a pedestal as one of the culinary capitals of the planet. As if that alone weren’t enough, the city is overflowing with bars – almost all of which have bar tops weighed down under a mountain of pintxos that almost every Spaniard will (sometimes grudgingly) tell you are the best in country. These statistics alone make San Sebastián’s CV look pretty impressive. But it’s not just us who thinks this: a raft of the world’s best chefs, including such luminaries as Catalan super-chef Ferran Adriá, have said that San Sebastián is quite possibly the best place on the entire planet to eat.
- The following pintxo bars all charge between €2.50 to €3.50 for one pintxo. Not so bad if you just take one, but is one ever enough? Recommended pinxto bars include La Cuchara de San Telmo, Bar Borda Berri, Bergara Bar and Astelena
- Otherwise, you have your choice of Michelin starred restaurants – Arzak, Akelare, and Martin Berasategui – all of which have three each.
I couldn’t begin to do justice to a city that has thousands of restaurants of every hue, price, taste, style and flavour. This is the ethnic eating capital of the world. But you need to go to the right neighbourhood…and that means getting out of Manhattan.
- Italian – Belmont, the Bronx, instead of Little Italy. Take the B, D or 4 subway lines to Fordham Rd, then the Bx12 bus to Hoffman St.
- Jewish – Borough Park, Brooklyn, instead of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Take the subway F to Ditmas Ave.
- Korean – Flushing, Queens, instead of Little Korea. Take the 7 train to Flushing–Main St.
- Russian – Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, instead of Midtown restaurants. Take subway line D to Ocean Pkwy.
- South American and Indian – Jackson Heights, Queens, instead of several Manhattan ’hoods. Take subway lines E, F, G, R or 7 to Roosevelt Ave.
- Mexican –Sunset Park, Brooklyn, instead of various Manhattan spots. Take the N train to Eighth Ave.
- Irish – Woodlawn, the Bronx, instead of Manhattan’s Third Ave Irish bars. Take the 4 train to Woodlawn.