By Aly Walansky
Food can be a major factor in choosing a travel destination. We may want to see the ancient ruins, beautiful beaches, or incredible monuments, but many of us are after a more interactive way of absorbing the local culture. We travel to experience the regional specialties, the home-cooked flavor, the spices and the tastes that cannot be adequately recreated anywhere else.
Alas, even when it comes to the foodie cities of the world, it often comes down to a popularity contest, and you’ll see the same destinations over and over in “best food destinations” roundups. We already know we’ll find incredible food in Nashville and New Orleans, in Capetown and Hong Kong. But if you are looking for a few destinations with amazing food scenes that don’t show up on all the lists, you may want to check out our roundup to learn about these gems.
We all know Istanbul as a culinary and cultural hub of course, but where do Istanbul locals go for a culinary weekend retreat? Gaziantep, also known as Antep, is a city in southeastern Turkey that may not be the most enthralling for conventional tourist activities, but that gets at the heart of Turkish cuisine. Turkey is renowned for its kebabs and its baklava, and you’ll find the very best of both in Gaziantep. Gaziantep is the center of pistachio production in Turkey, and is said to be the birthplace of baklava, in fact. Try the country’s best interpretation at Elmacı Pazarı Güllüoğlu. Other Turkish treats, including the meat- or cheese-filled bread called katmer and the honey-drenched shredded wheat confection called kadayıf, orginated here too.Another of Antep’s specialties is beyran, a dish of spicy lamb broth with rice, tender lamb, and a big spoonful of chopped garlic — served for breakfast. The best place to go for this specialty is Metanet Lokantası, also known for its kebabs.
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Tasmania, or “Tassie” as many an Australian calls it, is an island off the southern coast of Australia. With its rural landscape and abundance of farmland, Tasmania has long supplied the country with incredibly fresh produce, livestock like gourmet beef and lamb, dairy products, and fresh seafood — visitors must especially try Tassie’s scallop pies — as well as some of the country’s best pinot noirs and sparkling wines. Tasmania itself is fast becoming a playground for food lovers as well as for chefs, as exhibited by the booming culinary hub of its capital city, Hobart. Hobart isn’t Australia’s most enchanting city, but it’s making a name for itself in the world of food. Visitors have long been coming to Hobart for the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), a private art museum that also has its own winery for visitors to explore and enjoy. Hobart is home to award-winning restaurants including Garagistes, one of the most famous in the country, as well as an ever-expanding café scene and some bustling markets, like the Salamanca market held every Saturday or the Tas Farm Gate Market held on Sundays, where visitors can find fruits bursting with flavor, artisan cheese, and fresh vegetables, not to mention some delicious Aussie pies.
Hội An, Vietnam
Hội An is a UNESCO World Heritage site, but it also boasts an impressive culinary scene. The Old Town is lined with street-side cafés and modest restaurants offering local fare and some international cuisine with influence of Chinese, French, and Japanese traditions — but the best piece of advice any traveler will tell you is this: Go across the river. An estuary of the Thu Bồn flows through the city, and on the far side, you’ll find food markets with meals starting at a dollar for local specialties, especially cao lầu — Vietnam’s unique noodle dish, made with little broth and with firm, chewy noodles —considered authentic only in Hội An. (The secret, by the way, lies in the water.) At night these markets are bustling with locals, one-man “kitchens” cooking meals to order in simple woks. You may not need to stay long in Hội An, but this town that will satisfy your appetite.
Though internationally acclaimed British-Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi calls Jerusalem his hometown, the stellar food scene here still doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Simply put, Jerusalem’s food is a mish-mash, in the best possible sense. Dishes from Jewish West Jerusalem and Arabic East Jerusalem, both rooted in tradition, define the city, yet the culinary scene is invigorated by an influx of flavors reflecting immigrant cultures from Morocco,Poland, Hungary, and more. The most important thing to understand about the culinary scene here is that it is always evolving, with chefs like Ezra Kedem of the city’s Arcadia restaurant leading the charge, creating dishes with locally sourced ingredients and adding a modern twist to traditional recipes. There are open-air food markets and street food, too, and it’s easy to see the city is obsessed with falafel carts. Spend time roaming around the city’s Machane Yehuda market, where you will find everything from fresh vegetables to pastries and coffee. The people of Jerusalem may have their differences, but one thing they certainly share is a love of food.
Alentejo wine. (Photo: Dominic Lockyer/Flickr)
When we think of Portugal, we think of Lisbon, but Évora definitely deserves our attention. An easy drive from Lisbon, Évora is a medieval town turned popular university town and a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its beautifully preserved Gothic, Roman, and Baroque architecture. It’s located in the south-central Alentejo region, widely known for its original dishes (the bold use of cilantro and other herbs is typical) and is the source of much of the country’s pork products. In Évora, tourists will find many quaint, small restaurants serving plenty of petiscos, or appetizers, as well as heartier fare for food lovers who have worked up an appetite exploring the narrow lanes of this medieval gem. Alentejo wine is some of the best wine in the country, too — and many classic Portuguese desserts were invented in convents of Évora in the 16th century, like a local favorite, the almond-infused pão de rala, produced by the nuns of Santa Helena do Calvário.
WATCH: How to Make Açorda Alentejana
(Photo: Sunday driver/Flickr)
Macanese food is a unique culinary experience, recalling the unique history of Macau and its Portuguese maritime origins. Macau, just a 40-minute ferry ride from Hong Kong, is a unique destination where the culture and community are a beautiful confluence of Portuguese and Chinese influence, but the city often gets relegated to simple “day trip” status on a Hong Kong sojourn. However, Macau’s blend of cultures not only combines Chinese and Portuguese flavors, but also includes tastes from Africa, India, and Latin America. Some of the special foods that Macau has to offer are Portuguese egg tarts, lacassá soup, pork balichão, African chicken, serradura (“sawdust” pudding), coconut milk custard, and golden codfish. Oftentimes, the old historical neighborhoods of Macau are eclipsed by the flashing lights of the newer casino and gaming districts, but there is a whole other world in Macau that is dotted with specialty shops, tucked-away restaurants, street vendors, and more.
“While Nashville gets the majority of food love in Tennessee, I feel like Memphis is so often overlooked,” says award-winning travel journalist Kristin Luna. “There’s a lot of great food stuff going on in that town right now beyond the BBQ for which it’s known, and some stellar chefs — like Kelly English, Michael Hudman, and Andy Ticer —are finally bringing it the attention it deserves.” Hog & Hominy is getting tons of attention and is a must-visit, as are Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen and Kelly English’s popular new spot The Second Line, on top of Iris. Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken is incredible, and The Four Way has unbelievable soul food; a certain Elvis Presley used to be a regular. Another can’t-miss is Flight, a uniquely delightful find. Here, you are encouraged to order in “flights,” or three small entrées at a time, and the dishes are priced in threes. Save some room for a beer at Wiseacre Brewing, Memphis’ first taproom. Their beer can only be found in Memphis currently, so you may want to stock up once you are there!
Providence, Rhode Island
(Courtesy: Lobster Pot Inc)
“My favorite foodie city is my hometown of Providence,” says blogger and travel writer Zippy Sandler of Champagne Living. From Federal Hill to the famed home of grilled pizza Al Forno the food scene in Providence is thriving. You’ll find that quite a few of the world’s finest chefs were trained in Providence, like Emeril Lagasse, Michelle Bernstein, and Tyler Florence.” Providence is near some great farms, has access to amazing seafood, and boasts many talented chefs. The city is the original home of culinary educator Johnson & Wales University, and many of its students cut their teeth in local restaurants, and even stay on to open their own businesses. While in the area, take a scenic drive to Bristol, Rhode Island. It’s a quaint seaside town just outside of Providence with amazing can’t-miss restaurants like Persimmon’s delectable seasonal menu, as well as Lobster Pot Inc., one of southern New England’s favorite dining destinations since 1929.
With nearby farms just inland and its locating on Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula, Rovinj is a fishing village still very much dependent on the sea and influenced by its proximity to Italy. Known for its olive oils, truffles, and fresh fish, the proximity to small and diverse farms, water, and the Italian influence has made this Croatian city a unique epicenter of the Slow Food movement. Wine Vault Restaurant at Hotel Monte Mulini boasts one of Croatia’s most extensive wine collections, with over 500 labels from Istria, and cuisine by chef Tomislav Gretić. Gretić is known for his Chef’s Table experience, in which guests view the kitchen while he creates as many courses as the guests would like, based on their preferences. Another good place to eat is Restaurant L at Hotel Lone, which offers a fusion between traditional and modern Mediterranean specialties by chef Priska Thuring, who has launched a new menu that links food and design. Dishes include a “Fois Gras Magnum,” a unique take on the ice cream bar, and spicy Thai soup served as a modern re-interpretation of the classic tea ceremony with a raw oyster and a tea bag filled with spices.
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