A taste of local food is also a taste of local life. (Photo: Matt Long/LandLopers)
By Matt Long
Ever since I first started my travel blog LandLopers.com, I’ve made food an important aspect of my writing and photography. Food is, I believe, the most important aspect of the travel experience. Through food, we form some of our strongest travel memories — scents and sensations that we can still recall years later. It’s through the stomach that we learn about a new culture, what the people value, and how they live every day. Eating is also something we all have to do, and because of that, it is one of the few aspects of the travel experience that we can all relate to. I’ve had many amazing food experiences around the world, from a simple crepe in Paris to a traditional braai (barbecue) in South Africa. Here are my favorite foodie moments from each continent.
1. North America
Nothing like some good ol’ soul food. (Photo: Matt Long/LandLopers)
I’ve lived in 12 states in the U.S., from New Hampshire to Georgia, so it’s hard to lay claim to a region of the United States with a straight face. But when I’m forced to choose, I say that I’m a son of the South, which is more or less true. Half of my family lives in the south, and I’ve lived there since 1991. So, I think it’s OK to promote our regional cuisine as the best in the country, with great barbecue rising to the top of that delicious list. There is nothing quite so satisfying as a hearty meal of well-cooked and well-sauced barbecue. It’s truly an art form. The master cook spends years developing the recipes and hours slow-cooking the meat. Served with a variety of sides, including baked beans, hush puppies and french fries, this massive meal may not be appropriate for daily consumption, but it is a treat whenever you are lucky enough to enjoy it. All praise the American barbecue sandwich, and long may it cook.
2. South America
An assortment of eats at Peumayen. (Photo: Matt Long/LandLopers)
While there are many delicious meals to be enjoyed in South America, I have actually been disappointed by the food there overall. It can be oddly bland at times, and therefore it can be hard to find something local and tasty. As a lover of street food and restaurants without any stars, I surprised myself by enjoying — no, loving — a high-end food experience at Peumayen Restaurant in Santiago, Chile. The name means “place dreamed” in Mapudungun, the language of the indigenous Mapuche people of Chile, and it’s appropriate because it specializes in foods that have been eaten in Chile for centuries but which most of us have never encountered. Taking recipes and traditions from the original people of the region, the chefs have created food that is interesting, unusual, and delicious. My multicourse experience was delivered in fine-dining style but with tastes and flavors that haven’t been combined in generations. With offerings like rolled beef with Chilean hazelnut crust and lamb tongue with quinoa salad and onion purée, the chef adds his own personality to the old ways of eating, creating something totally unique. That’s not an easy task, and it makes the restaurant a must in Santiago.
The food is just as good as it is colorful. (Photo: Matt Long/LandLopers)
Overall, I have always enjoyed the food in South Africa, from the fancy restaurants in Stellenbosch to the street-food staple “bunny chow” in Durban. My favorite food experience, though, is one that went beyond the taste and introduced me to a culture I would never have learned about otherwise. The Bo Kaap neighborhood in Cape Town is one of the most photographed in town, thanks to the vibrantly painted homes that stand in the shadow of the mountains. It’s a beautiful area, but most tourists come and go without learning very much about its culture, known as Cape Malay.
The earliest members of the ethnic group known today as Cape Malay arrived as slaves, brought to Cape Town from Southeast Asia by the Dutch. Later, Muslim leaders from what is now Indonesia were sent into exile and forced to resettle in South Africa. And many Cape Malays have Indian heritage, too. Joining a cooking class in the home of a local resident, I learned how to roll roti and combine flavors for the perfect curry, learning more about the cook and the Cape Malay culture she exemplified in the process. Sure, I went home with a stack of recipes and a newfound taste for spicy Cape Malay food but also with an intense appreciation for Bo Kaap culture and Cape Town.
Related: You’ll Never Believe These 9 Cities Have World-Class Food
It’s a classic for a reason. (Photo: Matt Long/LandLopers)
Europe is probably my favorite foodie destination, and I love so much of it, so this was a particularly difficult decision. From fresh pastas in Italy to pintxos in Spain to pastries everywhere, it’s all just so flavorful. But when I think about the one dish I have always enjoyed the most, it’s the classic Wiener schnitzel. This is one of the most touristy meals out there, but it’s famous for a reason: It’s delicious. Sure, you can find Wiener schnitzel (which means fried veal cutlets from Vienna) just about anywhere, but when you’re in Vienna, one of the best places to enjoy this traditional delicacy is at Figlmüller. Located near St. Stephen’s Cathedra, the chefs at Figlmüller have been creating some of the best versions of Austria’s national dish since 1905, so it’s safe to say that they know what they’re doing. The schnitzels are made from the best cuts of pork, and they extend well past the edge of the plate, which is a massive 11 inches in diameter. Still, I found myself devouring this classic dish in no time; it was light, crispy, and delicious.
Related: Advice From Italian Women: Chill Out About Eating Pasta
A beautiful sunset isn’t always on the dinner menu, but it’s certainly a nice bonus. (Photo: Matt Long/LandLopers)
Asia is another location where it’s hard to pick one favorite bite, especially when several countries there are among my favorite places to eat anywhere in the world. But food is tied to memory, and because of that, I have to choose a dish in Bangkok, not only because it’s delicious but because it means so very much to me on a basic, emotional level. Located on the mighty Chao Phraya River, near Thewet Pier, it’s found in one of my favorite establishments in Bangkok, the In Love Restaurant. I go there every time I visit the Thai capital, and thankfully, not much has changed. One of the best features of the restaurant is the view — especially at sunset. Sitting there watching the sky explode in hues of purple and pink as boats race along the busy river, you can capture the essence of Bangkok. Fortunately, the food is good, too. My go-to dish is a simple one: crispy chicken with basil.
Related: Food With a View — the Most Amazing Waterfront Dining
When in the Outback! (Photo: Matt Long/LandLopers)
I love Australia dearly, and I know that I will never tire of exploring this massive and endlessly fascinating country. But for all it does right, Australia is not a prime foodie destination. Sorry, but it’s true. The food is fine, but there’s nothing really notable or classically Australian, aside from perhaps a sausage roll. But I did manage to find one of the best burgers I’ve ever had, in the middle of the barren Goldfields region of the Western Australia Outback, of all places. The sole survivor of a long-since-evacuated gold rush town, the lonely Broad Arrow Tavern is located about 40 miles from Kalgoorlie and has been serving customers since 1896. The quintessential Aussie outback pub, the Broad Arrow is famous for the thousands of notes, left behind by customers, covering every wall inside and outside the tavern. Its famous burger has a heap of cheese and meat melted into each other, creating what I consider to be an expertly prepared and naturally delicious burger.
When penguins are your sole eating companions, you know you’re in the middle of nowhere. (Photo: Matt Long/LandLopers)
Yes, I even have a favorite food moment on the icy continent of Antarctica, but it has nothing to do with what I ate and everything to do with the setting. There aren’t really food options in Antarctica, per se, except at the military and scientific research bases, so all of my meals were consumed on a ship as it cruised around the Antarctic Peninsula. My favorite food memory happened one morning when we hiked up Orne Island. It wasn’t an easy hike, and at the top, I sat on a rock, admiring the stunning views and the hundreds of penguins that waddled around me as I tried to catch my breath. I put my hand in my parka pocket and discovered a granola bar, perfect after the strenuous trek. I munched away as I looked into the abyss, thousands of miles separating me from any form of civilization, a sensation almost impossible to experience anywhere else in the world. It was then and there that the enormity of the Antarctic experience really hit me, and I have that granola bar to thank in large part for that.
So there you have it: my personal list of my favorite foods on all seven continents. You probably don’t agree with some or all of them, and that’s fine. Travel in general is an intensely personal experience, and food even more so. It doesn’t matter what you like or don’t like to eat when you travel; what matters is that you try new things and, in the process, learn more about new cultures than you would in any other way.