Alexia Santamaria counts down 12 of the world's best foodie experiences. How many have you tried?
Tasting local food is one of the greatest pleasures of travel. So often a national dish will reflect part of a nation's history, or tell you something about the locally-grown ingredients used in that region's cuisine. Not to mention that for something to become a national favourite it is usually delicious, well, at least to the people who live there (Many foreigners argue that Vegemite on toast, chicken's feet, tripe, fried spiders or Rocky Mountain oysters are not as wonderful as locals evangelically insist). Here are some dishes and snacks to tick off your foodie wish list in your 2019 travels.
Custard tarts in Lisbon
There aren't many sweets in the world as comforting as a Pastel de Nata (Portuguese custard tart). Puff pastry filled with silky custard, blistered — but never burnt — from the high heat of the oven. And it seems there's never a wrong time to eat these babies. With coffee for breakfast, for an afternoon snack, after lunch or dinner; they are readily available for your avid and regular consumption while in beautiful Portugal.
Gelato in Florence
This Italian icy treat dates back to the 16th century and popular belief is that it was invented by a Florentine, Bernardo Buontalenti, by order of a grand duke, who wanted to impress a visiting delegation from Spain. It has now become a popular delicacy around the world, and you'll find artisan gelato shops all over Italy. There's even a gelato museum in Carpigiani. When you're choosing your daily flavour on an Italian holiday, make sure you look for the words "artigianale" (artisan) or "fatto in casa" (homemade). That way you know you're at a high-quality store and not a tourist trap churning out mass-produced products using powdered mixtures. You'll know the difference when you taste it.
Chilli Crab in Singapore
This one is messy, but worth it. Don a bib, or keep a stack of serviettes close as you roll your sleeves up and get stuck into this wonderful dish of whole crab stir-fried
in a sweet, savoury and spicy tomato-based sauce — fingers are the only suitable cutlery for this job. You can eat this at dedicated chilli crab restaurants or
at the many hawker centres. Make sure you get a side of mantous (steamed or deep-fried buns) to mop up that luscious sauce.
Kokoda in Fiji
A version of this refreshing raw fish salad is available in most Pacific islands, each with a different twist — but all including very fresh chunks of fish marinated in citrus, and tossed in fresh coconut milk. The acid from the lemon or lime "cooks" the fish without heat. Recipes will vary, but Fijians often love to add red onion, chilli, spring onions, capsicum and tomato in their version. Essential island eating — lap it up; it's never as good at home with coconut cream from a can.
Poutine in Quebec
Fries, cheese curds and gravy. A weird combo for the uninitiated but, when you think about it, it's just comfort food layered on comfort food, how can you go wrong? This snack originated in Quebec but is now found all over Canada — especially good when those winter temperatures kick in. You can now get all kinds of topping variations but stick with the classic for the authentic experience.
Banh mi in Ho Chi Minh
One of the positive things to come out of French occupation of Vietnam was the unique blend of cuisine that evolved. One of the best examples of this is the Banh mi, a sandwich that blends the richness of French cuisine (fresh baguette, homestyle pate, mayonnaise) with the freshness of Vietnamese ingredients like coriander, cucumber pickled vegetables, pork sausage. Originally a Saigon special you'll now find it in many places in Vietnam, often in roadside stands. It really is the perfect mix.
Pub roast lunch in London
There are few things better on a cold Sunday than a massive plate of roast beef, perfectly crispy spuds, veges, Yorkshire pudding and gravy in an old English pub, preferably with a roaring fire. Although more modern establishments are taking over many high streets, there are still traditional boozers to be found in London and the surrounding countryside. Make sure you wash down your huge stodgy, delicious lunch with a pint of lager.
Jambalaya in New Orleans
One of the world's most delicious one-pot dishes, Jambalaya is a Louisiana favourite and a must-eat when in New Orleans. It varies from eatery to eatery and house to house but usually contains some kind of meat, andouille sausage, seafood (often shrimp or crab), vegetables (onions, celery and capsicums as standard), all cooked in rice, stock, seasonings and tomatoes till the flavours infuse. There's debate over its origin but it's said there are African, Spanish and French influences. It certainly looks like an adaptation of Spanish paella.
Cheese bread in Rio de Janeiro
This popular snack and breakfast food is not really bread as we know it. Made from tapioca flour these little "rolls" are light, cheesy and, once you get through the golden exterior, delightfully chewy (but not jaw-achingly so). Pao de queijo is a popular snack you can find everywhere in Brazil — bakeries, streetside stands or even supermarkets. Warning — very easy to eat and very hard to stop.
Tagine in Marrakech
This is one of Morocco's best-known dishes and you'll see these distinct conical-shaped clay cooking/serving vessels everywhere from souks to fine-dining joints. Cooking in clay with an escape vent for steam, results in softer-than-soft meat, beautifully infused with those classic Moroccan flavours of cumin, paprika, ginger, cinnamon and turmeric — fruit like prunes often feature for a sweet component. Mint tea — poured from a great height to aerate — is an essential accompaniment.
Pelmeni in Moscow
In New Zealand we often associate dumplings with China, but if you have the good fortune to visit Russia, you have to try their version of this dough-encased deliciousness. Pelmeni contain minced meat (often a combination of several kinds) garlic, onion and other spices and are served hot with butter and sour cream or tomato sauce. Many families make these at home as they freeze well and are quick to cook in those cold Russian winters.
Bhel Puri in Mumbai
Bhel Puri is a wonderful Indian street snack that often comes served in a
paper cone. It's the perfect mix of tastes and textures with a magical combination of puffed rice, sev (a thin noodle-shaped fried snack made from chickpea flour), potatoes, onions, chutney, chaat masala, peanuts, coriander, chili and tomatoes; the different versions will have different omissions and additions. It's simultaneously salty, tangy, spicy, savoury and slightly sweet.