The world is filled with amazing food.
Long-term travelers -- who happen to be amateur foodies -- all know this. But there’s something else many of us know: secretly, we want to be Anthony Bourdain. Some of the crazier of us (I’m in this group) wouldn’t even mind being Andrew Zimmern. I mean, what’s not to love about eating your way around the world, tasting every exotic ingredient you encounter?
Still, I’m not a traveling chef; Other than a brief six-month stint bussing tables in college, I don’t really have restaurant experience. Although I take plenty of pictures of my food as I travel the world, my palate just isn’t discerning enough to make me a bona fide foodie.So in lieu of waiting for the Food Network to offer me a fat TV contract, I make a point of eating like a local every chance I get.
Based on my travels, here are a few notable noshes to inspire you to try a few new dishes when you’re out on the road -- because great food is waiting for you just about everywhere!
They Feed You For Free In Northern Spain
In the U.S., many Mexican restaurants offer you free chips and salsa as an appetizer. In Galicia, a region in northern Spain, you get much better (and still free) appetizers just for ordering a beer: for €1 (that’s one Euro, which is as of this writing about the same as one US Dollar), you get not only a bottle of Estrella Galicia (the beer of choice in this neck of the Spanish woods) but some sort of fresh-made appetizer.
From bars in smaller, rural towns like Brión, Bertamiráns, or Noia, to larger cities like Santiago de Compostela, you’ll be treated to whatever the establishment is serving. No, you don’t get to pick. It could be be chorizo, freshly caught fish on a little cracker. It might even be a still-bubbling pot of “manos de la ministra”, a savory local dish made from pigs’ knuckles, or maybe a plate of olives and cheese. But whatever it is, it’s guaranteed to be tasty.
Pro tip: The evening meal is served very, VERY late in Galicia. Many restaurants don’t even open until 8 or 9 pm. If you’re feeling a little peckish mid-day, simply pop into a local bar and order a couple of beers. The free food appetizer will keep your hunger at bay and give you a good excuse to take a siesta before the night unfolds!
Even The Fruit Salad Is Hot In Thailand
Those on the lightweight-side of the “spicy food spectrum” are going to have a rough time in Thailand, because “authentic” Thai dishes are spicy. All of them. Even things that don’t sound spicy, like “fruit salad”, are hot.
I know what you’re thinking: Spicy fruit salad? Yes. I’m going to tell you that specifically papaya salad, as it’s made on the streets of Bangkok, deserves a four-alarm fire bell.
Once you’ve coaxed your tastebuds to come out of hiding. ask your tongue that question after it starts to smolder, because those little mashed up peppers coat every bite of this sweet-sounding treat with instant fire. Trust me when I tell you: It. Is. HOT! So just brace yourself for the pain, order an extra coconut to counteract some of the burn, and just fight through the shock -- because Thai papaya salad is worth it!
Get Hooked on Hong Kong’s Fish & Chips
For most of the last century Hong Kong was a British territory, so it’s no surprise that tasty fish and chip shops abound. From fast food to fancy, there are plenty of variations on the fish and chips them to please aficionados the world over.
Leave it to a transplanted Kiwi (New Zealander) to change the game. In a little takeaway shop called Hooked, Matthew Beldham is drawing crowds from all over the world. And he’s not doing it by creating off-the-wall concoctions or luring in trendy eaters with exotic types of fish: Instead, he’s flying in tons of sustainably harvested blue cod from his home country, using top quality sunflower oils, and lightly battering these treats to create what many locals call the best fish & chips in Hong Kong.
I can, however, categorically state that the fish & chips we enjoyed from Hooked were the best fish & chips we’ve had anywhere in the world. They are that good and simply must be tried. In fact, you may want to extend your stay so you can eat there a second time… and maybe even a third.
You Can’t Top Belgian Waffles
If there’s one food that’s been over-Americanized, it’s the waffle. From frozen discs your kids won’t want to let go of to soggy-sweet syrup sponges sold in dedicated houses, these quasi-food comfort items bear little resemblance to their European namesake, the Belgian waffle.
Our encounters with Belgian sugar waffles (also know by the lofty title: Gaufres de Liège) occurred one late February day in Brussels. Belgian waffles are ubiquitous, available any time of day from street vendors, cafes, and upscale restaurants. Walking around the city center left us cold and drenched, and the waffles we sat down to enjoy both warmed our bodies and filled our bellies.
Belgian waffle batter isn’t poured from a spout; it’s forked from a tray. One fist-sized dough ball is forked onto the hot iron, requiring actual physical force to close the two sections together. After a few minutes, the thick, crispy treat that pops out is more akin to lightly sweetened bread than a grid-patterned pancake. They are delicious, and are just calling out for toppings: Chocolate, bananas, strawberries, Nutella, peanut butter, fresh cream… we had a blast mixing our crazy combinations and savoring the different tastes and textures.
Which immediately got us branded as a tourists. Somewhat a source of national pride, Belgians vehemently reject any toppings whatsoever on their Belgian waffles. If you see a group of people eating waffles with toppings, they’re tourists. Even if you hear them speaking in French, they are tourists. No self-respecting Belgian would be seen polluting their waffles in such a profane way. (But my local contacts tell me that if you see a solo French-speaker parked in front of a banana, blueberry, and ice cream-covered plate of waffles, she’s probably a local pretending to be French.)
But don’t let the Belgian peer-pressure dissuade you if you really want to smothers yours in something akin to an umbrella drink. Just go with whatever makes you happy and enjoy the sugar high.
15 Un-Pho-Gettable Days In Vietnam
To the uninitiated, pho seems pretty basic: rice noodles served in a big bowl of broth, accompanied by some kind of meat and a mix of fresh vegetables. But within its simplicity resides a complex range of flavors, textures and aromas that “rice noodles in broth” simply can’t describe.
I’m a pho-natic. Before I left for our new life on the road, I’d helped form a pho-appreciation club in Phoenix, where members slowly made their way through all the Vietnamese restaurants in town, seeking those the tastiest pho. So when our travel plans evolved to give us 15 days touring five different cities in Vietnam, I made the most of if -- vowing to eat pho every day, at least once per day, while we were there.
It. Was. Amazing.
To me, pho is sort of like pizza. Even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good. And when it’s good, it borders on mind-blowing. You can imagine my excitement about eating not only authentic pho from Vietnam, but completely different twists on pho as we traveled all the way down from Hanoi in the north, stopping along the way in Hue, Da Nang, and Nha Trang before finally arriving in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in the south. I slurped up pho in fancy restaurants. I started my day with pho for breakfast in every hotel. I shared bowls of pho with other street vendor patrons. And every drop provided a collection of spicy and savory delicious memories I’ll not soon pho-get.
So do yourself a favor and try and un-pho-gettable bowl when you have a chance.
Open Mind, Open Stomach
The world is filled with amazing food. I’m fortunate to live a lifestyle which lets me experience that first hand. I recognize not everyone has that luxury. Hopefully my suggestions have made you hungry and left you inspired enough to try something new the next time you’re on the road. Or venturing out for dinner in your own town. Because great food is waiting for you just about everywhere. Try it all!
Evo's note: This article was originally published by one of our partners on Dec 15, 2015. But they sold and the new owners took all the great content down. Boo. But I have a copy, so I'm reposting it. I'm nice that way! Below is what the original post looked like on our site that linked to theirs:
If we had to pick one favorite thing about traveling the world, it's been eating. And some of our favorite food experiences were quite unexpected. No, we're not talking about eating crickets or other odd meals (though Evo's not opposed.) For us, it's been been normal food served in unlikely or amazing ways.