Once you’ve seen the jagged cliffs, beautiful boundless ocean sunsets and explored the world’s greatest cities, travel takes on a new and different light. Just because you’ve seen the stuff, doesn’t mean you’re done exploring – there’s just different stuff to explore. One of my favourites: food. Oh so heavenly, ever changing, food. This week a reader kindly asked me about my favourite major cities to visit in search of all things scrumptious, so here’s that list.
You could absolutely make the same case for Barcelona, Valencia, or just about anywhere else in Spain, but it’s the mercados of Madrid that are just so pleasing to me, and yeah – the tapas bar after 9pm too. There’s a real electric feel to Madrid at night and as far as non pretentious eats which leave you revelling go, it’s amongst the very best.
Where to? The Mercado San Miguel is where most people know to go, and it’s great in its own right, but Mercado San Anton and Mercado San Ildefonso are off the charts, and far less crowded. At night, I just adore Taberna Averias for €5 glasses of wine with brilliantly simple food made with pride behind the counter too. But really, any decent tapas bar you wander into where they don’t assume you speak English is a good one.
There aren’t many places where you can pretty much say “bring me anything”, and you’ll like whatever they bring, but Laos, blends the best of French technique and Southeast Asian taste in a magnificent way. You really can’t f**king go wrong. Lao food is simple, it’s humble and above all, it’s just amazingly fresh herbs smacking you in the nose, back of the throat and the soul. And with $1 beers, it’s all easy to wash down, not that you want to.
Where to? There’s perhaps slightly more authentic food to be found in a few market stalls, which are worth a meal too, but it’s tough to beat the fresh food and the sunset view from the lovely terrace at the Viewpoint restaurant. Cheap Beerlao beer, incredible laap and enviable views. After that nice little sunset treat, it’s time to head to the night markets for coconut pancakes, fresh rolls, tom kha kai soup and a coffee with condensed milk. Yum.
Forget every pre-conceived notion you have about “Mexican food” as you’ve had it wherever you live, other than Mexico of course. Real Mexican food is colourful, it’s beautiful, it’s fresh and it’s far more inventive than just refried beans and rice. The city has experienced a food revolution over the last 10 years, with fresh tourism supporting small and local shops in young and vibrant neighbourhoods. The best thing to do is explore neighbourhoods like Roma Norte, Roma Sur or markets like Merced.
I love flautas, huarache and just about everything else you can find with lines of people waiting on a random street corner in Mexico City, but I have a soft spot for tacos – and you may too. The holy taco offers so many ways to make it right, from grilled veggies to amazing cotijo cheese and slow cooked meats and in this pursuit, I’m going from a mezcal bar like La Clandestina directly to Taqueria Los Parados, or Taqueria Califa.
Why Singapore, and not Penang, or Jakarta? Probably because it’s like a fusion of both, and more. Singapore’s national history may be fairly brief compared to many others, but its built upon long standing traditions from Malay, Chinese and Southeast Asian cultures all of which make noodles, rice, eggs, chicken and seafood into art forms like no other. And yes, it’s incredibly cheap. Singapore’s hawker stalls represent some of the best food deals in the world and until you’ve had laksa, nasi goring, beef rendang or Hainanese chicken rice in Singapore, you just haven’t lived.
Where to? I’ll admit, I love a good cocktail, so after a couple drinks at Native, or Atlas, I’m probably heading to the Hawker Centres at Maxwell Centre, Tiong Bahru Market, Amoy Street or Tekka Centre, just to do laps up and down the aisles. You don’t need to spend big on food in Singapore, and in my opinion you just shouldn’t. The cheap stuff is too good.
This city is something to chaat about. I love Mumbai for all its eccentricities, aromas, sunsets and most of all, it’s diverse food. You’ll find South Indian classics, some North Indian staples, and a few street food items you just don’t get elsewhere, like Pav Bhaji. It’s such an incredible feeling to explore the (non tourist focused) spice markets, seeing the differences between the same “masala” mix from places right next door to each other.
Where to? You can street food it in Mumbai, but hotels do extraordinarily good food without any of the stress. In fact, posh locals tend to always eat at hotels. You really can’t go wrong if you find a place that does a great palak chaat, pav bhaji or dosa.
Every time I leave Tokyo I find myself experiencing actual withdrawals. You may never expect it, but Japan draws from rich French inspiration, and you’ll find some of the most perfectly mastered pastry in the world all throughout the city. But that’s not why you got to Japan. You go to Tokyo for the Oponomiyaki, the sensational savoury pancakes, the yakitori, those heavenly skewers, the ramen that puts the things in your microwave to shame – and yes, the sushi too. People assume eating in Tokyo to be expensive, because omakase sushi is expensive. That’s a fallacy. Tonkatsu (katsu curry), ramen, yakitori and other art forms are incredibly affordable, nutrient rich and highly filling.
Where to? It’s not cheap, but i’m doing at least one Omakase, and after a recommendation from a friend, Sushi Yuu is my new spot, thanks to a rec from my friend Jason. But for cheap eats, I’m going for famous katsu at Butagumi or Tonkatsu Hasegawa and then I’m going for an iced matcha latte at Trunk Store. For breakfast, I’m going to Breadworks Omotesando at 8am when the doors open. The pastry is better there than any place I’ve ever been to in Paris, just saying…
Sure, LA gets a reputation for glitz and glamour through the big screen, but it’s heaven when you’re hungry. Perhaps there’s a correlation between states with legalised marijuana and a need for food to support the habits? To me, Los Angeles is all about food trucks, and the incredible ethnic food that excels in this multi cultural city. There’s taco trucks at levels only seen in Mexico, there’s Szechuan restaurants as authentic as Chengdu, there’s Korean that blows minds and none of the above need white table clothes or fine china.
Where to? For the true “best stuff” it’s often a moving target. There are a few food trucks which delight people from different locations on a daily basis. But if I’m craving comfort I’ll go to Night + Market in Silver Lake, or find the Yeastie Boys bagel truck…
Yeah go on, I could’ve picked a small town you can only pretend to have heard of, but why bother when Rome is so damn good. I’m not talking spaghetti bolognese, or chicken Milanese – those are better served elsewhere usually. I’m talking the simple delights of Roman classic caccio e pepe, and the local stunner – fried artichokes. You can’t go wrong with polpete, which are amazing meatballs but the true pleasure of Rome is finding a modest little spot where no one speaks english, menus are written daily and there’s always a delicious wheel of cheese, some pasta and some pepper to be found.
Where to? Ditch the crowds, forget the Michelin stars and just go rustic. I’m going for sure to Sora Margherita, which couldn’t be more nondescript while straddling a steady mix of local tradesman and a few informed travellers. The food is off the charts in simplicity and flavour, the service is laid back and you just can’t help but feel as if you’re getting the real thing.
If you’ve been to Melbourne, you’ve instantly said “YES”, if you haven’t, you may be scratching your head. Did you know that Australia has the largest population of Greek people outside of Greece? It’s true, and with diverse cooking styles from Southeast Asia, the UK and an eye for all things hip and trendy, Melbourne is an eating heaven, starting with breakfast. I’m just going to go ahead and say it: no country does breakfast at nearly as high a level as Australia. I crave it constantly from the chili scrambled eggs with avocado to the flat whites that come with it.
Where to? I’m going to Journeyman for breakfast and then I’m going to Cutler and Co for an expensive dinner, or if I’m keeping this thing authentic, probably to Tokyo Tina for Japanese fusion dinner. Gazi isn’t a bad call either. None would fit the Southeast Asian basis of “cheap”, but given the currency exchange and the quality, I’d call them bargains…