Food is one of the most important things in the world, and also, one of the most exciting. But before we collectively salivate over the quintessential world foodie experiences, I wanted to quickly touch on something else.
This week saw one of the most important days in the year: world mental health delay. This is the day when people face up to their demons, or hopefully figure out that “it’s ok not to be ok”, and that actually, most people you know “aren’t ok”, and it’s doing something about it that matters.
While I’d say I’m very lucky to *mostly* be ok now, I haven’t always been, and I’ve never made it a secret, because I think addressing it and helping others find the courage to do the same is far more important than some public perception.
The reason I mention this, is that food was one of the things that kept me going when I was down. I wanted to live long enough to experience the best the world has to offer, in the places that do it best. It’s been a pursuit of mine for years and easily the one of the most enjoyable. Here are the ones you absolutely have to experience. Some you’ll expect, others perhaps not…
You’ll hear plenty of trash talk between Kansas City, deep south, Texas BBQ and all that, but the only thing that matters is getting your hands on at least one genuine article of American barbecue. Proper barbecue is a labor of love, requiring hours of marinade in either a dry or wet coating, and then many many more hours being slowly smoked at a low temperature. The result? Meat that quite literally falls off the bone, with so much flavour you dare not reach for extra sauce.
Sushi In Japan
It really doesn’t get much more quintessential than this. If there’s one travel expense that’s worth it, doing a proper omakase in the country that does it at another level is something you’ll never forget. Everything from the tastes to the pace is different from anything else you’ll ever experience and if you let yourself relax, it will change you in the best of ways. And yes, it will also ruin you for eating sushi elsewhere…
Pasteis De Nata In Portugal
Sometimes you’ve just gotta say – “damn, that’s good”. A Portuguese custard tart – done right – is one of those things. Done right should mean flakey pastry around the base, decadently smooth custard and even perhaps a dash of cinnamon, but however you do o it, the real thing is the real thing. It’s the kind of thing you’ll find yourself smuggling into luggage, not that we condone such a thing…
Dosa In India
There are great curries all around the world, but a dosa is so uniquely special in India, and it’s outside of what most who experience Indian cuisine from abroad are familiar with. To be fair, you could say the same about biryani. But it’s all sooo delicious. A dosa is like a thin crepe cooked in clarified butter, filled with spiced potatoes, cheese, spinach, or just about anything delicious. It’s one of the most unique experiences you can have, and it’s so cheap you just have to smile.
You can get afternoon tea in high end hotels the world around, but it’s never quite the same as doing it in London, or the UK at large. From the Langham to Cake Boy, Rosewood, Claridges, The Goring and many more, it’s worth every penny. Even the things you don’t think you’ll like, you end up loving, and every course redefines the word “delicate”. And no matter what the Queen says, you should always put cream on your yummy scones first, then jam.
Coffee And Breakfast In Australia
For some, this may be a head scratcher, for others, it’s a hand raiser. If you ask your favourite coffee or breakfast snobs which country does it better than anywhere else – it’s Australia. They brought us the chilli scramble, and arguably the avocado toast too, but there’s no arguing that coffee in Australia is off the charts. They treat coffee like Walter White treats blue meth. If you had to pick a city doing it better than any other, it’s Melbourne, and if you do, you’ll quickly understand.
Seasonal Pasta In Italy
Growing up in New York, every “Italian” restaurant says “authentic”, but every time I’ve asked an actual Italian what makes their cuisine “authentic”, they say seasonality. Canned tomatoes and stewed meats in winter, fresh beautiful produce in summer. There’s nothing quite like having a truly seasonal Italian pasta dish in Italy, in the prime of the season. And while you’re there, have artichokes in Rome, veal in Milan, and a little pizzette in Puglia.
Plenty of people say “yeah, I’ve had a taco” but a taco is not a taco, just like some sushi isn’t sushi. A masa, smashed corn taco in Mexico has more robust flavour than everything morsel in your knockoff, fully loaded imitation. Taken down with some beautiful aromatic sauces and a smokey mezcal, and you might as well just put the sombrero on and call it a day…
Thai Curry In Thailand
You can probably get a great curry within 10 miles of where you’re reading this, but it will never ever be as good as what you’ll find in Thailand for one simple reason. The aromas, flavours and pungency of the herbs and spices that make a truly epic Thai curry will never be as powerful abroad as they are picked from the source. From Bangkok to Chiang Mai and everywhere in between, there are so many variations, each of which will blow your mind.
Jamon Y Queso In Spain
With a damn good glass of red wine to wash it down in style. There’s are great tastes, and then there’s Iberico Bellota, in its purest and most untouched form. Having acorn fed jamon by the pallete in Spain is an untouchable taste in terms of simplicity. You don’t need sauce, salt, pepper or even oil, you just put it in your mouth and rejoice.
Szechuan Cuisine In China
You’ve heard of Szechuan Pepper, but experiencing true Chinese cooking in China is greater than the Great Wall. For most guests, China can be odd, but the food you take away from region to region is a masterclass in why trying something in its domaine makes all the difference. There are dumplings, there’s noodles and there’s grilled meats, and there’s no flavour profile like any of them.
Tzatsiki, Or Any Dip In Greece
Greek food is misunderstood around the world, mostly because it’s impossible to reproduce the way it’s intended. Greek honey knows no equal. But the secret ingredient to it all is likely do to something you can’t put on a plate – the climate. Find your way to Mykonos, Santorini or any of the Clyclades in season and then “nom” your way through the incredible fresh spreads. It’s worth the trip alone.
We’ve got friends all around Suda America, and chose not to bring tension to an issue where everyone that eats, wins. Whether you prefer a churrascaria in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay or anywhere else in between, a steak in South America, once again washed down with a heady glass of wine, is just wonderful. Think big flavours, lots of garlic and more than you can eat. But you’ll be glad about every ounce you try. Just don’t expect to like your local steakhouse ever again on taste, or price.
Pastry In France
Oddly enough, pastry tends to be extraordinarily good in Japan and Australia, but something about France feels like the genuine article. A great croissant in France is off the charts, and combining that with the enviable caffe culture makes it all the more worthwhile. Sit outside, ignore the cigarette smoke and immerse yourself in a culture which has no equal, or anything close really.
Nasi Goreng In Indonesia
There’s such a distinct pleasure to visiting Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, and one of the greatest is Nasi Goreng. The dish is comfort, on comfort, on more comfort with hedonistic flavour in every little mouthful. This is a staple of Southeast Asian cuisine, and for many of the same reasons that a Thai curry isn’t the same anywhere else, a good Nasi just can’t be replicated without the potency of flavour found locally in this area. Jump on it!
Tagine in Northern Africa
Don’t get me wrong, South Africa is probably the most underrated culinary area in the world, and should have more Michelin stars than restaurants, but it lacks a specific dish which is worth travelling for. In North Africa however, a tagine is such a beautiful meal. Steamed to perfection, a tagine is big bursts of flavour mellowed through time, and when you have one that’s just right, it’s as satisfying as anything else.