The world on your plate

The world on your plate

There’s no better way to explore a new city or country than through its food, writes Prachi Joshi as she lists out the most binge-worthy places in the world...

Enjoying gelato at the iconic Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy

As we travel more, the traditional thepla-khakhra-toting Indian tourist is giving way to a more adventurous traveller who is willing to give the local cuisine a try, and we don’t mean just the safe soup-salad-pasta triumvirate. Culinary tourism or food tourism is on the rise and has become a major travel trend in the past couple of years. Food gives you insights into the history, culture, social issues, and even the politics of a place.

Many cities now offer dedicated food tours led by locals, which give you a chance to wander around a new city sampling its eats & drinks, visiting its markets, and discovering local watering holes. Even vegetarians are hopping onto the bandwagon of culinary tourism since most food tours are increasingly accommodating of dietary preferences. Another way of immersing yourself in the culinary culture of a new destination is to take a cooking class. That way, you can recreate the taste of your holidays once you return home.

If you want to travel to eat, these are some of the best foodie cities around the world:

All things sweet in Paris

It may no longer be the culinary capital of the world, but as with everything French, Parisian food does still have a certain je ne sais quoi about it. If you’re planning a trip, look beyond the baguette, macaron and boeuf bourguignon, and venture into the newly happening parts of the city. The 10th arrondissement is where the locals meet; take a walk along Canal Saint-Martin and drop in at Fric Frac for a modern take on the classic croquet monsieur. Try local charcuterie at TSF Epicerie and taste a variety of French cheese at Paroles de Fromagers (they offer tastings in their underground 17th-century cellars). Immigrant influence on Parisian cuisine is such that couscous is one of the top three eaten dishes in the city; try the Algerian variant at L’Amalgame. Paris’s quintessential dessert is the airy, creamy éclair, and the best version is at L’éclair de Génie near Gare du Nord.

A melting pot in New York

Pretzel is a popular treat from New York
Pretzel is a popular treat from New York

NYC’s reputation, as a cultural melting pot, extends to its food as well — no other city has taken so many food influences and made them its own. You haven’t done New York until you have tried some of these iconic dishes — bagel & lox at Murray’s and the lox sandwiches at Russ & Daughters, pastrami & rye at the legendary Katz’s Delicatessen, falafel at Mamoun’s, pizza at John’s of Bleecker Street (or Roberta’s in Brooklyn), burgers at Minetta Tavern, ramen at Ivan Ramen, cookies (yes, cookies!) at LeVain Bakery, pancakes at Clinton St. Baking Co., and New York-style cheesecake at Junior’s.

Pizzas & pastas in Rome

There’s more to Italian cuisine than pizza and pasta (though Rome does both of them very well indeed). Head to the neighbourhood of Testaccio, which is where cucina romana (Roman cuisine) is said to have been born. Try the city’s favourite street food suppli (deep-fried rice ball mixed with ragu and cheese) at Trapizzino, pizza al taglio (Roman-style pizza by slice) at Volpetti Più, and the exceedingly simple but utterly delicious cacio e pepe (thick noodle-like pasta with pecorino cheese & pepper) at Flavio al Velavevodetto (if you’re adventurous, don’t miss the classic coda alla vacinnara or oxtail stew here). Wind up the meal with a tiramisu (Barberini is a good spot) or a gelato (at Giolitti, the oldest ice cream parlour in Rome).

Fine dining in Melbourne

Australia’s cultural capital has quietly become a major foodie hotspot, and because Melburnians have such high standards when it comes to food, you’ll rarely have a bad meal in the city. Flinders Lane is ‘the’ place to go to for an evening out – from modern Australian at Cumulus Inc to Asian fare at Chin Chin & Lucy Liu to high-end Japanese at Kisumé to Spanish tapas at MoVida, and Peruvian at Pastuso, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Elsewhere, Turkish gets a modern update at Bar Saracen in CBD and at Tulum in St Kilda. Don’t miss the fabulous coffee scene in Melbourne — Dukes Coffee Roaster, Brother Baba Budan, Traveller, and Axil Coffee Roasters are some of the popular spots.

Farm to table in Tokyo

A plate of freshly made sushi in Tokyo
A plate of freshly made sushi in Tokyo

With the largest concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants, it’s safe to say that Tokyo is the culinary capital of the world. The city has some of the best sushi restaurants in the world like Aoki & Sushi Ko Honten in Ginza, and Sushi Sei & Edogin in Tsukiji. Tokyo is also known for its top-quality ramen; try it at Fuunji in Shinjuku, Ichiran in Shibuya, and Kikanbo in Chiyoda. But you don’t have to break the bank to eat well in the Japanese capital. There are plenty of izakayas (informal Japanese pub) like Jomon in Roppongi, Sake no Ana in Ginza, Shousuke in Shinjuku, and many street-side yakitori joints on Memory Lane.

Traditional fare in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is the other culinary mecca in Asia, from Michelin-starred restaurants to traditional teahouses to street food stalls, there’s something for everyone. When in Hong Kong, you must dim sum — try Tim Ho Wan’s BBQ pork buns, Mott 32 for fancy fare, and Luk Yu Tea House for a quintessentially local experience. Don’t miss the roast goose at Yung Kee, the fishballs at Tung Tat, and chicken feet at Lei Garden. Vegetarians, head over to Grassroots Pantry for imaginative green eating. Satisfy your sweet tooth with egg tarts at Tai Cheong Bakery or Honolulu Coffee Shop, and pineapple bun at Kam Wah in Mongkok.

Small bites in San Sebastian

Barcelona and Madrid may draw in the crowds, but San Sebastian in the Basque region is hands down the best culinary destination in Spain. Pintxo (pronounced pin-cho) is the Basque version of tapas, a small snack served on bread and usually skewered with a toothpick (hence the name, which literally means a thorn). You can make an entire meal out of pintxo-hopping in the bars of Parte Vieja (old town). Bar Txepetxa is old school while Bar Zeruko does some avant-garde pintxos, and A Fuego Negro is known for its experimental offerings. Wash it all down with txakoli, the Basque dry, sparkling white wine, and end the night with a glass of the delightfully sweet Pedro Ximenez sherry.