I’ve long considered ‘travel’ - you know, going to see stuff like museums and markets and fancy plazas with mimes - as merely ‘the space between meals.’ Ultimately a trip’s defined by the food you eat. And where you eat it.
There's no end of sensory surprise in store if you travel the globe with an open mind and ready taste buds. From delicate appetizers to belly-busting feasts, why not let a world map be your menu on your next trip? Here are five destinations where food and place combine in an unforgettable concoction.
Couscous in Casablanca, Morocco
The minute you arrive in Casablanca, make straight for Blvd de la Corniche down on the waterfront, pick an appealing café or restaurant and order a cup of mint tea and a plate of Morocco’s staple food, couscous. The couscous grain is made from semolina (ground durum wheat) and is ideally prepared by being repeatedly steamed in a special pot called a couscoussier. It’s then topped with a spicy stew containing either vegetables or a mixture of veggies and meat such as chicken, lamb and fish. Eat it again, Sam.
Tapas in Barcelona
Patatas bravas (potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce), calamares fritos (fried squid), croquetas de jamón (ham croquettes), chorizo (pork sausage), berenjenas gratinadas (cheese-baked aubergine) are just a few mouthwatering examples of the fabulous Spanish snacks known as tapas. The vivacious Catalan capital of Barcelona excels in the creation and consumption of tapas, particularly along La Rambla late in the evening when residents and travelers alike slowly graze their way south from Plaça de Catalunya. Become a local by leaving the cutlery on the table and claiming the tapas with a toothpick or your fingers.
Malaysia has been the new Thailand for years - it’s just that the world is slow to to catch up. Visitors to Malaysia, though, know. And inevitably find themselves ordering the ubiquitous, delightfully simple meal called nasi goreng. Literally meaning ‘fried rice’ and also enjoyed across Indonesia and Singapore, this dish is prepared by stir-frying rice with chicken or seafood, vegetables, eggs and a sweetish soy sauce. Nasi goreng is available practically anywhere in Malaysia that serves food but is best sampled within the wonderfully crowded hawker centres that dot the island of Penang. It’s here that the diverse Malay, Chinese, Indian and Baba-Nyonya cooking styles conspire to give an otherwise humble dish some special flavours.
Gumbo in New Orleans
Scooping out a steaming pot of gumbo is as central to New Orleans life as listening to jazz, zydeco or swamp blues, or chomping on the sugary pastries called beignets. This Louisiana favourite is essentially a hearty broth of seafood or smoked meats thickened with okra or a wheat-and-fat mixture called roux before being splashed over a mountain of rice. But New Orleans serves up countless variations of the basic gumbo recipe, from classic Creole to pungent Cajun. The Big Easy hasn’t had it so easy in recent times, but at least it has one of the world’s great comfort foods.
Feijoada in Rio de Janeiro
Taste buds stage their own carnival in honor of Brazil’s national lunch, feijoada, a dark and spicy stew built upon a foundation of black beans and pork. Note that the feijoada prepared for mass consumption in Rio’s restaurants usually just contains pared down pieces of pig flesh, but it may also contain less familiar porcine treats such as ears, tongues and those cute curly tails. Also note that this hearty recipe is a challenge for any stomach to digest, so plan on hitting a couch rather than the waters off Ipanema after eating it.
This article was updated in June 2012.