Every city around the world has a local food culture that embodies the unique essence of the place. While some have become iconic on the global stage – think Philadelphia’s Philly cheesesteak or Tokyo’s renowned ramen – others remain under the radar, tucked away in a backstreet trattoria or hidden in the pages of grandma’s secret recipe book.
For curious connoisseurs looking for the best bite in town, we asked our team of Lonely Planet Locals to dish out the delicacies that they feel get to the heart of their hometown – from fish tagine in Tangier to Shanghai’s steaming dumplings.
A golden plate of chicken Machboos © vm2002 / Shutterstock
Chicken Machboos in Doha
It’s often thought that the cosmopolitan capital of Qatar isn’t able to lay claim to any distinctive dishes of its own; having ‘borrowed’ so many recipes and cuisines from the eclectic melting pot of cultures that have made this city their home over the decades. However, there is one Middle Eastern staple that Doha-dwellers vow has been rightfully theirs from the very beginning, and that is the delightful chicken Machboos. Made from rice, laced with rich spices and cooked in a big pot with tomatoes, onions and chicken, this comforting dish is similar to a biryani (an Indian dish made with spicy rice and meat or veg) and a staple on the dinner table of many Qatari households.
Top spots to tuck in? There are a plethora of Arabic restaurants dotted around the city that offer an authentic and delicious Machboos, but two particular spots stand out amongst the crowd – the opulent Al Sufra Restaurant at the Marsa Malaz Kempinski Hotel and the cheaper and more traditional Damasca One in Souq Waqif.
Polly Byles is a prolific blogger and freelance travel writer who has made Doha her home since 2013. Follow her adventures on Instagram @polbag.
The only rule with Danish smorrebrod: the more toppings the better! © vm2002 / Shutterstock
Smørrebrød in Copenhagen, Denmark
If you only try one food when visiting this Scandinavian capital, it should be smørrebrød – the beloved open-faced sandwich. Smørrebrød is Denmark's favourite lunch food, and practically a way of life! It starts with a base of rye bread, slathered in butter and garnished with a variety of toppings, like pickled herring, crispy pork, or shrimp and egg. There are both traditional flavours and innovative creations to be had, with some restaurants serving up to 250 varieties. The toppings are piled so high that smørrebrød must be eaten with a knife and fork – you know it’s good when you can't even see the bread!
Top spots to tuck in? For classic smørrebrød, try traditional Restaurant Kronborg or Torvehallerne Market stall Hallernes. For something more innovative, the stylish Kompasset or new kid on the block, Selma.
Caroline Hadamitzky is a Canadian tour guide and travel writer living in Copenhagen, Denmark. She has a passion for photography, food and sharing her incredible city with people from around the world. Follow her tweets @lovelivetravel.
Hot wings are an excellent mouthwatering morsel to have on the go in the ATL © Ni’Kesia Pannell
Hot wings in Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Whether you like them plain, seasoned or spicy, hot wings can be found at almost any casual dining spot in the ATL. Though not exclusive to Atlanta, anyone who grew up here can testify to hot wings being the ideal grab-and-go meal in the city. Specifically, lemon pepper wings – the favourite flavour of ATLiens — which can be served wet (in sauce) or dry, with the lemon pepper sprinkled on top. If you want to go full local, mix your lemon pepper with a hot or mild sauce.
Ni’Kesia Pannell is a travel, food and lifestyle writer based in Atlanta. Follow her on Instagram @kesi_p.
A dish of fish kefta tagine topped with coriander made by a local woman in Tangier © Jess Cherkaoui
Fish kefta tagine in Tangier, Morocco
You can’t go wrong with any dishes on a Moroccan menu, but visitors should adapt their taste to the local geography – and the seafood tagines of Tangier are the city’s trademark within this flavourful country. As the only city that dips its toes in both the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, it’s no surprise that fish is a staple here, and sardines in particular are the main ingredient in one locally adored dish: fish kefta tagine. Unfortunately, it’s not an option that you’ll commonly see in restaurants because it takes immense time and patience to prepare, so it’s usually cooked at home. Sardines are cautiously taken apart and moulded into succulent meatballs, before being slow cooked, in the same way as the more well-known beef tagine you’ll see elsewhere in the country.
Top spots to tuck in? If you haven’t made friends with a local family yet, you can still sample an authentic fish tagine at Rif Kebdani, which sits inside the ancient medina just below Terrasse Borj Al Hajoui.
Jess Cherkaoui is military officer-turned-travel writer who left the coasts of Spain for the sumptuous flavours of Tangier. Follow her tweets @jgcherk.
A delicious treat awaits through the plumes of steam on the streets of Shanghai © PixHound/ Shutterstock
Xiǎolóngbāo dumplings in Shanghai, China
Shanghai has so many unique and delicious cuisines (traditionally known as Benbang cuisine or 本帮菜, běnbāng cài) that it’s almost impossible to choose just one that captures the spirit of the city’s food culture. That said, no visit to Shanghai would be complete without sampling its iconic and delectable dumplings: xiǎolóngbāo (小笼包) and (the lesser-known, but no less delicious) shēngjiānbāo (生煎包). Xiǎolóngbāo – sometimes called soup dumplings – are thin, doughy parcels filled with ground pork and piping hot broth, and steamed in a small bamboo basket. Though popular around the world now, this dumpling originated in Shanghai. Shēngjiānbāo have a thicker, doughier skin, and are pan-fried on the bottom to give them a satisfying crunch through to the juicy meat filling.
Rosie Draffin upped sticks and swapped her life in London for a life in Shanghai, where she continues her quest to find the best noodle soup in China! Follow her on Instagram @emmarosedraffin.
A South African samoosa is a must-try treat in Johannesburg © AS Food studio / Shutterstock
Samoosas in Johannesburg, South Africa
South Africa has one of the largest populations of Indian diaspora; so, unsurprisingly, food from the subcontinent has long played a role in the South African culinary scene. Evolving over centuries, it now features its own unique combinations of ingredients and spices, complete with South African-influenced names. Samoosas (with two o’s, not one) are a perfect example. A South African take on samosas, samoosas tend to be smaller and feature a wider range of fillings – beyond traditional choices such as vegetable and chicken, you’ll find everything from feta and corn to coconut.
Top spots to tuck in? For the best samoosas in Johannesburg, head to World of Samoosas in the historic Oriental Plaza. It is the only place in town serving coconut varieties, and their spicy dipping sauce is divine.
Heather Mason moved to Johannesburg in 2010. She loves the quirky, tree-lined suburbs and the gritty inner city, with its coffee houses, evolving foodie scene and hidden pockets of art, culture and music. Follow her on Instagram @2summers.
When it comes to feijoada simmering on the stove, your patience will pay off © Vinicius Bacarin / Shutterstock
Feijoada in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Cariocas (Rio’s locals) like to take their time; if that means arriving late then so be it. Feijoada is the culinary embodiment of this attitude. The rich black bean stew, heaving with salted pork, beef and sliced sausage, takes hours to prepare and is enjoyed during long, lazy lunches that, like the cariocas, cannot be hurried. No coincidence that it is chiefly served on Saturdays (or on Fridays, when most workers have already switched to weekend mode). The official follow-up activity is often dancing to samba, but after all that heavy stew, first a leisurely snooze – what’s the rush?
Top spots to tuck in? Bar do Momo doesn’t look like much, but the packed tables tell the true story. Their superb feijoada is served on Friday and Saturday lunchtimes and sells out by 2.30pm.