The world's best food destinations
Whether it’s an Italian temple of gastronomy or an Indian veggie paradise, some places seem to have good food woven into their DNA. From Mendoza to Mysore and Bologna to Beirut, we pick out some of the best destinations for food lovers
SOUTH AUSTRALIA: MCLAREN VALE
Some of Australia’s finest wines are made in the McLaren Vale, just south of Adelaide, and you won’t go hungry there either. The fertile Fleurieu Peninsula is home to a wealth of fruit and veg, from strawberries to chillies. Plus there are cheeses, lamb, fish from the Gulf St Vincent and freshwater crustaceans such as yabbies.
Essential stops: Willunga Farmers Market is the place to be on Saturdays. As for restaurants, The General Wine Bar & Restaurant in McLaren Flat is a casual spot with links to two wineries. At Oliver’s Taranga Vineyard, the ‘Porchetta Parties’ — four courses, including porchetta on a spit, plus wine — are unmissable. Then there’s the d’Arenberg Cube: a crazy structure amid the vines of d’Arenberg winery. The views from here are spectacular, but the estate’s more traditional restaurant, d’Arry’s Verandah, gets my vote for its artfully assembled dishes.
Alternative: The Barossa Valley is another fantastic wine region within an hour’s drive north of Adelaide. Nina Caplan
It was the eponymous meat sauce and pasta dish that put Bologna on the culinary map. And while you’re still likely to spot plenty of local women stretching fresh pasta over wooden boards into sfoglia (thin sheets) ready for cutting, there’s much more to this city than that. Bologna is Europe’s oldest university town — a lively, left-leaning, unpretentious place with food focused on provenance. It serves up the best stuzzichini (finger food) in Italy, from topped focaccia and feather-light fried veg to olives, hunks of salty parmesan and so much more. You’ll be tempted to sample so many of these offerings, piled buffet-like on bars and free with your evening aperitivo, that dinner will become an almost arduous undertaking. After all, there’s a reason this city claims ‘La grassa’ (fat) among its nicknames.
Essential stops: Forget foodie theme park Fico Eataly World; the centuries-old venues lining Bologna’s narrow streets are far more atmospheric. Le Stanze is great for aperitivi, while Trattoria Gianni, on the site of an old bodega in the medieval Quadrilatero, is a simple spot for pasta. Stray into the surrounding Emilia-Romagna region for stellar Italian ingredients including Parma ham, balsamic vinegar from Modena, parmesan, lambrusco wine… the list goes on.
How to do it: Lastminute.com has a three-night Bologna break from £185 per person including flights and B&B.
Alternative: Go on a road trip along the Ligurian coast, the home of pesto and some of Italy’s best fish dishes. Sarah Barrell
SWEDEN: GOTHENBURG AND WEST COAST
The gateway to Sweden’s island-strewn west coast, Gothenburg is a buzzing, student-filled city. You’ll find laid-back coffee bars for fika (the caffeine- and pastry-fuelled afternoon pitstop that’s a Scandi obsession), plus plenty of places to indulge in prawn-topped smörgås (open sandwiches) or ambitious creations based on foraged, fished and fermented local produce. In graffitied bars that walk the line between hipster chic and dockside industrial, there are inventive local brews and cocktails, too. Above all, this area is Big Five country. Langoustines, lobsters, oysters, prawns and mussels thrive in the waters around the craggy coast and the thousands of islands to which city residents retreat at weekends.
Essential stops: Salt & Sill on the island of Klädesholmen is the place to try a floating sauna, then dine on a ‘flight’ of herring. Half an hour further north, the wild Bohuslän coast hosts ‘shellfish safaris’ and seasonal lobster festivals. Dine on your own haul of mussels, fresh from a fishing expedition — they’re cooked and served in an old waterfront clapboard clock tower in the fishing hamlet of Lyckorna.
Alternative: For a similarly seafood-centric escape, explore northern Spain’s coastal region of Asturias, travelling from the foodie destination of Santander to smaller fishing villages such as Lastres and Rodiles. SB
Beirut is one of the Middle East’s most exciting food-focused cities, with Ottoman, Armenian, Palestinian, Syrian, French and Israeli culinary influences, to name a few. Dishes sing of the summer — fattoush salad, rich with ripe tomatoes; zesty tabbouleh; smoky, delicately spiced kafta (minced-meat skewers). Mackerel, just off the boat, lightly floured and fried, is the order of the day along the city’s palm-flanked Corniche, while the national dish of kibbeh comprises tasty teardrops of sautéed pine nuts deep-fried with minced, spiced lamb and bulgur wheat. Meanwhile, in flash Saifi Village, hip Gemmayzeh and the Souks shopping district, you’ll find food with an unmistakable cheffy flourish.
Essential stops: Mezze dishes from Lebanon and surrounding regions are the focus at Enab, set on the first floor of a kitsch French colonial house in Mar Mikhaël. For a comprehensive overview, take a tour with Taste Lebanon, founded by modern Lebanese food champion Bethany Kehdy, and experience the flavours of the city, sea and lesser-explored inland.
Alternative: The tiny Turkish town of Alacati is famed as a windsurf capital. But the food here, influenced by chefs from Istanbul and beyond, is a unique offering for coastal Turkey. SB
IRELAND: BOYNE VALLEY
Less than an hour north of Dublin lies a cluster of castles, cairns, high crosses and 5,000-year-old passage tombs. While its heritage hits are well-known, the Boyne Valley’s sprouting food scene is a more recent development. From craft beer and cider to fresh seafood and unexpected treats such as Irish smoked garlic and blue cheese, there’s a growing sense of place on the plate.
Essential stops: After a bracing walk around Clogherhead, drop into Fishermans Catch, just a stone’s throw from the fishing boats, for a bowl of chowder. A little further south, Eastern Seaboard in Drogheda offers sizzling takes on local produce, or go north for fresh oysters, crab claws and hake with purple heritage potatoes at the Glyde Inn. Inland, swing by Slane Castle for a tour of its whiskey distillery.
Alternative: Dotted around the karst landscape of coastal Burren National Park in County Clare, you’ll find a surprising food scene that spans everything from hand-smoked Atlantic salmon to stoneground chocolate. Pol Ó Conghaile
Lima’s Novo-Andean cuisine, street food and fusion dining have placed it on the food-lover’s map, but Cusco is challenging the capital’s crown. In the Andean city, upscale restaurants are tucked away on cobbled streets and inside Spanish colonial buildings. Everywhere, even at the fanciest places, there’s a sense of connection to the land, with many of the ingredients used originating here, whether it’s one of the 3,000-plus varieties of potato to kaniwa, a native grai. Menu mainstays include arroz con pato — rice with a duck stew flavoured with spices and dark beer — and chiriuchu, a mishmash of specialities from corn cakes to cuy (guinea pig), served during the May/June celebration of Corpus Christi.
Essential stops: Showing a vote of confidence in the area, chef Virgilio Martinez — owner-chef of Lima’s Central — opened Mil Centro in Moray, just outside Cusco, last year. His menu focuses on ingredients grown by Andean communities, including endemic roots, tubers, herbs and fruits. Cusco’s chaotic market, Mercado Central de San Pedro, provides a head-spinning introduction to local ingredients, while Nuna Raymi is reviving ‘forgotten’ Andean foods such as dehydrated fish skins.
Alternative: Mérida, Mexico, shares Cusco’s colonial-era elegance and food rooted in tradition. Ella Buchan
CALIFORNIA: SONOMA COUNTY
About an hour’s drive north of the Golden Gate Bridge, the vivid green vineyards and blue skies of Sonoma County come into view. A countercultural belt, planted by hippies who flocked here in the 1960s, remains dug-in, and now a new generation is laying down roots, tending artisan vegetables and rare-breed pigs. Happily, there’s substance to the style. Sonoma’s biodiversity — its Pacific coast, redwood forest, lush valleys and myriad microclimates — draws serious grafters who are passionate about eking the best out of land and sea.
Essential stops: Sonoma’s purveyors aren’t afraid to do one thing and do it well. So, while Journeyman Meat Co in Healdsburg serves only sausages and charcuterie at its tasting bar, owner Pete Seghesio apprenticed under master butchers in Italy to perfect his craft, so you can trust that the salami with homegrown chardonnay, rosemary and sage is the best it can be. (The same goes for nearby Noble Folk’s seasonal fruit pies.) Next door, triple-Michelin-starred SingleThread combines the exactness of Japanese kaiseki with local produce, much of it from the owner-chef’s farm.
How to do it: American Sky has a week’s California fly-drive, taking in Sonoma, from £1,559 per person with flights, car hire and room-only accommodation.
Alternative: Thanks largely to a perilously winding coastal drive, neighbouring Mendocino County receives fewer visitors (and, presumably, Michelin Guide judges). But the fruits of the region’s orchards, farms and sea coves are every bit as good. Laura Chubb
SPAIN: SAN SEBASTIAN
Never mind tapas. The Basque Country is all about pintxos: skewered nibbles, amuse-bouches and bruschetta-style bites, washed down with a caña (small beer), local cider or wine. The best bars offer specialties such as Gildas (big, buttery olives skewered with local guindilla peppers and anchovies), croquettes and spider-crab tartlets. Grab a seat or scoff at the counter, or head out on a txikiteo (pintxo crawl), during which you can pick your way from one bar to the next. San Sebastián isn’t all casual bites, however; the city has no fewer than 18 Michelin stars.
Essential stops: Don’t miss the Gildas or tartlets at Ganbara, fresh anchovies at Bar Txepetxa or a fix of artichokes with jamón and salsa at Casa Urola. If you wish to splash out, book well in advance for Mugaritz or Arzak, both fixtures on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. The latter’s tasting menu features dishes such as seafood served on a tablet playing images (and audio) of the sea; afterwards, ask to see the research lab upstairs.
Alternative: Medieval Girona is the perfect backdrop for a Catalan culinary adventure. From the three-Michelin-starred El Celler de Can Roca to casual, but incredibly moreish, dishes such as paella or cream-filled xuixo pastries, it’s a gastronome’s delight. POC
SOUTH AFRICA: WESTERN CAPE
The ‘tablecloth’ that hovers above Table Mountain on clear days is a dramatic meteorological phenomenon. It’s also apt: from high-end restaurants to rustic seafood shacks, South Africa’s Western Cape always seems ready to serve up something tasty. Visitors flock here to explore vast nature parks, spy whales and sip pinotage along the Stellenbosch wine route, a short drive from Cape Town. But the food is reason enough to come. You’re rarely far from meat sizzling on the braai (barbecue), thickening the air with aromas of paprika, coriander and cumin. Just-caught fish and seafood is equally ubiquitous, from hake and chips (a remnant of British rule) to smoked snoek (snake mackerel) pâté. And while the Western Cape has its share of fancy restaurants, many favourite dishes were invented as vehicles for leftovers. One such is the carb-loaded Gatsby, an enormous bread roll stuffed with cooked meats and chips.
Essential stops: Stellenbosch winery Middelvlei has a farm-to-table restaurant, Boerebraai, that specialises in South African barbecue (try the boerewors — a coiled, spicy sausage). In Hermanus, meanwhile, feast on oysters, hake and snoek at Bientang’s, a restaurant carved into a cave.
How to do it: Tropical Sky offers a week’s Western Cape self-drive trip from £1,079 per person including flights, B&B and car hire.
Alternative: In Kerala, on India’s tropical Malabar Coast, the curries are fragrant with cardamom and coconut, while fresh seafood is served grilled and super-spicy. EB
Mendoza may be a wine region first and foremost — it is, after all, the home of malbec — but it’s also got serious culinary chops. Or should that be steaks? You’ll find pretty bodegas beneath snow-capped mountains, and steakhouses where parrilladas (tabletop grills) are laden with hulking piles of beef. Diners drizzle tangy chimichurri sauce on to slabs of bife de chorizo (sirloin), leaner cuts of bife de lomo (tenderloin), flavourful vacio (flanks) or morcillas (blood sausages), hoping to still have room for fluffy chips and bread dripping with molten provolone cheese.
Essential stops: To understand the region’s extreme high-altitude wines, escape Mendoza city for a scenic drive to the vineyards. Some do excellent food, too. Familia Zuccardi winery’s restaurant, Casa del Visitante, is a welcoming stop for lunch with paired tipples, and it also runs cookery courses. Back in the city, visit Zampa, a tapas and cocktail bar emblazoned with street art, or Fuente y Fonda for home-style cooking and serious wines.
Alternative: The gastronomic delights of Burgundy, France, are just as hearty, with beef from Charolais cows (boeuf bourguignon was born here), delectable cheeses, and some wonderful pinot noir and chardonnay. Natalie Paris
MEXICO: BAJA CALIFORNIA
The twin influences of neighbouring USA and the Spanish conquistadors mean this Mexican peninsula has a unique food culture: cactus-topped nachos sit alongside paella, and the wine is as good as the tequila. In Baja California Sur, desert country, expect huevos rancheros, huge bowls of frijoles (beans) and ice-cold lager served in sandstorm-swept shacks. Along the Sea of Cortez, seafood is the star, with roadside trucks selling what are arguably the world’s best fish tacos. Baja is undergoing a gastronomic renaissance, too, thanks to a bumper few years for the wine-growing region, the Guadalupe Valley, which is home to top-notch vineyards and fine-dining restaurants.
Essential stops: Classy Baja cuisine can be found at Caesar’s in Tijuana, supposed home of the eponymous salad. And for laid-back home cooking with fresh fish, visit La Casa de Pancho Villa restaurant in coastal Mulege.
Alternative: The high-altitude desert around Durango, Colorado, is famed for its cheese made by Mennonite communities. LD
Lyon has a gastronomic tradition so intrinsic that the city’s inhabitants talk about food among themselves all the time, but often forget to tell everyone else. The range of places to eat is incredible, from bouchons (casual eateries) to Restaurant Paul Bocuse, triple Michelin-starred even after Bocuse’s death last year (he died aged 91). There are fantastic food markets, including Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, and Saint-Antoine, where the produce on offer might include chickens from nearby Bresse and mushrooms from Saint-Bonnet-Le-Froid. Local specialities include sausages, praline tarts, stinking cheeses such as Saint-Marcellin and quenelles de brochet (creamy pike cakes). And of course, there’s wine, with Beaujolais just north and the Rhône Valley to the south.
Essential stops: Stay at Cour des Loges, an atmospheric former Jesuit college down a tiny street in the old town. You can choose between
its Michelin-starred restaurant or its cool bistro and terrace. For a standout bouchon, try Daniel & Denise, where chef Joseph Viola does amazing things with the less glamorous parts of a pig. Restaurant Pierre Orsi, meanwhile, has arguably the city’s best wine cellar.
Alternative: Troyes is another French city famous for sausages, and it has a fabulous market. If you love offal, try andouillette, a pork sausage made of intestine. It has the aroma to prove it. NC
On the ‘Island of Spices’, traditional dishes are fragrant with cardamom, cinnamon, pepper, turmeric and cloves. And with a mixed bag of global influences, curries and stews — full of coconut milk, fresh fish and veg — reign supreme alongside condiments such as kachumbari (similar to a Mexican salsa) and delicacies such as kachori (spiced deep-fried potato balls).
Essential stops: The market in Stone Town, Zanzibar City’s historic centre, is the best place for fresh ingredients; for culinary souvenirs it’s the spice farms.
Alternative: Mauritius is another cultural melting pot with a spice-filled cuisine. Jasmine Helmsley
THAILAND: CHIANG MAI
There are few cities so suffused with food as Chiang Mai, whether it’s smoked meats on roadside grills or incredible noodles from hole-in-the-wall cafes. Northern Thai cuisine is not for the fainthearted, though; dishes lean on the sour, the bitter and the smoky. Try larb muang (spicy minced meat salad with offal and blood), sai ua (coils of fiery pork sausage) and khao soi (one of the few coconutty dishes, a noodle soup).
Essential stops: Spend a day exploring Chang Mai’s markets, including Muang Mai, Warorot and the stalls by the city wall gates.
Alternative: Further north, Chiang Rai is quieter but still full of the region’s specialities. Deepti Kapoor
This southern temple city is a vegetarian’s paradise. Its legendary namesake is the Mysore masala dosa, a pancake that’s crispy on the outside, distinctly spongy within and filled with curried potato. But there are other treasures, too, such as bisi bele bath, an elaborate lentil and rice dish containing at least a dozen spices, and Mysore pak, a fudgy gram flour and ghee dessert.
Essential stops: Go to Vinayaka Mylari for dosa and Guru Sweet Mart for Mysore pak. For yogic food (Mysore is the home of Ashtanga yoga), try Depth N Green.
Alternative: Coastal Mangalore has a spicier, meatier and fishier take on the region’s cuisine. DK
A city of skyscrapers and temples amid the bamboo forests of China’s rice bowl, Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan province, best known for tongue-numbing peppercorns and pungent ‘facing heaven’ chillies. Must-eats include spicy, porky dan dan noodles, mapo tofu (in chilli sauce) and hotpot (with an emphasis on ‘hot’).
Essential stops: Jinli is the best spot for Sichuan street food such as sweet rice balls, while in Funan New District there’s a whole street dedicated to hotpot.
Alternative: The Muslim Quarter of Xi’an, central China, is home to Islamic-influenced dishes featuring lamb and spices. LD
SRI LANKA: GALLE
Portuguese in the 16th century, Dutch in the 17th and English for a time after that, the UNESCO-listed city of Galle in southern Sri Lanka has beautiful beaches, historic buildings and a hip artistic community. Plus, there are the culinary advantages that come with fish just offshore, spices in the markets and a plentiful supply of hungry incomers. Meat, fish and vegetarian curries are aromatic
with local turmeric, cardamom, peppercorn berries, cinnamon and cloves.
Essential stops: The Dutch Market on Main Street is a cornucopia of fresh fruit, vegetables and spices, housed within a 300-year-old columned building, with snacks and juices too. For lunch or dinner, meanwhile, Hoppa is a tiny, unbeautiful cafe with great hoppers (bowl-shaped coconut pancakes served with various toppings), and A Minute by Tuk Tuk dishes up curries and tuna burgers from an ocean-view spot in the Dutch Hospital.
How to do it: Kuoni offers a week’s B&B at Jetwing Lighthouse, Galle, from £1,190 per person, including flights and transfers.
Alternative: Jaffna, at the northern tip of Sri Lanka, is less known to tourists and offers a fantastic choice of food including mud crab and slow-cooked goat curry. NC
As featured in Issue 4 of National Geographic Traveller Food
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