Do your vacation photos feature more shots of food than famous landmarks? No surprise! “Bite-seeing” is getting just as popular as sightseeing. The world is chock-full of tempting tastes and exotic new dishes to try. We’ve put together this slideshow with some of our top picks for foodie destinations, along with special experiences that let you get even deeper into the culinary culture.
While it’s tough to narrow all the world’s delicious bounty into just a few destinations, we’ve tried to choose spots that offer something just a bit different, with flavors you might not find at home.
If you travel to eat, read on and get a taste of the world’s best foodie destinations.
Eat It: Tagines reign supreme in Marrakesh. Look for classics simmered in conical clay cookware, like chicken with preserved lemons and olives or lamb with prunes—but keep an eye out for more home-style varieties, including one with little meatballs called kefta. Try to dine at least once in a traditional restaurant, where the meal starts with an array of appetizer salads, like carrots with cumin, or taktouka with tomatoes and peppers (restaurant Al Fassia is famed for salads). Dar Yacout and Riad Kniza are also good choices for traditional cuisine. Must-try foods include pastilla (a savory-sweet meat pie) and couscous topped with an array of vegetables and meats. If you’re adventurous, sample the food stalls on chaotic Jemaa el-Fna square in the evening.
Experience It: Beautiful riad Dar Les Cigognes offers individual cooking classes where you can choose which dishes you’d like to learn. Owner and cookbook author Eben Lenderking is working to preserve old recipes and cooking methods. For a cooking tour that takes you to multiple cities in Morocco, including Marrakesh, Access Trips is a great choice.
San Francisco, U.S.A.
Eat It: Birthplace of “California Cuisine,” the Bay Area has come a long way since Chef Alice Waters opened her landmark Chez Panisse. You’ll find nearly any ethnic food you can imagine in San Francisco, as well as a thriving food truck scene (see OfftheGridSF.com for times and locations). Hit the Mission District for the hottest restaurants, including Mission Chinese Food, Commonwealth, Tacolicious, Locanda, Bar Tartine and Humphry Slocombe. For meals with a view, skip touristy Fisherman’s Wharf and head for Boulevard, EPIC Steak and Waterbar.
Experience It: Don’t miss a trip to the Ferry Building, filled with food purveyors and restaurants, to immerse yourself in the local food scene—especially during Saturday, Tuesday and Thursday farmers markets. Edible Excursions culinary walking tours take you into the Ferry Building and the city’s ethnic neighborhoods for a great taste of San Francisco off the tourist track.
Hong Kong, China
Eat It: You’ll find the whole range of Chinese cuisine in Hong Kong—and the place is seriously food-obsessed! It’s home to the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant, dim sum spot Tim Ho Wan. And whether you crave standards like Peking duck and beggar’s chicken (the whole bird is sheathed in clay and cracked open with a hammer tableside) or go for regional specialties, Hong Kong has them. Troll Temple Street Night Market for street food or discover chefs like Alvin Leung Jr. of Bo Innovation, who’s pushing the envelope by using traditional ingredients in innovative new ways—like his Shanghai soup dumplings (xaio long bao), which are missing their usual dough wrapper, contained only in a delicate gelled membrane. Leung’s tasting menu is an adventure in itself.
Experience It: Home’s Cooking takes you shopping at a wet market (where fish and other fresh ingredients are sold) and then to a cooking class in the owner’s home. Hong Kong Foodie, Little Adventures in Hong Kong and Big Foot Tour all offer food tours that give you insider access to local cuisine.
Eat It: Oh, Italy! How can we choose just one favorite destination? We’ve picked Turin for a couple of reasons. First, the gorgeous mid-19th century cafes are lovely spots to linger over a bicerin (a luscious layered drink of chocolate, coffee and milk) and a gianduja (chocolate and hazelnut) morsel. Second, the city is home to Salone del Gusto, the Slow Food organization’s biennial extravaganza of cuisine. What’s more, you’re in the Piedmont region, land of Barolo wines and dishes you’ll rarely find at home, like bagna cauda, a warm anchovy and olive oil dip served with veggies, and bollito misto, various meats served with a garlicky green sauce. And then, of course, there are the truffles….
Experience It: Tasty Tours, Raggiunere and Tasting Tours are among the operators offering guided food and wine tours of the region. And if you can ever make it to Salone del Gusto, don’t miss the opportunity to taste, dine and learn.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Eat It: “Oi, tudo bom?” (“Hey, is everything good?”) is how you might be greeted in Brazil. The answer is “Yes!” when it comes to food. Let’s start with Rio de Janeiro‘s churrascarias, where waiters roam the restaurants with skewers of meat, stopping by your table to slice off as much as you’d like. A meal typically starts with a visit to an immense salad bar. Palace, Majorica and Plataforma are all popular churrascarias. We’re also smitten with pan de queso, chewy little cheese pastries made with tapioca flour. And then there’s the national dish, feijoada, black beans stewed with pork or beef and smoked sausages, served with toasted manioc flour.
Experience It: Cook in Rio gets high marks for teaching culture as well as cuisine in its classes. You may also learn to make a wicked caipirinha, Brazil’s favorite cocktail.
San Sebastian, Spain
Eat It: With more Michelin stars per capita than nearly any other city, this Basque town is a must-visit for foodies. From pintxos, small-plate bar snacks, to expensive experimental cuisine, San Sebastian’s dining scene runs the gamut. Peppers, olive oil and seafood often play starring roles. Head to Borda Berri, Gandarias, Casa Vergara, Haizea, Astelehena and La Cuchara de San Telmo for pintxos like crispy pig’s ear, cod and bites of sirloin—or blow your savings at Michelin-starred spots like Mugaritz, Arzak, Kokotxa and Zuberoa.
Experience It: San Sebastian Food will teach you how to cook pintxos, take you on a private tour of Basque cider houses or acquaint you with Spanish wines at a tasting session.
Eat It: Lyon and its surroundings feature numerous Michelin-starred restaurants, but you’ll dine well on humbler cuisine too, at Lyon’s renowned bouchons—small, family-run establishments, like Chez Hugon and Cafe des Federations, that serve huge portions of Lyonnais home cooking. Try dishes like boudin noir (blood sausage), pork cheeks and chicken with vinegar. Be sure to visit the outdoor Saint-Antoine Market and the indoor Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, named after Lyon’s most famous local chef. You’ll see all the bounty that has made this city France’s gourmet heartland.
Experience It: Delicieusement Votre offers cooking classes in English. For your own local volunteer guide to Lyon’s cuisine, fill out a Lyon City Greeter form in advance and indicate your interest in gastronomy.
Eat It: Drawing on its French heritage, Montreal specializes in classics with a New World twist. Add in ethnic foods, like its famous bagels (try Fairmount Bagel) or smoked meat (don’t miss Schwartz’s), and you can happily dine for days. Indulge with foie gras at Joe Beef or Au Pied de Cochon. Drop by Marche de la Villette for charcuterie. Graze Jean-Talon or Atwater markets. Dig into poutine, the local guilty pleasure made with French fries, cheese curds and gravy. And be on the look-out for all sorts of creations made with maple syrup—our favorite is a maple version of cotton candy.
Experience It: Fitz & Follwell’s “Flavors of the Main” food tour is a fascinating expedition in two parts (book one or both) that travels up St. Lawrence Boulevard through the city’s ethnic neighborhoods. Montreal Food Tours will take you into Old Montreal for a delicious stroll through history, or to Little Italy and other destinations.
New Orleans, U.S.A.
Eat It: Whether you’re slurping an oyster, wolfing down a muffuletta sandwich (our faves are from Central Grocery and Rouses) after a night of too many Sazeracs or springing for a white-tablecloth meal, New Orleans offers a rich culinary experience that lets you know you’re in a place apart. Are you a traditionalist? Opt for old-school spots like Galatoire’s, Brennan’s or Commander’s Palace. Or check out the next generation of chefs—like John Besh, who serves up refined Louisiana-French cuisine at August, or Cochon’s Donald Link, who makes Cajun-style dishes such as crispy pork cake with turnips and cracklin’s. Either way, at some point during your trip, drop by Cafe du Monde for a beignet (it’s like a square donut without a hole)—just mind the powdered sugar that’s a sure clue to your indulgence if it lands on your clothes!
Experience It: Learn to whip up N’awlins favorites, like gumbo and crawfish etoufee, at local cooking schools such as the New Orleans School of Cooking, Crescent City Cooks! and the New Orleans Cooking Experience.
Eat It: Sushi and ramen are popular around the world—but one style of Japanese food isn’t often found outside the country: kaiseki ryori, a refined meal that evolved from the tea ceremony to become aristocratic haute cuisine in this former imperial capital. A kaiseki meal focuses on fresh, seasonal ingredients, unfolding in a series of small courses, each served in an exquisite dish. Typically there is an appetizer, sashimi, a simmered dish, a grilled dish and a steamed course—but chefs can add a number of other choices to create a parade of little delights.
Experience It: A kaiseki meal is best enjoyed at a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), where it’s served in your room. Tawaraya, Shiraume, Hiiragiya and Tamahan are all highly regarded, if pricey, ryokans in Kyoto. Haru Cooking Class gives you insights into Japanese cuisine, including making dashi (stock), and has an option to cook with famed Kobe beef. Uzuki Japanese Cuisine has classes to prepare multi-course meals, as well as sweets.
Eat It: Sydney is seafood heaven (remember, they’ll “throw another shrimp on the barbie” for you), including the famous Moreton Bay “bugs”—flathead or bay lobsters, rather like a large crayfish. Mohr Fish is a local favorite for seafood, with a cafe atmosphere. You’ll also find an amazing variety of tropical fruits and a tempting array of ethnic Asian eats Down Under. Or go exotic and try kangaroo, emu or crocodile. High-end diners won’t be disappointed with choices like Quay, Est, Oscillate Wildly and Sepia.
Experience It: The Sydney Seafood School, housed right in the Sydney Fish Market, has classes that will teach you all about seafood, as well as ethnic cuisine. Gourmet Safaris offers an array of food tours around various Sydney neighborhoods, focused on different ethnic cuisines from Lebanese to French.
Eat It: Come to Singapore and discover three cuisines to tempt you: Malay, Chinese and Indian, all reflective of local ethnic groups. The city-state is famous for its hawker centers, where as many as 100-plus vendors each offer a specialty. Maxwell Road Hawker Centre and Old Airport Road Food Centre are local favorites, where you can tuck into iconic dishes like Hainanese chicken rice, roti, char kway teow (fried rice noodles), chili crab or rojak (a salty-sweet dish with vegetables, fruit, Chinese fritters, peanuts and shrimp paste). For upscale takes on local flavors, try Wild Rocket—and don’t miss the sophisticated sweets at 2 AM Dessert Bar.
Experience It: Betel Box offers an amazing food tour in the Joo Chiat neighborhood that not only leaves you stuffed full of good food, but also provides deep insights into Singapore’s unique culture.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 12 Foods to Try Before You Die
- Don’t Eat These Foods Before You Fly
- Booking a Long Flight? Read This First
—written by Gayle Keck