Sampling local cuisines from all over the world is one of the great delights of international travel. You’ll often come across delicious foods that you’d never even heard about at home… although sometimes it’s not entirely clear exactly what you’re eating!
In this tribute to foods of the world, I’ve put together photos of some of my favourite foods from around the world. If you ever have a chance to try these enticing delights, don’t miss the opportunity!
(Please note: All of the photos in this post are my own.)
Great restaurant dishes
One of my all-time favourite restaurant dishes is Tahchin, which I tried for the first time at an unassuming Persian restaurant in Bahrain. This rice dish has a crispy outside which is packed full of flavour and spices. On the inside is saffron rice and juicy chicken. (Beware that many Persian restaurants only serve this once per week and often sell out quickly!)
Another favourite is the rijsttafel (Dutch for “rice table”) you’ll find at many Indonesian restaurants in the Netherlands. Why try just one flavoursome dish when you can have 16?
Peking duck is a Chinese classic, and what better place to try it than Beijing? At this local restaurant, a chef prepared the ducks directly at our table…
These mussels served at a seaside restaurant in Marseille were equally delicious.
Another great seafood dish came from a beachside café in Avarua, Cook Islands. The Bite Time Café sells fresh fish that was caught earlier in the day and often sells out by lunch time. When I visited, their daily specials were sashimi and ika mata. Best enjoyed with a fresh coconut!
But sometimes the simple things are the best things. This Portuguese speciality, prego no pão, is basically a steak sandwich with butter & garlic. It’s not only delicious, but easy to replicate at home!
Fresh food markets
Markets are a great source of fresh, local food. Perhaps the best meal I’ve found was the Uruguayan steak at Mercado del Puerto in Montevideo:
I’ve eaten many schnitzels in my life… but my favourite comes from this small guesthouse in Vienna’s Naschmarkt, Zur Eisernen Zeit.
If you love cheese as much as I do, it’s hard to go past local fresh food markets, such as the Saturday morning market in the French city of Arles.
The Netherlands is also famous for its cheese. Although the Alkmaar cheese market is about as “touristy” as it gets, I did enjoy my purchases! (Most other Dutch cities have their own food markets where you can get cheese that’s just as good without competing with hundreds of tourists.)
And there are many sweet Turkish treats in the bazaars of Istanbul, including Turkish Delight and baklava.
Guilty comfort food pleasures
Eating healthy has its benefits, but sometimes it’s nice to splurge on a bit of fried chicken. This fried chicken from The Eagle in Cincinnati is easily the best I’ve ever eaten (even better than Jollibee!)…
Sticking to the United States for a moment, I do enjoy In-n-Out Burger, which has a bit of a cult following in Australia.
For some deep-fried doughy goodness, it’s also hard to go past Hungarian lángos topped with sour cream & cheese. This store in Budapest made a great one.
My favourite comfort food, though, would have to come from Georgian cuisine. Two Georgian classics are khachapuri(a type of egg & cheese pie) and khinkali (Georgian dumplings with a thick, doughy pastry).
I don’t know of too many people that have visited Japan and complained about the food. It’s fresh, healthy and mostly tastes great. Sometimes, it’s even delivered to your table by a robot or a train.
This gyoza in Osaka came with a free lesson in how to use chopsticks correctly from a chef that was so horrified with how I was eating that he came out from the kitchen especially to teach me!
One of the (many) great things about Japan is that you generally know what you’re getting, even if you can’t speak Japanese. That’s because many restaurants have life-size and very realistic plastic models of their menu in the window. (Yep, those sushis are made of plastic… did they fool you?)
The humble buffet… Brazilian style
There are buffets, and then there are buffets. This one (pictured right) in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais was cooked on an open fire and was full of delicious local foods and accompaniments.
Beans and rice are staples of Minas Gerais cuisine. But that is not the case in the whole of Brazil. One of the great things about Brazil is its diversity. Each state has its own unique accent, culture and food. Pictured below is an excellent moqueca (seafood stew) I tried at a beachside restaurant in Bahia.
Simple, healthy and tasty — a typical Ethiopian meal is served on injera, a traditional and slightly sour cross between bread and a crêpe. It can come with many different toppings, although shiro (a thick, warm soup made of chickpeas and spices) is common.
Often, the best food doesn’t come from a fancy restaurant. Hawker Centres in Southeast Asia, for example, offer exceptional quality at very affordable prices. Apart from laksa, some of my favourites when in Singapore are satay skewers, chili crab & Hainanese chicken rice. The Hainanese chicken rice from Tian Tian Chicken Rice at Maxwell Hawker Centre is particularly excellent.
There’s also great food at the many Mamak stalls & restaurants in Malaysia, such as roti canai.
In many countries, street food is also great (and just a fraction of the price)…
A delicious example of street food would be this chickpea curry with rice and puri which cost around 60 cents. Tasty, filling and easy on the wallet!
These spicy tacos in Mexico City were also a great buy at around $3 for the whole plate.
But sometimes street food is a little bit unusual… and that’s okay! This vendor in Marrakech was selling snails, or escargot, which came in a bowl with soup. They tasted better than I expected!
I wasn’t quite so game to try these live starfish or squirming seahorse skewers in Beijing. (Granted, they would have at least been cooked before eating…)
The equivalent of street food in the United States is food trucks, which typically specialise in one thing and do it extremely well.
My first Philly cheesesteak was from a food truck in Philadelphia. It was so good that I returned to Philadelphia on my next visit to the United States. Regrettably, I chose to visit a proper restaurant on my next visit. Rather than using provolone cheese, they smothered the cheesesteak with that awful fake bright orange “cheez whiz” that comes out of a can. I couldn’t even finish it.
Meat lovers would also leave this smoked meat sandwich which you can try if you want a break from poutine in Montreal.
A relaxing, nutritious breakfast with a perfectly-made cup of coffee is one of life’s simple pleasures. One of my favourite places to start the day is Silo Coffee in Berlin’s Friedrichshain district.
But an especially memorable breakfast was on a back street of Istanbul, where my friend Horia & I enjoyed a feast of Turkish pastries and tea with stray cats.
There are so many great desserts out there, but I’m just going to mention five…
Apfelstrudel (apple strudel) & Sachertorte, a type of slightly dry chocolate cake with a hint of orange flavour that was invented in Vienna, are well-known classics.
Perhaps less internationally renowned but just as delicious is Kremna rezina, a cream cake invented in the Slovenian town of Bled.
Simple yet delicious, I love a bowl of Persian saffron ice cream!
Finally, what do you get if you mix ice cream and spaghetti? Well, you get Spaghettieis, which is served at ice cream stores all over Germany. It looks like spaghetti but contains no pasta or tomatoes and is very much a dessert. The “pasta” is made of vanilla ice cream, the sauce is strawberry flavoured and the “parmesan cheese” sprinkled over the top is white chocolate.