So, here we go. It’s no secret that one of my favourite things to do when travelling is to eat. I’ll try just about anything – horse, haggis or haloumi – and see a nation’s cuisine as a sort of to-do list when entering a new country.
It didn’t always used to be like this. When I first set off for Europe, I was on a meagre budget, meaning my breakfast and lunch was usually merged into the hostel’s morning offerings plus a piece of fruit later on, then dinner. Most nights of the week dinner consisted of good old ‘backpacker’s pasta’; a packet of spaghetti and a jar of pasta sauce. Asia changed this for me. You can eat like royalty for not much at all.
This list was surprisingly not hard to put together. There’s no sign of anything French, for example, as I rate a country’s diet also by how accessible it is. There’s no use having fabulous food when nobody can afford it or it’s way too hit and miss. Extra points are also given for street food and it doesn’t hurt to have a few different drinks on offer, too.
Paul and I are headed to Turkey in two weeks. From what I’ve heard, another cuisine may meed to be squeezed into the list too.
Next: Favourite hostels
I can’t say I’d really ever given Moroccan a go until I actually visited the country. Names of Moroccan restaurants don’t exactly spring to mind, and too often people dismiss it due to a little grain the country has given us. Cous cous. It definitely has its detractors. But I’m a massive fan of their tagines, as well as, surprisingly, pigeon pie. Oh yeah.
Malaysian often gets left out when looking at some of Asia’s bigger hitters in terms of cuisine. But one of my favourite dishes is Malaysian – delicious laksa, as well as a decent char kway teow. The only pity was it was so hard to find this perfected in Malaysia itself – it seems to be best in Melbourne, in my personal opinion!
Before I visited Europe, I had near-vego tendencies. I even gave it a go for a couple of weeks (but I decided I liked dim sims too much). In Germany, I go the reverse. Give me any animal, chuck it on a plate and add some dumplings and sauerkraut and I’m one happy woman. It also helps that the country that is single-handedly keeping the euro going just so happens to be insanely cheap for eating out. Favourites include the good old half a chicken, pork knuckle, Nurnberger sausages and delicious currywurst. I’m even going to chuck in the cuisines of other Germanic countries to help us out here – Austrian schnitzel and Swiss rosti. Dessert would have to be apple strudel, and it would all be washed down with a litre of Augustiner, thank you very much. (And I’ll pass on the pretzels.)
I almost forgot to put Italian on this list, that’s how used to eating it I am. I basically see it as food, rather than Italian food per se. You’ve got the good old pizza and pasta, but I must say I am a bit of a mushroom risotto connoisseur and I become a bit of an arancini monster when they’re around. Hit me up with some tiramisu or just plain gelati, and don’t forget a heart-stopping coffee please.
Pho, I love you so. Often Asian countries lose out a bit to me due to them not embracing the concept of breakfast, but here in Vietnam, they’ll just give you yet more pho. Spring rolls are always the way to my heart, as is bo bun (particularly when spring rolls are actually in the bo bun). And no trip to Footscray is complete without snacking on bahn mi, Vietnam’s take on a chicken and salad roll.
Greece was perhaps the first country I visited where I could afford to eat pretty much everything that passed under my nose. Previously unappreciated things such as moussaka became a daily staple. I obediently tucked my fries into my gyros and glooped my tzatziki on everything I saw. Dolmades were always ordered as a starter. Seafood came close to featuring in my three meals of the day. And there was always a dessert course – why not when there’s baklava, loukoumades and karythopita to be had?
Saying ‘Chinese cuisine’ is like saying ‘European food’. It is so varied throughout the huge country that it warrants a few entries, but I’ve had trouble enough narrowing down all of my favourites to only ten. Up north there’s great stuff like Peking duck and jiaozi dumplings, you’ve got firey dishes like hotpot and mapo tofu over in Sichuan, the Cantonese have char siu bao steamed buns and classic stir fries, and those in Shanghai wow us with xiao long bao and fried rice. And that’s only the four main styles – delve even deeper and you’ll find more, like the Muslim-inspired food of Xi’an.
So many people head to Spain with no idea that they’re about to be completely blown away by the food on offer. There’s the stuff that’s well-known, like paella, which is best in Valencia (with rabbit) but rubbish just about everywhere else. There’s the tapas, with dishes such as patatas bravas, calamares and jamon croquettas, best in Andalucia but pretty decent everywhere. But the best is saved for the little-known Basque region and its amazing pintxos – smaller-sized pintxos which blow you away with both flavour and presentation. Wash it all down with sangria or calamaxos and you’ll wonder why you hadn’t tried it all sooner.
Japanese is one of those cuisines that we all try with a hint of trepidation. What, raw fish? Are you kidding me? It’s so different from everything else that it intrigues you from the get-go. Japan could fall into the category of being too expensive to try it all properly, but I’ve given it my all in trying to prove otherwise. From sushi trains (at about $1 a plate) to gyoza, and delicious Takayama beef to Fukuoka’s ramen, even bento boxes for the train, it’s all been affordable. I’ve even given green tea ice cream a try and given it my thumbs up. Also helps when there’s a vending machine for every seventy people in the country, so you’re never far from a drink (and they do iced tea very well). You also haven’t lived until you try okonomiyaki from Osaka.
I get a little excited about pad thai. Well, more than a little bit excited. I am a little bit obsessed with the dish that the Thais are so proud of that they’ve named it after themselves. Give me some tom yum soup, green/red/yellow curry, papaya salad, fish cakes… yep, even spicier please. Also, the more lemongrass, lime, coriander and chilli the better. Their spring rolls aren’t bad too.