Recent years have seen a rise in food tours, but I’ve never needed an excuse to travel based on food alone.
One of my personal “travel rules” is that I’m only allowed to eat food or meals that I couldn’t find back home. Because food is such an integral part of any culture, I take dining out very seriously and consider each meal to be an education. The quirkier and sloppier, with crazy ingredients I’ve never heard of, the better.
Here are 23 foods worth traveling the world to taste.
1. Yakitori – Japan
Travelers who are over sushi can seek out Japan’s yakitori stands. Yakitori is much more than grilled chicken sauced with a combination of mirin, sake, soy sauce, and sugar—these street vendors are informal social venues where younger populations mix with the after-work crowd in need of a post-office snack.
2. Baklava – Turkey
Turkish pastry chefs and bakers load their version of baklava with bright green pistachios, accompanied by sweet kaymak (Turkish cream). Variations of baklava are found in several areas of the Eastern Mediterranean, and are eaten as far away as Iran and Afghanistan.
3. Anticuchos – Peru
These grilled, sauced, and skewered cuts of beef heart are native to Peru and can be found in many other regions of South America. A classic street eat, anticuchos typically cost less than $1US per serving, making it a cheap, satisfying meal for those traveling on a budget.
4. Paratha – India
Often overshadowed elsewhere by naan, the unlevened paratha is the carb of choice in Northern India, and over 40 different versions can be found throughout Malaysia, Mauritius, the Maldives, Myanmar, and Singapore. This bread can be stuffed with vegetables or meat, or dipped in butter, yogurt, or tea.
5. Poutine – Canada
French Canada’s comfort food, the combination of thick-cut fries topped with gravy and cheese curds has been around since the 1950s. The etymology of “poutine” is unclear, but sources point to a combination of French and English words, including “mess,” “bad stew,” and “a stout, thick-set person.”
6. Callaloo – Caribbean
Callaloo incorporates vegetables and greens you’ve probably never heard of, like water spinach, dasheen, and amaranth, to create a stew or thick side dish to accompany meals. While most travelers will find it in parts of the eastern Caribbean, it actually originates from West Africa, and can be a vegetarian dish, using okra, coconut milk, or chilis, or include local seafood such as crab, lobster, and conch, depending on which country is serving it.
7. Khao soi – Thailand
This noodle soup is served in Laos, Thailand, and Burma, with local touches to distinguish the flavors of the region. The rice noodles (sometimes fried) are rolled and cut with scissors before being added to a broth containing ingredients such as cabbage, pork, fried chilies, fermented soybeans, and/or curried coconut milk. It’s a dish not often found in Thai restaurants in the West.
8. Chapulines – Mexico
Often encountered by travelers in Oaxacan markets and at sporting events, this grasshopper snack is typically only available in the summertime. Their combined sour, spicy, and salty flavor comes from toasting them simply with garlic, lime juice, and salt.
9. Chicken and waffles – USA
What might seem like an odd combination is actually a beloved brunch dish. Though it has a long history, it has recently been popularized nationally and can now be found all over the country. Adding maple syrup, honey, or hot sauce brings the sweet and savory combination to a whole other level.
10. Pintxos – Spain
“Pincho” is Spanish for “spike”—ingredients such as cured meats, smoked fish, sliced vegetables, local cheeses, and more are affixed to slices of bread with toothpicks. Pintxos are almost always eaten within the context of a social setting in the Basque region of Northern Spain. Most travelers will find spreads of elaborate pintxos readily laid out at bars and taverns for patrons to pair with their wine and beer.
11. Halušky – Slovakia
The Slovak cousin of macaroni and cheese, halušky consists of potato dumplings mixed with butter and a melted sheep’s cheese called bryndza, topped with chopped bacon. Locals will sometimes pair it with a sour milk called žinčica, but beer will also do. The city of Turecká even hosts an annual Bryndzové Halušky festival, complete with an eating contest.
12. Asado – Argentina
Asado is a meal, barbecue technique, and social gathering rolled into one. Undressed meat—beef ribs, pork sausage, chicken legs, etc—is grilled on an open fire for about two hours. It’s most closely associated with Argentina, but variations also exist in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Peru, among others.
13. Koshary – Egypt
Koshary (or koshari) is like an Egyptian version of Rice-A-Roni—rice, pasta, lentils, tomato sauce, and chickpeas mixed together create a meal enjoyed by Egypt’s working class, as well as visiting vegans.
14. Pastilla – Morocco
Morocco’s version of a meat pie, the flaky pastry of pastilla is stuffed with ground pigeon and spices such as saffron, cinnamon, and coriander. The savory filling is wrapped in a sweet outer shell called werqa, then topped with powdered sugar. It is neither an entree nor a dessert, but an appetizer saved for special occasions.
15. Fufu – Ghana
Made from boiled and pounded cassava and plantains, fufu has the consistency of marshmallow fluff and tastes semi-sweet. No utensils are required; diners rip off small balls of the dough to scoop up whatever vegetable soup or meat stew they have ordered.
16. Vada – India
These lentil, potato, and onion doughnuts/patties are typically eaten for breakfast in Southern Indian and Sri Lanka. At 300 calories a pop, they serve as a snack food as well as a meal accompaniment. Vada pav, for example, features vada squished between a split bun, with chutney and spicy chilies as garnish.
17. Saskatoon pie – Canada
The city of Saskatoon is actually named after the berry, as it grew in abundance when Ukrainian and other immigrant groups settled the area. It looks like a cross between a cranberry and a blueberry, and tastes like a sweeter version of a black currant. Locals often use the same pie recipes that have been passed down through generations of bakers in their families.
18. Balik ekmek – Turkey
This grilled mackerel sandwich can be found around Istanbul’s Eminonu Square, from street cart vendors or straight off the boats floating along the Galata and Ataturk bridges. Cabbage, onion, lettuce, tomato, and roasted peppers are added to enhance the fish’s fresh flavors.
19. Goat stew – Montserrat
Goat is cheaper than beef, but the meat is tender and silky, and lower in fat as well. Montserrat made goat stew its national dish, and several other Caribbean islands, such as St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Croix, have created honorable mentions as well. Recipes vary in spice (curry, cloves, chili power, or coriander), local vegetables, and what sides, if any, to serve it with.
20. Lobster soup – Iceland
Lobster is abundant in Iceland, found on almost any restaurant menu. Travelers accustomed to being served 2lbs of this crustacean broiled in garlic butter might be put off by the look of Icelandic lobsters (each is about the size of a jumbo shrimp), but the meat is fresh, and the soup’s broth is very warming.
21. Cemita – Mexico
Originating in the city of Puebla, the cemita is the ultimate sandwich. Beef or pork is combined with sliced avocado, quesillo, onions, pápalo, and salsa roja between a sliced sesame bun.
22. Picarones – Peru
Though considered a dessert in Peru, picarones are donuts made with squash and sweet potato. “Picaron” translates as someone who is “naughty” or “mischevious,” and the dessert is often mentioned in Peruvian music and poetry as an innuendo.
23. Cioppino – USA
Italian food may not be San Francisco’s most recognized cuisine, but cioppino, invented by Italian fishmongers in SF who used leftover fish bits to create a seafood stew, can be found in dive bars as well as five-star restaurants. Most travelers get to enjoy some combination of Dungeness crab, clams, shrimp, scallops, squid, mussels, and local fish, simmered in a tomato and wine broth.