If you consider yourself a foodie, then these travel experiences are for you. Whether you’ve got a sweet tooth or you like to be a little adventurous, the world has a lot to offer on a plate.
1. Chocolate, Guayas, Ecuador
Long the world’s prime cocoa producer, Ecuador was usurped by West Africa in the twentieth century when mass-produced chocs, made with cheaper beans, became fashionable. With gourmet chocolate in vogue again, Ecuadorean cocoa farmers are busier than ever. Guayas province is scattered with family-run plantations; visit during the April and May harvest to see them in action.
2. Duck confit, Gascony, France
Rugged Gascony is a sleepy, untouristed region celebrated for its punchy cuisine – think black sausage, gizzards and foie gras washed down with Armagnac – and it’s become something of a foodie hotspot in recent years. Gascony’s most prized dish is confit de canard: salt-cured duck roasted in its own fat – an ages-old preparation that results in deliciously crispy skin and melt-in-the-mouth meat.
3. Caviar, St Petersburg, Russia
After visiting the Hermitage Museum’s extensive art collection, some Russian-style sustenance is in order. The Caviar Bar in St Petersburg’s swanky Hotel Europe is the best place to sample top-notch caviar, selected from a trolley which comes loaded with the traditional accompaniments of blinis, sour cream and chopped eggs. A vodka sommelier is on hand to pair your sevruga with your Stolichnaya.
Truffles certainly don’t look like a delicacy – but their unique aroma can transform a humdrum dish into something really special. Alba’s white truffles thrive in the damp woods around town, and are sniffed out under cover of darkness. The season is short – October to November – which only serves to raise their desirability among in-the-know gourmands: a two-pound truffle recently fetched US$120,000 at auction.
5. Bird’s nest soup, Hong Kong
Authentic bird’s nest soup (as opposed to the inauthentic noodles-as-nest variety) is made from the nest of the swiftlet, a small bird found throughout southeast Asia. Rather than twigs and leaves, the nest is made from saliva strands, which harden when exposed to air. Served in a steaming bowl of chicken broth, the dish is reputed by the Chinese to have aphrodisiac qualities.
An unlikely delicacy, tube-shaped percebes, or “gooseneck barnacles”, cling to Galicia’s rocky coastline. Harvesting percebes is not easy: they grow in remote and precarious spots, battered by the pounding Atlantic, and so-called percebeiros take their life in their hands to prise them off the rocks. For many, it’s worth the risk: these prestigious crustaceans, with their flavour of sweet lobster, command sky-high prices at market.
7. Coffee, western Colombia
As the world’s second-biggest producer of coffee (after Brazil), Colombia has a growing coffee tourism industry. The “coffee triangle”, in the departments of Quindío, Caldas and Risaralda, is dotted with small farms and criss-crossed with scenic routes, with plenty of opportunities to stop for a tinto (black coffee) along the way.
The world-famous Sacher-Torte – a deliciously dense chocolate cake with a thin layer of apricot jam and dark chocolate icing – was invented by 16-year-old kitchen hand Franz Sacher in 1832. Despite city-wide competition, Vienna’s Café Sacher is still the best place to sample this local delicacy. Order it mit schlag for a generous dollop of whipped cream on the side.
9. Raclette, southern Switzerland
Raclette has been Swiss comfort food for centuries. Shepherds in the Alps would warm themselves around a fire and melt a wedge of the local cheese, before scraping an oozy layer over potatoes and cornichons. Today, the heat comes from an electric grill, but the social aspect remains the same: this is a meal to linger over with friends.
Exotic durian, revered in southeast Asia as the “king of fruits”, is known for its pungent smell (think smelly socks and sour milk). If you’re tempted, avoid the fruit itself – durian ice cream or biscuits make a more gentle introduction. The fruit is grown throughout southeast Asia (just follow your nose), but durian connoisseurs rate the quality offerings grown in the Balik Pulao region of Penang, Malaysia.
Rome’s earthiest district, Testaccio, was once home to Europe’s biggest slaughterhouse. The prime meat went to nobility, while the unwanted cuts – hearts, tails, heads – made up the quinto quarto or “fifth quarter”, destined for Rome’s poorest households. The locals became experts at transforming undesirable offal into delectable dinners, and these days, offal graces the tables of some of the city’s finest restaurants.
Alaska’s icy Copper River winds a challenging, 300-mile-long course through the state, ensuring that the salmon caught here are healthy, hardy specimens, and the first to spawn in the spring. Wonderfully tasty, Copper River salmon is a big deal in Pacific Northwest restaurants, and foodies flock to seafood restaurants to coo over its rich, nutty flavour before the short season is over for another year.
Once considered only fit for school dinners, the humble rhubarb has been championed by celebrity chefs in recent years. It thrives in the “Rhubarb Triangle” between Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell in West Yorkshire, where it has been awarded protected designation of origin status by the EU – putting it on a par with Parma ham and Champagne. An annual rhubarb festival takes place in Wakefield every February.
14. Cioppino, San Francisco, USA
In the late nineteenth century, a wave of Italian immigrant fishermen arrived in San Francisco. Every day, hauling their catch ashore, they would be greeted with “Chip in! Chip in!”: a call for seafood for the wharf’s communal soup. The Italians soon made the cry their own – “Chip in-o!” – thus christening this rich, messy broth brimming with seafood that today is the city’s must-eat dish.
Thanks to the concentration of fresh and salt water on the coast in this area, world-class oysters from Galway City are caught and sold across the globe. On the last weekend in September, the international oyster festival celebrates the slippery bivalves with all-you-can-eat contests and shucking competitions. Aficionados forego Tabasco and lemon, preferring their oysters au naturel – washed down, of course, with a pint of creamy Irish stout.
16. Surströmming, northern Sweden
If you fancy an extreme eating challenge, get hold of a tin of surströmming, or soured Baltic herring. Caught in the spring, the herring is fermented in barrels for a couple of months before being canned, where it ferments for another six months. Opening a tin unleashes a powerful, overwhelming stench – which perhaps explains why the Swedes like to eat it alfresco.
17. Fugu, Japan
Fugu (literally “river pig”) is Japan’s most notorious dish. This innocuous-looking pufferfish harbours a deadly poison 1250 times stronger than cyanide, requiring careful preparation to remove the toxins before it’s eaten: Japanese law states that only rigorously trained chefs are allowed to handle it. Fugu can be served in a variety of ways, the most popular being sashimi.
Basque sailors introduced cider to the Normans in the sixth century, and it’s still a favourite local tipple. Normandy’s Pays d’Auge is home to the Route du Cidre, a 40km jaunt through quaint villages and apple orchards. On the way, local producers ply you with France’s finest cider, calvados and pommeau (a delicious mix of apple juice and brandy), still cultivated using traditional methods.
Tangia has always been a bachelor’s dish in Marrakech. A mix of meat, garlic, lemon, saffron and cumin was stuffed in a clay pot and taken to the local hammam in the morning, where it slow-cooked in the ashes from the fire used to heat the baths, simmering down a mouthwatering tenderness before the men took it home for dinner. The tradition persists to this day.
The Irish monks that first introduced whisky to Islay in the fourteenth century found that it offered perfect conditions for distilling: this Inner Hebridean island has plentiful supplies of peat, and lochs and rivers full of pristine soft water. Today, Islay is home to eight distilleries – all of which put on tours and tastings – producing dry, peaty, smoky single malts that are among Scotland’s most powerful drams.