Gourmand? Foodie? Gastronome? Forget the labels, you don’t need to be a paid-up member of the gastronomic glitterati to love combining travel and food. Of course, there’s a seemingly endless menu of foodie destinations to discover, so you might need a little help to narrow down the options. Let us be your guide; here are the culinary holidays you need to take at least once in your life.
The Emilia-Romagna region is known for its unbeatable flavours, but capital Bologna is the culinary highlight. The world may associate the city with spaghetti bolognese, but true foodies know that’s plain wrong. Instead, dine on tagliatelle al ragù – similar, but with the flat tagliatelle pasta and a rich ragu – or tortellini, a stuffed, ringed pasta typically served in a broth.
Other regional delights include cold meats – prosciutto and mortadella – and parmigiano reggiano, a hard cheese with protected designation of origin status.
If you’re looking for an alternative to Paris, meaning top-notch French cuisine without waiting lists and overpriced dinners, then Lyon is it. Often dubbed the gastronomic capital of France, Lyon has 21 Michelin-starred restaurants. It was also the first of four French cities with an International City of Gastronomy space, a culinary centre that hosts anything from tastings to food-focussed film viewings.
Lyon also has an array of fine places to eat – from food markets, such as Les Halles de Lyon, to Michelin-starred restaurants, including the three-star Restaurant Paul Bocuse. Make sure to taste regional specialties including praline tarts, Saint-Marcellin cheese and Beaujolais wine.
It’s no secret Tokyo has some of the best sushi in the world. But the Japanese capital has so much else to offer. Step into a cool izakaya bar and order cocktails paired with local snacks or pass by the Tsukiji Outer Market for the complete foodie extravaganza – you will need a few hours to explore all the colourful stalls and shops.
Japanese cuisine was added to the Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2013, and Tokyo is where you can try all kinds of traditional dishes. From ramen and yakitori (grilled chicken skewers) to wagyu beef or the ever-present sticky rice, there’s so much to try here. Don’t leave without tasting the popular okonomiyaki, a pancake made with eggs and yams, and topped with anything from pork to squid or shrimp.
Who doesn’t love Thai food? And some of the best is found in Bangkok, where Michelin stars have been doled out to both restaurants and street vendors. Get a taste of the latter at Jay Fai, the first street stall in Thailand to be awarded the mark. Its eponymous owner – she’s not hard to miss in her black beanie and ski mask uniform – does a mean trade in crab omelettes.
Don’t pass up the classics either, pad thai and various curries are popular, as are the pretty-looking mangosteens that fill the floating markets. Cooking classes and food tours are also available around town.
New Orleans cuisine is not your typical American fare. Creole and French influences make for a fascinating – and unique – mix of flavours and culinary experiences. From fine dining to street food and a sophisticated cocktail scene, NOLA’s got it all.
There are so many cool things to try here. There’s the messy barbecue shrimp – less barbecue, more jumbo gulf shrimp sautéed in a Worcestershire-spiked butter sauce – and po’ boys (a NOLA-style sub sandwich typically with meat or seafood). You could also try Creole turtle soup, made with green turtle or snapping turtle meat – a delicacy once popular in the White House. Don’t forget to try the luscious beignets, a fried-dough pastry sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Get your daily dose of vitamin T – that’s tortillas, tacos, tamales and tostadas – with a gastronomic galivant around Mexico City. The street eats here aren’t expensive, so bounce from stall to stall trying their specialities. If you don’t want to walk far, tour Mercado Medellín – a traditional market in Roma Sur with a variety of street food stalls. And if you’re vegan, visit Por Siempre or La Pitahaya in Roma Norte for the best plant-based tacos in the city.
For an upmarket meal, visit Pujol – though you’ll need to book well in advance – for a modern take on traditional Mexican cuisine. Order the seven-course taster menu, which features a signature mole dish – Mole Madre, Mole Nuevo – which has been developed for more than 2,000 days. And for a foodie trip that’ll also help you understand pre-Hispanic Mexico, head south to the canals of Xochimilco, where you can see chinampas – floating gardens once used for farming – and drink pulque on colourful barges known as trajineras.
Book yourself in for a five-star foodie getaway at Las Alcobas, a boutique hotel in the trendy Polanco neighbourhood. It’s got two restaurants: Anatol, where local ingredients are used in an Italian-inspired menu, and Dulce Patria, a modern Mexican helmed by award-winning chef Martha Ortiz. And when you’re not chowing down, there’s a hotel spa with a Mayan healing ritual that showcases indigenous ingredients and techniques.
International food chains are not a thing in Istanbul – and why would they be? The city is a cultural mix (eastern Mediterranean, Asian and Middle Eastern blending with eastern European and Caucasian traditions), which explains the great diversity in flavours, spices and dishes.
Each Turkish city has its own version of staples such as döner kebab, pide (Turkish flatbread) and the honey-filled baklava, plus different mezzes. But rest assured you’ll find it all in Istanbul – from döner and köfte (Turkish meatball) to kumpir (a packed jacket potato) and lahmacun (a thin piece of dough topped with minced meat, vegetables and herbs). Don’t miss the popular balık ekmek, a sandwich containing a filet of fried or grilled fish and vegetables.
Lebanon also has a range of culinary influences, among them Ottoman, Armenian, Palestinian, Syrian, French and Israeli. And you can sample them all in Beirut. The capital is the place to eat a refreshing tabbouleh or a fattoush salad heavy on ripe tomatoes. Or a spiced kafta if you’re into minced meat skewers, and a fried mackerel if you like your fish to be fresh – like straight-out-of-the-boat fresh. Also try the national dish, kibbeh, an oval delicacy of sautéed pine nuts, deep-fried with minced, spiced lamb and bulgur wheat.
Beirut brims with foodie areas. Head to the Souks shopping district or the upscale Saifi Village for fine-dining restaurants. Or weave your way through the weekly Souk el Tayeb – it was the first farmer’s market in the city when it opened in 2004 – and explore 100 stalls showcasing regional produce and ingredients.
This resort town on the Bay of Biscay in the mountainous Basque country is home to some of the best seafood in the world, along with an insane number of Michelin stars per square metre. Throw in a thriving pintxos scene, and you’ve got yourself a food heaven. Embark on a pintxo bar crawl, snacking on skewered nibbles such as spider crab tartlets and bruschetta-style bites, usually served with beer, cider or wine.
If you feel like splashing out, make a reservation at one of the many Michelin-starred restaurants. Make sure to try the tartlets at Ganbara and the artichokes with jamón and salsa at Casa Urola.
Greek food may be everywhere. But nowhere does it better. You could head to Santorini for a colourful Greek salad or Rhodes for a moussaka, but Athens is the place for a bit everything.
You’ll find international cuisine (try fine-dining Japanese fusion restaurant Nolan) next to traditional Greek joints – or a more gourmet, contemporary version of it: don’t miss Feedel, Dopios or Gastone in the centre. For a traditional Athenian market experience, navigate around Varvakeios market in Monastiraki, the largest market in the capital. Cast your eye over the many meat and fish stalls, then dip into Epirus taverna for authentic, hearty dishes including the much-loved tripe soup.
Dubbed the “world’s first foodie hotel”, Ergon House goes heavy on gastronomic experience. There’s a deli selling produce from local farmers, a butcher’s, a fishmonger’s and a bakery, plus a restaurant and rooftop terrace serving great cocktails. There’s a kitchen on every floor – visit to start an impromptu cooking session – plus organised cooking classes led by the hotel chefs.