When most people plan a vacation somewhere, they think about what there is to do or see there. But there are some places that are worth visiting simply because of what there is to eat there.
Why it’s worth it to travel for food
One of the best ways to experience culture is to eat it. Though people may not always be friendly and the most popular sights may be uncomfortably packed, good food can always be your guide to a new place. Even if you live in one of the best foodie cities in the world like New York or San Francisco, the food you eat is always going to be somewhat limited to local and regional tastes. And you’d be surprised to find that someone somewhere else is making your local food better than you.
For example, you’ll find better New York-style pizza in Venice at Forno Antico than you will in New York (that’s right, fight me). And the pasta carbonara literally everywhere in Greece mops the floor with any carbonara from Italy. And I would know, I had it for almost every meal for 10 days.
But aside from seeing how new cultures perfect and spin your local favorites, travel exposes you to the kinds of things you’d never see in a million years because they are so specific to a location. No matter how authentic the Moroccan restaurant, I know I will never find the Berber pizza I once had in a small village in Erfoud. The pastilla, which is actually more like a meat pie than a pizza, may or may not have been filled with pigeon meat. And it was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.
Food is the best reason to return to a city
Most of us have limited funds and limited vacation time, so when the opportunity arises, we prefer to travel to new places rather than revisit one we’ve already seen. But there’s a huge exception to that, and that’s good eats. There are meals totally worth going back to a city for. They’re the dishes you crave months after you return from your trip. They’re the ones you try to find everywhere back home, even though you know it won’t be as good. Maybe it’s the best version of something you’ve ever had or a dish so unique that you’ve never seen it anywhere again.
I’m immediately reminded of Acme Oyster House in New Orleans, whose chargrilled oysters make people line up around the block every day. Even though all the food in Montreal is fantastic, as a huge eggs benedict fan, I think there’s very little competition for the bacon, brie, and avocado benedict at Le Vieux Velo. It’s been six years since I lived there, but I still think the burger at Founding Farmers in Washington, DC is the best in the country. And as much as I hated Philadelphia, I would go back there any time for the kiwi and jalapeno roll at Domo. (And a philly cheesesteak won’t hurt.)
And don’t forget the street food
Sometimes the best meals are not Yelpable, because you pick them up from a cart on the street. The best crepe I’ve ever had was in Paris. It was my first time there with my best friend. And the second we got off the Trocadero Metro, we grabbed one from a vendor and ate it while crossing the Seine towards the Eiffel Tower. It’s one of my favorite travel moments of all time.
Even though it probably gave me food poisoning, I still think the “triple” breakfast sandwiches (egg, cheese, and avocado) from the Mercado San Blas in Cusco were worth it. Especially with a fresh mango and pineapple smoothie to wash it down. After seeing it everywhere for days, I was thrilled to finally try one of the chocolate-custard filled fish (taiyaki) in Japan. And it was even more delicious than it is adorable. But everything on the streets of Japan was delicious from the noodles to the meat skewers (yakitori) and the dango dumpling balls dripping with teriyaki sauce. Their street food situation is spectacular.
Thailand isn’t too far behind. Nothing compares to the Thai iced tea you can get from a cart in Chiang Mai. I even had sushi from a street cart, and it was some of the best I’ve ever had. And I can’t believe I waited 5 days into my vacation in Thailand to try mango sticky rice, covered in coconut milk. What an incredible treat.
There are always going to be some meals worth traveling to a city for, whether it’s your first time there or your fifth. What’s your favorite travel food?