Top 10 Unexpected Food Travel Destinations
Go beyond France and Italy! Whether exploring regional specialties or national favorites, you'll savor incredible local cuisine when visiting these countries.
By Kat Tancock
Perched at the crossroads between Italy, central Europe and the former Ottoman Empire, Croatia is a country with a complicated history—and a diverse culinary scene to match. Inland, you'll find that central European fare dominates, with a focus on meats, cheeses, noodles, beer and fruit spirits. Visit Istria, a Croatian-Italian bilingual region that borders Italy and Slovenia, for a strong local food scene that makes the most of the region's excellent products: look for seafood, olive oil, mushrooms, truffles and prosciutto, washed down with wine and spirits.
Yes, they've got jerk chicken, Appleton Estates rum, and Red Stripe beer, plus all the tropical fruit you can eat. However, there's so much more to explore in this Caribbean nation's food scene, often featuring ingredients difficult to find elsewhere. For breakfast, try ackee—Jamaica's national fruit—fried up with codfish for a surprisingly egg-like dish. Broaden your carnivorous horizons by sampling stewed goat or oxtail, perhaps served with some steamed callaloo, a Jamaican leafy green. And wash it all down with a ginger beer or a glass of sorrel, the local name for sweetened, often ginger-flavored, bright-pink hibiscus tea.
Like nearby England, Germany has a reputation for stodgy food, but it isn't really warranted. You might want to plan for some hikes or bike rides to burn off the plentiful and flavorful strudels, pretzels, breads, sausages, noodles, potatoes, cakes, and beer. But there's more than just sauerkraut to lighten things up: Vegetarian and vegan options are showing up on menus across the country. Locavores will appreciate the country's dedication to local food; visit during asparagus season and you'll find special menus at many restaurants dedicated to the much-adored vegetable in both its green and white forms.
When a country's children name "chef" as one of their primary "when I grow up" occupations, you know it takes food seriously. Peru's cuisine begins with the quality of its ingredients: abundant seafood, meats, and produce are found here, including many so-called superfoods that the world has only recently taken notice of, such as quinoa, amaranth, lucuma and maca. Combine this with its multicultural population—indigenous peoples plus immigrant Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, and more—and you get a thriving local food scene with regional variations that is just waiting to be explored by visitors.
Also known as Myanmar, this southeast Asian country bordering China, India, and Thailand is recently opening up to the world after long political isolation, and food lovers are flocking there to experience the local cuisine, a cousin to Thai or Vietnamese food but distinguished by local ingredients Westerners might identify as Indian or Chinese. “[Burma is] a touchstone place as it connects India with China,” said Naomi Duguid, author of cookbook Burma: Rivers of Flavor, in an interview with the Kingston Whig-Standard. “The flavor base is different than Thai or Vietnamese. You’ll get the same hot, sour, salty, sweet taste but the dishes are simple and the flavor quite distinctly its own.”
Courtesy of Georgia Tourism
Also somewhat unknown to Western travelers—Georgia was part of the Soviet Union until its breakup in 1991—Georgia is a culinary giant as compared to its size. Come to this country bordering the Black Sea to sample a cuisine with millennia of tradition that celebrates its local ingredients—think walnuts, eggplant, kidney beans, pomegranate, hot peppers, and plenty of cheese and meat—in dishes such as khachapuri, a cheese bread often baked with an egg on top; badrijani nigvzit, eggplant seasoned with walnuts, pomegranate seeds and other flavorings; and khinkali, a kind of meat dumpling eaten by hand that's the country's national dish.
We know Switzerland mostly for its chocolate and cheese, each of which is enough reason to visit. On the sweet side, you can take the chocolate train, tour the Lindt factory, even get a chocolate spa treatment; besides the classic fondue, dairy lovers will want to head to the northeastern Appenzeller region to try the spicy local cheese made from grass-fed raw milk. Other popular local dishes include birchermuesli, the tasty and healthy breakfast dish found everywhere on breakfast buffets; and Züri-Geschnetzeltes, a Zürich-style minced meat dish served with gravy and often alongside rösti, the hearty Swiss potato pancakes. Also sample the plentiful cakes and tortes topped with seasonal fruits such as rhubarb, red currants, raspberries, and plums.
Courtesy of Tourism New Zealand
8. New Zealand
This land down under is globally renowned for its wine, but many are unaware that there's a cuisine to match. Not only will you find high-quality, locally produced lamb and seafood—New Zealand is known for its mussels, oysters, whitebait and fish—but abundant local fruits as well, from the oft-exported kiwifruit, apples, and citrus to less-known fruits passionfruit, tamarillo, and feijoa, found atop pavlovas, flavoring yogurt, or in desserts and baked goods. On the savory side, watch for kumara, the local tuber that's the local answer to sweet potatoes, and balance out meals at some of New Zealand's higher-end restaurants with fish and chips served in newspaper as you make your way around the country.
9. Sri Lanka
This island of tea and elephants sits off the southern tip of India and is home to a diversity of cultures, flora, and fauna that belies its small size. Similar to southern India in terms of the ubiquity of rice and spicy curries, Sri Lankan cuisine is nonetheless that of an island, with plenty of foods featuring coconut and fish. Dishes to watch for include milk rice, or rice cooked in coconut milk; fried sweets made with ingredients such as coconut and rice flours, sesame seeds, cashews, and local sweetener jaggery; and mallum, a salad made from shredded local greens, onion, chili, fish, and coconut.
"We go to Ireland for the scenery and the people, but we don't think to go for the food," says Reader's Digest Canada food editor Valerie Howes, who recently travelled to the Emerald Isle. "But we should," she adds, noting that Ireland, like many countries, has seen a food renaissance of late, an inevitable and welcome product of the blending together of quality local produce, classic national dishes, and a generation of chefs with skills acquired around the world. Ireland's food and drink specialties include meat and seafood, cheese and bread, potatoes and butter, prepped with modern techniques and foraged ingredients such as sea vegetables, wild garlic, mushrooms, herbs, and elderflowers.