The best thing about travelling for me has been seeing what everyone else eats. Yes really I find it that interesting. I like to know what everyone else queues up for or reserves or slaves over the hob for because if they do it means it’s good, possibly amazing. From tiny snails at a Taiwanese night market to the biggest steaks you could lay your eyes on in Argentina, I’ve been there to try it… more than once. Although I do still have A LOT to cross off my list, my stomach is rumbling now!
I thought, oh this could be another blog idea, my Top 3 Travel Food Experiences (a bit of a mouthful but stick with it). Yeah, this will be easy, no problemo everybody loves food! However I’ve come to realise that I must have had a brief mental break down when I thought top 3 because THREE just THREE???!!! After allllllllll the food pictures I’ve taken there is NO WAY I could choose a top 3, try top 50!
Therefore what I’ve decided to do is just type and see what happens. Lets see what food flies out of my fingertips first.
However before we begin I must mention that for myself a great food experience is about the food (duh, obvious statement there) BUT also quite often about the environment the food is consumed in. The environment surrounding my plate can take it from being a tantalising taste sensation to a truly memorable melt in your mouth meal (yes, I do love alliteration). I certainly don’t mean a great meal has to be eaten in a 25 star palace (although I’d love to try it out). Sitting on a plastic stool at a Vietnamese roadside restaurant, squashed amongst locals watching an uncountable amount of scooters fly by can add a wonderful cultural element to your food experience. The same can be said for eating fresh fish from the BBQ on an empty, tropical beach in the Philippines. The surroundings add to the meal and make it mind blowing.
Lets get started…
As a Christmas present I bought my mum and my brother a Thai cooking class at Smile Koh Mak Cooking School on the island of Koh Mak. I didn’t pay for them to go all the way to Thailand, we were already there thankfully! Anyway it has to be one of my top travelling food experiences because it was so much fun, I learnt a lot and I got to eat about ten dishes!! The setting wasn’t too bad either, it was in a small house right next to the sea, just lovely. We started by talking about what we like to cook at home and where we’ve learnt to cook (my brother and I both said our mum, who has been our cooking teacher, she is a trained chef after all). Then it moved on to learning about Thai spices and ingredients and making curry pastes from scratch (you need good arm muscles for this). We cooked the classic Thai dish pad thai first, which was great as it settled my rumbling stomach. After that we cooked a huge feast of chicken satay, paneang curry with crab, chicken & coconut soup, green curry, morning glory, massaman curry, spicy shrimp soup AND for dessert sticky rice with mango. Leng, the lady who runs the cooking school is lovely, she spoke great English and she made the day fun, interesting and very memorable. If you go to Koh Mak it is a MUST DO.
Well, wasn’t this a treat! I stayed in the small, beautiful town of Banos in Ecuador last April. Banos is really Ecuador at its best (after the Galapagos). It’s high up in the Andean mountains, it has an active volcano (arh) called Tungurahua, which gives the town it’s famous thermal baths. There are also plenty of waterfalls and hikes in the surrounding hills. Tom and I stayed in Banos for nearly 2 weeks because it was just so lovely. The pork treat which we found in the huge local market also helped us lengthen our stay. The friendly owner of our hostel mentioned that the town had a great market two days a week. We didn’t know about the huge pig which is brought down from mountains, cooked and sold there we just stumbled on it. The pork is a famous Ecuadorian dish called Hornado. It’s a whole spit roast pig served with potatoes, salad, white corn, crackling and tons of pork juices which are all piled together… AMAZING. The ladies serving it were really friendly and even if you don’t speak any Spanish all you need to do is point at what you want and they’ll pile it on to your plate. Then you squash along a bench next to the locals, confuse them as you take a few close up photos of the pork and then eat as much as you possibly can. During our two weeks in Banos we always made a detour to the market so that we didn’t miss out.
Eating a fresh fish BBQ, on a deserted tropical beach with the sun shining and the waves lapping the shore could be one of my all time top food locations. During our two week trip to the glorious Philippines we took many island hopping trips from Busuanga and from El Nido (around the Bacuit Archipelago). It wasn’t busy at all and we managed to get the boat, a driver and a BBQ-man to ourselves. The top photo and the empty beach photo were taken during my favourite beach/BBQ/fish/sun/sand/quiet/food experience. The BBQ-man cooked us a whole fish each with spicy rice, salad and fruit accompanied by a great view. My only regret (and it is a huge regret) is that while we were eating a fisher man came to us carrying a few lobsters he’d just caught. He wanted us to buy them and our BBQ-man offered to cook them for us. We said no… WHAT WERE WE THINKING???!!! It pains me to even share that piece of information, I must go back and make a better decision.
The bottom three photos are taken in Coral Bay a great little beach bungalow resort on a tiny island north of Busuanga. I have to include this place when talking about great food in the Philippines. The rate you pay for your bungalow includes three meals a day and not just any meal a huge food feast each time. We got lots of different sea food (including some really fiddly but tasty crab), potatoes dishes, curries, pies, salads and desserts. Every thing was homemade on the island, as it is two hours from the main island of Buasuanga where all the shops are. A must do for lovers of quiet, empty beaches mixed in with huge amounts of food.
Now, how about some spicy suckling pig??? I’d read about this famous Indonesian dish in a guidebook and I thought I couldn’t leave Indonesia without sampling some. Often I’ll read about a place/event/food which is heavily recommended in a guide book and when you try it doesn’t turn out to be that good. However this suckling pig deserves its popularity (although maybe you can find it in a quieter place…so not in Ubud). IT WAS SO TASTY! The restaurant is rammed all the time, you have to squeeze in amongst tourists and locals. You sit on the floor at one of the many long tables and wait for your order to be delivered. There are a few different varieties which you can order but we went for a basket that came with lots of spicy pork, some veggies, super crispy pork skin, pig blood, spicy special sauce and of course some trusty Asian rice. This pork couldn’t be more different from the Ecuadorian pork I mentioned previously but it really was just as good. I love pork, it can be eaten in so many different ways. The pork was incredibly succulent but my favourite part was the crispy pork skin. The spices which had soaked into it made it really interesting. When we left the restaurant the amount of pork left on the pig had reduced by a lot and we hadn’t even been there that long.
I just loved LOVED every single food experience in Argentina (as well as every non-food experience). It really is a fab country which has its food priorities in order. Everyone knows Argentina is the land of meat and BBQs (although there are many other countries who claim that they are the land of BBQs too…) and they do their meat very well. You can eat your meat from a ‘parrilla’ which is a BBQ grill. It will either be a huge one which is visible from all corners of a restaurant or market or it will be a mini one which you can get on your table. It seemed like a lot of fun to get a BBQ in the middle of your table so that’s how we did it. We ordered a 2 person parrilla at Mendoza market on a random Sunday. As it was a Sunday there were so many Argentinian families ordering parrillas as well. It was great to be involved in a major part of Argentinian culture. Our parrilla came with steak (tender and juicy), pork sausage (Yellow Belly Tom was happy), blood sausage (reminded me of black pudding from my home town of Bury), ribs (melt in your mouth), chicken breast (succulent) and small intestine (very chewy). I entered a meat coma after this meal! It was wonderful to be reunited with some delicious meat because we had spent the previous month travelling through Bolivia where the food & meat was not good at all so an Argentinian parrilla was a real treat.
I can’t say much about Argentinian steak which you don’t already know…..they’re MASSIVE and SPECTACULAR. The above photo of one of the many steaks we ate says it all, who would not want to eat that?! Eating Argentinian steak in Argentina with a glass of Argentinian Malbec was another pinch yourself moment.
I was lucky enough to turn 25 on the Indonesian island of Nusa Lembongan. I spent the day in Scallywags’ infinity pool, overlooking the ocean, drinking sangria. Then in the evening I ate some pretty scrumptious lobster off the BBQ. Oh it was so good indeed. The sunset/beach setting made it extra special but it really was luscious. It was well flavoured, very delicate and juicy. I pretty much ate it on its own as I didn’t want the flavour to be taken away by anything else (although afterwards I did fill up with a jacket potato). I was very sad when I realised I only had the shell left. What a fabulous experience, I don’t think any other birthday could top this.
Who knew that Argentina’s bakeries ruled? Because I didn’t! They are all over the country and just filled from floor to ceiling with a grand variety of baked goods. In Argentina our breakfast routine consisted of finding the nearest bakery to our hostel and walking there each day to select a few different goodies to eat in the park. A lot of the cakes and pastries were filled with Argentina’s famous “dulce de leche” a delicious soft and creamy sweet sauce similar to caramel. My favourite item by a mile was an “alfajore” WOW… This is shown on the right in the top picture. It’s a chocolate covered biscuit filled with lots of dulce de leche (you can get them without a chocolate covering but why would you?). I loved the glazed, fruit tarts too. They were really sweet and sticky just perfect. The puff pastry cones filled with cream and dulce de leche were also incredible.
Despite my brief tour of India being pretty hectic and a little overwhelming (read about it here) one thing I did take away from it was that the food was brilliant (even if it did sometimes result in stomach ache). I’ve always loved Indian food (I am British after all) but eating it actually in India was another thing crossed off the food wish list. The best meal I had was at the United Coffee House in Delhi. It was a real feast in a very fancy 1940s setting, lots of chandeliers and grandeur. In my opinion when you eat Indian food you have to order a lot, bang it in the middle of the table and share everything. I couldn’t imagine going out for an Indian, ordering my own curry and just eating that! So that’s what we did and it was wonderful mix of tastes and flavours. Thanks to this trip to India I developed a great love of paneer, a white Indian cheese similar to cottage cheese. It was really soft and tasty a great substitute for meat. My favourite was the tandoori paneer. I absolutely loved all the Indian breads on offer too. Let me live on chapati, paratha and naan any day of the week. The main photo is of me eating a delicious dosa in the Indian Coffee House in Jaipur. A dosa is a little like a thin pancake stuffed with spicy potatoes & veggies topped with curry sauce. I just want to go back and sample some more.
Oh Thailand you do the best street food, so many tasty snacks. The last time I was in Thailand I snacked on corn fritters and spring rolls for dinner and then deep fried bananas for breakfast the next day. I also squeezed in quickly wokked (just invented that verb I think) pad Thai. This was all eaten across a couple of streets in Trat before I travelled to Koh Mak. I’ve never been ill from Thai street food, it’s always been delicious and really, really cheap. You can wander around anywhere, even the smallest town and somewhere you will come across a few random street stalls or a larger market. You can choose as you go, eat a couple of skewered BBQ items (very different to an Argentinian BBQ less meat more sea food and tofu) as you decide on your main meal. Pull up a plastic stool and wait barely any time for your food to arrive.
When I say spicy I mean spicy….I think you can tell from the last two photos that the food was pretty hot! The roadside snack food in Sri Lanka was great, they call them “Sri Lankan Short Eats”. Which basically means a variety of sweet and savoury pastries that you can snack on quickly at any time of the day. There were lots of delis, bakeries and roadside stalls which sold different breads, rolls, patties and pastries full of meat, vegetables, herbs and spices. We toured around Sri Lanka in a little van so we wasted a lot of the journey time by enjoying Sri Lankan Short Eats. Our Sri Lankan driver Mahesh pointed out the best places to pick up trusty Short Eats. We jumped out of the van as it was sat in traffic (which was often Sri Lankan roads are similar to Indian ones), grabbed some snacks and continued on our way.
And lets not forget a few extras…
A randomly amazing Bolivian chocolate cake (quite a shock as Bolivia’s food was not up to much).
Fresh fruit on a deserted Indonesian beach in Gili Meno served up each day by two friendly locals.
A full on classic steak sandwich aka The Argentinian Lomito eaten in a random bus terminal in Argentina.
A couple of great dim sum dishes in Hong Kong.
The Colombian cake and coffee experience…a great cafe culture.
I know it’s not food BUT Vietnam’s strong, black, ice coffee mmmhmmm.
There we go I can write no more I must go and EAT (some wonderful English food because that’s pretty great too). This has made me hungry. I’d love to know what AMAZING food you’ve eaten around the world, let me know in the comments below (it’ll help me plan my next trip)!
I’ve not forgotten all the delicious goodies I ate in Taiwan but I have already wrote a blog about everything I ate there so I didn’t want to bore you with repeats! If you do want to read about Taiwan’s cuisine check it out here Taiwan…Food!