Food and eating are integral aspects of any trip, more so in certain areas of the world. There are few cultural indicators as important as what the people who live there decide to eat on a daily basis. Throughout my travels, I have had some truly great meals as well as some rotten ones. I’ve poured through my notes and have found my five favorite lunchtime meals from around the world.
1. Madrid jamon – Ham is more than just a meal or snack option in Spain, it is a national obsession. There are two primary types of Spanish ham, Jamón Serrano and Jamón Ibérico with the Ibérico being harder to find and more expensive. You can find dry-aged ham throughout Spain and while the meal is not at all fussy, it is absolutely delicious. It is usually served simply, just the jamón on the baguette with a light spread of some sort – nothing more is needed when the quality of the food is so high. If you seek out this culinary treasure be careful, there are many tourist restaurants advertising huge plates of jamón at alarmingly high prices. Instead, head for a small neighborhood restaurant that can deliver the same quality meal at a more modest price.
2. Conch Fritters – Conch is big in the Bahamas, very big. While visiting there earlier this year, local chefs regaled me in a Bubba Gump manner with all of the ways in which conch could be prepared. Conch salad, conch soup, grilled conch, raw conch, baked conch and of course, conch fritters. Perhaps it is because anything fried is therefore good, but I loved conch fritters. I enjoyed them several times during my brief stay in the islands and couldn’t get enough of them. While fried, they are deceptively light and when served with the right sauce, make for an amazing appetizer or even full meal.
3. Tonkatsu - I know most people fawn over the Hawaiian plate lunch, but for me it’s all about the tonkatsu. Originally of Japanese origin, tonakatsu, which refers only to the pork version, is popular throughout Hawaii. It is decidedly simple, but hearty and filling – the classic definition of a family meal. Katsu is made by frying a scaloppini chicken breast or pork cutlet, similar to a schnitzel, and served with a tonkatsu sauce. Sides almost always found with the katsu are a portion of rice and macaroni salad.
4. Tagine - If you spend any amount of time in Morocco, then you will become indoctrinated into the cult of tagine enthusiasts. Moroccan tagine are slow cooked meats braised at a low temperature. This slow cooking results in tender meat with aromatic vegetables and sauce. Like a conventional stew or Dutch oven meal, there aren’t many rules and you can use any meat, spice or vegetable that you prefer. My personal favorite is the chicken tagine with fries. It’s amazing what the right cook can do with just a few ingredients, creating a delicate masterpiece worthy of any five-star restaurant.
5. Falafel – Falafel can be found everywhere from New York to Lebanon, but one of the best places to find this classic lunch fare is in Israel. I wasn’t exactly sure of the ordering etiquette, so I winged it as they asked me a variety of questions. I opted for the falafel pita, which sounded nice and compact, rather than the baguette or mysterious sounding Iraqi Pita. The falafel balls were fried to order and I was thrilled to see that the pita was topped with equally fresh French fries and hummus. I opted out, but lettuce and/or a Moroccan salad was also available to add to the incredibly messy meal. A veritable portable Middle Eastern buffet, the falafel pita is truly a culinary masterpiece.
What are your favorite snacks or lunch dishes from your travels?