I write about food a lot on this site, but with good reason. I firmly believe that it’s the most important aspect of the travel experience, forming some of our strongest memories through taste and smell. It’s also the fastest way to learn about a new culture and what the people value. More than anything else though, it’s just a lot of fun. There’s nothing better than snacking your way through a foreign market, or tentatively ordering a meal, not quite sure what you’ve gotten yourself into. It can be adventurous, sometimes disastrous but almost always rewarding. Not all food experiences are made the same though and today I want to recognize those special travel moments that were more than just nice things to eat, they came to define entire cities, towns and even countries and created a lot of fun for me along the way.
Icelandic hot dogs
Food in Iceland runs that gamut from the bizarre to warm and homey. But if you want to feel like a real Icelander, don’t miss their famous hot dogs. The meat itself is the first thing that separates this comfort food. Made from free-range and impossibly well taken care of animals, the meat is a mix of lamb, pork and beef. But, it’s what you put on them that makes all the difference. The Icelandic way is to add raw white onions along with crispy fried onions, ketchup, sweet brown mustard and a slightly tangy remoulade. You’ll find these delicacies everywhere, but one of the most famous is in downtown Reykjavik, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur hot dog stand.
San Diego tacos
Located just 17 miles from the Mexican border, there has long been a near constant sharing of cultures, languages and food between San Diego and Mexico. Waves of immigration over the decades has created a food scene that has strong roots in traditional Mexican flavors and what may be at the heart of that experience, other than avocados, is the taco. When asked, San Diegans suddenly drop their laid back veneer when the topic of Mexican food comes up; everyone seems to have very strong opinions on the matter. Luckily, I seriously doubt many of them are wrong when it comes time to identify the best tacos in the city, the options are all fairly amazing. One though in particular stuck out in my mind and the experience of enjoying a robust lunch at the restaurant ¡SALUD! in Barrio Logan was one of the many culinary highlights of my trip. Housed in a heritage 1910 building, the restaurant is pure Southern California from the tattoo inspired murals to the pinstripe car hood on the wall. Barrio Logan has a long and colorful history making this delicious taco shop the perfect addition. With a traditional taco for any taste the highlights are the Birria, Al Pastor, Carnitas, Carne Asada and the Barrio, which is Carne guisado topped with frijol nopal & sour cream wrapped in a hand pressed flour tortilla. A true local took me here and honestly, it really is one of the best in the city and probably the country.
Street food in India
I was very nervous about eating in India, and with good reason. Without taking certain precautions it can be far too easy to become sick during a trip to the subcontinent. I was very careful though and while I did have some tummy issues towards the end of the trip, I was able to enjoy a couple of different food tours before that happened. I’ve visited a lot of chaotic neighborhoods around the world, but nothing quite compares to Old Delhi. Almost as if I had crossed an invisible border, the crowds, the smells, the sounds, everything was instantly magnified. Following my guide like a lost puppy, I was amazed how she effortlessly navigated the bazaar, clearly knowing her way through the jumble of backstreets. Before I knew it we were at our first of many stops that morning, my first time enjoying the sweet pastry known as jalebis. One of many culinary influences from the Mughals, it was still glistening with ghee as I bit into it, instantly falling in love with the treat. Although modern day Delhi is very much like any other world capital with food influences of a global variety, locals still descend on the crowded lanes of Old Delhi for authentic bites like the jalebis, as well as the many other dishes I tried that morning.
Comfort food of Route 66
I was excited to drive Route 66 for any number of reasons, but the great comfort food of America was one of the most important. Whether a snack, full meal or dessert, the country is famous for the many regional favorites found in only a few spots and I was excited to try as many of them as I could. That meant an Illinois “shoe” sandwich, incredible hamburgers in Oklahoma and amazing BBQ in New Mexico, but one state in particular may have been my favorite – Missouri. Finding great food was never a challenge on Route 66, but the meals and snacks I enjoyed in Missouri I think were my favorite. It started in St. Louis where I returned to my favorite ice cream place in the country, Ted Drewes, which is actually frozen custard and not ice cream. They’ve been an important fixture on Route 66 for decades and even have a special dessert devoted to it, which I of course had to try. Keeping with the dessert theme, I had made a special note to stop at a small café in Rolla famous for one thing – pie. I’m glad I did too, because the massive slice of pie at “A Slice of Pie” was probably the best I’ve ever had. They’re actually world-famous and every day sell a variety of different pies, all freshly made in the back kitchen. It wasn’t all desserts though, before leaving Springfield we skipped breakfast at our hotel in order to visit a local institution, Gailey’s Breakfast Café. Moving to its current location in the 1940s, Gailey’s has been a critical stop for Route 66 drivers since the day it opened. I’m thankful I only spent a couple of days in Missouri otherwise I know I would have gained a lot of weight eating my way around the state.
Dublin Food Tour
On my most recent trip to Ireland, I made sure to include an extra day so I could spend some time in one of my favorite cities – Dublin. Although I’ve visited the country a number of times in recent years, it had been a very long time since I stayed the night in Dublin and I was excited to revisit some favorite spots. I was also excited though to discover new-to-me parts of the city, including taking a unusual food tour through one of Dublin’s neighborhoods. Definitely not your typical tourist haunt, I soon came to appreciate the quiet neighborhood of Stoneybatter and learned to appreciate the entire city more than I thought possible, all thanks to an afternoon enjoying some of the best bites in the city.
I love great soul food, which is why I was so happy my first stop in Myrtle Beach was at the locally famous institution Big Mike’s Soul Food. Known for some of the best homemade food in the area, there were a lot of items on the menu that sounded great, but my eyes immediately went to something new to me – chicken bog. If I find a local dish that is foreign to me, I almost always try it and I’m so glad that I decided to order this mysterious Low-Country classic. Like most great comfort food, chicken bog is also incredibly simple. Thanks to centuries of rice production in the region, you’ll find it as the basis of many dishes, including bog. Made with a generous amount of wet rice, chicken, sausage and seasonings, it’s a hearty but delicious meal and – for me at least – was the perfect introduction to Myrtle Beach.
Macanese Egg Tart
The one thing I knew before first visiting Macao was that I had to try one of their famous egg tarts. While similar to the Pastel de Belem of Lisbon, they are not the same dessert at all and are a true Macanese original. Lord Stow’s Bakery opened in 1989, introducing the egg tart with a pale filling and caramelized top to locals and a new tradition was born. A creamy custard filling and flaky, hand-made crusts are truly what separate these pastries from others and from personal experience I can attest to just how delicious they are. What started in a small shop now very much defines the city, just make sure you try the original version when you visit.
One of the best aspects of visiting Disneyland this year was the food, especially the snacks. Sure, if you eat every meal in Disney then the costs can easily skyrocket, but be sure to enjoy at least a few of the park’s many iconic menu items. Mickey shaped everything from pretzels to beignets are fun snacks, as are the park’s now famous churros and ice cream treats. One of the most popular snacks though in Disneyland has also attracted a cult following, the Dole Whip. It’s a simple enough concoction, a soft serve pineapple treat served in a cup. You can also get a Pineapple Float, but the purists go for the original. At Christmas their food offerings are even more robust, including churros in a variety of different flavors and special food stations set up in Disney California Adventure. Personally, I’d skip a sit down meal and instead just snack your way around the happiest place on earth.
Frankfurt green sauce
I usually shy from anything in this part of the color spectrum, but I knew I couldn’t visit Frankfurt without trying the city’s most popular savory dish. Made from seven different kinds of herbs, this culinary staple of the city first entered the scene in the 19th century and has been popular ever since. Normally served cold over hard-boiled eggs and boiled potatoes, I was shocked as soon as I took my first bite. Not only did I like the green sauce, I loved it and quickly finished my small portion. Tasting a lot like a flavored sour cream, it’s especially good when served with schnitzel, a combination I tried on my second visit to the locally famous restaurant Lorsbacher Thal.
Burger and milkshake onboard a luxury cruise
My last trip of the year was with Crystal Ocean Cruises, one of the best luxury cruise lines in the world. Honestly, I didn’t have a bad meal onboard from the specialty restaurants to their main dining options, but my favorite bite was much more basic. I’m sure the cruise line would prefer I highlight something else, but the Trident Grill adjacent to the pool area was my go-to spot. Open from lunch until early evening, it was also one of the most popular spots onboard the ship. Here guests can order hot dogs, chicken, steak sandwiches and, of course, hamburgers. I’m extremely picky when it comes to the ideal cheeseburger, but the ones onboard the Crystal Serenity were nearly perfect in every way. Even better, the ice cream stand is adjacent which meant I could easily order a chocolate milkshake to accompany my burger, which I may have done on more than one occasion.
Travel and food go hand in hand and for me, these were my favorite bites of the year. What were some of yours?