From steaks in Buenos Aires to tapas in Madrid, some cities are worth visiting for the food alone. Below, our writers give their tips and recommendations for eating well in 10 of the world’s culinary capitals.
By Robert Carry
Bangkok’s lower Sukhumvit Road area is an oft-missed foodie’s paradise. Essentially a motorway with numbered sois (small streets) branching off on both sides, the area is a diverse, international expat haven.
The area around Suk Soi 35 is Japanese Town. Here, the city’s sizeable Japanese expat community makes arguably the best sushi outside of Japan in a string of restaurants—at a fraction of the prices in the mother country. Keep walking and you come to the Farang (Westerner) area. Here, you can chose from Italian, French, British, Irish and other European eateries. There’s even a great Cajun/Creole establishment called Bourbon Street that’s been in place since the Vietnam War.
Keep going and you arrive in an area dominated by a Middle-Eastern and North African community. Take your pick of Lebanese or Moroccan restaurants, or round off an Egyptian meal by smoking shisha—a harmless tobacco substitute that comes in a variety of flavors which you can puff on through a traditional pipe. There are numerous Indian eateries around this end of the street and there’s even a small African district with its own unique food options.
Then there’s the local Thai food. From street-side vendors offering delicious rice noodle soup with roast pork or the ultra-addictive som tam (spicy papaya salad) to finely crafted, stunningly presented dishes in the street’s five-star hotel restaurants, the Suk boasts the full gambit of Thai cuisine.
By Steenie Harvey
There’s nothing insulting about calling a city “fat.” Not when it’s Bologna la grassa—Italy’s gastronomic capital. At the heart of Emilia Romagna—home turf to Parmigiano cheese and Parma ham—its medieval center is a gluttony of markets and fine food delis. Treat yourself to the taste sensations of hand-made mortadella sausage, aged Culaccia ham and regional cheeses such as squaquerone. Gourmet condiments include truffle oil and balsamic vinegar from nearby Modena.
Bologna’s signature pasta dish is tagliatelle al ragù bolognese. The tomato sauce is fortified with pancetta, onion, garlic, carrot, celery, bay leaves and rosemary. Another favorite pasta is golden-yellow la sfoglia. Meaning “the sheet,” it’s similar to lasagna, but created from soft flour enriched with egg-yolks layered with artichokes and cheeses. Then there’s pappardelle: broad pasta ribbons that often accompany a flavorsome game sauce such as rabbit or wild boar. Other classic primi include tortelloni stuffed with pecorino cheese, spinach and sage or feather-light potato gnocchi; pasta cooked in broth (tortellini in brodo).
For a cut-price lunch, picnic in a pub. In Osteria del Sole (Address: Vicolo Ranocchi, 1b) you’re expected to. The inn doesn’t serve food, but savvy locals buy wine or beer to wash down the fare they’ve purchased at the market. For a more traditional dining experience, try some ‘slow food’ Bologna specialties at Il Rovescio (via Pietralata, 75. Tel. +39 (0)51 52 35 45).
Buenos Aires, Argentina
By Suzan Haskins
To say Argentines love their beef is the understatement of the year. You’ll find parillada (open-air grill) restaurants on practically every block in Buenos Aires. For a quick indoctrination, order a parillada platter—typically a sampler of steaks, ribs, chorizo, and chicken. Don’t forget the chimichurri sauce. Pair it all with an inexpensive but oh-so-delicious glass of merlot and settle in for a carnivore’s delight. Other Argentine specialties to try include empanadas (pastries filled with meat, cheese, or even fruit), and for dessert: dulce de leche, a sweet caramel-like syrup used in cakes, pancakes, or on ice cream.
Buenos Aires also has a strong Italian influence so don’t pass up the pizza or pastas either. One upscale restaurant where you can find a little bit of everything is Cabañas las Lillas (laslillas.com) in the Puerto Madero neighborhood. The night of our visit the Italian soccer team, which has just finished a game with the Boca Juniors, was in the house. Those boys can eat…and they know good food.
By Glynna Prentice
- The varied Spanish sausage ranks among Madrid’s specialties.
Spain’s cuisine is justly famous, and Madrid is one of the best places to sample its infinite variety. Specialties not to be missed include the modest tortilla española (who would have thought a potato-and-egg omelet could be so sublime?), jamón serrano (cured prosciutto-like ham), and almost any type of seafood or sausage.
For better food at lower prices, avoid tourist areas like the Gran Vía and calle Alcalá. But do stop for a drink at popular destinations like the Plaza Mayor or the outdoor cafés along Recoletos (notably El Espejo). For sheer atmosphere they can’t be beat—and the locals come here, too.
One of Spain’s best deals is the daily lunch special: The menu del día. This set menu is usually two generous courses and beverage (which can be wine or beer), plus dessert and/or coffee. In Madrid, these menus generally run €9 to €15, or about $12.60 to $21.
Wander up the side streets in the old town across from the Prado Museum to find restaurants with traditional menus. One of the most venerable is the Café Central in the Plaza del Ángel. The menu costs €11 (just over $15). Or if you prefer, return in the evening to listen to jazz…Café Central has been a noted jazz venue for 25 years.
Mexico City, Mexico
By Glynna Prentice
Mexico is home to dozens of regional cooking styles, and in Mexico City you can sample them all…not to mention French, Italian, Chinese, and half a hundred other cuisines as well. The breadth and quality of this city’s dining options give New York City a run for its money…and it offers good eats at every price point, from humble street-side taco stands to deluxe restaurants.
For street-side dining, look for stands mobbed with locals—they know the vendors with fresh, tasty tacos and clean equipment. Besides tacos, look for stands that sell Mexican favorites like elote (corn-on-the-cob, often served with chili as well as butter) and esquites, a hominy-style mush that can include chilies, lime, and other flavorings. Expect to pay $1 or less per taco or elote.
If you’re in the centro, check out traditional cooking at restaurants like Bar La Ópera (Pancho Villa supposedly shot a hole in the ceiling). Or go to the neighborhood on San Ángel—once a separate village—to sample wares at the San Ángel Inn.
But don’t neglect Mexico’s new-wave cooking. A new generation of internationally-trained Mexican chefs is taking Mexican cooking to new and spectacular heights. Check out the results in restaurants like Pujol, in the Polanco neighborhood.
New Delhi, India
By Jessica Ramesch
New Delhi has restaurants too numerous to count.. But it was the humble snack stalls that got me. Light and refreshing, local snacks are just the thing after a day in the dry heat. Chaat is a catch-all for tangy layered snacks both crispy and tender—fried bready swirls or crispy wafers topped with mounds of chickpeas or potatoes or peas. A papri chaat—crispy chips covered in garbanzos, potatoes and sauces of tamarind, yogurt, and mint—is best eaten immediately.
If you’re brave and hardy of stomach, hit the massive Chandni Chowk market—an Old Delhi landmark. Look for the fullest stalls, stand in the longest lines. Don’t ask the busy server what’s what—get the local patrons to make recommendations.
Slightly more upscale is Prince’s Paan & Chaat Corner. It’s clean, full and popular with expats. Address is 29, M. Block Market, Greater Kailash I,Any rickshawalla (rickshaw driver) can take you. You’re likely to spend less than 250 rupees for snacks for two ($5.50 at today’s rates).
Panama City, Panama
By Jessica Ramesch
“The Center of the Universe”—that’s what Panamanians like to call Panama City. The Canal links two mighty oceans while the capital links the Americas. In this international hub, cultures converge and give birth to a happening food scene.
Like any international destination, Panama can be tricky to navigate. Searching restaurants online can lead you to disappointment. A little insider information can help you avoid tourist traps (you know—great menus, poorly prepared fare). Visit Panama City’s own Degusta Panama for honest reviews of Panama’s trendiest eateries. Most are written by locals—they tend to visit more than once and write balanced reviews. The language of choice is generally Spanish, but as number ratings accompany reviews, a quick glance is all you need. Restaurants that rate at least a 3.5 in service and food (on a scale of one to five, the latter being the best) are generally worth my while.
It’s how I discovered Maito, a trendy little gem that can be tricky to find…but is well worth getting a bit lost for. If you go, try the sherry mussels or the calamari filled with shrimp risotto—the best of Panamanian seafood, revamped.
By Steenie Harvey
You don’t have to visit every French region to sample French regional cooking. Just go to Paris. From Alsace’s hearty German-style sausages and choucroute (pickled cabbage) to Breton crepes and the rich cassoulets and duck confit of the south-west, the capital offers myriad taste sensations.
I’ve wanted to visit the Auvergne ever since I tried aligot. This regional specialty is created from Tomme cheese, mashed potatoes, cream and garlic. Simplicity itself, but utterly divine.
Considering it is fine dining, the prix-fixe regional dinner menu at Ambassade d’Auvergne in the third arrondissement is very reasonable at $28. Go with a friend so you can share my two favourite starters: green Puy lentils with bacon and the eggplant and sweet pepper salad with goat cheese drizzled with honey and thyme. You won’t want to share the roasted duck breast and aligot with anybody. As for the dark chocolate mousse—it’s something to dream about. Address: L’Ambassade d’Auvergne, 22, rue du Grenier Saint-Lazare. Tel. +33 (0)1 42 72 31 22.
By Steenie Harvey
Home to Malays, Chinese and Indians, the island of Penang was known to traders as the Pearl of the Orient. It doesn’t simply offer up the pearls of Malaysian cuisine—it’s like eating your way through Asia. The tastiest treats are often found on hawker’s stalls, in food courts and in humble Nyonya restaurants. From kari kapitan (a chicken curry) to Penang assam laksa (spicy noodles and seafood in a tamarind rich broth flavored with galangal, lime and ginger), Nyonya cuisine fuses Chinese with the Malay cooking style.
In George Town, Penang’s capital, there’s a concentration of great eateries beside the sea on Gurney Drive. Come at night for the hawker’s stalls, and tuck into $2 to $3 specialties such char koay teow; flat rice noodles are stir-fried in egg together with shrimp, bean sprouts, chicken, chives, soy sauce and chili paste. The gourmet version is garnished with cockles and crab meat.
A favorite with locals is Red Garden Food Paradise on George Town’s Upper Penang Road. Set around a covered courtyard, small kitchens serve up dim sum, duck rice, chicken satay and so much more. For home-style Nyonya dishes in a restaurant setting, try Mama’s—run by Mama and her daughters. Address: Mama’s Nyonya Cuisine, 31-D Lorong Abu Siti Lane, George Town.
By Len Galvin
La Viña is the best restaurant in Quito. It’s also one of the best restaurants you’re likely to find anywhere…and the one they reserve for the U.S. President when he visits. If it’s raining, a member of staff will walk you back to your hotel carrying an umbrella for you. Yes, this is the most expensive place in town…but we are talking about Ecuador, so three courses only cost $25 a head.
Like most of Quito’s best restaurants (and there are quite a few these days), La Viña is on Avenida Isabel Católica, near the Swissotel. If you only have time to try two restaurants while you’re in town, make the other one Segundo Muelle, specializing in Peruvian seafood. It’s about five minutes up the street from La Viña.
Editor’s Note: This article was taken from a past issue of International Living’s monthly magazine. To get full access to all past and future articles and to receive the magazine in the mail or online each month, you can subscribe here.