Eat This Here! Where to Find the Best-Tasting Versions of 10 Beloved Foods
It's been widely hypothesized that money makes the world go round, but I'd argue that it is food that inspires many of us travelers to go around the world. Consider this a bucket list for those who let their stomachs lead them in their international adventures. Where can you find the most delectable fruit, the tastiest pickle, or the best bowl of soup? We have the answers.
With a creamy, almost buttery texture, satisfying juiciness, and intoxicating aroma, the Alphonso mango, cultivated to perfection in India (and also Pakistan), is considered the King of mangoes. The fruit, which bares little resemblance to the often stringy, milder fruit widely available in North American and European markets, is highly cherished in its countries of origin, where it is eaten raw, and used to flavor favorite candies and drinks. Fearing indigenous pests, the European Union has banned the import of Indian mangoes, and while a similar ban has been recently lifted in the U.S., treatments imposed on imported mangoes diminish the freshness and flavor of the majestic fruit. To taste the best mango on earth, you must book a ticket to India, where it is grown mainly in the Western states of Maharashtra and Gujarat.
The rare and cherished Pata Negra pigs, carefully raised to be made into Spain's most beloved cured ham, Jamon Ibérico de Bellota, live a happy life, roaming free in the woods of Southwest Spain, and feeding on acorns. This results in the distinct sweet, nutty and complex flavors of their meat, which is beautifully marbled with mouth-coating fat. The hams are salt-cured and dry-aged for two to three years, in a method similar to that of the Italian Parma and San Daniele hams, but the superior breed of pigs, the careful farming, and long aging make the Spanish product, in the eyes of many, the world's best. This rarest of Spanish hams can nowadays be legally imported to America, but Jamon Ibérico de Bellota is still hard to come by—and very pricey. Besides, it taste much better when carved, paper-thin, off the whole cured thigh, by a masterful hand.
Ethiopia is considered the birthplace of the coffee bean, and the world renowned Arabica bean is its most prized, and widely planted. More than a daily routine, coffee drinking in Ethiopia is an important cultural tradition, and central to it is the Ethiopian coffee ceremony. A coffee ceremony can last for hours, starting with the expert roasting of the Arabica beans over a charcoal. Then the blackened beans are hand ground with a pestle and mortar, before being slowly cooked in a traditional clay pot. Coffee making here is a highly skilled and careful process, producing a superior tasting and highly aromatic coffee. To add to the delight, Ethiopian coffee is traditionally drunk sweet, with loads of sugar, making it that much more irresistible.
Born of necessity as a method of food preservation, the pickle is present in nearly every culinary tradition. To eat the best pickles in the world, however, we recommend you travel to Korea, where the pickle is the national dish. The Korean pickle, kimchi, is the central component of every meal and to our knowledge the only pickle to be labeled an UNESCO Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The hot and sour Kimchi is made from vegetables seasoned with garlic, fish, and shrimp sauce. It’s fermented in traditional vats, below ground, for several months. Most popular Kimchis are made with Napa cabbage, radishes, and scallions. In addition to being addictive and delicious, kimchi is considered one of the healthiest foods in the world, so you can feel good about taking a cue from the Koreans, and gobble up to 40 pounds of kimchi a year.
With respects to the New York cheesecake and the Hungarian dumplings, the Middle Eastern kenafeh reigns supreme in the category of sweet cheesy delicacies. A distant cousin of the baklava, it is made with warm, melted goat's milk cheese, and topped with crisped, butter-soaked kadaif noodles. Once baked, it is finished with generous pour of thick syrup, seasoned with rose water or orange blossom, and often dusted with crushed pistachios. Crisp and gooey, salty and sweet, it must be consumed immediately to be fully appreciated, and outside the Levant it is very hard to come by. It is widely popular in Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, and Israel, but we like the ones sold in the markets of East Jerusalem. Fair warning, once you tried it, you will find it hard to appreciate a simple cheesecake again.
Not all chickens are created equal. The Poulet de Bresse is the only chicken to have its own appellation d'origine contrôlée status, the cultural and culinary stamp of quality usually applied to France's most prized wines and cheeses. The chicken that is widely considered best in the world may only be produced from the proud, white feathered chickens of the Bresse breed, raised in a traditional way in the historic region, and former province of Bresse, in eastern France. Only about a million Bresse chickens are produced in France each year, and of these, only 10% are exported worldwide.The (needles to say) free range birds are fed a special diet based on cereals and dairy, and are encouraged to forage for other sources of protein, as nature intended. Later, the birds are moved to a shaded fattening cage, to produce plump, delicious, savory chicken, which is at is best when simply roasted in the oven.
Much more than a cooking technique, asado, the traditional South American barbecue, is a day-long social event. The secret to the flavor of asado is the use of low burning wood fire, which slowly smokes the meat as it cooks it, enriching its flavor. That, and the superior beef grown in Uruguay, which has recently surpassed neighboring Argentina as the world's greatest source of premium, grass-fed and free range beef. Ribs are a popular cut for asado, as well as offal, like kidneys and sweetbreads, and a variety of sausages, from pork blood to chorizo.
Late summer is a time for celebration in Santa Fe, the beginning of green chile season. While grown throughout the southwest, the green chiles of Santa Fe have earned a reputation for being of superior flavor and perfume, with a deep vegetal taste and just the right amount of heat, that lends bright, green complexity to New Mexican cuisine. You can get frozen, dried, or preserved green chillies nearly anywhere I the world, but Santa Fe is one of few areas where you can enjoy the chile fresh, in this fleeting moment before it ripens into the more widely popular red-hot chile. And enjoy it you will, as fresh, fire-roasted, pickled, and stewed green chillies are pretty much the center of every meal in these parts.
The ceviche is a dish that celebrates the freshness and diversity of seafood. So it is not coincidental that it is the national dish of Peru, which happens to be one of the world's most bountiful sources of seafood. You can find great ceviche, and similar citrus “cooked” seafood dishes all over Latin America and the mediterranean, but nowhere is the selection as plentiful and the preparation as masterful as in Peru. The Peruvian yellow chile, or aji amarillo, which is said to taste like the sun, is a favorite and common ingredient in Peruvian ceviches, and adds to the bold and delicious flavor of the dish.
Vietnamese cuisine has won many followers in the U.S. where the Pho has been a choice noodle soup for years. But fans of Vietnamese food will point to another contender for the title of premier broth.The Bun bo Hue, originated in the central Vietnamese city of Hue, is a velvety, rich broth made with pork and beef bones, with heady perfume of lemongrass and citrus, and the deep oceanic saltiness of shrimp paste. In Vietnam, the broth is sold by street vendors, who pour it over thick vermicelli noodles, braised or raw beef, sausage, and in some case, congealed pig's blood. The salty-sweet and biting broth is finished with a squeeze of lime, a handful of fresh herbs, and dried chillies.