One of my favourite parts of travelling is trying new food. After all, there’s no point in journeying for hundreds, if not thousands of miles, just to stick with the familiar. Our reason for holidaying somewhere new, along with wanting to relax with friends and family, is surely to experience new sights, sounds and smells. So I can’t understand it when people make the effort to travel and then make a beeline for the nearest English-style pub or fast-food joint. Sharing the food of your host country is a great way to connect with its people and its culture. So, if you make a point of learning some of the words you may find on a menu before you go, you won’t feel so lost when presented with the daily specials.
Even if you don’t speak the language, you can still take your cue from what the locals are eating and often a bit of pointing does the trick to get across what you want to eat. When I visited a remote village in Greece, I didn’t speak Greek and the restaurateur didn’t speak English, but she took my hand, led me into the kitchen and invited me to choose what I wanted. The red mullet with Greek salad she served up was one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever had.
So here’s our pick of what to try on your own world travels.
Cambodian food may not be as well known as the cuisine of its neighbouring Asian countries, but it’s equally as delicious. A former French colony, it combines the spices and coconut flavours of Asia with a flair for presentation seen in French cuisine. Try the national dish of Amok, fish seasoned with turmeric, ginger, garlic and chilli, wrapped in a banana leaf and then steamed in coconut milk.
A traditional fish stew, originating from the port city of Marseille. Originally a fishermen’s stew, the unsold catch was cooked up in a pot of bubbling water on the beach. Nowadays, it’s a much more sumptuous dish, enriched with butter and saffron. Legend has it Venus the goddess of love made it to lull her husband Vulcan to sleep so she could have some fun with Mars.
The Restaurant de Bacon in Antibes is renowned for its Bouillabaisse, which uses fish from the region that’s been caught the same morning. Wherever you eat Bouillabaisse, it will be expensive as it’s all about using the finest ingredients, so probably best saved for a special occasion.
Another dish with humble origins, paella was originally a labourers’ meal, cooked over an open fire in the fields and eaten directly from the pan. Despite common misconceptions that the original paella was a seafood dish, it would have actually contained chicken, rabbit, duck and even snails.
In Valencia, where is originates, making paella is part of local pride and every mother claims to make the best one. Communal paella cooking and competitions are common in village festivals and eating paella with friends is a wonderfully sociable way to dine.
Pastrami on rye, New York
New York’s Sussman Volk is generally credited with producing the first pastrami sandwich in 1887, although Katz’s Deli in New York, founded in 1888, disputes that claim. Volk claimed he got the recipe from a Romanian friend and the sandwich proved so popular he converted his butcher shop into a restaurant to sell pastrami sandwiches.
Whoever made it first, the pastrami on rye at Katz’s is legendary. A whole pound of brined beef is used in each serving, along with mustard and pickle. Katz’s was the site of Meg Ryan’s famous “I’ll have what she’s having” fake orgasm scene in the romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally. The table at which she and Billy Crystal sat is marked with a sign saying “Where Harry met Sally… hope you have what she had.”
Literally meaning “tablecloth stainer” because of the deep red sauce, Manchamenteles can be made with chicken or pork. It’s a typical Sunday lunch dish and, while the fruit used in this stew varies from family to family and season to season, pineapple is always included. Like all good moles, or sauces, it’s a balance of sweet and hot, with intense ancho chillies melded with fruit, cinnamon and clove.
Whichever dish you try, it’s sure to enhance your holidays, as well as your waistline.