Yes, being safe is the usual choice when it comes to eating out whilst you are travelling. Well, you really don’t want an upset stomach in the midst of your a trek in the Namibian desert or a stay in the village where the nearest doctor would probably be miles away.
The safe traveller would pack in couple of packets of dried nuts, fruits, chips and resort to heading out to the nearest burger joint. And yes, I do agree that packing a sandwich or a burger over trying out the local flavor always seems the right way to go especially when you are face with a menu of unknown dishes. Paani-puri? Anago-meshi? Uova con tartufi? “Um, I’ll take a sandwich and a salad to go”
But, I’ve always felt that the best way to sink your feet into the local culture is experimenting and what better way than the local cuisine. There is an instant connect – bang on when you sample the local delicacy just like every one else. You throw off the mantle of being ‘just another tourist’ and don on the ‘locale flavor. So how do you do it…well, it’s pretty simple! Take a cue from the locals when looking for the perfect dish to try. Look around. See what the crowd is gorging on. Smile. Point. And Indulge!!!
And ofcourse, a bold and brave taste buds are essential; in some cases, an iron stomach is encouraged.
Arepas of Colombia
Colombia might be the only Latin American country where rice is more important than corn. But Colombians have a special place in their heart for the cornmeal cakes they call arepas. If you’ve never had the pleasure, imagine corn bread with a more delicate crumb that’s been flattened into a pancake, filled with cheese or egg, and griddled or fried to form a brown, crispy crust. Each bite sends butter streaking down your chin and, for Colombians, inspires memories of abuela at the stove. For the best, fly down to Cartegena…head to the nearby soccer field, where a gaggle of ladies sell carimañolas (yuca fritters filled with ground beef), empanadas, and most importantly, those fabulous arepas.
Sago’t gulaman of Philippines
One of the beautiful things about the Philippines is the love for food everyone has. And a must try local delicacy is Sago’t Gulaman – walking around local markets, you would find street food vendors with their moveable food cart serving hungry lines of mouths just waiting for a bite to eat of this local delicacy. Sago’t Gulaman is a mix of sago and agar agar in a sugary caramelized liquid. This dark colored refreshment is sweet to the taste and filling with all of the sago and gelatin like cubes. Top it up with a cantaloupe juice – where the melon is so sweet….strips of the cantaloupe meat float around your cup, so you get some with each sip you take. If you finish all of the juice, the cantaloupe strips are layered right in the bottom of your cup, all ready to be snacked on.
Hot Pot and Jian Bing of China
In Beijing the restaurants in the alleyways of Qian Men are renowned for hot pot, or huo guo where you’ll find the streets are lined with boiling pots filled with soup ingredients. Its excellent selections range from Mongolian specialties–best known for lamb and mutton dishes–and spicy Szechuan. And walking down the alleyways of Shangain which is best known for its street food, especially soup dumplings. Also, savor the Jian bing, egg-based crepes with a bean sauce or chili smear, which is a local power breakfast.
Patatje Oorlog – Holland
It translates to ‘war chips’ – a simple local delicacy – fried potato chips served with mayonnaise, tomato ketchup, garlic sauce and peanut-butter. But, it apparently gets its name because a war breaks out in your stomach when you eat it! Comfort food…but with a twist! Sample it…we say!
Curries, Stews and chaats – India.
If I were you, I would avoid the street food – though the locals swear by it. Many locals are vegetarian, but Indian cuisine includes a variety of delicious meat and seafood. Grilled minced lamb, seekh kebabs, are the staple of Tandoori cooking, while the nation’s coastal regions are renowned for masala (spiced) fish or prawns. While India conjures up images of curries, local specialties are worth digging around for. In North India, never say no to chaat or paani-puri. that the Indian cuisine offers is a gastronomic delight.
The piping hot ‘aloo parathas’ for breakfast dished up with a dollop of butter and yogurt; the steaming hot ‘idlis’ served in South India, the sheer variety These delicious crispy crackers are dressed up with condiments of the sweet and spicy variety. If you’re in the south, say Kerala gorge on the appams and stews and don’t miss out on the ‘sadhiya’ – a feast served on a banana leaf.
Exotic Pizza of Naples
Not exotic enough because it is probably your weekend flavor back home. But, one bit of the pizzaa in Naples and you are hooked! The ingredients are are simply dough and a rich marinara sauce with oregano. In this case, native is best. “Locals say there’s something in the water density in Naples that guarantees you will never have a pizza like it anywhere else in the world.
And the local flavour would be lampredotto, a special street-cart sandwich. The ingredients: chili sauce, salsa verde and cow’s stomach. Don’t look at it before it’s cooked–it looks like a brain. But one bite and you’re hooked. I would also recommend the uova con tartufi–fried eggs with truffle oil. It can’t be found on restaurant menus, but chefs from Tuscany and Umbria will know exactly what you mean if you ask for it.
Okonomiyaki in Japan
When it comes to Japanese cuisine, it is Sushi all the way through. But if the local flavor is what your palette is willing to experiment, then reach out to okonomiyaki, a savory pancake (or Japanese pizza) This dish is made with batter, vegetables, seaweed, meat, a sweet sauce resembling Worcestershire, and Japanese mayonnaise. I would also recommend the anago-meshi, or sea eel rice, and tonkatsu ramen, a pork-bone white soup with ramen noodles if local flavor is what you are looking out for.
Mezze – Lebanon
Think Middle East cuisine and it’s Hummus for you. Now, that’s safe. But, if blending with the locale is what your travel diary is all about, then you cannot leave the country without trying the Mezze – a selection of starters with dips like hummus and the smoky eggplant baba ganoush, fresh vegetables, olives and leavened bread that could be a meal in itself.
Solyanka – Russia
The names in the menu confound you. But if you see solyanka on the menu, don’t hesitate to order. This salty, sour and often spicy soup combined with meat or fish and topped with smetana, Russian sour cream, is truly delicious. Boscht and pelmeni (dumplings) are ubiquitously Russian,which can be spiced up with roasted apples and smoked goose breast.
Must try if you are wandering in Georgia or Armenia – the Azerbaijaini plov, a spiced rice dish cooked with meat and dried fruit.
Manchego – Spain
A must try – Manchego, an aged sheep’s milk cheese which has an intense flavor. Enjoy it with bread, served with olives and meat or accompanied by a full-bodied red wine–a Rioja makes sense. Must-haves include patatas bravas, crisp-fried potatoes with a secret sauce, and mel i mato, a curd cheese and honey dessert cooked in an earthenware pot.