Distinct Dishes & Fanciful Flavours from Around the World
Every dish tells a story, creates a memory, builds a flavour bridge to any destination that comes to mind. A taste, an aroma, the experience and the people with you can all take you (and your palette) to the distinct dishes and regional flavours. It is more and more obvious that food, and the dining experience, is fast becoming another reason why we’re excited to travel – like we needed an excuse!
Let’s go on a moveable feast around the world, circling the globe for some of the most distinct flavours that are unique to a given destination. We have chosen Vietnam, New Zealand, Korea, Morocco, USA, UK, Peru and India – only a few, we know, although each is definitely worth a culinary visit for their iconic and exotic flavours. Here they are – let’s get ready to roll…
Vietnam: Spring Rolls
Yes, you can buy spring rolls at any Asian takeaway, but we are talking about fresh, hand-made Vietnamese Spring Rolls from a bustling street corner in Vietnam. It’s all about a sense of place, when you taste your very first real Vietnamese Spring Roll. Imagine all the ancient sights of forbidden cities and unfamiliar yet curious sounds that will surround you, and the delectable aromas of succulent, spicy pork or sizzling chicken that smacks of star anise, clove and the ubiquitous fish sauce.
Traditional spring rolls could be purely leafy green herbs and vegetable or hold a beautifully wrapped prawn, nestled all pink against the transparent white of a rice paper roll. Some might have the aforementioned pork, or chicken – either way you will be served fish sauce, sweet chilli sauce with a kick, others will serve you up a black sticky soy sauce and some vendors will ask you what you want. Be brave, go on, this tiny morsel will be your new best friend!
One of the staple dishes of Korean cuisine is bulgogi, which literally translates to “fire-meat” – a BBQ… and boy will it light you up with flaming delight!
The popularity of this dish cannot be denied as it is found throughout South Korea – from high end restaurants and eat-all-you-can barbecue affairs to the local supermarket and take away. The experience of eating bulgogi by barbecuing on a grill on your table is decidedly Korean, as is the taste of different cuts of beef with everything from the subtle sweet and sour to spicy-hot flavoursome marinades.
Stroll through Seoul’s busy metropolis to discover popular sides such as the ever-present kimchi, green onion salad, egg, soup, mini potatoes, radish, and others too. Wrap each bite in a little lettuce, dip into a little ssamjang (spicy paste) and you are in for one taste-explosion you’ll never forget.
As one of the staple foods of Morocco, the savoury Tagine is made in a conical clay dish, best settled in for a few hours, to slow cook over the coals of an open fire. Tagine is an aromatic and fragrant concoction of fresh Moroccan vegetables accentuating the flavours of savoury lamb, beef or chicken on the bone. To further excite the palate, a mix of heady spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, harissa (savory hot chilli paste), golden saffron, alongside sweet almonds, apricots, preserved lemons, hard boiled eggs, potatoes, carrots, onions, tomatoes, and more to produce an enticing sweet spicy aroma. This distinct stew is borne out of the region’s strong Andalusian, Arabian and Jewish influences, as well as the availability of the country’s rich resources.
When you visit Morocco, you will come across the famous squares and marketplaces of Marrakesh, Casablanca and Fes, all with heavily laden stalls and swirling aromas, promising everything from delectable tagines with golden couscous, flame-grilled meats, steamed snails and sweetmeats. A cavalcade of color and tastes not to be missed.
USA: BBQ Ribs
When we think of America, we generally think of bald eagles, baseball, the Statue of Liberty, deep fried chicken and the sticky, sweet barbecues of the south. There’s nothing more indulgent than a tenderly juicy, smoky slab of slow-cooked pork or beef rib to make you smack your lips. We have had reports of legendary ribs being marinated, rubbed with various salts, peppers, sugars herbs and spices, sauced up and caramelised with onions, tomatoes, brown sugar, molasses and more, before they hit a flame-grilled, BBQ pit.
“It’s all in the wood you use to do the smokin’,” one grill master quips, “You could use Applewood, hickory, mesquite or oak. I’ve heard tell of maple, orange or pecan being used which would impart a flavour and color all their own!”
Whatever meat, be it rib, brisket, or a whole chicken, all will be perfectly smoked for seven to ten hours before being seasoned and served up. Our tip? Most really good BBQ will sell out early, so ask around for the best local place to get those juices flowing!
New Zealand: Māori Hangi
Hangi is not just a dish. It is a gastronomic experience.
This traditional way of cooking by the Māori people of New Zealand stems from the belief that the earth gave life to everything, and the soil is to be used to cook. As such, hangi is famously known for cooking fish, chicken, and root crops in a pit dug in the ground. Nowadays, modern Māori have included more distinct meats and vegetables, such as mutton, lamb, potatoes, pumpkins, and cabbages. Using the earth as an oven seals in a distinct and smoky flavour, producing tender, off-the-bone meats, and delicious, fresh vegetables with an Earthy fragrance.
And, if you visit Rotorua’s volcanic mud pools and thermal springs, you might catch the more pleasant whiff of a hangi being cooked as it has been for centuries, in the piping hot natural thermal steam! The Māori Hangi is a bucket-list meal, so as you travel around New Zealand, make sure to include a taste of this Māori culinary experience.
UK: Pub Grub
From one end of the UK to another, with regional delicacies in each of Wales, Scotland, England and Ireland, nothing beats a good pub lunch. You could start with the ever-present Fish n Chips – a British staple, available on any street corner or pub. Cod or haddock are the favorites, each dipped in a batter before being plunged into hot oil to become light and crispy. Paired with the universally-eaten chunky potato chips, you are also likely to be served up some bread and butter with a nice cup o tea.
We say go for something different. Try on a traditional Ploughman’s plate for size. Consisting of a chunk of cheese, pickled onion, mustard pickles or piccalilli, a pork pie, some ham or a scotch egg (an egg encased in sausage meat, crumbed and deep fried – o yum). A slab of butter and some fresh crusty bread will round it all out, with a pint of the local ale. Perfect for a summer’s day in Bath or London. Or to fortify you in those cooler winter months (or when you head north to Scotland), pea and ham hock soup, why not try a steak and ale pie, Beef Wellington or a simple roast beef with a Yorkshire pudding (properly made!), a “blow your head off” Indian curry, or a Lancashire hotpot topped with crispy potatoes just begging to be eaten. Any don’t miss out on those desserts, from the fruity summer pudding or sponge cake to treacle tart, steamed puddings or a good old crumble with custard.
With many of the UK’s pub’s now gaining recognition with Michelin stars around London and beyond, you’ll be spoiled for choice. Check them all out online before you head over, and get the best of the best from British Pub Grub!
Peru: Guinea Pig
OK this one is going to throw you for a loop, but remember it is a staple cultural dish and delicacy that has been around for over 5000 years. We are talking Peru’s guinea pig, or “cuy” (kwee) as the locals say. They’re cute (we know) and surprisingly tasty, packing a unique and tender flavour under a crispy outer skin that has been massaged well with salt and garlic. This high protein low cholesterol meat is more beneficial and healthful for you than pork or beef – even chicken!
One of the most popular places to try out cuy on a South American adventure would be in Cusco, surrounded by the Andes mountains, on your way to Machu Picchu. Our pick? Choose one of the local traditional restaurants of central Cusco, where you can immerse yourself in the local culture, try one that offers traditional dancing or music so you can really feel the vibe as you tuck in. BTW it is de rigueur to eat your guinea pig with your fingers, so get right in there and enjoy!
Indian curry is an indispensable dish that is now found in all corners of the world. However, nothing quite beats the authenticity of a true Indian curry beside the crenelated architecture of the Taj Mahal, eating rich thick dhal in a sumptuous palace by the Ganges or a subtly spiced soft-shell crab enriched with shellfish flavours on the southern fragrant shores of Goa, in mother India herself.
There are so many regions, each with its own spice mix, vegetarian or carnivore preferences and traditional cultures that will influence the type of meal you are about to embark upon. In Goa do you dare to try the freshest of seafood paired with the hottest of red chilli – can you stand up to the heat of the continent, or the heat of this dish? You have to give it a go-a (ha ha).
Stop off in Madras for a spicy red curry known the world over before heading north for the succulence of a tomato-based lamb Dhaba curry that is something like, but nothing like, the Rogan Josh you’ve had before. Move over to the Punjabi region for Dali Wala where chicken is marinated for more than two or more hours in thick yoghurt and spices before a long slow simmer with tomatoes and ghee… this one will remind you of a Butter Chicken. In Jaipur the addition of coconut milk is welcome, as is the sweetness of fruits and garam masala in Kashmiri curries. And we have only touched the surface…
We say try everything once (at least) to get a taste for the spices, and make sure you try a slow cooked, tandoor goat curry, bone in – it is one of the greatest flavour experiences of my life!
Are you ready for a world culinary experience when you next travel? Speak with your Vacation Rewards® Travel Specialists for their tasty tips
and Kevin Montalbo