5 Mouthwatering Food (And Wine) Destinations Around The World

5 Mouthwatering Food (And Wine) Destinations Around The World

I don’t really travel for food. I am just not much of a foodie (more of a picky eater, actually) and food is not my priority when planning a trip. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy eating though. Quite the opposite. I grew up in the country that has the most incredible, delicious food in the world (sorry for rubbing it in, guys) and food is a huge part of my culture.

Come to think of it, there is a strong connection between the culture, history and people of a country and its food, that starts from what is grown locally to what ends up being put on the table on a daily basis and during special occasions. It’s pretty obvious, thus, that people who like to travel deeply, responsibly and really want to get to know a country, must taste the local food and even attempt to cook it – and that’s why food tourism is becoming more and more of a thing.

Strictly connected with food tourism there’s also wine tourism: they go together, just as much as food goes with wine and viceversa. I have done a good share of food tours, and an even bigger share of wine tours in my travels, and just the thought of them makes my mouth water.

Sure enough, I have my own preferences when it comes to food and wine destinations – some food that I find exciting may be terribly boring to others. Just as well, foods that some people enjoy, such as Indian, is almost off limits to me (being lactose intolerant in a country that makes large use of dairies doesn’t help).

Either way, I have decided to write a selection of my favorite destinations for food and wine, which is totally biased and strictly based on my personal taste.

5 Mouthwatering Food (And Wine) Destinations Around The World

Italy

First in the list of my favourite food and wine destinations is Italy. Yes, I know, I am very biased. But food here is incredibly varied, and while some dishes are known internationally – though their names are often totally butchered, and while I am at it let me clarify, FYI, that there’s not such thing as “spaghetti bolognese” in Italy – the food is very regional and each city, each village I’d dare say, has its own specialties.

I can’t possibly go over every single region in Italy where people should travel for food and wine, so I have decided to concentrate on two, one of which I know quite well, and the other being one I have visited recently.

Sicily

I visited Sicily last October for a volcano extravaganza. I spent most of the time in the Aeolian Islands, exploring Vulcano and hiking Mount Stromboli. And then moved near Catania to visit Mount Etna. Though hiking the volcanoes was the main focus of my trip, I’d lie if I didn’t say that I truly enjoyed the food. Sicily is one of the nicest food and wine destinations in the world.

Thanks to the incredibly fertile soil and the great Mediterranean weather, Sicily has an incredible selection of high quality produce (citrus fruits, fish and seafood, vegetables, cheeses, and the oh so good capers among others) which put together create some truly mouthwatering dishes. I guess it is easy to see why food tourism is thriving in the region.

The slopes of Mount Etna are the ideal place to grow some of the best grapes in Italy which are strictly endemic to the region and which are used to produce some fabulous wines such as Nerello Mascalese. I have had the opportunity to try some while I was there and concluded there’s a region why Sicily is among the top food and wine destinations in the world.

Those who travel for food or wine should not leave Sicily without having tried these local specialties:

  • Arancini: a large rice ball mixed with a light tomato sauce and stuffed (the stuffing can vary: I tried one with eggplant and ricotta cheese), then battered and fried. It’s served piping hot and it is a staple of Sicilian street food.
  • Pasta alla norma: short pasta (usually tortiglioni) served with tomato sauce, fried eggplants, salted ricotta and lots of basil.
  • Cannoli: a light crispy shell filled with a cream made of ricotta and either candied fruit or chocolate chips.

Sardinia

Sardinia is where I was born and raised, and the place I call home. Call me biased, but I think this is one of the best food and wine destinations in the world. Besides, Cagliari is packed with good restaurants and places where to have a good spritz cocktail.

Most people visit Sardinia in the summer to enjoy its amazing beaches, and I can’t blame them. But one of the perks of visiting Sardinia in the fall is the possibility to visit its amazing vineyards and wineries and to attend one of the many village festivals that are a fantastic celebration of local culture, traditions and food. Food and wine tourism are becoming increasingly popular here.

Sardinian people still prefer buying local produce and they frown upon those who buy their fruits and vegetables at large groceries chains. This is the kind of place where people shop directly at the producers; where they take their olives to the oil mill to get their very own olive oil (I can’t remember the last time my family bought oil at a supermarket, if ever).

But there’s more: what makes Sardinia one of the best food and wine destinations in the world is its fantastic wines. From Carignano to Vermentino, from Cannonau to Nepente, Sardinia has some incredible grapes and a long wine making traditions, and one of the best things to do on the island is going on a wine tasting tour in one of the beautiful vineyards. I particularly love the wines of Parteolla (Serdiana and Dolianova), where my mother is from.

When traveling for food and wine in Sardinia, a few specialties should not be missed:

  • Fregola con arselle: fregola is a cous cous kind of pasta made with semolina and saffron. It is cooked in a brothy sauce made of tomatoes and clams, with added parsley and cayenne pepper.
  • Culurgiones: a ravioli kind of pasta, it is typically filled with potatoes, mint and a bit of pecorino cheese, and served only with grated pecorino cheese.
  • Sebadas: a light pastry filled with mild cheese (typically “dolce sardo”) mixed with lemon grind, then fried and served piping hot with honey.

Spain

It is impossible not to love Spain. The sights, the people, the atmosphere make it a great place to visit. And, to top this off, Spain is one of the best food destinations in the world. I have been there countless times, and each time I leave thinking that I would love living there, at least for a while – it would be a good excuse to perfect my Spanish.

This is a country where people still take their time to eat – though be prepared, meal times are really late even for Italian standards. People enjoy having business meetings while savoring some of the best fish caught in the Bay of Biscay; and they accompany their meals with a glass of good wine. Food and wine tourism is on the rise here – after all, with food and wine being such a bit part of Spanish culture this is rather natural.

Among my favorite food and wine destinations in Spain, there are the Basque Country (La Rioja and Txakolin wines are superb), and Cantabria, which still is quite unexplored, but where vineyards are now focusing on producing 100% organic, vegan wine and where some are located in stunning locations, having views of the sea and the mountains at the same time.

Whoever travels for food and wine to Spain should not omit to try the following specialties:

  • Pinxtos: the idea is similar to that of tapas, but they are typical of the North of Spain. In San Sebastian, they have been taken to a gourmet level. A pinxtos dinner typically has two or three different stops, with various one or two bites dishes.
  • Spanish tortilla: a large omelette type of dish made with fried potatoes, onions and eggs. In the best ones, eggs are a bit runny.
  • Crema catalana: the ultimate Spanish dessert is a milky, firm custard.

Mexico

I have been to Mexico 3 times, and each time I am more and more in love with the local cuisine. Food tourism in Mexico is a thing – in fact, one of the best things to do in Mexico is trying all the local delicacies and going on a food and market tour.

There’s a good reason why Mexican food is UNESCO protected: this is one of the top destinations in the world for food. Forget about the distorted version of Mexican food one may find at a Mexican restaurant at home. There’s no such thing as nachos or chilli con carne in Mexico, and there’s about a million different version of tacos (and none of them is like what we are used to in the rest of the world).

The best places to eat in Mexico are markets, small carts in the streets and local eateries. These are places where a mere 50 Mexican Pesos (less than $3 USD) land a full meal, inclusive of a drink. Now, if this doesn’t make Mexico one of the top food destinations in the world I don’t know what will!

Food in Mexico is quite regional, but there’s a few dishes that can be found across the country. Those who plan to visit Mexico and travel for food should not miss on the following dishes. *Do keep in mind that trying to select the must tries isn’t an easy task, with all the great food available!

  • Pozole: as far as soup goes, nothing beats a good pozole. It’s a soup made of hominy (like a large kind of corn) and meat (typically pork) – though there’s also vegetarian versions; to which cabbage, onions, avocado, chillies, lime and other ingredients can be added.
  • Tacos: best eaten at small food carts that can be found on street corners, there’s various kinds. My favorite are “al pastor” (the meat is sliced from a shawarma), to which I love adding a sprinkle of lime, chillies, guacamole and lots of nopales (cactus) salad.
  • Tlayudas: typical of Oaxaca, they are huge flour tortillas toasted to become cruncy, and covered with a spread of refried beans, to which avocado is added, and then meat (typically pork or beef), Oaxacan cheese and salsa.

Israel

There’s many reasons why I love Israel and I keep going back. The country is packed with history and art; the people are friendly; the lifestyle is very similar to that of Sardinia – so much so that I feel really at ease there. I should also add that I love the food in Israel – though Israel hardly comes to mind as one of the most popular food destinations in the world.

While not many people who travel for food (or wine) go to Israel for that reason, once they visit Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, or Ha Carmel in Tel Aviv, they are hooked by the incredible flavours of the country.

Israel has the perfect weather to grow olive trees and grapes – the most typical sight whenever getting out of a city is that of olive trees. This means that two huge staples of Mediterranean cuisine are as good as they get in this small, unique country.

Add to this an incredible restaurant scene: Jerusalem is home to Machneyuda, allegedly one of the best restaurants in the world; Tel Aviv has a wealth of local and international restaurants. And it is easy to see why Israel can be considered one of the best food destinations in the world.

I am going back to Israel in December – it will be my third time in 13 months – and I already know what I will be eating there. People who travel for food should not miss on the following when in Israel:

  • Hummus: common in all of the Middle East, it is made of chickpeas (hummus in Arabic) mashed and mixed with tahina, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic. The best I have ever had was in a tiny place in Netanya where my friend Eyal took me.
  • Shakshuka: typically a breakfast dish, though people in Israel find there’s always a good reason to eat these dish made of eggs cooked in a tomato sauce.
  • Rugelach: a delicious pastry made of dough rolled around a filling (best if chocolate).

Vietnam

I love Vietnamese food: pretty much any dish in Vietnam is accompanied with loads of vegetables, which I truly like. Vietnam is the reason for my not so mild obsession with pho bo. It’s not an easy obsession to feed, since I can’t easily go back to Saigon any time I want (and I wouldn’t travel for food, to be fair).

There’s no Vietnamese restaurants in Sardinia, where I am (mostly) based. So, I either learn how to make my own (as if!), or resort to eating it any time I find a Vietnamese restaurant when I travel. Take my word for it: as far as food destinations in the world, Vietnam is surely one of the best.

Food tourism in Vietnam is already a thing: it is quite common for travelers to stay with local families (at homestays) and attempt to make some of the staples of Vietnamese cuisine. I myself tried to make spring rolls – though the result wasn’t really that satisfactory.

There’s no wine in Vietnam, but the lack of it is easily supplemented by “bia hoi” (cold beer) which is available pretty much anywhere, and is ridiculously cheap. Just as the rest of the food, to be fair. $2 USD got me a long way when I was in Hanoi, with enough (good) food for 2 persons actually. Markets and the streets are the best (and cheapest) places to eat in Vietnam: the fact that the food is so good, and so cheap, make it one of the best food destinations in the world.

Drooling at the thought of these, here’s a few Vietnamese dishes that those who travel for food should not miss while in the country:

  • Pho bo: a soup made of slowly cooked beef broth. It has rice noodles, and thin slices of beef are added at the last minute and cooked by the heat of the broth. It is served with herbs, bean sprouts, lime and chillies.
  • Bahn mi: a crispy baguette (here comes the French influence) filled with meat, fresh vegetables and sauce.
  • Goi cuon: or else, summer rolls made of rice paper and filled with noodles, crispy salad, pork and shrimps.

Is your mouth waterings? Have you ever been to one of my favorite food destinations in the world? If not, what are your favourite food destinations?

Pint It For Later

Discover the best food destinations in the world - via @clautavani

Chocolate tasting in Baracoa

Chocolate tasting in Baracoa

Sweeten up your Cuba vacation!

I must admit I am not a huge chocolate fan. But Baracoa is famous for its tasty food and chocolate. Trying it here, knowing of all the cocoa plantations there are in the area, reading about the factory opened in the area by Ernesto Che Guevara, Baracoa chocolate tasting seemed like a must. I must admit I was not impressed: European palates are used to much more refined quality, while this one was quite rustic – but possibly more genuine.

I had also read on my Lonely Planet that there was a chocolate factory cafe in the main street of Baracoa, so I eagerly went in to have a sample. Showing a deep interest for the various kinds of chocolates exposed – ie milk chocolate, plain chocolate in different shapes and sizes – I gazed at the window and enquired about the supposedly delicious cakes and drinks. I then ordered a slice of cake and a cup of cold chocolate milk with a “bola de chocolate” – which turned out to be just a ball of plain chocolate. I added to this a number of different chocolates with various fillings. Definitely too much for someone who doesn’t really love chocolate. But hey, it was cheap!

I then sat and waited to be served. When the waitress placed my order on the table, I decided  I would first try the chocolates. They were OK, but nothing really special. I moved to the chocolate milk, which to me was tasteless. I concluded with the cake, which I found dry, almost as it was old. The quality of the chocolate was strikingly at odds with that of the rest of the food I had tried in Cuba.

Feeling like my passion for chocolate was not increasing, I decided to ask for the check and leave, despite a bit guilty for not eating 1/4 of what I had ordered. I thus asked if I could have a box to carry the cake with me – I would eventually give it to some child. There must have been a misunderstanding though, as to my horror, the waitress arrived with another slice of cake which I quickly sent back, deciding a paper tissue would make do for the left over cake. I eventually threw it away. But then I went to a cocoa plantation and for a very cheap price I got pure cocoa poweder and two HUGE bolas (balls) of chocolate. Back home, I baked a luxurious chocolate soufflè, adding some extra sugar as the cocoa I bought didn’t have any. Guess what? It was delicious!

Care to know more about my Cuban adventures? Read here!

Enjoying food in Cuba

Enjoying food in Cuba

Comida criolla v. street food (a win-win choice)

When in Cuba, nothing can beat a good comida criolla. Or almost.

Travellers have several choices for food in Cuba: state owned restaurants, paladares (which are the equivalent of “our” restaurants), eating at the casas particulares or street food. With the exception of state owned restaurants, where the choice is poor, the food tasteless and hardly fresh, and the bill expensive, you won’t have troubles with any other choice.

When eating at paladares or at casas particulares, you will most likely end up having a comida criolla. That consists of a season salad – cabbage, tomatoes, cucumber and sometimes lettute and carrots, or even green beans. And yes, you can have it even if the vegetables are raw: Cubans wash the vegetables with purified/boiled water, which is the same they use for cooking and for making the ice-cubes for their delicious cocktails; a soup – generally yucca and other vegetables; rice with frijoles, also known as congrì, which is rice with super-tasty black beans; tostadas (platano croquettes) or fried bananas, and a choice of chicken, pork, lobster, seafood, shrimps or even a mixture. Top this off with ice-cream and fresh fruit for dessert, and since the quantities are VERY large, you will leave the table unable to walk or move, yet very happy. If you are in Baracoa, definitely go for the shrimps, lobster or octopus in coconut sauce. So rich, spicy and delicious! The average price for such a dinner is between 5 and 12 CUC, depending on the city. Trinidad is overall more expensive than the rest. Cienfuegos is cheaper.

Churros

Churros, a staple street food

If you are travelling on a super-tight budget, go for street food. From juice (oh, is there anything more refreshing than a coco frio?) to fresh fruit, to bocadillos (small sandwiches), to pizza and churros, to fried potatoes and what not, you will want to try it. Bocadillos can sometimes consist of poor quality ham and lettuce. If you want something more tasty, go for the freshly cooked pork and lettuce, they cost 1 CUC a piece and they are big! We even tried the pizza. Sure, they are nothing like the ones in Italy. But they are freshly baked in a wood or charcoal oven, hot and soft yet crispy. Depending on the topping, they can cost 10 up to 25 MN (moneda nacional – less than a dollar) a piece, and they will satisfy your palate and appetite, I promise.

Do you like peanuts? Then eat the cacauetes – they sell them in small paper cones for something like 5 MN. I bought them as I really was curious to see what it was, and ended up eating them when I was hungry. Want to try something sweet? Go for the churros. 1 CUC for a large portion, and you can even have chocolate sauce added to that. Or, should you be walking around at night in Vinales, you can get a fresh pina colada in the main street: close to the square, there is a sign that says “pina colada, aqui todo natural”. You call for the lady inside, and she will prepare a pina colada for you by blending together ice powdered milk, sugar, fresh coconut, fresh pineapple, and fresh coconut milk and topping it off with some cinammon. The result is a thick and delicious smoothie, much much better than any other dessert, and if by then you have become an alcoholic (nobody can escape the rum in Cuba!) you can go next door and ask to add a drop of rum.

If you ever feel hot, go for icecream. Not the Coppelia one, but the fresh one made in casas. You will see Cubans walking around with inviting cones: just follow them and go get yourself a home made ice-cream. Do try Coppelia if you want a real Cuban experience, but I must warn you, it is as cheap as what you pay! At 4 cents a ball (pay in MN), what do you expect? You have to get in line, and balls of watery ice-cream will be taken out of buckets and portioned into plastic bowls. You will mostly feel like your dog when you eat it, but why not?

Do you feel a bit low and need a good sugar kick? Get a guarapo – sugarcane juice. If it is too sweet for you, have it with lemon juice.

Havana

Fresh guarapo juice in Havana

And what about coffee? It is so ridicoulously tasty! You will smell it in the street – slightly chestnuty, which will leave you wondering how Cuba can possibly have chestnut trees, until you will eventually understand that they are roasting coffee. Go for it. You won’t regret it. And if you can, buy some rough Cuban chocolate in Baracoa.

All in all, you can bet that food in Cuba is usually delicious. You may never have beef (hard to get), but seafood is so delicious that you won’t care. And unless you are super-delicate, do try street food. It is a real experience!

Care to know more about Cuba? Click here.

Costa Rica attractions: Puerto Viejo, the extreme laidback side of the country

Costa Rica attractions: Puerto Viejo, the extreme laidback side of the country

Puerto Viejo is the perfect place to be a beach bum or to practice one’s surfing abilities in the pristine Caribbean waters of Costa Rica. It has some of the best beaches in Costa Rica. The lush nature around town, its dusty streets, artesania shops, good bars and seafood restaurants and its relaxed rastafarian community (be prepared to listen to reggae music all day long, see the typical colours of rastafarians all around town and being served by a waitress who will laughingly admit to having smoked marjiuana) make this place charming and therefore one of Costa Rica attractions. The good news is that there are plenty of cheap accommodation, eating options and activities not to blow anyone’s travel budget.

Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Waves and wildlife are among Costa Rica attractions

Things to do in Costa Rica:

Surf and snorkel

Salsa Brava is thought to have the best waves of the country and is among the best beaches of Costa Rica for surfing. The coral reef almost emerges from the waters, so make sure to catch that wave unless willing to crash on the reef: in other words, it is only good for experts. Playa Cocles, about 2 km east of Puerto Viejo, has great but less dangerous waves, usually in the first hours of day. To catch the best ones, go between December and March. Not a surfer but willing to give it a try? Enroll in one of the surf camps.

Playa Negra is a great beach for swimming and body board. Snorkelling is best enjoyed in the areas between Cahuita and Manzanillo – for better visibility go when there are no waves. For scuba diving, there are over 20 good sites in the area where it is possible admire various species of fish. For information, the best option is Reef Runner Divers – it is even possible dive with a temporary permission for those who do not have a patent.

Puerto Viejo

Sand, coral reef and forest in one of the best beaches in Costa Rica

Hike and bike

Puerto Viejo is a great starting point for other things to do in Costa Rica, such as a hike in the rain forest, kayaking, walking. And then go back to town to enjoy a delicious rondon soup (a traditional fish soup with vegetables and spices typical of the area). There are organised tours of the parks, but it is easy to hike around (and for free) independently in the Parque Nacional Cahuita and in the Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Gandoca-Manzanillo where toucans and sloths can be spotted. South-east of town the jungle meets the sea, contoured by palm trees and inhabited by toucans, sloths and monkeys: it all gives this a special aura. Carry lunch and plenty of water.

Be lazy

For those who want to be extra lazy, the best option is to just walk around, browse the artesania shops, enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and mingle with the local artists.

Puerto Viejo biking

Biking around? One of the many things to do in Costa Rica

Where to stay and eat:

Backpackers looking for cheap accommodation in Puerto Viejo will find Hostel Pagalù a great quality option: comfortable beds (dorms are 12 US dollars), rooms and bathrooms are spotless, there is a cozy common area with books, wifi and computers, a well equipped kitchen to prepare meals. No reservations are accepted but those lucky enough to find a bed, will never be kicked out unless they decide to leave!

There are good supermarkets to buy and prepare meals. Those too lazy to cook who would rather eat out shoudl go to Soda Mirna, in the main street, as it is the best budget option with its set meals and large portions. Bread and Chocolate is perfect for a very filling breakfast, and everything is organic and prepared from scratch, not to mention delicious.

Various bars have live music at night.

Getting to Puerto Viejo and away:

It is possible to get here by catching a bus from the Gran Terminal de Caribe in San Jose. From Tortuguero, catch a bus from Cariari to Guapiles and then hop on another bus to Puerto Viejo.

To reach Panama get a direct bus to Sixaola (they leave several times a day) and then cross the border in Guabito.

For more things to do in Costa Rica click here.