By Jenny Hahn
There are many reasons to travel. Some of us love a good adventure. Others will be looking to dive into various cultures and try to experience the way other fellow Earthlings live. For some of us, it’s all about sightseeing and a regular dose of eye candy, while others will approach their travels as a path to self discovery.
I could go on listing reasons to travel, but let’s just cut to the chase. While I find myself in a little bit of everything mentioned above and plenty of other I’ve neglected, one thing that connects all of my travels in different corners of the world is food. I simply love to let my palates guide the way and immerse myself into the local cuisine of wherever is my current destination.
Food can tell a lot about the people that occupy a certain latitude and longitude. In some national or regional cuisines the food is simple and minimalistic, indicating an overall austerity of life, or a lack of influences from other parts of the world, or even a troubled history. In other countries the food is colorful and diverse, reflecting a general focus on the finer aspects of life and a sort of shared joyfulness.
This is not an exact science, as regional cuisines are often determined by a variety of factors, the most important one being the opulence of the land, or the lack of it. I am not trying to make a broad generalization and say that cuisine-rich countries are “happy” and cuisine-poor countries are “sad”, but there’s something to be said about the passion for both food and life I’ve personally experienced in places such as Italy or Thailand.
Before I go and write something truly stupid, I will conclude by saying that food is an integral part of our lives, and should be an integral part of our travels as well. And now, here are my five most favorite “foodie” countries around the world…
Food is at the very heart of the Vietnamese life and culture. “Obsessed with food” is a bit of a strong statement, but it does ring true when you’re there. After all, who wouldn’t be obsessed with food when exposed to such glorious offerings on daily basis. The Vietnamese cuisine is unpretentious, yet very nuanced and layered. If I were to offer another generalization, I’d say that the Vietnamese cuisine falls on the “lighter” side of things, compared to some other, spice-heavy Asian cuisines. It tastes fresher and healthier, and the spices are there to accentuate the flavors, not to overwhelm them.
The Italian lunch is a marathon, a slow-paced bonding ritual with food and wine interspersed between conversations upon conversations. The Italy is a nation of foodies, with every region priding itself on its own culinary traditions. You can find delicious regional food all over Italy, but, if I had to choose just one city or region, I would have to go with Bologna.
The marriage of local culinary traditions and European influences has produced some of the most mouth watering, palate incinerating dishes. Mexico City reflects all the varieties of regional Mexican cuisine, and you can find quality food even in shabby looking hole-in-the-wall establishments. It also boasts a number of high class restaurants with innovative modern chefs pushing the boundaries of gastronomy.
Gaining a reputation as a premium destination for culinary vacations, Thailand is sure to deliver on the promise of exquisite eats. Just like Vietnam, Thailand is a street food paradise. Just walk down the streets of Bangkok and let the competing cooking sells guide you to the stall your heart desires. From noodle soups to skewered meats, Thai food is a constant onslaught of layers upon layers of flavor. Some might consider it a bit too hot and spicy, but I always make sure I bring a few loose fitting clothing items, just in case I push my foodie passion a bit too far.
There’s little need to explain the culinary impact the France has made on the rest of the world. For a lot of people, French cuisine is synonymous with “fine dining”. What I love about France is a tangible joie de vivre related to cooking, eating, and drinking their world famous wines, as if every meal is a celebration of life.. Southwest France is famous for its wines and you will have a hard time finding a richer, more layered cuisine in all of France. A plate of palate-pleasing foie gras washed down with a glass of thick red Bordeaux – that’s what this girl considers a nirvana.