Listen up, food lovers. If you’re anything like us, it’s likely your top priority when booking your next trip is largely based on what you’re going to eat.
Sure, there are the big ones: heading to Naples for an authentic margherita pizza, learning enough Spanish to order a seafood paella in Valencia (washed down with a refreshing tinto de verano), heading straight to Hollywood from LAX for a heartburn-inducing cheeseburger – with a side of onion rings, of course…
But then there are the surprises. The equally delicious, but lesser-known dishes that make visiting somewhere new so much better. These are the dishes that give you a real insight into the people and culture of a destination.
Here are some of our favourite international dishes that you should add to your ‘must-eat’ list on your next overseas adventure:
1. Banh Xeo in Vietnam
Banh xeo (or the variation known as banh khoai in central Vietnam) is a thin, savoury pancake that deserves to share the Vietnamese food spotlight with pho and banh mi.
This crispy treat got its name from the sound the batter makes when it’s cooking on a pan – banh xeo literally means ‘sizzling cake’. With an origin that is disputed by most Vietnamese people, it’s generally agreed on that the pancakes originated in central Vietnam and was sometimes eaten as an alternative to rice.
Long Nguyen, Senior Operations and Purchasing Partner for Intrepid Travel says that to check a banh xeo is authentic it needs to be thin to look at and crunchy when you bite into it.
“The banh xeo should be wrapped around lettuce, bean shoots and mint, then served with ready mixed fish sauce (a combination of fish sauce, garlic, sugar and chilli). It will be best if you eat it as soon as it’s cooked.”
Long’s top spots for banh xeo in Ho Chi Minh City:
- Banh Xeo 46A
- Banh Xeo An La Ghien
- Banh Xeo Muoi Xiem
2. Tostadas in Mexico
The tostada may be a simple dish, but it encapsulates Mexican food perfectly. A flat fried corn tortilla with a base of beans, lettuce, tomato, sour cream and a choice of red or green chilli sauce. You will often get a choice of three main toppings – chicken, pork or Oaxaca cheese (a Mexican speciality). Originally from central Mexico, you’ll get the best tostadas from street food vendors or smaller restaurants called Antojitos Mexicanos (which literally means Mexican dishes).
Fernando Maspes, Mexico’s Representative for Intrepid Travel suggests for authentic tostadas you should try Antojitos Acapulco or Pozoleria el Matamoros, both in Puebla.
“This dish was basically born because people buy or make corn tortillas, but after six days when you reheat them they won’t be soft. So, it’s best to fry them and from that process you get tostadas.”
3. Bhel puri in India
In western countries, we might serve hors d’oeuvres or appetizers at a party or before a meal, but in India they’re all about chaat (savoury snacks). Bhel puri is one of the more delicious types of chaat – a plate of puffed rice, vegetables and a chutney. It’s vegetarian-friendly, packed flavour and impossible to stop at just one.
Saurabh Joshi, an Intrepid Travel leader from India, says that the best place to eat Bhel puri is Mumbai.
“Bhel puri is a popular street food; it literally does not belong in a restaurant! My best memories of Bhel puri are getting it from the street vendors in the evening in Mumbai and sitting by the sea gazing at the crowds as they pass by.”
4. Briouats in Morocco
Who doesn’t love a good pastry? A Moroccan briouat comes in two different varieties – sweet or savoury, so no matter what you’re in the mood for, a briouat has you covered.
The savoury filo pastry parcels are often stuffed with chicken, seafood or cheese and wrapped in a triangular shape, before being fried or baked. However, if you’re a bit of a sweet tooth, the almond and honey variety, sprinkled with powdered sugar, might be more your scene.
Intrepid’s Morroco Operations Managers, Redouane El Mouatasim and Abdellah Bouraihan, say that briouats can be found in almost every Moroccan city (excluding southern parts, desert and mountains) and are pretty easy to make.
“In our Morocco Real Food Adventure, we take our groups to try briouats in Casablanca and Fes.”
5. Bulgogi lettuce wraps in South Korea
Super simple and very tasty, bulgogi lettuce wraps consist of succulent, marinated meat (usually beef or pork) wrapped in a green lettuce leaf. Depending on which part of South Korea you’re visiting, the dish will vary slightly, but Daniel Gray, Intrepid Travel’s local Korean Operations Manager, says an authentic rendition should be cooked in a copper pan with wood charcoal underneath.
“Bulgogi means fired meat and the original version was called neolbiani. The flavouring and seasonings are used to tenderise the meat, while fortifying leaner cuts of meat with fermented sauces and rich oils.
“It’s served inside a lettuce leave with a dab of ssamjang bean paste and a slice of raw garlic. This creates a delightful combination of fresh, cooked and fermented tastes while also being easy for the body to digest.”
Daniel’s recommendations for the best places for bulgogi:
- Seoul Yetmat Bulgogi near Gwangheungchang station in Seoul
- Sariwon Bulgogi in Gangnam
- Woolae Oak by Euljiro 3ga in Seoul
Want to eat your way around the world? Sounds like a Real Food Adventure should be on the (travel) menu – it’s one part culture, one part adventure and three parts delicious.
Feature image (of delicious and VERY moreish pani puri in India) by Mirae Campbell.