We all know authentic Italian food is to die for, that the French can set a table, and that Pad Thai in Bangkok will knock your socks off. But there are plenty of countries that don’t come to mind when you think about world class cuisine, even though they should.
Here are 6 countries with surprisingly good food. With any luck, this article will make you hungry for travel.
The republic, not the state — although I’m sure they have good food in Atlanta as well. Georgia is a relatively small nation in the Caucasus, but its culinary traditions are ancient. Influenced by Eastern European and Middle Eastern culture, Georgia’s proximity to the old Silk Road also provided access to spices from far afield. Georgia also has one of the oldest viticulture practices on earth.
“I was surprised at how good the food (and wine) were in the Republic of Georgia,” says Fred Zalokar — mountain climber, marathon runner, and travel blogger at FredZalokar.com.
While every region in Georgia has its own idiosyncratic dishes, Fred has some overall recommendations. “The best thing we had was khachapuri, a bread dish with cheese and egg. It is one of the best things I’ve eaten anywhere in the world. Lobiani is a pastry pie filled with beans, and mtsvadi is their version of grilled meat on a stick. Last but not least are khinkali, traditional Georgian dumplings. You can get them filled with anything: mushrooms, ground beef, even potatoes. Yes, dumplings filled with potatoes!”
While Georgian meals tend to be meat-heavy, you will also find vegetarian options.
Croatia has really exploded as a tourist destination in recent years. The Adriatic has always been popular with yachters, but the walled Medieval city of Dubrovnik has become one of the most over-visited places on earth thanks to Game of Thrones.
What many people don’t know, however, is that Croatia has a rich and diverse food scene to offer visitors as well. Regionality is key here, since the country is, well, ahem Balkanized. Along the coasts, you’ll find the cuisine is heavily influenced by Italian and Greek sensibilities, while inland dishes tend to be more garlicky and traditionally Eastern European.
Terri Weir of Tumbleweed Tourists recommends the Börek — stuffed pastries — and notes that she had some great Italian (and Italianish) food in Croatia.
“They do interesting things with pizza (think tartar sauce),” she says, “and I had a sandwich there I wish I could duplicate. It had ham, sausages, boiled eggs and I can’t remember what else but it was fantastic. The bread in Croatia is amazing. And the cheese!”
Singapore is famous as an ultra-modern island/city/nation-state — and for some of its outlandish laws. As a city of immigrants, it offers a wide array of food options — from Southeast Asia, India, China, and elsewhere. And that’s a very good thing, because Singaporeans love food!
That probably goes some way to explaining why Singapore has some of the best casual dining in the world. If you’re looking for hot eats, hit up a hawker center — collections of food stalls sort of like food courts. The stalls serve up food influenced by Singapore’s vibrant street food culture.
Lea Cramer of Fine Dining on Discourse can’t recommend the hawkers strongly enough.
“You’d be surprised by how good the food is at a Singapore hawker stall,” she says. “The food is fresh, hot and there is something intrinsically fascinating about exploring native food. If you are in Singapore and find yourself at a hawker stall, check out all things ramen. You can get any kind of ramen for any sort of palate. Dozens of stalls put their own spin on their signature noodle bowls. It’s hard not to just eat your way from one stall to another.”
Scottish food is much maligned in the popular imagination, especially haggis (sheep’s innards minced and served wrapped in the animal’s stomach). But Carmen Edelson of Carmen’s Luxury Travel is here to defend highland cuisine.
“When people think of Scotland, I’m sure their food isn’t the first thing that comes to mind,” she says. “But I enjoyed amazing farm-to-table cuisine throughout the country. People really care about where their food comes from here.”
Traditional Scottish food is very much based on local produce, since importing foreign spices and foodstuffs was expensive, although there are also French and continental influences.
Carmen was particularly impressed by the fresh fish. “I’m also a fan of seafood so I loved all of the fresh salmon,” she says. “You haven’t lived until you’ve had scrambled eggs and smoked salmon for breakfast in Scotland!”
5. South Korea
Korean food isn’t quite as famous as that of some other Asian countries like Japan and China, but it’s extremely tasty. The traditional set up is a combination of rice with meats and vegetables. (If you’re a vegetarian, you’ll have just as much fun as your carnivorous friends.) The flavors are playful — ginger, red chili peppers, soy sauce, garlic — and kimchi (fermented cabbage or other veggies) is generally served alongside main dishes.
“Meals are prepared from fresh ingredients and chopped into bite-size pieces,” says Connie Pearson of There Goes Connie. “Seasonings are light. Every diner is given its own bowl of rice, then the other dishes are passed among the group while you sit on heated floors (after removing your shoes). Be sure to carry plenty of plastic forks in your bag if you’re not proficient with chopsticks. You might choose to pass on the octopus, but if you go in October, the pear apples are amazing. You won’t have to worry about heavy desserts. They seemed to me to be almost nonexistent.”
Portugal doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves for its cuisine. Both on account of its traditional eats and its concentration of high quality restaurants, this small Iberian country deserves more love from gourmet eaters. If you love fish, Portuguese food will definitely please you. (Being a maritime nation has its benefits!) Portugal also benefits from its former empire, which have injected its food with a wide range of spices and influences.
According to Cindy Baker of Travel Bliss Now, the must-visit Portuguese cities for food are Lisbon and Porto.
“The one thing you must have is a pastel de nata, a custard tart that was invented in a monastery,” she says. “Of course, you can’t eat just one… In Lisbon, most tourists line up at Belem, but my favourite is Manteigaria. It’s where the locals go. The fish is very fresh in all of the restaurants and you should also try the octopus. The food and wine are excellent and surprisingly affordable.”
Food for thought? We certainly hope so. There’s something to make your mouth water in every corner of the world.