When I think about some of my all-time favorite travel memories, they tend to be a mashed-up combination of sensory experiences: incredible sights, riotous colors, distinctive sounds. Above all, they include food.
Whether it’s sitting down for an haute cuisine 3-hour dinner or grabbing a filling local delicacy to go, meals can certainly play a starring role in your vacation memories. I’ve been fortunate enough to dine on five continents so far. Here, I’ve recreated 14 of my absolute favorite meals I’ve savored away from home.
1. Confit De Canard, Paris
My husband and I visited Paris when I was 28 weeks along with our son. There were some French favorites I could not consume; unpasteurized cheeses and wine were sadly out. But fear not: I certainly ate well, especially since I was eating for two.
One evening, we went to a small, elegant café, and I knew exactly what I wanted the moment I opened the menu: confit de canard, or duck confit. The iconic French dish, served at many upscale Parisian restaurants, did not disappoint. The duck, cooked until beyond tender in its own fat and perfectly seasoned with plenty of salt, pepper, and herbes de Provence, was rich and decadent. I gobbled bit every bit of the meat and the baby potatoes served underneath. Even now, every time I’m lucky enough to be served duck, it takes me right back to that little café in that magical city.
2. Cardamom Tea And Biscuits, Mumbai
Sometimes, a memorable meal doesn’t have to be a multi-course dinner. Very often, if you find yourself in a completely new place – with new friends – even tea and biscuits can make the top of your “best meal” list. That was certainly the case in Mumbai, where I spent an afternoon shopping for mementos to take home. I also happened to be extremely jet-lagged, having arrived late the night before. The shop-owners noticed I was exhausted (and also famished!), so as my purchases were wrapped, they invited me to enjoy a cup of tea. It was simple – steeped cardamom pods with cinnamon – but delicious. Paired with a couple of crisp, sweet biscuits and plenty of snappy conversation, this was more than enough for a meal I’ll never forget.
3. Chicken Paprikash, Budapest
Eastern Europe is known for its hearty, flavorful cuisine. And when we traveled to the wonderful city of Budapest a few years back, I knew I wanted to try one of Hungary’s best-known dishes. The chicken paprikash was as wonderful as I had hoped. I held off on ordering it until the last evening of our trip, when we visited a small café just around the corner from St. Stephen’s Church. The leg quarter was stewed in a rich sauce flavored with paprika, butter, and sour cream and served over tiny, fluffy dumplings. I’m still dreaming of this dish!
4. Jazz Brunch, Commander’s Palace, New Orleans
I was lucky enough to live in south Louisiana for several years when I began my career, and when I return to New Orleans to visit, I try to make it to jazz brunch at Commander’s Palace. This spot’s been a landmark in the city’s lovely Garden District since 1893; locals and visitors alike adore its crawfish bread, gumbo, and turtle soup. Jazz brunch is a riotous spectacle, with the restaurant’s most-loved dishes on offer while a band serenades. I’ve even seen a second line break out during the event over the years. If you can’t get to Mardi Gras, this is a great alternative.
5. Dal And Naan, New Delhi, India
Indian food is beautiful in its nuance, use of spice, and cooking techniques. One of my favorite meals ever was a beautiful multi-course in New Delhi wherein two of India’s staple dishes were the stars. Dal is a homey, hearty dish – lentils simmered with spices including ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and cumin. Naan is the flatbread made with yogurt that’s used to scoop up all that deliciousness. I loved the combo so much I stashed spiced in my luggage so I could recreate this simple but incredible dish once I got home.
6. Dinner On The Orient-Express
Hands down, I will never, ever forget our black-tie dinner on the Orient-Express. We had boarded in Venice and overnighted through to London. Best we could tell, we were somewhere in Switzerland when our butler lightly rapped on our cabin door to summon us for dinner. The dining car, draped in rich velvet and high-polished wood, was gorgeous. We sat with a fascinating couple from London and feasted on a sumptuous four-course dinner while a piano quietly played in the corner. It was a magical night centered around a perfect meal.
7. Lobster Bake On The Beach, Martha’s Vineyard
When a dear friend held her destination wedding on Martha’s Vineyard, I knew I had to make the trek there. From the charming setting and thoughtful touches to the beautiful garden ceremony itself, it was truly an unforgettable weekend. One highlight: the rehearsal dinner, an authentic lobster bake right on the beach. The locally sourced lobsters were steamed to perfection with corn, potatoes, and plenty of spicy seasoning. We all donned our obligatory bibs, ate to our hearts’ content, and watched a brilliant sunset. Throw in the celebratory vibe, and you’ll understand why this ranks up there as a best-ever meal.
8. Kabritu Stoba, Curacao
I love to stretch my palate while on vacation, and that was certainly the case in Curacao. This island nation, colonized by the Dutch, still maintains a distinct Creole vibe. When we visited, I knew I wanted to try kabritu stoba — or goat stew. It’s a famous dish that makes delicious use of the goats that roam freely (or run rampant, depending on who you ask) on the island. I grabbed a bowl at a food hall frequented by locals in downtown Willemstad. The goat was tender and slightly gamey, the stew thick, hearty, and perfect with a side of island beans and rice.
9. Simit Sandwiches, Istanbul
A highlight of our trip to Istanbul was visiting the famed Blue Mosque. However, we were in a bit of a hurry and hadn’t eaten a full breakfast. Good thing for the simit stands ringing the perimeter of the mosque. We grabbed two of the thin, bagel-like rings, requested they be split in half and smeared with cream cheese and jam, and voila! We had the perfect on-the-go meal, polished off while queued up to see one of the world’s wonders. Perfection.
10. Power-Up Breakfast, Outside Quito, Ecuador
We were determined to explore Cotopaxi, the active volcano near Quito, during our trip to Ecuador. Our guide picked us up early, and we knew breakfast was included in our tour. We stopped off at a tiny dusty café in a small village on the way and were the only customers. We were not disappointed, as we were served yogurt-laced pancakes sprinkled with granola, fresh tropical fruit, thick white bread smeared with preserves, and incredible Ecuadorian coffee. It was the perfect fuel-up for an action-packed, memorable day that saw us ascend to base camp. I was quite thankful for all of those breakfast carbs!
11. Biang Biang Noodles, Xi’an
China is famed for its dumplings, buns, and perhaps above all, noodles. And when I visited Xi’an, several people told me I needed to sample the city’s biang biang, or belt noodles. Hand-pulled and wide (as a belt!), these wheat dough noodles are served in enormous bowls of broth with spicy sauce on the side that can be adjusted to your liking. I watched the noodles being made on the spot in the city’s square and polished them off in a communal outdoor dining area. They had the perfect amount of chew, the broth fragrant and lovely – a definite comfort dish after a long day of travel.
12. Steamed Rockfish, Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos were an on-the-go blur for us. We stayed in Puerto Ayora and had snorkel trips scheduled each of our 3 days there. On the nights we got back too late – and too exhausted – for a sit-down dinner, we headed to Charles Binford Street and its Los Kiskos, an outdoor food-hall type of strip with picnic tables right in the center. One evening, we staggered up to a fishmonger, choose two of the most beautiful fresh-caught rockfish, then watched as they were rolled in banana leaves and steamed to perfection. We took our bounty to a table, paired it with a couple of local beers, and soaked up the ex-pat, adventurer atmosphere late into the night.
13. Mezes Platter, Rhodes, Greece
Sunshine, the sea, and a platter of beautiful food are what I remember most about beautiful Rhodes. We only had a short time there, as it was a port of call on a Mediterranean cruise. After a whirlwind of sightseeing, we settled into a seaside café for a quick bite before getting back on the ship. We ordered mezes and a light white Greek wine. The tang of the taramasalata on pita, the salty brine of the local olives, and of course, the creamy locally-made feta, made for the perfect meal on the Med.
14. Cream Tea, London, England
Last but not least, I have to tell you about the wonderfully quirky Café in the Crypt at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church in London, just steps from Trafalgar Square. The cafe serves up delicious, fairly-priced food, but I particularly love their cream tea service, including scones, clotted cream, and jam … plenty to qualify for a meal. This spot is the perfect place to take a break from the city’s hustle and bustle, which I’ve done on numerous occasions. And where else can you eat in a historic crypt? It’s more fascinating than creepy, I promise!