8 of the best food cities around the world — and what to eat when you get there

May 17, 2020

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I’ve been traveling the world since I was six, thanks to my father’s 30-year career as an U.S. Air Force officer. Because of this, I’ve developed quite an appetite for global foods, from spicy goldfish (not the crackers) in Indonesia to brigadeiros in Brazil

So here’s a question: Why fly around the world for travel and then go straight to somewhere like McDonald’s to eat? For me, half the fun of travel is trying out local flavors and cuisines, since I’m also about taking in what the locals eat — and drink. Below are some of my favorite foodie cities around the world — and what I eat when I’m there.

Related reading: You can now make these fan-favorite secret recipes from Disney, Hilton and more at home

Singapore

The street food concession at Singapore
The street food concession at Singapore’s Changi Airport. (Photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Points Guy)

In February 1994, I took my first major international trip since living in Brussels in the mid-1970s. I went to Singapore to cover the Singapore Air Show. Back then, the Internet was in its primitive stages, so I bought a “Lonely Planet” guide to get an idea of what I would do in my off time. I’ve always been a big foodie, so I wanted to check out what was available locally.

Singapore is a very modern city that nearly had its ethnicity beaten out of it after decades of British colonial rule. The city is clean, modern and efficient.  Unfortunately, it looks like any large north American city, and the restaurant scene is full of familiar U.S. food brands. But lucky for me, Lonely Planet pointed me to the famous Singaporean food courts, which focus on local cuisine and delicacies in a basic setting at amazingly reasonable prices.

My boss wanted to have dinner at TGIFriday’s that first night we arrived. I demurred, saying I could go to TGI any day of the week at home. But how often was I going to have the chance to eat foods from China, Malaysia, Indonesia and Indian, sometimes fused together?

I enjoyed Singaporean food including chili crabs, left, and pork dumplings, right. (Photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Points Guy)
I enjoyed Singaporean food including chili crabs, left, and pork dumplings, right. (Photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Points Guy)

Some of the dishes I still remember include chili crab, fishball noodles, hor fun (flat wide noodles in gravy, served with beef, chicken or seafood), shark’s fin and satay bee hoon (chicken, beef or shrimp skewers served on a bed of rice vermicelli). The servers are very helpful in navigating the dishes, some of which might be a bit much for some American palates. Alcohol tends to be expensive, so we all just drank Tiger Beer, which wasn’t bad, although I’m not much of a beer drinker.

Paris

My daughter enjoying escargot during a Christmas trip to Paris. (Photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Points Guy)
My daughter enjoying escargot during a Christmas trip to Paris. (Photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Points Guy)

I love Paris, and have been many times for work and play. One time, I had a wonderful meal from Michelin-starred chef Guy Savoy — and at a fraction of the price of his usual expensive restaurants. I ate at a tiny six-table bistro called Les Bouquinistes across the street from his flagship restaurant, where, on that night, Savoy himself was running across the street between the two eateries, cooking in both kitchens. He visited each table and praised us for being so smart by eating at his little bistro with the smaller price tag.

Other things I enjoy in the City of Lights are a comforting bowl of cassoulet, escargot with crusty French bread and warm croissants from a local patisserie and a cup of coffee with hot milk to wash it down — along with all the great wines and cheeses available.

Related reading: 10 airport restaurants so good you won’t want to leave the terminal

Stockholm

Toast Skagen is made with poached shrimp, dill mayo, salmon roe, fennel salad and brown butter brioche. (Photo By Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Toast Skagen is made with poached shrimp, dill mayo, salmon roe, fennel salad and brown butter brioche. (Photo By Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post/Getty Images)

I traveled to Sweden several times in the 1990s. Yes, you can get delicious Swedish meatballs, but the cuisine goes way above what’s served in your local Ikea. I fell in love with reindeer, especially a leg loin with a lingonberry sauce. Toast Skagen is a yummy bite of prawns, whitefish roe, Dijon mustard, mayonnaise and fresh dill on bread. I’m also crazy for gravlax served with mustard sauce and filled potatoes. I did not, however, develop a taste for pickled herring. 

Everything is served with Aquavit (similar to vodka), Sweden’s national drink.

Sao Paulo

(Photo by Paulo Vilela/Shutterstock)

Because I covered the regional aviation industry, I spent more than my fair share of time in Brazil, home to aircraft manufacturer Embraer. The national dish is feijoada, a wonderful stew of black beans, beef and pork cuts. It is served with white rice and is eaten with your choice of farofa (made of toasted cassava flour and is similar to corn meal), pork rinds, bananas, fried collard greens and Brazilian pepper sauce. I couldn’t get enough of cajuzinho, a sweet treat made of finely chopped or ground peanuts, condensed milk, sugar, and cocoa powder, molded into a cashew shape and rolled in sugar.

And of course, you must drink Brazil’s national drink, the caipirinha. It’s made with cachaça (Brazilian rum) and two limes, muddled with sugar served over ice (I make a mean one).

Munich & Berlin

Black Forest. (Photo by Indypendenz/Shutterstock)

I made several trips to Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, near Munich, to visit the now-defunct aircraft manufacturer Fairchild-Dornier. I also spent time in Berlin when I worked for Rolls-Royce North America. I love a good Wiener schnitzel with potatoes. Sauerbraten with sauerkraut and spaetzle, Kartoffelpuffer (shallow pan-fried pancakes) and a slice of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, a Black Forest cherry torte.

My trip to Oberpfafenhofen was never complete without a visit to Kloster Andechs, a monastery where the monks’ vocation is to make beer. Again, I’m not a big beer drinker, but this beer, coupled with the sausages, also made by the monks, was a meal that could become a vocation.

Seoul

In September 2017, I took my second trip to Seoul, South Korea, for a series of stories I was doing on the city’s efforts to bring in more conventions and meetings. Usually on these press trips, they will do a local meal or two, but stick with Western foods — but not on this trip.

Part of my Korean temple food meal at Sanchon in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Points Guy)
Part of my Korean temple food meal at Sanchon in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Points Guy)

On my first trip, I ate at a hidden jewel of a restaurant called Sanchon. Owned and operated by a former Buddhist monk, it’s known for serving vegan Korean temple food. I’m probably one of the biggest carnivores on the face of the earth, so I was highly suspicious about an all-vegetarian menu.

However, the meal was fantastic. We sat on the floor, and our server brought a series of dishes in small bowls nestled in baskets, and each one was delicious, and all served with a wonderful green tea. Other meals I enjoyed were a traditional Korean table barbecue, Galbi (short ribs grilled in a sweet soy marinade), Bibimbab (the one served on Korean Air is simply delicious), Kimchi jjigae (kimchi stew) and hotteok, a pancake filled with a cinnamon nut filling.

Fresh seafood from the XXX. (Photo by Benét J. Wilson)
Fresh seafood from the Noryangjin Fish Market in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Points Guy)

A highlight of my second trip was a visit to the Noryangjin Fish Market, home to hundreds of stalls selling the freshest seafood. After taking a tour, we were allowed to choose our seafood, which was rolled upstairs to the restaurant and prepared. We had fresh jumbo prawns, sea urchin, king crab, scallops, fresh fish and baby octopus. Of course, you drink this and most Korean food with soju, a rice liquor that comes in different flavors (citrus is my favorite).

The Algarve, Portugal

Being situated in a warmer climate off the Atlantic Ocean, it’s understandable that the food from here is what needs to be eaten. From the sea, you want to eat Carabineros (scarlet prawns), Portuguese razor clams cooked in olive oil and garlic, seafood cataplana (like paella without the rice), Queijo Serra da Estrela (a type of soft cheese) and Pastel de nata (sweet custard egg tarts).

Fun fact: Out of the 27 Michelin-star restaurants in Portugal, seven of them are in The Algarve. I ate one of the great meals of my life at Bon Bon, at the time led by Chef Rui Silvestre, who became the youngest chef in Portugal to earn a Michelin star in 2015. The restaurant uses the bounty of The Algarve for dishes including loin of lamb served with eggplant, yogurt and mint, roasted sea bass with onions, peppers and tomatoes and veal loin with turnip, watercress and hazelnuts. For dessert, you might try fresh plums with gin, juniper and verbena.

Bottom line

So when you’re planning that next international trip, take a quick surf on the Internet and see what’s what in local cuisine at your final destination. Food is a key part of the journey and you’ll really miss out if you stick with restaurants you can easily visit when you’re at home.

I’d love to know some of the great places you’ve frequented when traveling internationally!

Related reading: Take a trip around the country with these famous foods delivered straight to your door

Featured photo by Aaron Massarano / Getty Images.

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