One of the great joys of traveling is experiencing new and different food cultures. Whether it’s sampling street food or mingling with the locals at a neighborhood restaurant, you can really get to know a place by indulging in its cuisine. And if you’re a food lover, there’s no time like the present to do just that. Whittling down the world’s great food cities into a reasonable list is an arduous task, but someone had to do it. For those on the lookout for a top-notch dining destination, these are eight of the most exciting places to eat right now.
1. HONOLULU, HAWAII
As if the image of white sand beaches and technicolor sunsets weren’t enough to lure you to Hawaii, its food profile has increased significantly in recent years. Once known mostly for Spam and ‘50s-style faux luaus, Hawaii is embracing its melting pot influences to delicious effect. Honolulu is adopting food trucks, farm-to-table dining, and the microbrew trend in ways that leverage the access to tropical fruit, fresh fish, and the diverse combination of Hawaiian, pan-Asian, and European influences. Be sure to try fresh takes on classics like shave ice, tuna poke (marinated raw fish), and kalua pig (underground roasted pork).
Explore the neighborhoods of Chinatown and Waikiki for your choice of celebrity-owned restaurants or hole-in-the-wall stalls, with either equally capable of putting out delicious cuisine. And when you’ve had your fill, you can still enjoy a gorgeous sunset on the beach.
2. CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA
People may find it surprising to hear that Cape Town is not a new food city—it has been turning out innovative cuisine since the dawn of the spice trade in the 1600s. These days, however, diversity is the key descriptor of the Cape Town food scene. Spend your days eating your way through food markets, high-end eateries, street stalls, and innovative food trucks. Burn off your braai (South African barbecue) with a hike up Table Mountain (but be sure to celebrate your summit by clicking some flutes of sparkling sauvignon blanc from a local vineyard).
Whether you are tucking into some traditional African cuisine or challenging your palate to a tasting menu from world-famous Test Kitchen, Cape Town will spoil you with options.
3. OAXACA, MEXICO
Farm-to-table is not a buzz-word here, it’s a way of life. The local farmers that supply Oaxaca’s chefs should be proud that every chicken thigh, chili pepper, and squash flower is put to excellent use here. The region is most famous for its seven distinct moles, rich sauces that blanket main dishes and contain a laundry list of ingredients including cocoa and chilis. While some say you could live off the mole, make a point to branch out and try other local favorites like beef tamales, cheese and veggie-topped chilaquiles, and spicy fried grasshoppers.
For those who enjoy spirits, Oaxaca is mezcal paradise. Be sure to check out a few of the artisanal distilleries. And if you go overboard, there will be freshly roasted coffee or velvety hot cocoa waiting for you in the morning.
4. COPENHAGEN, DENMARK
You can find great food in Copenhagen, but the ambiance is what takes it up a notch. Seemingly every eatery is imbued with hygge—the untranslatable yet universally understood Danish word for coziness. In the summer, this means enjoying lagers and smørrebrød (open-faced sandwiches) under the magical glow of string lights in the outdoor wonderland of Tivoli Gardens. In the winter, it’s finding yourself in a candlelit basement as the wind swirls outside and you are served a tasting menu that includes delectable dishes like birch fired lamb loin with fennel and lovage, a green in the parsley family. Eating in the capital of New Nordic cuisine sometimes requires an adventurous spirit, but that’s part of the fun.
For those who don’t care to dine on tiny portions of reindeer moss with locally harvested sea buckthorn, you can still rent a bike and make your way around the city sampling as many fluffy pastries, street stall delicacies, and chocolate truffles as your heart desires.
5. TEL AVIV, ISRAEL
You don’t even need to go to a restaurant in Tel Aviv—walk the markets and become spellbound by the vibrant produce and impressive array of meats and fish. But hey, while you are there, you might as well experience the mind-blowing restaurant scene as well. The restaurants here are undeniably stylish, catering to taste-making locals as much as the tourists. You’ll find tiny courtyard cafes serving tahini-laced roasted eggplant and beach-front locales showcasing the ocean harvest with Mediterranean-inspired seafood dishes.
Most surprising is the treatment of vegan and vegetarian fare, which is so delicious that even the biggest meat-lover will swoon over a perfectly prepared curried head of cauliflower. If you’re lucky, a friendly local will take you to his or her favorite spots and then show you the best places to dance the night away, another favorite pastime of food-loving Tel Avivians.
6. HANOI, VIETNAM
Anthony Bourdain always made it clear to his audience that food does not need to be “fancy” to be respectable, delicious cuisine. This philosophy is demonstrated in his affinity for Vietnamese food, which is unfussy but deliriously complex. Hanoi is the spot to discover Vietnamese staples and also explore the result of French and Chinese influences in the cuisine. Plan to savor brothy pho, a noodle soup topped with fresh herbs, frequently. In fact, you can pull up a plastic stool and enjoy this ubiquitous food on just about every street corner. And you’ll want to because it’s delicious.
Even though you can eat like a king and never step foot in a restaurant, it is worth retreating inside one of the French colonial remnants that burst with ambiance to try French fusion or a creative cocktail.
7. JAIPUR, INDIA
Mumbai gets all the foodie glory these days, but you won’t be disappointed with the culinary spirit of this city nestled in the heart of Rajasthan state. Known for its creative use of spices and regal history, Jaipur features delicious Rajasthani cuisine can be found both on the street and in airy restaurants dotted throughout the Pink City. Along with your mango lassi (smoothie-like chilled yogurt), make sure to try gatta curry (gram flour dumplings in yogurt gravy) and a dal-baati-churma platter.
For dessert, grab a fresh-from-the fryer imarti from a street vendor. These bright orange pastries are made by squeezing vigna mungo flour dough into hot oil and then drenching them in syrup. The result? A gorgeous and scrumptious sweet treat that rivals even the best fair food.
8. NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
Beignets for breakfast, po-boys for lunch, and jazz all night. Need we say more? OK, a bit more should be said. Like that you should come hungry and prepare to leave town a couple pounds heavier—the grub in New Orleans is not for calorie counters. But those who arrive with an appetite will be well-rewarded with specialties that evoke the unique spirit of the city. Dine on locally caught crawfish and oysters on white table clothes or eat spicy Cajun gumbo family-style at a supper club.
Good music is around all year, so avoid the Mardi Gras crowds and come for the city’s year-long celebration of food, music, and tireless spirit.
-Written by Julia Rogers for RootsRated Media in partnership with Royal Robbins.
Featured image provided by Maria Eklind