Pack your bag and go – my top 5 travel & food destinations
Around the world
Travelling the world is one of my Raison d’être, no secret about it. Sometimes I wonder why I started a food blog when I love travelling so much and I have been touring the world since I was 8. My first transatlantic trip was with my family to a very exotic place that back in the 70s’ required many plane changes and refuelling stop: Thailand. Today, I have to pick and choose where to go given the reduced amount of time I have to dedicate to my favourite past time (as a job is a necessary mean to support such a passion).
Holidays are thus split between family time in Italy (which sometimes I don’t even consider ‘travelling’) and more exotic destinations where another of my fixations can be experienced (scuba diving, that is). Often, in such locations, I can also fulfill my known love of good food. So thank you, Into the F World, for nominating me to write about my top 5 food travel destinations. Here they are in no particular order:
I first visited the Merlion’s city on honeymoon 12 years ago and fell in love immediately. Clean, tidy, with public transport that runs like clock work and a great mix of old and new, I never tire of visiting and I have been lucky to stop over many times since. I love staying in the more traditional areas like Chinatown or Little India, with their beautifully restored townhouses, buzzing and busy evenings and quirky shops; there are plenty of boutique hotels to choose from, avoiding the huge chains: one of my favourite is the New Majestic.
The food here is also a great mix of influences, from the Chinese heritage to Malay and Indian heritage, and what is known locally as Nyonya food. Spices, colours and flavours bursting in many amazing dishes such as Prawn Laksa, Black Pepper crayfish, Chili crab. Singapore has a few food courts (found in most of South East Asia), the most famous (and touristy) being Lau Pa Sat by the financial district but also many interesting local restaurants. On our most recent visit, we had a great dinner at the Blue Ginger where I tried for the first time Buah Keluak, an odd and strangely tasting black nut used to flavour Peranakan dishes. Needless to say, I loved it.
For those wishing to have a more westernised experience (it can happen!), then there are plenty of chefs from all over the world that have opened up shop here, including our very own Jason Atherton with not one but a bunch of places from fine dining (Pollen) to deli (Keong Saik Snack). I could write plenty more, so if you are curious, read my dedicated post on Singapore here.
Well there has to be an Italian place, right? Cilento is where we travel each summer and have been doing so since I was 2. I consider this area a second home. I describe it as ‘similar to the Amalfi coast but more beautiful and rugged’. Around two hours south of Napoli, Cilento has green, gently sloped mountains, gorges, caves and old villages overlooking the Mediterranean sea in the Gulf of Salerno.
During the summer it gets packed with holiday makers (mostly Italians) but come mid September, it returns to its sleepy day to day life. It is here than Ancel Keys studied and ‘discovered’ the benefits of what is now called the Mediterranean Diet. Genuine produce like extra virgin olive oil, local pulses and vegetables and a low use of red meat make locals healthier than the national average, particularly in terms of heart disease. So when we go, we make the most of it! Mozzarella from Paestum is famous world wide and has protected status. Wine from the region has some very good labels and grape variety, while locally caught fish such as anchovies and prawns are always found on local restaurants’ menus. Handmade pasta and hearty meaty ragout sauces are typical of the hillside places (amazing meals are enjoyed at Castello di Morigerati), as well as cheeses and handmade salami (Cellitto produces some of the best). Something like fine dining is also found particularly in the main centres (for example in Scario or Sapri) but overall the food is cheaper than many other Italian holiday locations and incredibly genuine and authentic. For more on Cilento, I have published a post here.
3. San Francisco
I went back to San Francisco last year after a gap of over ten years and it was love at second sight. It’s an incredible lively city with lots to offer and lots to try. Influences from Central America are strong, but then there’s something for everyone. From Italian restaurants to hipster coffee joints, I tried to make the most of my very short week often with the help of friends and colleagues.
I tried S’mores for the first time (million calories fun dessert made of marshmallows and chocolate); I had some of the best soft tortillas outside of Mexico (at Mamacita); I loved sitting in the bright sunshine having healthy ‘work lunches’ by the city pier and buying lots of trendy chocolate (in particular from Tchao). Then in the Mission (Valencia and Mission) we visited some more cool places, from el Porteno (Argentinian tapas) to Italian fine dining. There was just so much to do, and we did not even scratch the surface. Another visit will be necessary, to at least try one of the Michelin starred places (I have my eyes set on Coi). I covered San Francisco here.
I returned to Thailand a couple of times after my aforementioned very first trip. Our last visit was in Bangkok and we were lucky enough to book a tour guide for a private day tour and well, she was so lovely and she was really into food. She took us to some touristy destinations of course, but her interest was food. From the salt sellers on the road out of the city, to the student haunt she took us to for lunch (no tourists in sight), it was a worthwhile choice. We visited the famous ‘train market’ and she made us try loads of local food, explaining what each was and how to eat it. Amazingly, this had no consequences on our western tummies.
I even drank an ice tea straight from a plastic bag with plenty of ice and sugar. She was incredibly nice and I would recommend her to anyone who is keen to find out more about the local culinary experience (her name was Nook and I found her contact on Trip Advisor of all places). What I also really liked in Bangkok was the breakfast at our hotel. Sounds silly I know, but the breakfast at the Como hotel, while expensive (around £20 per person) was memorable and one of the best I have ever had. And no, we did not try Nahm. Reason to go back!
I did not like Morocco. Well, ok, it is not that I did not like it, but I found it extremely stressful, and after a week there, I needed a holiday! Still, it is a fascinating country and I am sure it has a lot to offer. In a week, we visited Marrakesh, the Atlas mountains and seaside Essaouira.The food was an interesting part of our week there, ranging from the more tourist-like cafes on the main square (with plenty of beggars coming up to our table) to the small and super busy sandwich cafe des Epices in the souk, which we loved so much we went back on the last day. We enjoyed some good cous cous and tajine often until, on the last evening, we had had really enough (and it was at a smart restaurant which was incredibly expensive).
We tried the fishermen’s shacks at Essaouira, with pooing seagulls circling over our heads and fish guts all around us; we enjoyed some fantastic goat cheese, raisins and argan oil in lesser known cafes in the old town’s walls; we loved our breakfasts at Riad Menzeh, the loveliest of places right in the centre of the souk. We had great roasts and lamb skewers in the mountains, where the snow was just about to melt and the sun was shining bright. Morocco was a good place to visit at least once and the food definitely a good part of its charme.