God Save The Points offered 19 food experiences you need to have before you die. I agree with many – though not all – of his list and would add my own.
I’ve been known to take a trip just for a meal, like when I flew to Barcelona just to have dinner at El Bulli when that was the toughest reservation in the world. It also involved a two hour train ride. Ferran Adria more than lived up to the hype!
But I’m not sure I’d fly to Singapore for the chili crab – though I’d go for the food – and not sure a hop across The Pond makes sense for an authentic British afternoon tea. Corn masa tacos aren’t my number one go-to in Mexico.
So here’s what I suggest, along with some comments on Gilbert’s excellent list.
- Central Texas Barbecue Not just barbecue “In The Southern USA” the barbecue you want for one meal is going to be in Central Texas. That means a focus on meat – beef, mostly – without sauce or sauce merely for dipping. The meat should be delicious enough on its own, and you don’t want to hide that flavor. After my first barbecue pilgrimage a decade ago I finally understood.
Any of the places on the Texas Monthly top 50 list will be good, but this year’s list has sadly gone off the rails with its rankings.
- Tokyo Sushi. I’d argue that a trip to Tokyo just for sushi makes good sense – and not just Japan, the concentration of outstanding places in Tokyo itself matters because (1) the competition is intense, (2) the cluster of top places leads to a highly-developed supply chain providing access to the best fish, and (3) a customer base that understands the nuances of quality and demands it of the best chefs.
- Bangkok Street Food GSTP says Thai curry but I’d broaden it. Bangkok has some of the best street food in the world.
- Singapore Hawker Centers not just chili crab. I’ve always enjoyed East Coast Lagoon Village even though their stalls haven’t have the single best representation of any one dish. Open air, outdoor, by the water it makes for an incredible evening trying numerous Southeast Asian dishes. You can look up reviews for the best places on a site like Open Rice, or just turn up at a hawker center and go stand in the longest line. Great food, cheap, and convenient to numerous other great things to try.
- Do a Malaysia food tour, wherever you are in the country. I think Gilbert’s piece is good, but the word ‘Malaysia’ only comes up once and there only in the context of Nasi Goreng in Indonesia. Don’t get me wrong, I love good Nasi Goreng, and it becomes my go-to on my first night in Southeast Asia in the middle of the night if I’m up in my hotel and jetlagged.
But any list like this needs to do a deeper dive on Malaysia – both Kuala Lumpur and the suburbs, but Penang in particular as well.
Prawn Mee Soup
- Should afternoon tea be here? Gilbert lists doing a U.K. afternoon tea. I’ve just never been that much of a fan of the food, though the proper pageantry of it all may be of interest to some. And if you want over the time, perhaps tea at the Burj al Arab in Dubai? They put gold flecks in the cappuccino.
- Coffee and breakfast in Australia Hmm. Melbourne is an incredible food city, and there’s a terrific coffee culture in parts of Australia – though that’s something you’ll find in many parts of Asia as well. Some of my favorite meals have been in Australia, but oddly not my favorite breakfasts. My first meal at Tetsuya in Sydney 16 years ago was revelatory!
Oriole Cafe & Bar at the Pan Pacific off Orchard Road
- Corn Masa Tacos In Mexico I’ll take tamales over tacos myself, and hone in on the subtleties of a great mole aged for several years. Regardless, I’m thrilled to see Mexico on this list.
- Pastry in France. Truly, and baked goods generally and chocolate as well. There’s an artistry and a drive towards perfection, not merely production of a commodity product, that you can find if you seek it out. There’s really no reason ever to eat a baguette again after you’ve tried a competition-winning one in France.
- Dosa in India? I guess so, but I have actually found that some of the best restaurants in India are in hotels (one of my favorites is Souk at the Taj Palace, Mumbai) and that some of the best Chinese restaurants are in India.
Roti in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia
- Jamon Y Queso In Spain? Tapas generally, sure, and Barcelona in particular is an amazing food city. I wouldn’t make the trip on this basis alone personally, but if you do then spend your time as far from Las Ramblas as possible.
Maybe the most important thing is to discover local foods wherever you are, and bring a little bit of your understanding back home. I think my absolute favorite way to eat fruits and vegetables is covered in sugar and hot sauce (Sri Lanka). And my favorite dishes to cook are Thai chicken and cashew nuts and Tom Yam Goong.
And the truth is I’m equally happy with a plate of kottu and a falooda as I am at the top restaurants in the world, as long as each represents a chef at the top of their craft, combining their unique knowledge, cultural understanding, and the right ingredients prepared and served in the most thoughtful way possible.
Pho Hoa in Saigon, to me, is just as good as Amber in Hong Kong (though all things equal I’d prefer Bo Innovation). It’s all about enjoying the effort and the ritual, the precision, and the strive for perfection no mater what the meal.