The World’s Best Food Experiences To “Try Before You Die’

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.

    Franklin Barbecue

  • 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 singapore
    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.

    I’ve certainly eaten great food in Chennai but overall I prefer Sri Lankan food and is it odd to say I’ve often preferred Indian food in Malaysia?

    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.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Tokyo sushi (the good restaurants in Ginza not the tourist trap garbage at the fish market) is the most overpriced in the country. For those prices you can eat pretty similarly in the states. I’ve found Tokyo sushi to be unmemorable compared to the smaller cities with their local specialties.
    You can find Nodoguro/Akamutsu in Tokyo or NYC but it’s $100 a pound. But it is only caught on the east coast of Japan and mostly consumed there and sold for reasonable prices. It’s everywhere when in season and maybe the best sushi fish in the world. Paired with the local sake which is basically the Bordeaux region for Sake of Japan. In the south Fukuoka has some some interesting specialties during different times of year. And top restaurants in smaller cities aren’t charging you mega prices so they feel more comfortable giving you delicacies that aren’t necessarily insanely expensive like LeatherJacket Fish with liver sauce etc. Things you are less likely to find in the US. In general Tokyo is a great city for shopping (especially men’s wear) and a great city for eating the best European/foreign food in Japan. For Japanese food it famously stinks.

  2. I’d argue that there is good food to be had just about everywhere you go, it’s just a matter of finding it. That’s a lot easier now with things like Google Maps, Yelp, TripAdvisor, The Fork, etc. Don’t be afraid to try things that just look good. Don’t just hit the name places, sometimes the up and comers are less crowded, cheaper, and just try harder. As a general rule, local clientele good, tourists (especially foreign tourists) not so good. Order the local specialty, at least certainly order what you can’t get at home, but don’t order what you can’t stomach or eat within your own ethics, though I’d argue that some people’s food limits really restrict their ability to enjoy a place. Still, I’m not eating live monkey brains, dog, or rectum. Also, travel outside of the big known cities, but a place large enough to have a food scene – small towns and cities in Spain, France, and Italy will blow you away with what the local dive can come up with, and they’ll be more than proud to have an outsider let the world know what they can do.

  3. Gary.

    Back in the day on Flyertalk, folks did the Singapore turn (land at 2355 and depart at 0700) for chili crabs. Cough cough. This gathering still takes place in January.

  4. @Gary: ” is it odd to say I’ve often preferred Indian food in Malaysia?”

    No. 10% of the Malaysian poppulation is of Indian sub-continetal origin. 30% Chinese, 60% Malay.

    Also, Indian chefs say the best Indian food is in London.

  5. @Gary: Drop the “central” from TX BBQ. It is out-of-date. All the Lockart (and other) favorites have spread to other cities in the state.Dallas now has a really strong representation, plus some locally-grown places.

  6. L3, Indian food in London is very good. One can go to the East End and eat where many sub-continent immigrants eat and it’s not expensive at all. Then, there are the fashionable spots in Mayfair that are just as good but 10x the price.

    Afternoon tea originated at Brown’s Hotel in London. As Gary says, afternoon tea (anywhere) is more about the experience than the food itself. More fun than yum.

    Speaking of French pastry, try out a fresh warm chocolate croissant from Pret a Manager. Words can’t describe. My French cousins are impressed.

  7. @Gary: I didn’t say it was just Lockart (see “and other”). Lockart is just the greatest concentration of notable places in the state.

    My point can be expressed as there is no longer any reason for someone in Dallas to go to Austin for BBQ. Also, someone from Dallas is going to find other genres of cuisine more worthwhile when visiting Austin. E.g. a visit to Garrison.

  8. “Pintxos in San Sebastian is a must”

    Pintxos in San Sebastian violates every rule I stated above – overrun with loud, obnoxious, usually drunk, foreign tourists. I found Bilbao had a much better food scene, at least during tourist season, although the vermouth hour in San Sebastian was really good, but perhaps that was because I was outside the tourist district or tourists don’t know the vermouth secret yet. Do as the locals do, not the tourists.

  9. I love this post. Bookmarking it for future travels.

    The Parisian chocolates look like like Jacques Genin ..?

    Tokyo sushi is on the top of my list. And I have to agree with you about Central TX BBQ.

    Thanks for this … Happy new year!

  10. I flew to Chongqing, Sichuan Province, PRC, just to experience, after a long hiatus, authentic Sichuan “hot pot”…

  11. Quintonil > Pujol. No question about it.

    And while you’re in the Polanco neighborhood, El Turix has arguably the best cochinita pibil in the world.

  12. Pretty sure the skyview bar in Dubai isn’t doing afternoon tea anymore. They didn’t have it months ago when I was there and I don’t see it now either.

  13. @Gary- I see the Jacques Genin picture. I hope you’ve had the mango passion carmels. World’s best.

  14. I have done all of these except the Central Texas BBQ. With that experience I call BS on this list which seems more like a paid promo placement. Australian breakfasts are you freakin kidding me? I will take a fresh croissant from a Paris bakery any day, not to mention a breakfast buffet at a luxury hotel in Eastern Europe.

    IMO the only meal really worth a trip is the sushi in Japan.

  15. @Christian – I tend not to love traditional Western breakfast food so much (though the Park Hyatt Paris breakfast is great). I’m happiest with more of a brunch, plus great coffee. How about unlimited soup dumplings at the Park Hyatt Shanghai? I guess what I’m saying is I’m not a big enough breakfast guy to have a thoughtful opinion that will transfer well to others on that question.

  16. @C_M: We were in San Sebastian in December, and it was very much not overrun. Except during the festival, where it seemed like nothing but locals. Lots of fun.

    @Ryan: El Turix is mind blowing.

  17. @Gary. Just because you live in AUS doesn’t mean the only good BBQ is in AUS. When I lived in Houston, I’d frequent Carls BBQ in Weiser. Beats the pants off of Hard8 in Coppell (Dallas). However, compared to Chicago where I am, either of those locations are gold mines.

    Secondly, how can you POSSIBLY talk about Singapore and NOT mention Chicken and Rice. Years ago I non-rev’d to SIN to visit and 2 weeks later went back simply for the Chicken and Rice meal to bring my Girlfriend to try.

    Regarding your Japan restaurants. Yes, Japan does have some incredible places to eat and even more diversity in it’s quality than a non-experienced tourist can process. I will agree that Tsukiji will always have a tourist alure to it. But, there are legit good restaurants there! Even Sushi ZanMai is good. And the prices were reasonable. And, before someone goes and ‘blasts’ me. Do know, I lived in Tokyo, well, Asakusa, for 3 years (ending in 2019) so I think I know the city and the food.

  18. Applebee’s in the USA. Serving the best in traditional processed food from microwave to table. They are so customer-focused they even pre-salt everything.

  19. @steve – I do not suggest that Austin has the only good barbecue, just that if you’re looking for truly peak barbecue experiences there are just a handful beyond Austin. I get Hard8 if you’re near the airport and want barbecue but it shouldn’t be in this discussion.

  20. The Singapore Market is overrated, IMHO. Especially the chicken place that e1 stands in line for.

  21. @Dan You confirm my suspicions – that San Sebastian is great when the mass of tourists aren’t there. Was there in early September and was overrun by drunken Brits. No problems in Bilbao, Santiago di Compostela, or surprisingly, Madrid. But Madrid is big enough to absorb a crowd, and we were going to offbeat places like a Canarian restaurant aiming for a Michelin star. Just did Paris and Alsace in December, mostly locals with the occasional tourist, will have to try San Sebastian again in the off season. Now that I’m not tied to school schedules, we’re starting to rediscover the joys of offseason travel.

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