When you’re traveling one of the best ways to acclimate to and enjoy the local culture is to stop by a restaurant that has a clientele of local diners rather than an overpriced, touristy spot. This is also a great way to discover new dishes that you’ve not before encountered or to enjoy one of your favorite dishes prepared slightly differently.
These are some of the dishes that, every time I see them on a menu, make me feel like I’m back where I first discovered them. Some are also different twists on some of my all-time favorites that I’ve taken to trying to recreate at home.
Mussels in the St. Julians, Malta
Malta is a tiny, island country with many Italian influences. Because it’s surrounded by the ocean, the seafood is always plentiful and fresh. Stepping into Paparazzi Bistro – St. Julian’s may be heading into a bit of a touristy restaurant but to me it doesn’t matter. The ‘Bring on Kevin’, mussels in a white wine, cream and parsley sauce, were so good that I had to back the next day as well. I’ve tried to create the cream sauce that these mussels are swimming in but have to succeed. Mussels also bring me right back to the Algarve to a little marina front restaurant in Praia Da Rocha.
Fish tacos in San Diego
If you’re like me the combination of fish and tacos doesn’t sound great. Until you try it. It’ll change your whole perspective on what proteins are acceptable in mexican food. The crispy, fried fish mixed up with a bit of crunchy cabbage and a dab of hot sauce is delicious. The best spot to grab a fish taco are World Famous in Pacific Beach. If you’re looking for cheap, try Rubios, a fast food Mexican restaurant that, at least used to, has $1 fish taco day once a week.
Lobster ravioli in Boston
Boston’s North End is still dedicated to Italian restaurants and coffee shops, many of which have been family owned for generations. Boston is also very well known for some seafood delicacies, particularly lobster, clam chowder and oyseters. Lucia brings together the Italian influences and access to New England lobsters with their lobster ravioli entree. I’ve tried a lot of lobster ravioli in my day, but their’s is the best, served with an incredible cream sauce you will are sure to be pleased with this dish.
Roast chicken in Munich, Germany
Most people go to Oktoberfest for the beer. I go for the chicken. I have no idea how they do it, but these rotisserie chickens at Oktoberfest, and in some restaurants like the Haufbrau Haus, are incredibly juicy and tender with a flavor that completely makes you rethink your previous opinion that chicken is boring. You’ve just been eating chicken prepared by the wrong people. Get to Munich and try the chicken.
Gnocchi in London, England
While gnocchi may not be a British dish, I cannot see it on a menu without thinking of the Waterway Restaurant in Maida Vale, London. A very light dish, the gnocchi is one of the restaurant’s specials that is not always on the menu, but when it is the gnocchi is an appetizer that is light and delicious.
Tortillas in Malaga
While I used to think a tortilla was only the flat bread used to wrap up Mexican food, my world was changed by the tortillas served at Dos Gatos in Malaga. It is a very laid back, relaxed bar directly in the center of the city. They also happen to have the absolute best tortillas I’ve ever encountered with a variety of options available, depending on your preferences.
Grilled squid in Croatia
Most areas of Croatia are within a few miles of the ocean, making seafood extremely accesible and reasonably priced in many restaurants. While in Split I fell in love with the grilled squid. Prepared very simply the dish was eye opening. Rather than how we typically serve squid in the US (deep fried and then covered in tartar sauce) you can actually enjoy the fresh, grilled taste of the seafood.
Queso fresco in Costa Rica
Another very simple food, which may not be an entire dish, which was great to discover is queso fresco. Served with every dish from breakfast through dinner, this very plain cheese always brings me immediately back to some of the small, out of the way restaurants in the middle of nowhere in Costa Rica. It’s a perfect meal with just a side of black beans.
Oysters in Cape Cod
When you’re in Cape Cod you have to have some sort of seafood, whether lobster, chowder, mussels or anything else. One food which immediately places me back in the Cape is oysters. Wellfleet, Cape Code, toward the end of the Cape near Provincetown is home to some of the world’s best oysters.
Lasagna in Sienna, Italy
Yes, I am adding in a pasta dish from Italy. At least I didn’t choose pizza for this one. Sienna is a town in Tuscany outside of Florence that has a central square surrounded by restaurants, cafes and shops. Directly in the center of this semi-circle is hands-down the best lasagna I have ever had. Simple and delicious. I rarely order lasagna out anymore after having been to this restaurant I am highly skeptical that anyone else’s dish can compete.