Expanding your palate is a lifelong journey. We have to experiment and challenge ourselves, to try new things, again and again, until we develop a taste for something or finally admit that those particular flavors just aren’t for us. For some of us, a hundred sips of scotch or fifty nibbles of blue cheese won’t change our minds. For others, once that amber liquid or funky, ripe cheese hits our senses, there’s no going back. Suddenly we’re in love for life.
Funny how the senses of taste and smell work. Always shifting; always evolving.
To really broaden your culinary horizons, sometimes you have to travel to places where the food is unlike anywhere else. Sure, you can get foods from Italy, France, Germany, parts of China, South Asia, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, and other nations pretty much everywhere these days, but there’s so much more to try. Food that isn’t imported or trendy. Food that you’ll have to travel to enjoy.
The 12 palate-expanding experiences listed below highlight dishes, ingredients, textures, and flavors that are making a comeback from colonialism, political strife, or plain ol’ obscurity. These are the foods that are redefining what we know about certain places, people, and food culture in general. Visiting them will help you broaden your palate while expanding your knowledge of what food is and can be.
EXPAND YOUR PALATE BY… LEARNING ABOUT THE THOUSAND-YEAR-OLD FUSION DISHES OF EAST AFRICA
WHY THIS LESSON IS IMPORTANT: “Fusion” Is More Than A Trendy Word
Zanzibar is the meeting of worlds and cuisines — part Marco Polo, part Arab traders, part African spice smugglers, and part bountiful tropic island with virgin reefs. The small community on the island (not far from Tanzania) has survived for millennia off the bounty of the sea and the rich natural resources that are the envy of the world: Spices.
Nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, vanilla, and black pepper are all part of the island’s long history with trans-Indian Ocean and trans-continental trade. Those spices were fused with breads from Arabia, rice from mainland Africa, curries from India, noddles from East Asia, and so much more.
The fusion of these foods — centered around spices — was simply a reality of people moving and sharing meals for millennia.
WHERE TO EXPERIENCE IT: The Rock, Zanzibar
The Rock in Zanzibar is one of the most unique restaurants on this list (maybe even the world). The restaurant is situated inside a rock-like house in the sea off of Pingwe Beach. The combination of sea spray, naturalistic setting, and phenomenal food make this an experience worth seeking out.
The food on the menu takes what’s local to the Indian Ocean island alongside familiar delivery systems like expertly made in-house pasta and deciphers it via trade wind cultures.
A savory vanilla sauce over cloud-like gnocchi with amazingly fresh and briny prawns doesn’t sound like it’d work. But, trust us, this is a dish that’ll change the way you think about vanilla paired with seafood. The gnocchi is executed with airy perfection. The prawns are just-cooked and fresh as can be (you’re dining surrounded by water after all).
But, really, it’s the savory vanilla sauce that sets this dish above all others. It’s rich while remaining light. The vanilla is a spicy accent to the svelte creaminess that works with the brine. It’s magic.
Amazingly, The Rock is popping up in New York right now. You can grab a reservation through the rest of August if you can get to New York, which might be a tad cheaper than flying all the way to Tanzania.
EXPAND YOUR PALATE BY… LEARNING ABOUT THE PRE-COLONIAL FOODS OF SOUTH AFRICA’S PACIFIC COAST
WHY THIS LESSON IS IMPORTANT: Indigenous South African Foods Are Making A Comeback After Colonial Rule
This is about the dishes, flavors, and textures of a place with a history of brutal suppression. It’s only been 25 years since Apartheid ended and the mainstream culinary culture is still very much entrenched in European roots.
That’s changing as people take back their autonomy and identity. This is evidenced in a reconnecting with Indigenous ingredients that were once shunned for European standards. Wild herbs, vegetables, fruits, and roots abound throughout this massive country. Plus, the entire west, south, and east of the country is coastline along the Pacific and Indian oceans, providing a huge bounty of local seafood.
WHERE TO EXPERIENCE IT: Wolfgat, Paternoster
Wolfgat is another beachside affair. The setting is damn near perfection with the open ocean providing a stunning backdrop for a sunset-filled dining experience. The restaurant is attached to a cave network that humans have been living and cooking in for over 2,000 years, giving this spot an extra layer of history you won’t find anywhere else on the planet.
The menu ebbs and flows seasonally with a laser focus on South African Indigenous ingredients. There’s a fascinating bridging of local ingredients with both European and African cooking techniques.
MUST-TRY DISH: Whatever is in-season and from the sea
The seafood is the way to go. Wolfgat runs it’s menu according to the season. If you can score one of 20 seats per seating, you’ll be treated to a seven-course tasting menu that carefully utilizes what’s been pulled from the sea that day.
Keep an open mind, and be surprised and delighted by the menu.
EXPAND YOUR PALATE BY… LEARNING ABOUT BRIDGING CULTURAL FOOD DIVIDES OF CLASS AND CASTE
WHY THIS LESSON IS IMPORTANT: Chefs Choose The Communities And The Flavors They Build In Their Kitchens
This one is about more than just food. It’s a movement started by a woman for women who are adapting the various cuisines of South Asia in intriguing ways.
Asma Khan wasn’t trained as a professional chef. She started out with supper clubs out of her London home that slowly turned into one of London’s premier South Asian eateries. The kicker, Khan only employs South Asian migrant women, giving them an opportunity to support and build a community. Where this food experience stands out is what these women serve — it’s a mix of high caste and low caste South Asian foods from both Hindu and Muslim heritage that you rarely see side-by-side in South Asia. In Khan’s London kitchen, all are welcome.
WHERE TO EXPERIENCE IT: Darjeeling Express, London
What makes Darjeeling Express a unique moment is that Khan captures a migrant food culture not through colonialism but through a partnership between cultures, a place, and a cuisine that’s now intrinsically part of London’s DNA.
Then, of course, there are the dishes themselves. The menu takes South Asian street food and Indian-Muslim classics and brings them into 21st century London in a way that’s never really been done before. The food is so special that Khan even got her own episode of Chef’s Table this year.
MUST-TRY DISH: Biryani Supper Club
The signature dish isn’t on the main menu. You’ll need to go to London during one of Khan’s enigmatic biryani supper clubs (next year, this year is already sold out). The menu for the supper club is centered around a massive lamb and potato biryani rice dish for 100 people.
The supper is accompanied by highlights from the Darjeeling Express menu and includes an intimate family-style dinner hosted by Khan and her staff over the course of four or five hours. There’s nothing quite like it anywhere.
EXPAND YOUR PALATE BY… LEARNING ABOUT THE NEARLY LOST INDIGENOUS FOODWAYS ACROSS RUSSIA
WHY THIS LESSON IS IMPORTANT: Delving Into Indigenous Russian Ingredients Illuminates How Close We All Are
For nearly a half-a-century, Sovietization whittled Russian food down from local and Indigenous microcultures and replaced them with utility foods to feed masses. Interestingly, the Russian Indigenous food movement looks shockingly similar to the Pan-American Indigenous food movement (more on that later) with a keen eye on wild game (moose, bison, venison), forest foraging (mushrooms, tree saps, wild herbs and berries), and a re-embracing of the wonders of the sea (all the salmon) while moving away from industrialized farming.
The interesting ripple here is that Russian history is not Indigenous American history, so those ingredients are being used in wholly unique ways in each place.
WHERE TO EXPERIENCE IT: White Rabbit, Moscow
Chef Vladimir Mukhin is at the forefront of bringing nuance back to Russian plates. White Rabbit is looking at Indigenous Russian ingredients from the sea, rivers, forests, deserts, and grasslands of Russia in a new way that embraces pre-Soviet history. Mukhin’s White Rabbit is an exploration of what Russian food once was and what it can be again.
MUST-TRY DISH: Cabbage Pie
The White Rabbit menu is vast because Russia is, well, f*cking vast. On Mukhin’s tasting menu, you’ll be treated to a lot of wonderful flavors and textures that touch on that very vastness. The standout, for us, is the Cabbage Pie which blends the terroir with a light red cabbage and the sea with a medley of local caviars.
The roe featured here is shockingly light, briny, and fresh. It pops in your mouth like pop rocks made by mermaids. The cabbage is baked over coals, locking in flavors and adding a light smokiness. The sauces accent the whole affair with depth.
Sure, it’s just cabbage and fish roe but it’ll blow your mind.
EXPAND YOUR PALATE BY…LEARNING ABOUT FOOD AT THE CROSSROADS OF ASIA AND EUROPE
WHY THIS LESSON IS IMPORTANT: The Flavors And Techniques Of The East And West Are Intrisinically Intertwined
Istanbul has been at the crossroads of humanity for eons. For nearly 3,000 years people have been traveling, trading, drinking, and eating in this spot. That means there’s lots of good food to be found.
What’s interesting about the scene in Istanbul is that it has been crossing cultures for so long that it’s hard to find a “fusion” element in Turkish cuisine. It sort of just… is what it is. Still, meaty kebabs from the Arabs, rice from the Persians, spicy bean soups for the Indians, hard cheeses from the Balkans, and so, so much more have come to define food in Istanbul.
WHERE TO EXPERIENCE IT: Çiya Sofrasi, Istanbul
On the Asian side of the Bosphorus in Istanbul, chef and historian Musa Dağdeviren is striving to keep the traditions of Turkish food alive in a relatively tiny kebab shop. Through Dağdeviren’s Çiya Kebap and Çiya Sofrasi, you’ll be able to experience the wonders of the millennia-long blending of foodways in dish after dish.
The beauty of this place is the accessibility. You can literally walk up and grab a bite. Dağdeviren’s menu takes the food very seriously and coaxes flavors and textures that have become the defining points of Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisines.
MUST-TRY DISH: Spicy Lamb Kebab
There are so many great dishes on this menu from chickpea soups with an array of great spices to flaky bread stuffed with beautifully spiced fruits and meats to possibly the best kebabs you’ll ever eat. The Spicy Lamb Kebab stands out.
The minced meat skewered lamb is wonderfully spiced and seasoned and then grilled over coals until juicy perfection. Eat it with a little raw onion covered in sumac with fluffy bread, chargrilled peppers, plenty of olive oil and you’re set. Don’t forget to grab a hummus with pita and wash it all down with super strong and sugary dark tea.
EXPAND YOUR PALATE BY…LEARNING ABOUT A MICRO-FOOD CULTURE
WHY THIS LESSON IS IMPORTANT: There’s More Than What’s On The Surface Every Place You Go
Taiwan is a small place with a unique set of cultures and agricultures that have inspired its culinary traditions. Many dishes are filtered through varied Japanese and Chinese cultural nuances alongside Indigenous Taiwanese cultures.
It’s the local feel of a familiar bowl of noodles or steaming basket of dumplings that make a trip to the small island nation worth it. With so many cultures living in Taiwan, there’s a blending of traditions that happens which helps make Taiwan’s food unlike any other. The fish sauces, the herbs, the seafood is all unique to the place with their own flavors you won’t find anywhere else.
WHERE TO EXPERIENCE IT: Mume, Taipei
Chef Richie Lin is blowing up the Taiwanese food scene right now. At Mume, Lin is solidly dialed in to Western food techniques and using Indigenous Taiwanese ingredients in new ways that highlight the farmers and fishermen around the island and their harvests, by season.
The menu changes constantly, depending on what was pulled from the land and sea. The constant is the high-quality of those products and the inventiveness of each dish. A dining experience at Mume is like taking a walk around the whole island — taking in the sea, mountains, and grassy plains all at once. It’ll feel familiar but take you on a completely different ride as Lin strives to create a new Taiwanese food experience that bridges the past, local, and new.
MUST-TRY DISH: The Tasting Menu
There are so many high points on this menu. A delicate egg yolk on a bed of fresh peas with local microgreens is a wonder, but the real highlight is the seafood. The use of locally sourced fish and shellfish with the terroir-driven roots and greens are what shine brightest on Mume’s menu. Get to Taiwan, score a seat, and let Chef Lin take through Taiwan with each plate.
EXPAND YOUR PALATE BY… LEARNING ABOUT FOOD YOU CANNOT GET ANYWHERE ELSE
WHY THIS LESSON IS IMPORTANT: Food Doesn’t Always Travel
Australian Bush Tucker is the food of the land and sea that sustained a people for over 60,000 years. It’s starting to make a comeback on the fringe of Australian culinary culture after a couple of hundred years of devastating colonialism. Moreover, foods are rarely exported from Australia outside of wine, kangaroo, and vegemite. So, the possibility of getting real Bush Tucker anywhere outside of Australia is near nill.
Everything is different Down Under. The nuts, starches, proteins, herbs all have a unique taste, texture, and flavor that, again, you just can’t find outside of Australia. So, you’re really going to have to get there for this palate-expanding experience.
WHERE TO EXPERIENCE IT: Tali Waru, Uluru
One of the best places to engage in Aboriginal Bush Tucker and a truly Indigenous Australian experience is in the shadow of Uluru. Tali Waru embraces the foods of the Australian continent and the foodways of the Indigenous population to create a menu that’s unique to a time and place.
The restaurant is seasonal, so you’ll have to plan ahead a bit. The dishes are built around Aboriginal traditional foraged and hunted foods that have nourished a continent. There are little moments of western influence in presentation and a few of the proteins, otherwise, this is a full-on, immersive Bush Tucker experience.
MUST-TRY DISH: Bush Tucker
The menu at Tali Waru changes by season. But if it’s around, you have to try the Pressed Wallaby. The lean red meat is served with local pickled grapes and wild garlic alongside puffed bamboo rice.
Pair that with 16-hour slow-roasted Outback pumpkin, yabbie caviar on cuttlefish crumpets, kangaroo pies, and a mythical view of Uluru and you have an iconic, once-in-a-lifetime food experience on your hands.
EXPAND YOUR PALATE BY… LEARNING HOW INDIGENOUS POLYNESIAN FOOD IS MAKING A COMEBACK
WHY THIS LESSON IS IMPORTANT: Polynesia Features One Of The Most Varied Cuisines In The World
The western reaches of the Polynesian culture is unlike the sun-kissed paradise of the eastern region. In the east, Hawai’i is an island paradise. New Zealand, on the other hand, is more about striking mountains, dark forests, and cooler temps. Yet, there are clear food traditions linking the two.
Imagine Hawaiian foods filtered through the mountains and forests of the Pacific Northwest and you’ll start to get a handle on what Maori Polynesian food is like — abundant seafood, forest berries and mushrooms, wild roots and vegetables, and very little land animal protein.
WHERE TO EXPERIENCE IT: Hiakai, Wellington
Chef Monique Fiso gained international acclaim and popularity last year after appearing on Netflix’s Final Table. Since then, the chef has been on fire, creating some of the most interesting dishes in the Pacific region.
Chef Fiso is striving to bring the Indigenous foods of Aotearoa (New Zealand) back to the fore of her nation’s food culture. Through her Wellington eatery Hiakai, Fiso is embracing Indigenous ingredients in ways that were almost lost to colonialism in groundbreaking ways.
MUST-TRY DISH: Every dish put in front of you (and Fried Fish Collars)
It’s best to think of Hiakai’s food as Indigenous Maori/Polynesian soul food filtered through a high-end execution. When you sit down for the ever-changing menu, you’ll be treated to ingredients you won’t get anywhere else.
There’s also a real sense of using the whole buffalo at Hiakai. The fried fish collars are crunchy, briny treats that’ll change the way you think of trimmed bits of fish. You’ll 100 percent want a second serving.
EXPAND YOUR PALATE BY… LEARNING ABOUT THE DEPTH OF AMAZONIA’S BOUNTY
WHY THIS LESSON IS IMPORTANT: The Amazon Is Full Of Food And We’ve Barely Scratched The Surface
Brazil is a massive place, dominated by a mostly migrant population. There are still pockets of Indigenous people living in Brazil, but they’re mostly isolated in the deep Amazon. The trith is, there’s very little known about the area. In part because it’s just so damn big.
Still, there are chefs and who are taking the time to see what flavors they can coax from the world’s largest rainforest. It’s a piece of land so densely covered in florae and fauna that we barely even know what’s there, much less what’s there to eat. So any chance you can get to sample the food from the Amazon, safely, is one you need to take.
WHERE TO EXPERIENCE IT: D.O.M., São Paulo
A trip to chef Alex Atala’s D.O.M. is a journey through the beaches, plains, and rainforests of Brazil. The menu takes a look at the local through both the Indigenous and migrant (Atala is a Lebanese-Irish migrant) experience and tries to reconcile a common ground.
When it comes to eating in Brazil, and South America in general, there are few chefs who champion local foods more thoroughly. Atala spends a lot of time with Indigenous Amazonian tribes listening and learning about their food. He finds what’s unique to a place and people and respects it. There’s no one going as deep into Amazonia as Atala.
MUST-TRY DISH: Jambu (ingredient)
D.O.M. operates on a rotating tasting menu to highlight the vastness of the Brazilian terroir, rivers, and sea. There’s one ingredient that Atala likes to utilize called Jambu that’ll shock you, kind of literally.
The herb from deep in the Amazon gives the body an electrified sensation when eaten. It might be worth asking where Atala is using it in the tasting if you’re skittish. Or, our advice, be surprised when the herb shows up and sends a bolt through your body. Either way, it’ll be a food experience unlike any other. The herb will create a buzz in your mouth that turns into a broad numb before cooling your throat as you swallow. It’s wild!
EXPAND YOUR PALATE BY…LEARNING ABOUT HOW MIGRANTS FROM THE FAR EAST INTERPRET INDIGENOUS INGREDIENTS IN THE AMERICAS
WHY THIS LESSON IS IMPORTANT: The Europeans Weren’t The Only Cultures To Influence The Cuisines Of The Americas
Modern pan-American food is often seen through a European lens. That’s only part of the story of the foods in the Americas. Peru has had a strong Japanese population for well over 100 years. Interestingly, the food techniques of Japan fit well with Peruvian ingredients to create a new cuisine: Nikkei.
WHERE TO EXPERIENCE IT: Maido, Lima
Lima born Japanese-migrant chef Mitsuharu Tsumura didn’t invent Nikkei, but he’s diving deeper into the Indigenous foods of Peru and filtering what he finds through a distinctly Japanese lens. The results are some of the most interesting dishes in the world.
At Maido, chef Tsumura’s food utilizes Peruvian ingredients and Japanese tactics to create a unique dining experience that’s the epitome of present-day Americas. It’s a true blending of the Indigenous and the migrant.
MUST-TRY DISH: Nikkei Experience
The Nikkei Experience is a ten-course tasting menu that practices all the above-mentioned specialness of the restaurant. This is a walk through the Indigenous ingredients of Peru as fused through the mind of a Japanese-Peruvian master chef.
Fish pulled from Peruvian rivers, botanicals from the Andes, and fruits from the Amazon pepper the menu alongside flavors and textures from Japan like miso, soba, wagyu. No one else on earth is taking these specific ingredients and working them through a foreign cuisine quite like this, and it’s absolutely fascinating.
EXPAND YOUR PALATE BY…LEARNING ABOUT PRE-HISPANIC MEXICAN CUISINE IN OAXACA
WHY THIS LESSON IS IMPORTANT: Traditions Are Still Alive And Well Outside Of The Colonial Mainstream
It’s really hard to find Indigenous American foods in North and South America that haven’t been heavily adapted by (mostly) European colonial manipulation. It’s well worth it, therefore to take a step back and ask what these foods were like before.
Mexico has one of the deepest food cultures on the planet and did so long before Europeans showed up. A trip to Indigenous Mexico is a chance to find the roots of the foods that Americans love so dearly. The flavors are deeper, brighter, and darker all at the same time. Yet, there’s a clear throughline between then and now, making an experience with pre-Hispanic Mexican food a foundational moment in understanding the food overall.
WHERE TO EXPERIENCE IT: Restaurante Tlamanalli, Teotitlán del Valle
Zapotec chef and historian Abigail Mendoza Ruiz’s Oaxacan restaurant strives to cook and preserve pre-Hispanic Mexican food traditions. What’s outstanding about Restaurante Tlamanalli is the familiarity of everything. Mole, tortillas, sopas, quesadillas, tacos, cafe negras, and more are all there. But those dishes are dailed into the un-muddled pre-Hispanic/Columbian recipes of the region.
This is a step back in time that feels fresh and new. It’s also a wonderful place to get a real sense of depth and breadth of the amazing foods and food culture of the Americas, Mexico in particular. Protip: Make sure to call ahead. Restaurante Tlamanalli isn’t open on a regular schedule.
MUST-TRY DISH: Mole Zapoteco
The rich and reddish Mole Zapoteco is a testament to low-and-slow Indigenous American cuisine. We can’t begin to guess the ingredients in the dish from the nuts to the fruits to ash but they’re vast, giving this sauce richness and depth beyond reproach.
The smoky, nutty, bitter sauce covers a fatty and tender piece of chicken and a small portion of rice but, really, you’re going to be spooning the sauce into your mouth on its own. Pair it with a Jamaica (hibiscus) tea and you’re set.
EXPAND YOUR PALATE BY… LEARNING ABOUT THE INDIGENOUS FOODS OF NORTH AMERICA
WHY THIS LESSON IS IMPORTANT: The Foods Of Indigenous America Are Revolutionizing The American Food Scene
Trying to find a wholly unique dining experience in the U.S. and Canada is a tough task. So much of the American food experience is filtered through the migrant experience. And, again, that can be great. But finding Indingeous American restaurants or even stores in the United States is very far and few between.
That’s a shame as North America and the United States is a vast place where food cultures flourished millennia after millennia. Then they were almost completely destroyed. Today, most of us live with wild herbs, vegetables, fruits, roots, game, and seafood in our own backyards that few of us even know what to do with, meaning we’ve lost a sense of place through food. That has to change.
WHERE TO EXPERIENCE IT: Tocabe, Denver
Tocabe is a fast-casual dining experience in Denver, CO, that’s revolutionizing the American food scene. The beauty of this food experience is that it’ll give you a sense of the food of the Great Plains before European, African, and Asian migrations came to dominate the food conversation in the Americas. It’s also quick, customizable, and affordable — a sort of Indigenous Chipotle.
The menu focuses on what American food was before the last couple hundred years of colonization and what it can be going forward. This, sadly, is one of the only places in the United States offering diners a truly Indigenous American food experience. Hopefully, this is the first of many.
MUST-TRY DISH: Bison Ribs
Tocabe’s Bison Ribs are cured for 24-hours before being braised in a bison stock. The ribs are finished on the flame with a seasonal berry sauce. They’re simply perfect.
The fatty, yet lean ribs balanced with wild seasonal berry sweetness and plenty of umami make for a meal that transports from the great plains to the Boreal northern forests to the dusty southern deserts of the Americas. This is a historical recreation that you’ll want in your food future every single day. Don’t sleep on wild rice and cranberry hominy on the side either.