In each installment of the Uproxx Travel Guide, we ask some of our favorite professional travelers to answer one travel question — then share their best advice with you. From informational, to inspirational, to entertaining, our aim is to incite your wanderlust and provide bite-size takeaways you can put to use on your own adventures.
This Week’s Question:
Tell us about the most memorable meal you’ve had while traveling. How do you suggest others find amazing and authentic food experiences?
A: Just walking down the streets in Yangon, Myanmar was a psychedelia for the senses. The country and its cuisine is made up of 135 different ethnic groups, and I was blown away by the mesh of cultures, colors, and languages there.
Walking around on our first day in a jet lagged haze, my boyfriend and I were stopped dead in our tracks at a spot making some of the best smelling curry. We ate what I’m pretty sure the guy said was horse, but DGAF, it was the most flavorful, beautifully aromatic dish I’ve eaten. And it was $3 for two people, including veggies and curry, plus a giant plate of pickles!!!
In terms of finding authentic eating experiences: You could research things to the umpteenth degree online these days, but I think it’s fun to treat trips like a culinary version of a Choose Your Own Adventure. Ask a local, then follow your eyes, ears, and nose. What smells great? Who’s slanging the most vibrant array of skewers? Where’s there a large crowd of people playing music, vibrantly toasting beers? If you’re the only foreigner, that’s a really, really good sign. In those situations, an uninhibited palate and a smile go a long way. You’d be surprised how many doors will open once you show a genuine engagement with the local cuisine.
Krista in Yangon, Myanmar:
A: I love trying bizarre foods — the ones that will make you cringe when you hear about them. Some of my most memorable meals were eating a live octopus in Seoul (video here), pig blood cake in Taiwan, and snake blood in Vietnam. I usually find bizarre food on the street (look for street markets!) and I just follow my nose until something smells strange. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, then don’t be afraid to ask a local and they will guide you!
Drew drinking snake blood in Vietnam:
A: One of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had was at Andres Carne de Res in Chia, Colombia. The restaurant is complete sensory overload and takes dinner theater to another level. It’s like a circus, a latin night club, and a killer steakhouse all under one roof. There’s another Andres Carne de Res in the center of Bogota, but I always recommend getting out to Chia to experience the original!
The other amazing meal I’ve had recently was in Vinales, Cuba at El Paraiso. It’s a family-run organic farm with some of the most flavorful vegetables and pork you’ll ever taste. It was the best meal I had in my two weeks traveling around Cuba.
Courtney eating gelato in Verona:
Nathan Fluellen is the host of his adrenaline filled travel show, World Wide Nate, which showcases adventure, food, and culture from around the globe. You can follow him on Instagram @WorldWideNate, Youtube and Snapchat, username: worldwidenate.
A: Carnivore in Johannesburg is the African version of a Brazilian Churrascaria. The restaurant serves all you can eat meats from a selection of zebra, venison, gemsbok, crocodile, etc. accompanied with sides. You’re given a round coaster with one side red and the other green. The servers only stop bringing you meat once you flip your coaster on red.
Cooked zebra at Carnivore in Johannesburg, South Africa:
Spencer Spellman is a California-based content producer specializing in travel, food, and drinks. If he’s not discovering a destination’s local hooch, then he’s on a search for the world’s best cocktail bars. You can follow him at @spencerspellman on Twitter and Instagram.
A: Some of my most memorable meals have had an experience tied to it. For example, in South Australia recently, I was out with a longtime local on one of the most beautiful, but offbeat beaches I’ve ever seen, on the Eyre Peninsula. We walked right into the water from the shore with snorkel gear to collect abalone and oysters, and just moments later were preparing and enjoying what we had gathered, right there on the very shore we’d gathered it on. It doesn’t get any fresher than that.
Generally speaking, this experience confirms that some of the best types of dining experiences are the ones that come at the hands of locals, whether it’s a local showing you a great dive or a local making you a homemade meal in their home. Some of the best travel recommendations I’ve gotten have come at the hand of a bartender or local patrons of a local bar. I often go here first when arriving to a new destination, and it gives me the best lay of the land.
Spencer eating comfort food in Los Angeles:
Kiersten Rich is the author of award-winning solo female travel & lifestyle blog, The Blonde Abroad, which features travel tips, fashion, festivals and photography from around the world. You can follow her on Instagram at @theblondeabroad and on Facebook.
A: One of my most memorable foodie experience was at the La Loma Jungle Lodge in Bocas Del Toro when I visited a few years ago. In addition to the the local chocolate farm, the family only opens up their farm to a small number of guests at a time, so the experience is incredible, and all the food is farm to table.
Another memorable experience was more recently at the Muslim Street market in Xi’an, China — talk about ultimate street food! From fried rice, mutton sandwiches, fruit pies to any kind of noodle you can imagine, I would say Muslim Street was a bit of a culture shock for me in many ways.
In my experiences, the best way to find authentic food is to ask the locals! That method has never failed me.
Kiersten exploring Muslim Street in Xi’an, China:
Katelyn O’Shaughnessy is the CEO & Founder of TripScope and is an award-winning travel agent. Featured on Forbes 2016 30 under 30 in consumer tech, O’Shaughnessy’s first- hand experiences in the travel industry motivated her to create innovative technology solutions for the next generation of travel professionals. She holds the position of National Director to the nation’s largest young travel professionals community, Millennials in Travel, and frequents live speaking engagements.
A: In London, I ate at one of the most amazing French Restaurants called L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. I was staying at the Corinthia and the concierge recommended it. If you’re staying at a 4 or 5 star hotel, utilize the concierge. These people are experts and know all the best restaurants, tours, and sights to see in their city.
I also had an incredible meal in Rome at the Mirabelle Splendide Restaurant. I found it by following the self-proclaimed “Food God” and best friend of Kim Kardashian, Jonathan Cheban, on his Instagram. The food looked amazing and the restaurant had a terrace with a beautiful city view of Rome.
Katelyn’s meal with a view in Rome:
Marko & Alex Ayling
A (Marko): One of the best meals we’ve had recently was at Restaurant La Bûche in Quebec City, a self-styled “urban sugar shack” that put a new twist on Quebecois comfort food. It really exemplifies the best of new, global food culture — proud locavores with their fingers on the pulse of world trends, but their feet firmly planted in the unique heritage of their homeland. In the case of Quebec, that means lots of pork and bacon soaked in maple syrup, washed down with sortilège.
The Vaga Bros getting eating in Quebec:
A: As a food writer, I’ve gotten to eat my share of expensive meals. Most I’ve liked, some I’ve loved, but none are in the running for my #1 spot. In fact, all of my top ten meals-while-traveling were either dishes made by family or friends, or street food.
A few highlights:
- When I first started backpacking, my Italian aunt received me in the tiny village of Tione, in Northern Italy, and fed me three times before 2 p.m. The third meal was a sort of plum dumpling that I’ve never found or tasted the likes of since. It’s not Italian, from what I’ve been told…it’s from Eastern Europe. It was sweet and rich with vanilla and it steamed as if it had been conjured up in a fairytale.
- In Madagascar, while waiting for a ferry, I ate about seven zebu skewers for 10 cents each. I probably ate a pound of zebu. I don’t know if people agree on this, but to me Zebu tasted more iron-rich than the cow we’re used to. It wasn’t seasoned and there were no plates — just me and an old woman hunched over the coals. And yet, it was, by far, the best meat I’ve ever tasted.
- There was a street vendor in Bangkok who seemed particularly good in a city filled with amazing food. I’m sure everyone has a similar Thai-food story, but this was mine: it was a shop built into a garage in a district devoid of tourists, the local soap operas were blaring, and the flavors were unctuous and rich, but balanced by insane amounts of basil.
- I recently ate at the famous La Guerrerense in Northern Mexico with my best friend. They fed us for hours — talking food, and flavor, and sourcing — and treated us to what Anthony Bourdain called “the best ceviche on the planet.” I don’t always agree with Bourdain, but in this case, he’s spot on.
Steve at La Guerrerense:
Trevor Morrow is a travel writer whose worked has appeared on Outside Online, Details, Men’s Journal, Inside Hook and more (he’s also the author of this article). You can follow him on his lifestyle travel blog, Trevor Morrow Travel, on Instagram at @trevormorrow and on Snapchat, username: thetrevormorrow.
A: Several years ago, I was in Kuwait City, Kuwait. It was nighttime and it was still about 100-degrees Fahrenheit (earlier in the day, it was about 120). Together with an Arabic speaker, I went to a local night market and cobbled together a feast from various food stalls (think freshly prepared hummus, breads, vegetables and meats). As we ate in a small, semi-inclosed plaza directly next to a mosque, a call to pray (the last of the day’s five) began to ring out from the mosque’s loud speakers. Around me, families, including women in full burkas, went about their nightly business. It was my first time in a Muslim society and it all felt so foreign and fascinating. On top of that, there was not a single other traveler in sight — which always amplifies any travel experience.
To find memorable and authentic eating experiences, start with online research (it’s totally fine if you’re not the first traveler ever to discover a restaurant or dining experience — it may be a well known restaurant, market, or food tour that turns into your “most memorable meal”). To go further off the beaten path, of course, just talk to the locals (and take notes to see where and what they are eating and follow suit).
Trevor’s market meal in Kuwait City, Kuwait: