Favorite cuisines from our travels…

My wife and I have taken to playing a bit of a game while we’re travelling.  Let’s call it “Name the Top 5…”  If I’m being accurate I suppose it’s less of a game and more of a discussion-starter.  First, I’ll try to come up with a travel-related idea for a top 5 list.  Something like “What are your 5 favorite cities we’ve visited”?  Or “what are the top 5 Roman ruins we’ve seen”?  Then we discuss/debate/reminisce.  Next it’s her turn.  This usually goes back and forth for a few rounds until we move on to something else.

Obviously these past couple of years we’ve been fortunate enough to travel to quite a few different countries (18 and counting), so we have a fair amount to compare.  Sometimes these lists are pretty easy, but most of the time it’s really tough to whittle down.

Anyways, while in Beirut this past weekend we were enjoying a delicious Lebanese meal and the question came up – What are the top 5 cuisines we’ve experienced in our travels?

Admittedly this is a pretty broad question, so we had to come up with some criteria to help narrow our choices.  A few questions we asked ourselves were – Did we get tired of the cuisine by the end of the trip?  Did the location have a lot of memorable meals?  How diverse were the food options at local restaurants?

The list we came up with surprised us a bit (no Mexican or Indian, which at home both tend to be among our favorites).

Anyways, without further adieu, here it is.

5.  Italian

Who doesn’t like Italian food?  Outside of Italy, Italian food may be the most ubiquitous “ethnic” cuisine on the planet.  Heck, there are three Italian restaurants within a 10 minute walk from our place in suburban Cairo.

The traditional thin-crusted napoli-style pizza was a definite highlight.

pizza in Pompeii

pizza in Pompeii

As were the Tuscan sandwiches we picked up at delis in both Florence and Bologna.

enjoying a sandwich in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence

enjoying a sandwich in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence

Of course, the pasta wasn’t too bad either.

Tagliatelle pasta with prawns and zucchini in Venice.

Tagliatelle pasta with prawns and zucchini in Venice.

4.  Guatemalan

Maybe it was due to the fact that for half of our trip we were doing a home stay with a local family and had most of our meals prepared for us from scratch by the mom of the house, but I really enjoyed Guatemalan cuisine.

For the most part Guatemalan food is very similar to other Latin American countries that we’ve visited (tacos, empanadas, tamales, chicken/rice dishes with various salsa/moles, tortilla soups, etc.), but for some reason I enjoyed it so much more than our trip around the Yucatan a few years earlier.

In addition to our home-cooked meals, a few highlights were street tacos and papillan (chili-chicken stew) from our cooking class.

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One of many meals of street tacos

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Papillan, guatemalan rice and re-fried beans

3.  Lebanese

My wife and I had a bit of a debate about this one.  She preferred Turkish food to Lebanese at this spot.  In many ways they are quite similar – cold & hot appetizers, salads and grilled meats.  But the main reason I couldn’t go with Turkish food – pide.  This canoe-shaped Turkish style pizza was, to put it nicely, awful.

As for the Lebanese itself, we were only in the country for a handful of days, but I really enjoyed literally everything we ate there.  From the beef shwarma on the corniche in Beirut, to the traditional lunch in the fantastic setting of Zahle, it was all delicious.

mmm..... Beef Swarma

mmm….. Beef Swarma

Fattoush

Fattoush

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Kofta, grilled steak and chicken as part of an amazing lunch in Zahle

2.  Greek

Greek was a real contender for the top spot here.  While I’d always enjoyed Greek food, I’m not sure I would’ve put it in my top 10 favorite cuisines, let alone top 5 before visiting the country.  As I would find out Greek food is much more than souvlaki, tzatziki, pita bread and Greek salad (although all of that is there and was better than anywhere else I’ve tried it).

Here are just a few of our other highlights…

Fried saganaki

Fried saganaki

Tomato Fritters served with a yogurt & mint dipping sauce.

Tomato Fritters served with a yogurt & mint dipping sauce.

Stuffed tomatoes & zucchini

Stuffed tomatoes & zucchini

Pork Cutlets with Vinsanto sauce and Fava Bean puree

Pork Cutlets with Vinsanto sauce and Fava Bean puree

And I can’t forget the gyros.  Lord knows I ate enough of them over there!

Standard gyro - complete with shaved pork, tomatoes, onions, tzatziki & "fried potatoes" aka french fries

Standard gyro – complete with shaved pork, tomatoes, onions, tzatziki & “fried potatoes” aka french fries

1.  Thai

My top selection goes to Thai.  As a big fan of spicy food, I was in heaven on our trip to Thailand.  I’ll always remember early in our trip when our cooking class instructor asked me after finding out that I liked spicy food “Do you like European spicy or Thai spicy?”  For those of you who have been to Thailand, you know the difference.

But besides the spiciness, all the curries and stir fries were fantastic.  I feel like I could’ve spent another month there eating nothing else, and still not get tired of the food there.  The Chiang Mai curry we made at our cooking class was easily one of the best curries I’ve ever eaten.  I’ve tried to replicate it several times at home, but for some reason it never turns out quite right.

Chiang Mai Curry

Chiang Mai Curry

Basil chicken stir fry

Basil chicken stir fry

Another highlight was the seafood on Koh Chang – the tamarind red snapper and a blue crab curry were dishes I still remember like they were yesterday.

Fried red snapper with tamarind sauce

Fried red snapper with tamarind sauce

And of course I can’t forget my daily morning roti pancake…

Banana chocolate roti

Banana chocolate roti

Well, that’s the list.  What do you think?

Anyone else hungry?

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