As the saying goes: you have to taste a culture to understand it. A particular country’s cuisine says a lot about its culture, and with every bite you take, the more you get to know it. Here are just some of the amazing food you should try when you visit Japan, South Korea, Spain, Portugal, and Italy — just a few places whose food will send your taste buds soaring.
Kobe beef. It’s wagyu at its finest. Bred in the Hyogo region with traditional Japanese methods, kobe beef is famous for its unique marbling and delicate texture guaranteed to be bursting with flavor and tender with every bite.
In Japanese, Oyakodon literally means “mother and child” referring to the chicken and the egg combination that is served on top of rice. It is a delicate dish with single-minded flavors enjoyed by locals and foreigners alike. And what better place to enjoy Oyakodon than the once small Tokyo restaurant that started it all over a century ago, Tamahide. To this day, people of all ages and nationalities line up to have a taste of this legendary Oyakodon.
Start your day with breakfast sushi in world-famous Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Japan. There’s nothing like getting a morning kick from freshly sliced hotoro (fatty tuna) over pickled rice and a side of green tea.
Osaka is known as Japan’s kitchen. And right in the heart of Osaka is its famous street food hub called Dotonbori. It has every Japanese food imaginable crammed into such a tiny space from ramen to okonomiyaki (Japanese pancakes), and gyoza (pot stickers) to grilled crab legs. Dotonbori is foodie heaven.
Ramen was once regarded as a poor man’s food — i mean, it’s just a bowl of noodles. But since the ramen boom in the 1980s, ramen started being taken seriously. And the rest, so they say, is history. There are many different ways of preparing ramen, but nothing quite beats simplicity. And best bowl of ramen you can get is a simple shoyu (soy-based) pork broth ramen from Tsuta in Tokyo — a tiny, 7-seater ramen joint that has been awarded Japan’s first Michelin Star for ramen.
Fugu (puffer fish) is a delicacy for the adventurous. Succulent, delicate, and flavorful, it can only be prepared by chefs licensed to do so. Prepared wrong, puffer fish can be deadly.
The Japanese love their food as much as they love their convenience stores — there’s virtually at least one in every corner! And these convenience stores are home to some of the best, unassuming bento boxes in the world: from onigiri (rice balls) bentos to katsu (breaded, deep fried meats) bentos, there’s always something new in these modest convenience stores.
It’s a Friday night, the perfect time to be in a Japanese izakaya (bar), the salaryman’s favorite watering hole after a long week of stressful work. These loud, inexpensive places are commonplace around office areas, and they serve some of Japan’s best hand grub and the most refreshing draft beer in the world.
Kimchi is South Korea’s super food. Not only is it good for digestion, it also goes well with literally every Korean dish. It’s spicy, tangy, slightly salty, and is enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Korean BBQ (gogigui in Korean) brings the sizzle and social together. Best enjoyed with family and friends, Korean BBQ is a social feast. At the center of the action is a smokeless grill you use to cook an assortment of meats like samgyeopsal, dak galbi and dwaeji bulgogi.
While bulgogi (literally, “fire meat”) is served in Korean BBQ, it deserves to be highlighted on its own. If you like meat and have a bit of a sweet tooth, this dish is for you. Sweet, savory, and succulent, enjoy with caution as it is highly addictive.
Jjajangmyeon is a popular Korean dish made out of noodles and black bean sauce. And while that might sound strange to you, let me tell you that those two main ingredients are a match made in foodie heaven. Jjajangmyeon is Korea’s #1 takeout food.
Makkoli is a Korean rice wine variant with a milky appearance and a sweet profile. It’s easy to drink, is refreshing, and tastes like the cultured milk drink Yakult. It is a wine, after all, and is more potent than beer so do mind your indulgence.
Asian street food is the best. And up there in the ranks of the top street food districts is the bustling shopping district of Myeongdong. Here you can enjoy dozens and dozens of street eats like: tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), baked cheese, tornado potato dogs, gimbap (Korean maki rolls), mandu (potstickers), Korean fried chicken (fondly called KFC by locals), and the famous Korean soondae (sundae soft serve).
Originating from coastal Valencia, Spain, authentic paella relies heavily on the freshest of the Mediterranean Sea. Its main ingredient, rice, is cooked in a caldero (flat cauldron) in an open flame with a variety of seafood like squid, clams, and shrimp served in the shell. It is a hearty dish enjoyed by all.
Tapas are small savory Spanish plates served often with drinks. It is an essential part of Spanish culture, and is a must-have for anyone visiting the country. Gambas al Ajillo (prawns in olive oil and peppers), bacalao (breaded cod in tomato sauce), calamares (fried squid rings), gazpacho (tomato soup), albondigas (Spanish meatballs), and jamon iberico (salt cured ham) are just a few of Spain’s most exquisite tapas.
With tapas come great tasting Spanish wine. And what better way to sample them all than by taking a bodega tour across the vineyards of Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, and Catalan? This is not only a gastronomic encounter, but also a cultural deepdive into the rich history and processes that are sealed into every bottle of Spanish vino.
Viva! Long live! The Spanish just love to live life to the fullest and it shows in their drink. Sangria (from sangre, meaning blood) is a popular alcoholic punch that consists of a unique, lively, flavorful blend of red wine and chopped fruit.
Spain takes its pigs seriously. With the right diet, spacious farms, some spices, and enough curing time, these pigs are turned into tasty magic. Sample some of the world’s best cured meats like jamon iberico, chorizo, lomo embuchado, and butifarra.
Italian cuisine is characterized by its simplicity, using only 2 to 4 main ingredients per dish. And the margherita pizza is the epitome of this. The classic tomato, mozzarella, basil combo on brick fired pizza dough is the one that started it all.
Fontina. Gorgonzola. Mozzarella. Parmigiano. Nobody does cheese like the Italians do. And who knew there could be so many different types of cheese? Delicate, flavorful, and fragrant, formaggio (cheese) goes well with almost any Italian dish — the secret is knowing how to pair them. There are a number of cheese pairing and cooking classes in Italy, so be sure to check with the locals when you do find yourself in Italia.
There’s so much to pasta than just bolognese. Sample Italy’s finest pasta dishes and send your taste buds soaring. If you like bacon and eggs, you’ll love pasta carbonara. Go full flavor with spaghetti quattro formaggi. Go freestyle with stuffed ravioli. Or go robust with gnocchi in tomato sauce. There’s pasta to suit any mood!
Gelato is simply Italian for ice cream. But don’t let that translation fool you, for gelato is much better than your regular store-bought ice cream. It’s denser, more flavorful, and creamier. Go on, have a scoop, or two, or three.
You haven’t had rice quite like this. Risotto is a dish made of rice that is cooked in a broth and stirred until it has a creamy consistency. Anything goes for risotto — enjoy it with meat, with fish, or with mushrooms in red wine, white wine, or cream. Every bite leaves you wanting for more.