You’ve heard of spiritual journeys but what about those that celebrate gastronomy? Discover the places every gourmand must taste-test in their lifetime.
Geranium, Copenhagen. Top image: Noma, Copenhagen. Image credit: Ditte Isager.
Scandinavian gastronomoy was an oxymoron until, in 2003, René Redzepi opened Noma on the Copenhagen waterfront and transformed global perceptions of Nordic eating. Since then the Danish capital has become a mandatory stop on any gastronome’s grand tour.
You’ll need to book months ahead to dine at Noma, now in its new location at Refshalevej. Menus are strictly seasonal, offering only vegetables in summer (celeriac shawarma is a standout), seafood from January to spring (think cod bladder with quince) and “game and forest” towards the end of the year – the only time when Noma serves meat. Yes, it’s painfully expensive but it might just be the most perfect meal on the planet.
Across the city, gourmands are spoilt for choice, from the eighth-floor Geranium, a three-Michelin-star experience in Østerbro, to Christian Puglisi’s ethical fine-diner, Relæ. Far more accessible, Hija de Sanchez is a taco stall in the gourmet haven of Torvehallerne market, run by ex-Noma pastry chef Rosio Sanchéz. Her tacos, hand-made from Mexican corn, are filled with spit-roasted pork or crisp fish skin. There’s a second outlet in the Meatpacking District and the chef’s more formal eatery, Sanchez, in the red-light area, serves Mexican-style bites. Weekend brunch (and the Margarita) are worth planning around.
Australian chef Beau Clugston, also a Noma alumnus, runs Iluka, Copenhagen’s hottest new seafood restaurant – order the Faroe Islands sea urchin.
Salsa ingredients at Casa Oaxaca El Restaurante. Image credit: Mariano Herrera.
To understand Mexico’s role in shaping world cuisine, consider the bounty of produce that hails from or is indigenous to Oaxaca – the mountain state in the country’s south. Avocadoes, tomatoes, all sorts of squash, even corn is thought to have originated in these parts. In fact, the Oaxacan dining philosophy is that everything should be criollo, which translates roughly as homegrown and a celebration of this charmed land.
The acknowledged father of modern Oaxacan cuisine is Alejandro Ruiz. His Casa Oaxaca El Restaurante was the first to push boundaries with the local cuisine, showcasing endemic dishes, such as coloradito mole with suckling pig and purple plantain, and unique flavours, including earthy huitlacoche (corn fungus) and tangy chicatanas – flying ants that swarm at the start of the rainy season.
Oaxaca excels at antojitos (street food) and one of the best places to experience the region’s diverse delicacies is at the 20 de Noviembre market, with its hillocks of chapulines (grasshoppers) dyed crimson with chilli and pizza-like tlayuda tortillas layered with beans, meat and melted Oaxacan string cheese. Visit the cooked meat aisle for charcoal-grilled cuts of your choice. For a classic night-time snack, drop by El Lechoncito de Oro (Calles de los Libres) for tacos stuffed with shredded pork.
Star Mexican chef Enrique Olvera and his protégé-partner Luis Arellano pay tribute to Oaxaca’s vibrant cuisine at Criollo, a city-edge mansion with a courtyard restaurant and traditional cooking stations where staff bake blue-corn tortillas on hot comal griddles. With seven-course tasting menus and weekend brunches, it’s a please-all proposition.
Basque Country, Spain
A dish at Asador Etxebarri.
Gastronomy flows through the veins of the citizens of the Basque Country. So much so that the region has its own cooking style: the avant-garde “new Basque cuisine” was conceived by leading local chefs in the 1980s. Today that innovative streak influences not only Basque cooking but also the peerless reputation of Spanish cuisine globally.
The province’s 40 Michelin-starred restaurants offer unlimited indulgence, including acclaimed dining experiences at the likes of Azurmendi and Mugaritz, but start your journey in San Sebastián’s Old Town, Parte Vieja. This is the spiritual home of pintxos, the sophisticated Basque version of tapas. Everyone has their favourite pintxos bar; at Borda Berri (Fermín Calbetón 12; +34 94 343 03 42), the veal cheeks are braised to bliss point in sticky Pedro Ximénez sherry.
Witness the Basque reverence for primary produce inside the Neoclassical La Bretxa market, San Sebastián’s temple to impeccable taste. Behold the dizzying array of mushrooms and the mountains of raw sheep’s milk cheeses while you search out seasonal delicacies, such as baby chipirones squid.
Juan Mari Arzak was one of the pioneers of new Basque cuisine; he and his daughter, Elena, continue to push boundaries at the three-Michelin-starred Arzak. At the base of a mountain about an hour from Bilbao, fire master Victor Arguinzoniz uses grills and embers at Asador Etxebarri to forge unforgettable flavours using mozzarella from his own buffaloes, tiny octopus and the most astonishing beef you’ll ever taste. A bucket-list barbie.
Plantas del desierto at Central. Image credit: Cesar del Rio.
Exploring Peru’s biodiversity, from Andean grains to Amazon fruits and seafood from the Pacific, is a daily pleasure for Lima’s chefs and diners. But the country’s cuisine is as much about cultural influences as it is about homegrown ingredients, whether you’re snacking on the skewered beef heart anticuchos that sustained slaves during Spanish rule or grazing a multi-course menu at one of the two Lima restaurants ranked in the world’s top 10.
Get a taste for chifa food – a combination of Chinese and Peruvian flavours – at El Chinito, a chain that turns out sánguches (sandwiches) stuffed with chicharrón (fried pork skin) or Sino-seasoned roast pork.
Japanese-Peruvian fusion cuisine, or Nikkei, has been popularised worldwide by Nobu but Lima’s Nikkei king is Mitsuharu Tsumura. At glossy Maido restaurant he creates surprising harmony in dishes like sachapapa yam “soba” noodles with clams and his signature “Mr Guinea Pig”, prepared confit-style with cassava cream.
The holy grail of Lima fine dining is Central, the restaurant-laboratory of husband-and-wife chefs Virgilio Martínez and Pía León. Their 17-course dégustation menus are a guided exploration across the country, from the depths of the ocean (goose barnacles, sargassum seaweed) to the heights of the Andes (oca, ulluco and mashua tubers).
SEE ALSO: 10 Restaurants You Must Eat at in Lima
Ask a chef to name their favourite city in the world and chances are it’ll be Tokyo. It tops the list of everyone from Yotam Ottolenghi to the late Anthony Bourdain and the Michelin inspectors agree: for more than 10 years in a row, Tokyo has boasted more starred restaurants than any other city. You may know the Japanese commitment to seasonality and the national eye for detail but the capital also offers a stunning diversity of places to eat.
To get a sense of the versatility of Japanese cooking, start where the locals do, at the depachika (food court). The best is beneath the Takashimaya department store in the Ginza shopping district, where every style of native cuisine is represented, from tempura to yakitori and excellent fried chicken.
At the nine-seat Japanese Soba Noodles Tsuta (1 Chome-14-1 Sugamo, Toshima; +81 3 3943 1007) you have to queue in the morning for a ticket to dine in the evening. The noodles are housemade, the soy sauce aged and the broth finished with truffle oil. Sushi Yoshitake is similarly bite-sized so reserve ahead of time to enjoy the omakase – the best of the day’s catch from Toyosu Fish Market.
Onigiri Asakusa Yadoroku is the oldest rice ball restaurant in the city. The workman’s snack is elevated to art, with fillings such as salted cod roe and tart slivers of ume plum. End the day as the samurai did, with a lavish kaiseki tasting menu. Chef Shinichi Akatsuka at Sekihotei is adept at combining rare ingredients, such as wild ayu sweetfish and young albino bamboo shoots.
Chicken curry at Bo.lan. Image credit: Aldo Giarelli.
The Thai capital is a fast-paced, frenzied metropolis of about 10 million and all anyone seems to think about is food. “Have you eaten yet?” is the standard greeting; if the answer’s no, you’re in for a treat. Bangkok is one of the great street-food cities, with a proliferation of simple stalls. Hotspots include the Khlong Toei wet market on Rama IV Road and Yaowarat, the lively Chinatown district where you’ll find the famous pork and rolled-noodle soup stall Guay Jub Ouan Pochana (number 408, in front of the Rama cinema) and terrific rice and curry at Khao Gaeng Jek Pui (corner Charoen Krung and Mangkon roads).
For Michelin-starred street food book well ahead at Jay Fai (327 Maha Chai Road; +66 92 724 9633), a shophouse where septuagenarian Supinya “Jay Fai” Junsuta works her magic – the crab omelette is a must. At the finer end of the spectrum there’s no shortage of choices, including the soon-to-be opened Mott 32, an outpost of the Hong Kong mod-Cantonese restaurant, and Mahanathi, Australian David Thompson’s latest. Both are due to debut in the new Orient Express hotel in early 2020.
For gratifying Thai, head to Bo.lan, set in a tropical garden. Chef Duangporn “Bo” Songvisava and her Australian partner, Dylan Jones, focus on ethically sourced produce transformed in traditional recipes. There’s a similar ethos at Sorn, where chef Supaksorn “Ice” Jongsiri brings finesse to the Southern Thai dishes he learnt cooking with his grandmother at family eatery Baan Ice.
Emilia burger at Franceshetta58.
It’s not surprising that the small, historic city of Modena is home to Osteria Francescana, which ranked top of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2016 and 2018. This is, after all, the birthplace of balsamic vinegar and the heartland of Emilia-Romagna, the blessed Italian region that gave the world Parma ham, tortellini, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, mortadella and Australia’s national dish, bolognese.
For classic Modenese fare book a table (or try the communal one) at Franceschetta58, an old tyre shop transformed into a contemporary osteria where premium ingredients shine in smoked eel risotto and tortellini with Parmigiano sauce. “Smart lunch” menus offer three courses for €25 (about $41). It’s the low-key sister of Osteria Francescana, where the menu meanders deliciously through the region with dishes such as “An eel swimming up the Po River” and “Tagliatelle with hand-chopped ragù”.
For more everyday eating, Bar Schiavoni (via Luigi Albinelli 13; +39 059 243 073) serves five irresistible panini every day (except Sunday) with fillings ranging from vitello tonnato with capers and artichoke to sardine fillets with toasted pine nuts and Modena balsamic.
Or stay on the Francescana theme and visit Da Panino, where the restaurant’s former manager and sommelier, Giuseppe Palmieri, does superior sandwiches (smoked swordfish with stracciatella and orange salad, baked ham with sour cherry jam and toasted hazelnuts) plus a few plates of pasta and handpicked wines.