Served with lashings of national pride, these signature dishes from around the globe are worth travelling for. Larissa Dubecki reveals where to get your authentic food fix.
Best Dumplings in China
Baoyuan Jiaozi Wu, Beijing
This is a bit like choosing the best noodle in a haystack but there are good reasons to single out Beijing’s Baoyuan Jiaozi Wu. Cheap, cheerful and always busy, it serves the hearty, thicker-skinned, northern-style jiaozi (dumplings). The breadth of the menu is dizzying, including everything from traditional pork and prawn fillings to mad jumbles such as smoked bean curd with lotus root, smoked pork with radish or cabbage and crisp rice. Just add soy sauce and vinegar – and the novelty factor of dumplings in a rainbow of colours, thanks to vegetable- dyed wrappers.
Best Burger in the United States
The Breslin, New York City
Lamb isn’t America’s favourite meat – not even close – but when it comes to the hotly contested burger wars, renowned English transplant April Bloomfield’s perfectly formed burger at The Breslin in New York is doing its bit to promote it. This is an uncompromising burger with just seasoned meat in the patty – chargrilled and intensely juicy – topped with a slice of tangy fetta and red onion. Served in a thick white ciabatta-like bun, with cumin mayonnaise on the side and a rustling bunch of triple-cooked chips, it’s sheer perfection.
Best Croissants in France
Du Pain et Des Idées, Paris
A rustic, charming, eye-popping delight, Du Pain et Des Idées is not so much a Paris boulangerie as a pilgrimage site for devotees of the baked arts. Owner and chief baker Christophe Vasseur left a career in the fashion industry to pursue his love of pastry. His croissants – buttery, flaky, multi-layered crescents of loveliness – are the Platonic ideal, with brittle crunch and glossy lamination yielding to a perfectly melting interior.
Best Sushi in Japan
Sukiyabashi Jiro, Tokyo
Jiro Ono dreamed of sushi in the 2011 documentary film that turned the now-nonagenarian sushi master into a global food superstar. His three-Michelin- starred restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, in Tokyo is as difficult to get into as it is small (it has just 10 seats). It’s been at the base of a nondescript office block near Ginza subway station for 52 years. The tasting menu of 20-odd courses features the freshest, most meticulously prepared produce from the city’s famous Tsukiji fish market.
Best Pavlova in Australia
Rockpool Bar & Grill, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth
Pavlova is the culinary equivalent of Russell Crowe: it’s claimed by both New Zealand and Australia. The jury might still be out on the inventor of the fluffy meringue- based dessert named in honour of Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova (who visited both countries in the 1920s) but it wholeheartedly endorses the version at Neil Perry’s Rockpool Bar & Grill restaurants in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. Created by Perry’s former pastry whiz, Catherine Adams (a New Zealander... the plot thickens), the classic pav is a wonderful cumulonimbus of meringue topped with an extravagance of passionfruit curd, whipped cream and passionfruit pulp. Trans-Tasman love at its finest.
Best Paella in Spain
La Pepica, Valencia
Ernest Hemingway was a regular at this paella specialist on the beach – his favourite haunt for a post-bullfight refuel. Still going strong after almost 120 years, La Pepica at Playa de la Malvarrosa has more historical curios on the menu: the house paella of shelled seafood was first made for painter Joaquín Sorolla and the vegetarian paella was for Queen Sofía. But to truly go authentic, you’ll need to order the classic Valencian paella of al dente rice with snails, chicken, rabbit and vegetables, spiced with saffron and paprika. Whatever the ingredients, every paella is faithful to the classic recipe of shallow pan, flame and time to conjure the all-important socarrat (crust) on the bottom. Waiters deliver the finished product to the table for approval before whisking it away to be dished up.
Best Soufflé in France
La Cigale Récamier, Paris
The strange alchemy of egg yolks and beaten whites reaches its apotheosis at this charming haunt in Paris’s 7th arrondissement, where owner Gérard Idoux channels his happiest childhood food memory (a chocolate sou é to nish Sunday lunch) at his soufflé restaurant. Dubbed “one of the great miracles of the French kitchen”, soufflés have risen not just once but many thousands of times at La Cigale. Diners swing from savoury to sweet in the hands of skilful chefs, whose creations are beautifully light and puffy, while the waiters are adept at ferrying them to the table as quickly as they emerge from the oven.
Best Laksa in Malaysia
Penang Air Itam Laksa, Penang
Culinary mash-ups don’t come much better than laksa, a Peranakan (Chinese-Malay) spicy noodle soup with addictive qualities. There are almost as many variations of laksa as there are Malaysians but you can begin by distinguishing between the coconut-milk-based curry laksa and the sour-fish-soup assam laksa. The best assam laksa is found in its birthplace of Penang, where bustling family-run George Town institution Penang Air Itam Laksa has been selling its uncompromisingly authentic version for more than 60 years. It has perfected a pungent, spicy and beautifully balanced recipe with mackerel, prawn paste and plenty of refreshing greens. Note the restaurant will be closed from January 11 to 17.
Best Fish 'N' Chips in England
Stein’s Fish & Chips, Padstow
What celebrity chef Rick Stein doesn’t know about seafood really isn’t worth knowing. His North Cornwall headquarters offers not only an excellent seafood restaurant but also a fabulous “fish and chippy”, as the Brits like to call them. At Stein’s Fish & Chips, they use beef dripping for a super- crunchy batter that encases the usual suspects of cod and haddock or, even better, locally caught hake, monkfish and John Dory. Eat your takeaway overlooking the Camel Estuary with the requisite add-ons, such as malt vinegar, mushy peas and hopeful seagulls.
Best Chilli Crab in Singapore
Eng Seng, Singapore
The mud crab is sweet and fresh and the tomato-rich sauce is aromatic with ginger and garlic. It’s spicy without going nuclear on the palate. Also justly renowned for its black pepper crab, nondescript Singaporean hawker shop Eng Seng is a crab-lovers’ paradise. Whole crustaceans are dispatched and cooked to order (best avert your eyes from the kitchen if crab carnage is an issue). This is no modern tourist restaurant: the service is legendarily brusque, wet towels cost extra and the crabs often run out by mid- evening so take the locals’ advice and ring ahead to place an order.
Best Churrasco in Brazil
Churrascaria Matias, Sapiranga
Skewers of charry, flame-licked meat circulate around the room in the hands of knife-wielding waiters. Some believe that churrasco, or Brazilian barbecue, began at Churrascaria Matias, a no-frills restaurant in Sapiranga, in the country’s south. Of course, the combination of meat, skewers and flame began long before with the cowboys of the southern region. But it was the mistake of a waiter here in the 1960s – he delivered skewers to the wrong table and allowed the diner to have a taste – that allegedly started the rodízio (carved-to- order) experience.
Best Schnitzel in Austria
National pride on a plate, the Wiener (meaning “Viennese”) schnitzel may have originated from the Italian dish cotoletta alla Milanese but let’s not tell the Austrians. Four generations of Figlmüllers have been serving the thin, hammered pork schnitzels, traditionally eaten with potato salad, since 1905. The original Figlmüller restaurant (glmueller.at) is in Wollzeile, behind Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, in the centre of Vienna. (To get veal schnitzel, you need to head to the Bäckerstrasse branch.) Fried in three pans of oil at different temperatures, each schnitzel is 30 centimetres in diameter. Yes, they’re insanely large, built to spill over the edges of a dinner plate, but traditionalists wouldn’t have it any other way.
Best Pizza in Italy
Pepe in Grani, Caiazzo
To find Italy’s greatest pizza, it’s necessary to go back to its likely birthplace, the southern city of Naples. From there, you must head 48 kilometres north to the Campania hilltop town of Caiazzo, where obsessive pizzaiolo Franco Pepe is wresting the crown from the Neapolitan lowlanders. Set in a restored eighth-century stone palazzo, Pepe in Grani only uses ingredients from nearby producers. Pepe has revived a special wheat for his artisan dough and makes wood-fired magic with the simple margherita.
Best Tagine in Morocco
Le Tobsil, Marrakech
It’s thought the nomadic Berbers invented the tagine, the conical earthenware pot that lends the aromatic, slow-cooked dish its name. But the best is found at a fixed address: a former palace deep in Marrakech’s maze-like medina. Le Tobsil is well worth the Google Maps challenge, with its set menu of Moroccan food always involving a tagine – typically lamb that falls off the bone in a cloud of cumin-led spices. Plus, there’s a good chance of spotting a celebrity, such as singer/songwriter John Legend, who celebrated his birthday here with his wife, model Chrissy Teigen.
Best Nasi Goreng in Indonesia
Nasi Goreng Gila Gondrong, Jakarta
A classic rice-and-leftovers creation, nasi goreng has wiggled its way across the class divide to become Indonesia’s unofficial national dish. There are a million regional and chef-based variations and Jakarta’s Nasi Goreng Gila Gondrong (Jalan Besuki, Menteng) serves nasi goreng gila. “Gila” means crazy, a reference to the use of all kinds of meat, such as chicken, lamb and sausages – all imbued with the delicious smoky lick of the wok. Fun fact: this place is also known as Nasi Goreng Gila Obama Gondrong, thanks to its location near a primary school attended by Barack Obama.
Best Butter Chicken in India
Moti Mahal, New Delhi
The seductive power of butter chicken – known in Hindi as murgh makhani – cuts swathes through class, caste and country. It’s a mild curry that begins with the tandoor and nishes with ghee and cream, lending a sumptuous, velvety finish. It’s also the perfect gateway to the vibrant world of Indian cuisine. Legend has it that Kundan Lal Gujral, a Punjabi Hindu, invented the recipe more than 70 years ago. It remains a stalwart at his Delhi restaurant, Moti Mahal, which his grandsons have grown into a global franchise chain.