While roaming around the world we make a concerted effort to try the regional specialties of everywhere we travel. It’s been an absolute treat to be able to taste locally prepared food with local ingredients in their native land, as they’re intended to be.
We run a weekly series on our Facebook Page to highlight our favorite, most interesting, or most iconic dish that we chow down on each week. With 52 #FoodieFridays each year and many, many more meals in between, we’ve now paused to take a look back at the best meals we’ve had around the world during the past year of travel.
Having eaten our way through over twenty countries in 2018, we’ve decided to narrow down our accolades to one single dish per country. Otherwise, we fear that this list may be composed almost exclusively of Italian and Mexican cuisine, which we tend to gravitate to a lot.
But we want to inspire foodie travel ideas from all around the world! And if you’re familiar with our style of travel then you already know we like to seek out some of the best values around the globe. So you’ll see that message of value naturally reflected in this recap of the best meals around the world, with no high-end selections on the list.
In fact, you’ll won’t find anything over $25 per person, demonstrating the affordability of eating well around the world.
We’ve listed these meals in order of when they were eaten (not best to worst). And from South Korea to Mexico, there were many outstanding dishes devoured along this eating odyssey.
Yet not all of these local specialties were quite to our tastes.
Singapore’s hawker stalls were fun to peruse, but when eating the micronation’s famed chicken rice, we weren’t particularly fond of the tepid, bland chicken with gelled skin that comes atop the otherwise very tasty rice. Meanwhile, pho seems to be all the rage these days. But while in Vietnam we found the pho was phorgettable (pardon the pun) when put up against the other outstanding soups in the region.
And while we did absolutely adore that Greek salad in Crete and loved London’s fish & chips with mushy peas, it’s difficult for us to say they shined brightly enough to stand out as a best meal of the year.
So what were some of the best meals around the world?
Without further ado, the following are the top 9 meals that have us wanting to travel back to these places for another bite!
1) Bibimbap – South Korea 🇰🇷
There is a lot of interesting cuisine to eat throughout Korea, which is always served with a side of kimchi (fermented veggies). From Korean barbeque to amazing ginseng chicken soup, we debated among the best Korea has to offer. Yet ultimately we’ve landed on bibimbap as our favorite dish in South Korea and one of the best meals of the year.
So what the heck is bibimbap?
It consists of a deep bowl of rice that is topped by a variety of vibrant vegetables, beef, and egg to form the five primary colors of Korean food: white, yellow, green, red, and black.
The name bibimbap essentially translates to “mixed rice,” which is exactly what you do once that sizzling bowl hits the table. It’s almost a shame to destroy the carefully constructed presentation. But when mixed, all of the different flavors and textures meld together so nicely.
Bibimbap can be found throughout Korea and there are endless variations and regional versions to the dish. The city of Jeonju is one of the most famous cities for bibimbap and many people travel to this city specifically with the bibimbap as motivation.
Among the different variations of bibimbap, our favorite is dolsol style, which is served in a scalding hot stone bowl that’s been coated with sesame oil. The oil on the hot stone continues to cook the bowl’s ingredients as you eat it. The best part is the crispy bits of rice that stick to the bottom of this special bowl, which are even more flavorful having also soaked up all the tasty toppings that once laid on top.
2) Peking Duck – China 🇨🇳
We found the local cuisine in China to be very hit-or-miss for our tastes. Yet when it hit, it hit big.
And Peking Duck now goes down as one of our favorite meals of all time.
This iconic dish to the Beijing area is one that takes meticulous preparation and cooking, just as it’s been done for centuries. And while most of that prep and roasting happens behind the scenes, the final stages occur tableside.
Beijing Peking Duck is served with flare, as it comes carved by the chef right at the table. In artful form, the chef slices through the seasoned roast duck separating the tender succulent meat from the thin crispy skin.
And, really, Peking Duck is all about that crispy skin!
Both the skin and the meat itself are traditionally served with an array condiments. Those skin pieces are dipped in garlic and granulated sugar. To us, the sugar seems so wrong. But it ultimately tastes so right.
Meanwhile, it’s traditional to eat the duck meat wrapped in a thin pancake that you top with onion, cucumber, and duck sauce. It essentially forms something like a duck taco that is eaten by hand. A duck taco in China? Yes, please!
This winning combination is almost as delicious as the crispy skin! Almost.
The Peking Duck meal we had soon after arriving in Beijing was so outstanding that we did something we almost never do while traveling. We went back to the very same place, the very next day, and experienced this deliciousness all over again! It was that good.
Peking duck is not just one of our favorite meals of 2018. It’s one of the top meals eaten during all of our travels.
3) Dim Sum – Hong Kong 🇭🇰
While roaming around the world we like to eat well, but we don’t splurge too much on fancy (err, pricey) restaurants that all the dining critics write up.
So when in the expensive locale of Hong Kong, we were delighted to eat the national food of dim sum at what’s been dubbed the cheapest restaurant in the world to ever be awarded a coveted Michelin star:
Tim Ho Wan.
We waited in line at this renowned eatery to try Hong Kong’s hallmark dish. That’s dim sum!
And at Tim Ho Wan the dim sum consists of a variety of stuffed buns and dumplings that come served in round steamer trays.
Hong Kong is an expensive city, yet Tim Ho Wan keeps their dumplings affordable, even despite the many accolades the restaurant receives. A tray of three dumplings at this Michelin-starred restaurant starts at a mere $2 USD.
We thought that the dim sum here completely lived up to all the hype! The baked BBQ pork buns offered a taste of east-meets-west.
The steamed dumplings were packed with vegetables and shrimp and had the unexpected crunch of peanuts that worked strangely well.
But our mutual favorite was the mouthwatering, pan-fried pork & veggie dumplings in a chili sauce. Whatever is chosen from the dozens of dumpling options on the Tim Ho Wan menu, we found that it’s all best washed down with pu’erh tea, which was delivered to each table alongside the dim sum feasts.
This meal was a testament to the high praise and worth the wait in the long queue this now notorious eatery regularly receives. It’s an awesome travel value to be able to easily afford a Michelin-star meal within one of the priciest cities in the world!
4) Tom Yum Goong – Thailand 🇹🇭
During this past year, we made our third, albeit most brief, pass through Thailand. This Southeast Asian nation has definitely remained a favorite food country of ours. So with a week on the ground there, we spent our meals revisiting the dishes we’ve enjoyed most in the past.
We came to Thailand excited to dig our forks into what’s perhaps the most well-known dish, pad thai. These flavorful stir-fried rice noodles are served with egg, tofu, and shrimp with accouterments of sprouts, crushed peanuts, chili pepper, and lime to season to your own taste. And that we do. Bring on the lime and crushed peanuts!
But when we wanted to turn up the heat, we ordered a sizzling Thai red curry. Thailand has so many great curries, from massaman to green to Penang. But our mutual favorite is the red! We like it spicy and find the coconut milk tends to balance out heat perfectly.
Pad thai and red curry are both fantastic Thai dishes, but it’s the Tom Yum Goong that we’ll crown as a favorite meal of the year and our favorite Thai dish.
Tom yum goong is a national dish in Thailand that’s a hot and sour soup that’s packed with flavor. That signature spicy and tangy combo comes primarily from chili pepper and lime juice, and along with lemongrass, lime leaves, galangal, and fish sauce.
Tom yum can sometimes be found to include chicken, beef, or pork. Yet along coastal Thailand, it’s almost exclusively goong, or shrimp, that’s used as the protein. And that’s the only way we can imagine having this lip-smacking soup we enjoy so much.
5) Southern Indian Seafood – India 🇮🇳
We only had one full day in India this past year and so we had to make our meal count. We went roaming around Mangalore, in Southern India, in search of the fiery seafood dishes the region is known for.
When stumbling across a restaurant that had a long line of locals waiting for a seat, we knew that with such a steady stream of customers, the fish had to be fresh.
Oh, it was. In fact, it tasted as if it had just come off the boat.
But it was the unique and flavorful style of how this seafood was cooked that really tingled our taste buds.
We tried the kingfish and prawns that were both pan-fried and liberally coated with a concoction of chili, spices, and fresh coconut. A squeeze of lime added a zing to compliment the spiciness that made each bite out-of-this-world delicious!
And don’t even get me started about the prawns. Oh, those prawns!
My mouth is watering just thinking about them. If you’ve ever had bang-bang shrimp or firecracker shrimp, it tasted somewhat similar to that but with way more flavor and a tantalizing Indian flare, of course. Those tongue-tickling prawns were definitely one of the most amazing things that we put in our mouths last year.
We were so uncomfortably full after clearing both platters, yet those prawns were so damn good that we had a serious conversation about ordering more. If we had stayed in Mangalore for longer, we’d have been back every single day for lunch just to eat those spicy prawns again.
And we’d dig right in with our hands. Because that’s just how you do when in India.
Actually, as foreigners in India, this restaurant was kind enough to provide us with silverware. But not a single person in the restaurant was using any. In India, it’s traditional to eat with your clean right hand. Even rice covered with “gravy” is eaten by hand.
So we also attempted, not-so-gracefully, to dig right in with our hands. Doing so just added to this amazing food experience in India, as we sat at communal tables, eating off the metal trays and making friends with our tablemates.
For both taste and the experience itself, it’s gone down as one of our most memorable meals of the year and has left us craving further food forays in India.
6) Fresh Tortellini – Italy 🇮🇹
We firmly believe that Italian food is one of the best cuisines in the world. We were in pizza heaven during our month in Italy, of which those floppy pies provided for so many affordable meals that were consistently delicious yet each stood out on their own. From focaccias to lasagnas to risottos, everything Italian was a total delight. And don’t even get me started on the gelato.
Perhaps most fun in Italy was making a few food-inspired pilgrimages.
To travel to the town of Parma for a board of fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan) cheese and prosciutto crudo di Parma was a true gastronomic highlight of the year.
Yet we never realized just how amazing pasta fresca could be until we spent a month eating this “fresh pasta” while roaming around Italy. Nothing in Italy quite compares to the quality and freshness of the homemade pastas you can find in the pasta fresca shops throughout the country.
It was in the food city of Bologna, where we tried smooth tagliatelle, a long flat egg pasta that’s traditionally topped here with a meaty “ragù.” But Bologna is not only home to tagliatelle al ragù. It’s also is said to be the birthplace of tortellini.
And it’s the fresh handmade tortellini we devoured in the city of Bologna that has gone down as not only one of the best things we’ve eaten in Italy, but around the world, period. Our favorite tortellini had a simple filling of ricotta cheese and parsley, modestly tossed in a buttery tomato sauce. Sometimes simplicity wins and this was absolutely phenomenal!
Bologna is an interesting city to travel to on its own merits. Yet it’s worth venturing here just to spend a few days eating. We dream of returning if for no other reason than to chow down on those tortellini again, right on its home turf.
7) Fondue – Switzerland 🇨🇭
We must admit that a big part of our desire to swing into Switzerland for a few days was to try a traditional fondue meal while in those gorgeous Alps surroundings. We even decided on where to stay within Switzerland based upon the presence of a good fondue restaurant.
So while spending the night in the town of Leysin, we indeed found a restaurant that had been serving the same fondue menu for the past several decades.
Local Gruyere and Vacherin cheeses intermingled in a warm fondue pot for a delicious nutty, tangy, salty, creamy punch to our taste buds.
It was every bit as delicious as it was fun to eat.
With each dip of crusty bread into that melty pot of deliciousness, we moaned in delight as we savored each bite.
Washed down with local white wine, the slightly tart, dry, and mineral flavors paired almost too perfectly between each bite of gooey Swiss cheese that is leaving my mouth watering as I now write this.
8) Lyonnais Cuisine – France 🇫🇷
We do enjoy France’s affordable eats, from crepes to croissants. Yet it’s our opinion that some of France’s best cuisine is often financially out-of-reach for many travelers on a budget. Perhaps that’s why we enjoyed the bouchons in Lyon so much, as these historic restaurants offer high-quality regional fare at fairly reasonable prices.
The city of Lyon, France, has a rich and unique culinary tradition that’s even been lauded as the “world capital of gastronomy.”
There’s said to be over a thousand restaurants here. Yet only 24 of Lyon’s eateries are the certified bouchons that this foodie city is best known for. Bouchons are small bistros that came about in the early 1900’s when large families began to let go of their in-house chefs, who then set up their own eateries, catering to Lyon’s hungry silk workers.
These bouchons serve hearty fare in a casual atmosphere. It’s all using fresh local ingredients and much of the traditional Lyonnaise cuisine relies on rich and heavy dishes. Many such dishes are only for adventurous meat eaters (think: trotters, tripe, sweetbreads, intestine, brain, etc.) It’s a bit much, even for us.
Still, we popped into one of the city’s charming bouchons to partake in this quintessential Lyon dining experience. Thankfully, the menu had dishes that were still friendly to newbies to Lyonnaise cuisine.
The celery salad topped with smoked duck was the perfect way to kick off our three-course meal, leaving us hungry and curious for more.
That call was answered with a dish composed of savory ground chicken that was stuffed full of tangy goat cheese oozing out from within, and covered in a zippy tomato sauce. That all laid atop a bed of rice pilaf that was there to purposely sop up the messy and bold flavors that dripped from above. This is one of those dishes where a picture does not do it justice, as it tasted phenomenal.
The meal concluded with a lavender-scented crème brûlée that was the best rendition of the classic French dessert we’ve ever had. Although the sweet praline pie we tried wasn’t so bad either and is very traditional to the Lyon area.
Yet any way you slice those desserts, we thought Lyon’s Bouchon cuisine totally rocked.
The meal has even gone down as our favorite in all three trips that we’ve now made to France and certainly one of the best meals we had during the year.
9) Mexican Food – All of it 🇲🇽
Since we spent the bulk of 2018 roaming around Mexico, we got the opportunity to dive deep into the local cuisine, venturing far beyond many delicious tacos.
So what was the best meal in Mexico?
After much debate, we’ve concluded that was an impossible proclamation to make.
From street eats like tacos to finer gastronomic Mexican cuisine, both have been outstanding in taste and value.
We thoroughly enjoyed the Mexican-style ceviche devoured while roaming around the Yucatan. Yet we really appreciated the warm pozole (soup) while up in the mountaintops of Mexico’s cooler climates. From gorditas in Queretaro to miner’s enchiladas in Guanajuato, it’s all so good.
Perhaps what sticks out to us most during this past year’s trip through Mexico are the regional dishes in the state of Jalisco. While we had traveled through Jalisco once before, it was the first time we lingered long enough to try the local specialties to this state.
From the first bite of a torta ahogada, a pork sandwich drowned with sauce, we were in love. In fact, I spent the next five days straight eating one for lunch every day. This notoriously messy meal in Mexico may not look like much, but it is incredible.
That is, until I discovered slowly simmering pots of birria, a tender spice-laden meat stew. Then there’s the Jalisco-style tacos barbacoa, which are dunked into a sauce before being fried up on a griddle.
Really, it’s all the bold flavors found in Mexican cooking that’s a big reason why it stands out to us as another one of our favorite cuisines in the world. And it’s a big part of what keeps us coming back for more.
We look forward to eating more Mexican food into 2019 and writing a more detailed guide to where you can find some of our favorite Mexican dishes. So stay tuned for that.
Eating Our Way Into 2019
We’re excited to now begin eating our way into the new year and we’ll make this list an annual tradition. We’ll soon be setting off on our sixth year of Roaming Around the World to revisit some old favorites while discovering new places along the way, all while looking for our next favorite meal around the world!
Buen provecho! Bon appetit! 🍽️
And cheers to a healthy year that leaves you full and happy!