When I think of some of my favorite travel memories of all time, they’re more of a mix of sensory experiences: incredible sights, wild colors, distinctive sounds. This mainly includes food.
Whether you’re sitting down for a 3-hour haute cuisine dinner or grabbing a filling local delicacy to take away, meals can certainly play a starring role in your vacation memories. I have been fortunate to have dined on five continents so far. Here I’ve recreated 14 of my all-time favorite dishes I’ve enjoyed out of the house.
1. Confit de Canard, Paris
My husband and I visited Paris when I was 28 weeks old with our son. There were some French favorites that I couldn’t consume; unpasteurized cheese and wine were unfortunately out. But don’t worry: I definitely ate well, especially since I ate for two.
One evening we went to a small, elegant café and when I opened the menu I knew exactly what I wanted: confit de canard or duck confit. Served in many upscale Parisian restaurants, the iconic French dish did not disappoint. The duck, cooked to supreme tenderness in its own fat and seasoned to perfection with plenty of salt, pepper and herbs de Provence, was rich and decadent. I devoured every piece of meat and the baby potatoes served underneath. Even now, every time I’m lucky enough to be served duck, it takes me right back to this little cafe in this magical city.
2. Cardamom Tea and Cookies, Mumbai
Sometimes an unforgettable meal doesn’t have to be a multi-course dinner. Very often, when you find yourself in a whole new place – with new friends – even tea and biscuits can be at the top of your “best meals” list. That was certainly the case in Mumbai, where I spent an afternoon shopping for memorabilia to take home. I was also extremely jet lagged as I had arrived late the night before. The shopkeepers noticed that I was exhausted (and famished too!) and when my groceries were wrapped, they invited me for a cup of tea. It was simple – soaked cardamom pods with cinnamon – but delicious. Coupled with some crunchy, sweet cookies and lots of snappy conversation, this was more than enough for a meal I’ll never forget.
3. Chicken paprika, Budapest
Eastern Europe is known for its hearty, flavorful cuisine. And when we traveled to the wonderful city of Budapest a few years ago, I knew I wanted to try one of Hungary’s most famous dishes. The chicken paprika was as wonderful as I could have hoped for. I hesitated to order until the last night of our trip when we visited a little cafe just around the corner from St. Stephen’s Church. The leg quarter was stewed in a rich sauce with paprika, butter and sour cream and served over tiny fluffy dumplings. I’m still dreaming about this dish!
4th Jazz Brunch, Commander’s Palace, New Orleans
I was fortunate to live in southern Louisiana for several years early in my career, and when I return to New Orleans to visit, I try to make it to the Commander’s Palace for jazz brunch. This spot has been a landmark in the city’s beautiful Garden District since 1893; Locals and visitors alike love the crayfish bread, gumbo, and turtle soup. Jazz brunch is a hilarious extravaganza that features the restaurant’s most popular dishes while a band serenades. I’ve even seen a second line break out during the event over the years. If you can’t make it to Mardi Gras, this is a great alternative.
5. Dal and Naan, New Delhi, India
Indian food is beautiful in its nuances, use of spices and cooking techniques. One of my absolute favorite meals was a beautiful multi-course meal in New Delhi, where two of India’s main dishes were the stars. Dal is a cozy, hearty dish — lentils cooked with spices like ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and cumin. Naan is the yogurt flatbread used to scoop all these delicacies. I loved the combo so much that I stowed spices in my luggage so I could recreate this simple yet incredible dish at home.
6. Dinner on the Orient Express
No doubt I will never forget our gala dinner on the Orient Express. We boarded in Venice and drove through to London overnight. The best we could tell was that we were somewhere in Switzerland when our butler knocked softly on our cabin door to call us to dinner. The dining car, draped in rich velvet and highly polished wood, was beautiful. We sat with a fascinating couple from London and enjoyed a sumptuous four course meal while a piano played softly in the corner. It was a magical night centered on a perfect meal.
7. Lobster Bake on the Beach, Martha’s Vineyard
When a dear friend had her wedding in Martha’s Vineyard, I knew I had to travel there. From the charming setting and lovely touches to the beautiful garden ceremony itself, it was truly a weekend to remember. A highlight: the rehearsal dinner, an authentic lobster casserole right on the beach. The locally sourced lobsters were steamed to perfection with corn, potatoes and lots of flavorful spices. We all put on our obligatory bibs, ate to our hearts’ content and watched a brilliant sunset. Add in the celebratory atmosphere and you’ll see why this ranks among the best meals ever.
8. Kabritu Stoba, Curacao
I love expanding my taste buds on vacation and that was certainly the case on Curacao. Colonized by the Dutch, this island nation still has a distinct Creole vibe. When we visited her I knew I wanted to give it a try kabritu stoba – or goat stew. It’s a famous dish that makes delicious use of the goats that roam free (or roam wild, depending on who you ask) on the island. I grabbed a bowl at a food hall frequented by locals in downtown Willemstad. The goat was tender and slightly wild, the stew thick, hearty and perfect with a side of island beans and rice.
9. Simit Sandwiches, Istanbul
A highlight of our trip to Istanbul was visiting the famous Blue Mosque. However, we were in a bit of a rush and hadn’t eaten a full breakfast. Good thing the simit stalls surround the perimeter of the mosque. We grabbed two of the thin, bagel-like rings, asked for them to be split in half and spread with cream cheese and jelly, and voila! We had the perfect on-the-go meal while queuing to see one of the wonders of the world. Perfection.
10. Power-Up Breakfast, outside of Quito, Ecuador
We really wanted to explore Cotopaxi, the active volcano near Quito, during our trip to Ecuador. Our tour guide picked us up early and we knew that breakfast was included in our tour. On the way we stopped at a tiny, dusty café in a small village and were the only customers. We were not disappointed when we were served yoghurt sprinkled pancakes with granola, fresh tropical fruit, thick white bread with jam and incredible Ecuadorian coffee. It was the perfect refreshment for an action-packed, memorable day as we ascended to base camp. I was pretty thankful for all those breakfast carbs!
11. Biang Biang Noodles, Xi’an
China is famous for its dumplings, buns, and perhaps most importantly, noodles. And when I visited Xi’an, several people told me I must try the city big big, or belt noodles. Hand-pulled and wide (like a belt!), these wheat-dough noodles are served in giant bowls of broth, side-by-side with a flavorful sauce that can be adjusted to taste. I watched the noodles being made on site in the town square and devoured them in a communal outdoor dining area. They had the perfect amount of chew, the broth was fragrant and sweet – a definite comfort food after a long day of travel.
12. Muted Scorpionfish, Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands were a confusing place for us to travel. We were in Puerto Ayora and had snorkeling trips planned for each of our 3 days there. On the evenings when we were too late – and too exhausted – to return for a leisurely dinner, we made our way to Charles Binford Street and its Los Kiskos, an outdoor dining hall of sorts with picnic tables right in the center. We stumbled onto a fishmonger’s one evening, selected two of the loveliest freshly caught scorpionfish, then watched them rolled in banana leaves and steamed to perfection. We brought our bounty to a table, paired it with a few local beers, and soaked up the late-night expatriate-adventurer vibe.
13. Mezes Platter, Rhodes, Greece
Sunshine, the sea and a platter of delicious food are what I remember most about beautiful Rhodes. We only had a short time there as it was a port of call for a Mediterranean cruise. After a whirlwind of sightseeing, we settled in for a quick bite at a seaside cafe before rejoining the ship. We ordered mezes and a light Greek white wine. The taste of taramasalata on pita, the salty brine of the local olives and of course the creamy, locally made feta make for the perfect Mediterranean meal.
14. Cream Tea, London, England
Last but not least, I have to tell you about the wonderfully quirky Café in the Crypt at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church in London, just a few steps from Trafalgar Square. The cafe serves delicious food at fair prices, but I particularly love the cream tea service, including scones, clotted cream, and jam… plenty to qualify for a meal. This place is the perfect place to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, which I have done many times. And where else can you eat in a historic crypt? It’s more intriguing than scary, I promise!