Travel by taste bud... where to go
Cuisine is one of the finest tools of cultural discovery. Find out where in the world our experts suggest to taste local produce, delicacies and cuisine.
It is possible to travel around the world, enjoying new experiences and discovering different cultures, merely by raising a morsel to your mouth. Like planes, trains and boats, our taste buds can transport us – but in a way that negates a change of location.
Of course, while we can – and indeed should – delight in the wonderful possibilities for cultural discovery by tasting national and regional cuisines within our homeland, there is an altogether more exciting prospect. There is a wide variety of destinations that are fabulous for the food lover; here is just a handful of the finest.
San Sebastian, Spain
One of the world's most celebrated culinary destinations, San Sebastian – and, indeed, the Basque region as a whole – is a hive of gastronomic activity. Proudly possessing more Michelin stars per capita than any other city in the world, San Sebastian enjoys a well-deserved reputation for its inventive chefs and the calibre of its produce.
Indeed, exceptional produce is a pivotal part of what makes the Basque region such an exciting place for the culinary arts. With the sea to one side, the Ebro valley to the other, and a climate ideal for cultivation, the Basque country enjoys a wide variety of produce from land and water, including fresh and cured meats, abundant fish and seafood, and a variety of vegetables.
On a culinary tour here, you can explore a city that's in possession of 16 Michelin stars, and where food and the kitchen are central to the local culture. This is a place that has embraced the trend for molecular gastronomy, while firmly clinging to its distinctive traditional culinary culture. One of the most interesting and delicious elements of the latter is pintxos; similar to tapas, these small bites are typically enjoyed with a few drinks with friends or family, and are similar to tapas – with the key difference being that they are usually spiked with a small skewer and often served with bread.
As well as hunting for the finest pintxos, you can peruse local markets during your culinary tour. La Bretxa market is among the best – expect to discover stands lined with shimmering fresh fish, vast hams and a colourful array of fruits and vegetables. After exploring the market, you can flex your own culinary muscles by learning how to cook some typical Basque dishes from a native instructor. A visit to a historic pig farm and a Spanish wine tasting are just a few of the other delights on offer.
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Moroccan cuisine reflects a medley of cooking styles. Dining here, it is possible to discern Mediterranean, Berber and Andalusian influences – a combination that has served to make the nation's cuisine at once distinctive and deliciously moreish. The use of fruits and spices in savoury dishes as well as sweet have helped carve Moroccan cuisine a reputation for its fine flavours.
Marrakech provides an ideal base for a culinary tour of Morocco. Its mixture of spice souks, welcoming riads and delicious wines give you plenty to explore. Djemaa el Fna square, a vivacious centrepoint for Marrakech's hustle and bustle, is a fabulous place to start. At dusk, wonderful food stalls join the jugglers, storytellers and other entertainers to provide steaming servings of local cuisine. Particular highlights include Merguez sausages and spicy harissa.
Also not to be missed is a trip to the city's spice market, where heady scents fill the air. Once you have explored, enjoy an interactive cooking demonstration from a local 'dada' or chef – the perfect chance to perfect your own Moroccan cooking skills.
Before you leave, embark on a trip to the Ourika Valley to visit a saffron farm and a Berber village, where you can see local bread being prepared.
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Vietnam houses one of the world's most exciting gastronomic cultures. Renowned for its fresh flavours and vibrant spices, its use of ingredients such as shrimp paste and fish sauce is equally important in creating its distinctive taste. Indeed, it Vietnam you will typically come across simple ingredients cooked with real flair – especially within its thriving street food culture, which is a joy to discover with favourites such as beef and rice noodle rolls.
A tour around the country will give you the opportunity not only to discover the cuisine of different cities and regions, but also to visit some of Vietnam's celebrated cultural attractions – from beautiful natural wonders such as Halong Bay, to sombre historical attractions like the Cu Chi Tunnels.
By visiting Hue, you can get a taste of the nation's wonderful markets; the local Dong Ba Market sells everything from local handicrafts to shrimp cakes. Moving on to Hoi An, you can take an optional class at the Red Bridge Cooking School. Before your lesson begins, you will be led on an atmospheric trip around the local market, selecting prepare typical national dishes with later that day.
Experiencing the joy and wonder of floating markets is also essential, so don't miss the one at Cai Rang in Ho Chi Minh City; it is the largest in Indochina. This metropolis is also a fabulous place for distinctive street food - especially thanks to the culinary quirks colonial times have left behind. Try bahn mi - a blend of French and Vietnamese cooking traditions.
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