Whether you savor the feel of fresh mozzarella in your hands as you start to make dinner or are really more adept at eating dinner; whether you smell every dish with your eyes closed before pulling each morsel into your mouth or are searching for new favorite flavors; whether you’re a hole-in-the-wall discoverer or Michelin-star aficionado; if you would literally write home about a perfectly filleted piece of fish served in a pool of melted butter, this is your bucket list. Regardless of the culinary school of thought you subscribe to, eating in the world’s most acclaimed restaurants, walking through markets filled with locals, and tasting new and exotic dishes the world over are integral to being not only a food lover, but a traveler.
A restaurant like Noma, which came into the spotlight as elBulli was set to close, is a culinary destination in itself, with diners traveling from near and far as soon as they’re able to secure a table. Tell anyone you’re headed for Tuscany and they’ll gush about the food and wine, with memories of hearty cuts of steak and robust red wines, before talks turn to things like the stunning countryside or architecture. For the traveler that prefers white-glove service and award-winning chefs, Tokyo is now the city with the most Michelin stars in the world, making it the definitive fine-dining destination.
And then there are journeys to places that aren't on the tip of everyone’s tongues as food destinations. Cape Town, for example, with rolling vineyards to one side and a crystal blue coastline on the other, has an immensely diverse food scene, with Indian, Malaysian, and Dutch influences throughout. Lima, too, has (surprisingly, to some) surpassed other South American cities as a premier culinary hot spot in recent years, with dishes that are fresh, bold, and adventurous, washed down with the country’s ubiquitous Pisco sour.
Culinary destinations are not always capital cities or even a country’s largest hub. Marrakesh may be the first stop for most travelers to Morocco, but it’s Fez that really showcases the true flavors of the country. And while Barcelona made our bucket list, San Sebastian did as well, beating out other Spanish cities like Madrid because of its unique Basque flavors and the locals' obsession with food. Then, Oaxaca, with a food landscape so rich you may need multiple trips to taste everything, easily secured its spot over the sprawling metropolis of Mexico City.
American food-obsessives need not leave the country to eat some of the world’s most coveted foods. Both coasts boast cities, from Napa Valley and New York City to Charleston and Portland, where artisanal foods at farmers markets and award-winning and celebrity chefs make up an incredibly varied food scene.
So, to come up with our food-obsessive bucket list, we picked each other’s brains and combed our most trusted resources for countries and cities where food is not only a cause for national pride, but is also particularly lauded and loved by the world’s top critics, and is simultaneously accessible and enticing.
From internationally known chefs to hole-in-the-wall eateries (that locals try to keep secret), and from comforting, familiar dishes to flavors that force you from your comfort zone, traveling for food is nourishing in every sense of the word. Beyond just being sustained, you’ll learn something (even if it’s just that you actually do like sushi), you’ll feel connected to a new place (even if you go once and never need to go again), and you may come back a few pounds heavier (but happier).
Whether you go through our list to check off the places you’ve been or use it as the jumping off point for your journey to discover a world of flavors, here it is — the ultimate food lover’s bucket list.