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A foodie's paradise: Top 10 countries for food

Written by  Natacha Cullinan
World food World food m'sieur rico
Although France has always been known to offer great treats, sweet and savoury, for many years, it would be unfair to claim the Gallic country to be the only source of good food. Italy, we hear you cry, is just as good. What about the food found outside of history books, and Europe, for that matter? Here is our list, compiled by hungry students looking for that little bit extra when it comes to eating out, for those looking to put a bit of spice and other nice things in their belly...

1) For fast, healthy, spicy food: Thailand

Across the markets of Bangkok, you’ll come across all sorts of yummy treats - from world famous curries, to spicey fried noodles, to succulent steamed pork with all sorts of exotic sauces...This is the place to come to if you like your food served quickly, for a bargain price and with bundles of vegetables thrown in. With so many exciting dishes to choose from, you’ll guaranteed a bit of a headache when it comes to picking (there really is such a thing as too many choices) but chances are, whatever you pick, it’ll be cooked to perfection.

2) For meat-lovers: Argentina

With meat so tender you can slice it with a spoon, this is the place to come if you want to experience the beef from the Pampas. All sorts of cuts are on offer, with chorizo being particularly tasty, thanks to the popular parrilladas. Not as cheap as it used to be, Argentina is still a frugal option for real meat-eaters. Try the fine bread balls, speckled with sesame seeds, if you can’t bear the wait. Word of warning: do mention how red you like your beef, as Argentinians have a tendency to have it well done. The accompanying sauce, chimichurri, made out of parsley, garlic, oregano and something really special we can’t quite put our finger on, is to die for - try and get a traditional recipe to make it once you’re back home.

3) For a bit of everything and the BEST fast food: USA

Throughout the vast country, you’ll find some of the most famous global platters known to man. Kentucky fried chicken (the real McCoy), spare ribs, slow-cooked pork, corn chowder, pumpkin pie and many more treats, to tickle all sorts of tastebuds. Asian, African, European and South American cuisines abound, with an American twist: who would have thought to mix sweet potato with marshmallows, for example? Too good to be true, for many dining fans. An added bonus is the size of the portions: now you’ll see why you shouldn’t laugh at the notion of a doggy bag. Brunch in New York city is to die for, the seafood around Maine is gorgeous, dig into a proper Tennessee cheeseburger, get your Tex-Mex kicks in Texas...And these are just four flavours, of many to choose from. A king-size contender.

4) For the classics: France

You cannot beat a good boeuf bourgignon on a chilly night, nor a moreish serving of onion soup, nor yet a generous slice of tarte tatin, with vanilla-scented cream on the side. There are plenty of good reasons why France has always had a place at the top of the foodie’s chain. Its complex sauces adorn shellfish and cold meats to make them sing in your palate, its farmer food, often found in the Auvergne, satisfies even the most barren of stomachs (try the aligot with the land’s famed saucisse), its Parisian sweets too pretty for some to even touch...Macarons, anyone? With shop windows brimming with fresh produce, beautifully displayed, restaurants nearly always full (tourists and locals alike), this is the country to come to if you want to see how it all began. Normandy and its cream, Brittany and its butter, the Languedoc and its controversial foie gras, Provence and its taste for pistou...There is plenty to choose from. Just make sure you book yourself, in between entrée, mains and the melt-in-the-mouths desserts a trip to the gym. You have been warned.

5) For a love of flour, egg and water: Italy

If you’re looking to gorge yourself on pasta, salivate tomato sauce and wet your palate with heavenly gelatto, this is the country to come to. Forget supermarket-bought pizzas, oven-baked, thin crust margaritas are the real deal. Taking a trip across the boot-shaped country will undoubtedly make you put on a few pounds, but then again, who could resist guilty pleasures in the shape of cannelloni, ossobuco or its creamy risotto...It’s understandable Italian food runs high in the list of favourite foods for many, across the globe - simple, fresh, healthy and hearty, you’ll be hard-pushed to find something more satisfying than digging into tortellini or lasagna, finishing off with perhaps the most perfect dessert on Earth: the famous tiramisù (translation “pick me up”). The food of the Gods, quite simply.

6) For tortillas, fresh produce and indecent amounts of chili: Mexico

Where do we start with this big daddy...Tortillas, check, meat (slow-cooked, marinated, poached, carbon-roasted or cooked on a kebab grill), check, guacamole, check, salsa (green or red), check, marinated chilis (for the chili-possessed), check. There you have it: possibly the simplest of dishes, in a wrap, that hits the right notes on any palate. Even if you don’t like spice, even if you’re vegetarian and even if fish is your idea of hell, Mexico and its world of flavours and spices will have something for you. Digging into a pozole, on a hungover morning, will do wonders for your head; throwing on some Valentina sauce onto a fresh tostada of ceviche (marinated fish) is like dipping your head into the Caribbean sea; sucking onto a home-made agua de sabor (from hibiscus flower, to cacti fruit, to rice milk with a hint of cinnamon, to all sorts of exotic fruits) will hit the right spot after a succulent meal of carnitas. And we haven’t even mentioned the stews, nor the enchiladas, nor the carnitas...Ah, can you tell we have a soft spot for the place?

7) For the sheer simplicity of it all: Spain

Let’s start with tapas. So simple, yet so moreish. So many on offer. Starting with the good old classic, papas bravas - potatoes roasted in oil, with paprika thrown on top. Serve with alioli and you’ve got yourself a damn good deal. Fried squid. Montaditos, cute little open sandwiches with some excellent flavours: fig and parma ham, on top of goat’s cheese, roquefort and endives, dates and slow-cooked pork...And here’s more: you often get them for free with a glass of wine or cana (small glass of beer). Or at bargainous prices for so much goodness, a euro or two at the most. Then there’s regional specialities, like paella, tortilla and gazpacho. To polish of your meal, why not try one of the crema catalanas, sort of crème brulée with a spanish kick, or fried churros with some thick hot chocolate. The Iberian peninsula is not just home to jamón and aceitunas, it’s also got incredible fish, gorgeous meat and a huge selection of fresh fruit and vegetables to tickle your fancy. Bring on the movida, we say.

8) For mezze, tahini and a taste of the Middle East: Lebanon

If you thought antipasti and tapas were confined to Europe, you are far mistaken. Lebanon and its platters of mezze have been known to be very (and by very, we really do mean very) addictive. Whether falafel is your thing, you would give your right arm for the sake of dipping warm pitta bread into hummus dips for the rest of your life or stuffed grape leaves are your idea of heaven, mezze platters are garnished to suit everyone’s tastes. Better still, vegetarians are well cater for in these parts, with yoghurt dips, tabouleh and rice dishes with vegetables proving popular for most. Shawarma, whether made of lamb or chicken, cannot be missed. Possibly the best thing about the food, apart from the taste, is the look of every dish, flavours combine with a beautiful palate of colours, from reds to greens, to golden hues, to serve both your tastebuds and your eyesight. A place not to be missed.

9) For geometry, noodles and impeccable combinations: Japan

Never has one country been able to imitate to perfection Japan´s iconic dishes, starting with sushi. Small rolls of sticky rice, sealed together with seaweed (nigiri-zushi) hide some powerful combinations of flavours: salmon with cream cheese and cucumber, smoked haddock with wasabi paste and so many more...The miso soups are healthy and possibly one of the best cures known to man for body aches, not to mention pretty tasty. But that’s not all folks, try the noodle dishes (udon, ramen, soba etc) with a variety of vegetables and meats. Grilled fish is particularly tasty, too. Japanese desserts can be somewhat exotic for the fresher foodie, but most definitely worth a try: look out for the cinnamon-flavoured wonton...Fresh, tasty and beautiful treats, for big and small appetites.

10) For a taste of Asia: Nepal

Although many will rate India as their first choice for a mouth-watering curry, the foodie year abroader should not miss out on the dishes of wonderful Nepal. National culinary staples include dhal (a sort of lentil soup), rice and where the latter is scarce, dhiro (usually made out of corn) to serve as an accompaniment to curries, marinated vegetables and incredible fish dishes. Curd with vegetable pulao (fried rice) is popular with locals and tourists alike. Chatamari is the country’s answer to pizza, with a mixture of eggs, meat and vegetables on top of a pitta-type bread, perfect for a late afternoon snack. For dessert, you can’t go without trying one of the flavoured yoghurts on offer (a welcome answer to the humid heatwave) or pachinta mari, a sweet snack made of flour and sugar. Truly the unsung hero of Asia, for anyone looking for something special to dig their nashers into.
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