The absolute best part of traveling is sampling the local food. I love trying all kinds: new things I have never heard of, local versions of my favorite dishes or something in between. Already in just 10 weeks we have made so many delicious discoveries and before my taste changes too drastically I wanted to document my top 10 favorite foods. I am purposefully keeping these selections quite broad, so don’t think of this as my favorite entrées or meals, but distilled down to just basic types of food. Handling it this way allows me to cover all the different ways I like to eat these foods instead of getting too caught up in specifics. This was a challenging top 10 to write, lots of aspects to consider and I just got way too hungry each time I’d start writing!
Sushi ranks 10th on this list because bad sushi is really terrible. If you look at some of the other selections, in my eyes they all have a base level of “above average food”. Bad sushi, however, can be supremely unpleasant to eat and usually makes me sick afterwards. When sushi is good though, it is easily in my top five. The spicier the better; I usually prefer tuna, salmon and octopus rolls. I used to really enjoy tempura, but now I tend to prefer just raw accompanied by a spicy sauce. The price is another obvious downside, if I can’t eat it all the time it is bound to fall a bit lower on the list. Obviously the expensive artistic sushi places have their place in the world, but nothing beats finding a hole-in-the-wall joint that uses super fresh ingredients. These type of places are somewhat hard to find in Chicago, but luckily this trip has and will bring us to a lot of them.
I surprised myself a bit adding this one to the list. but the fact is that dumplings are used in many cuisines all over the world and I can’t get enough of them. Gnocchi is my all-time favorite, usually simply prepared in melted butter or pesto. The pierogi is a close second, I love them both sweet (cherry or blueberry) and savory (ruskie or spinach). Shumai might round out the top 3, although there are so many good dumplings in the dim sum category it is really hard to pick one in particular. The crazy thing is that those three picks are really just scratching the surface of the dumpling. Crab rangoon, ravioli, wonton, bao, tamale, samosa, calzone, gyoza. These are all dumplings and I order them every time I even see them on a menu. I can’t rank this too high because I don’t eat them as much as everything else, but I wish I did.
Potatoes are hard to screw up and can be cooked in so many different ways that I thoroughly enjoy, which makes them very deserving of the number 8 spot. Baked and mashed are my two favorite types, preferably with chives and sour cream. French fries are very hit or miss for me. I like them to be skinny and crispy, flavorful enough to eat without sauce, but I would never turn down a garlic aioli. Perhaps my favorite way to prepare fries would be in poutine, but strangely I always feel like crap after I eat it, wonder why. Potato pancakes, also topped with sour cream, are one of my favorite snacks and my love for them has grown exponentially since visiting Poland. Honorable mentions include potato gnocchi, gratin, chips, salad, skins, and samosas, all excellent and varied in taste and texture. And who could forget the deliciousness of sweet potatoes? From fries to hash to simply baked, they’re delicious and they’re actually pretty good for you, too.
Eggs are my breakfast food of choice and that reason alone gives them a spot on this list. If just eating all by itself, I’ll take poached over anything else. A properly poached egg is one of the greatest gifts of cooking, I wish I could do it better for myself so I could make them all the time. Omelettes and breakfast sandwiches are my two other go-to egg breakfasts. It is somewhat surprising to me how hard it can be to find a really good omelette; I prefer the fluffy type, packed with vegetables and feta. Even outside of breakfast, a runny egg on a burger or a soft boiled egg in ramen is incredible. I am not including all of the baked goods and pasta and other foods that use eggs as an ingredient, then I don’t think we would have much of a top ten. But the humble egg can hold its own as a standalone food, and it’s highly deserving of a spot on my list.
I don’t really have a great argument for this one, I am just taco obsessed. Something about the crunch of the shell, the mixture of cold and hot, no need for a utensil, easy to make and cheap to buy, it all just hits the mark. It is a little embarrassing, but I think a fish taco probably qualifies as my favorite seafood dish. I love making tacos at home, stuffing them to the brim with guacamole, salsa, refried beans, cheese and ground beef. It might not have the late night appeal of the burrito, but they almost always taste better and I don’t feel terrible after eating them.
Before I really got to work on my rankings, I believed noodles would occupy one of my top 3 slots. So widely used across many cuisines, and so delicious! But when I took stock of all the noodles I have ever eaten, thought about the average quality and my average satisfaction, it was clear it belongs right at number 5. Pasta, ramen, Chinese and Thai noodles can all be extraordinary, but so often fall short of the mark. I’m not sure why noodles can’t always be good. I suspect it is because noodle dishes are so closely tied to the sauce or broth they are cooked with, and that is the aspect that cooks can’t always get right. The best noodles are better than the best curries and bread, but it is rare we get to see that type of noodle quality.
It is so unfortunate that I wasn’t properly introduced to Indian and Thai cuisine until college (I blame Indiana). They are now both among my favorites and curry owns most of that responsibility. Chicken or Lamb Vindaloo, as spicy as you can make it, is my curry of choice and I don’t know if that will ever change. I want my tongue to feel like it’s going to fall off and to spend an inordinate amount of time in the bathroom the next morning. Spicy food is an addiction and the more I have it, the more I can’t stop. Red curry is probably my favorite Thai curry, although I have seen it prepared in so many different ways it is hard to know exactly what you are getting. Don’t sleep on the Nepalese dishes either, if you are a fan of lentils you’ll love pretty much any of them. I’m excited to try more regional variations as we travel through Asia in the coming months.
I am always guilty of filling up on the bread before the main course, but only because I love it so damn much. Bread with olive oil and balsamic is perhaps my favorite appetizer, closely followed by pita and tzatziki. Sometimes simple is best! The reason this occupies the third slot, however, is because of everything else I enjoy that goes between two slices. Sandwiches, burgers, gyros, toast, souvlaki… the majority of my lunches on the road have involved bread or pita in some form. One of the nice surprises of traveling is that we get to sample each country’s unique take on bread, almost every place we’ve been has a different tradition. This might be the food I find the hardest to live without, but even the greatest breads can’t compete with the best of my top 2 foods.
I am an avid meat eater, perhaps to a level that is detrimental to my health. In general I stick to poultry and pork and only treat myself to red meat every so often, but sausage is my guilty pleasure. Occupying the top tier of the encased meat rankings are Italian sausage and chorizo. Both are staples of their respective cuisines and in my opinion make anything they're in ten times better. Even outside of their traditional cuisines, these sausages can still do work. Chorizo and eggs is one of my favorite breakfasts, thank you to my father who freeze-drys his homemade chorizo for me to cook whenever I please. Italian sausage is so versatile, I love just throwing it on a toasted bun with Dijon for a quick lunch. Polish sausage, chicken sausage, pork sausage, sausage stuffed with cheese, fried sausage… I’m into all of it. I didn't think I would assign sausage to this second place spot, but there are so many types and they are all so consistently good I had no choice.
Probably at the top of most people’s list, cheese is number 1 and it isn't even close. Not only is it found in nearly all of my favorite dishes, I also love eating it all by itself (accompanied by wine more often than not). Fresh mozzarella is my personal favorite, it can be chopped up into pasta or salad, served with tomato and balsamic, fried into delicious balls of heaven, and melted over anything. My top store bought, wedge cheese is Cotswold Double Gloucester, found in any Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. Cotswold is the perfect “cheese and crackers” cheese, goes down smooth but has great flavor from the onions and chives mixed into it, never lasts more than 48 hours in my fridge. I'll never be able to resist the greatness of cheese, hardly a day goes by where I don't eat it in some capacity. Sometimes cheese can even replace meat in a vegetarian wrap, as we learned by eating copious amounts of halloumi at Glastonbury. It is often the perfect complementary ingredient that turns a good dish into an excellent one. Chicken parmesan, Greek salad, TBM sandwich, cheese burgers, ravioli, tacos, the majority of my favorite dishes all have this one fantastic food in common, and it is highly deserving of the number one spot.