Boring hotel breakfast buffets no longer cut it. Alicia Miller reveals the locations where the culinary-minded should be heading this year
Picture credits: Rex Features and Getty Images
The languid heat of central Vietnam can force visitors to miss out on its treasures, preferring the air-con of the big cities or breezes off the South China Sea. But now Vietnamese street food has wound its way into the British city dweller’s eating repertoire, more adventurous tourists are braving the less-travelled towns to find more exotic dishes. Hue is one such location; the pace of life is pleasantly slow and you can wander through the temples and pavilions that form the remarkable 19th-century walled citadel, take a cruise down the winding Perfume River, peppered with thatched river boats where local families both live and work, or visit nearby Lang Co Lagoon where freshly caught fish provide the perfect dinner.
As Hue was the seat of the Nguyen emperors from 1802 to 1945, the region’s complex cuisine is unrivalled in Vietnam. Those royals were a demanding bunch: dozens of intricate courses – many shaped into fanciful animals such as ‘Dance of the Phoenix’ (a bird carved from vegetables sitting on a bed of noodles) – were served at each meal. Food here goes beyond the staple pho, for instance, look for the delicious bun bo Hue (spicy beef noodle soup). Most dishes are best sampled for a few pence at local eateries, but restaurant Ancient Hue puts on a regal spread. Nearby at Tha Om Garden House, a descendent of the royal family teaches cookery classes.
STAY: Swanky La Residence serves seriously good French-inflected dishes at its restaurant and boasts rooms (from £94) with views across the Perfume River. la-residence-hue.com
MUST-EAT DISH: Bánh Bèo (meaning water fern cake) is the traditional dish of Hue – a bite-sized steamed rice cake filled with fried shallots, fish sauce and minced shrimp.
The east of England has always been the country’s breadbasket, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that its counties are ahead in the foodie stakes. But only now is London money wising up to Norfolk’s unspoiled charms, as Whitstable, Margate and other nearby seaside resorts become saturated with visitors from the capital. Norfolk is big sky country. And beneath that huge canopy there are vast swathes of empty rolling countryside – specked with ancient flint villages and fringed by honeyed sands – that are just perfect for hiking and cycling.
The north of the county is also the site of a quiet food revolution. Chefs such as Galton Blackiston at Morston Hall near Blakeney and Kevin Mangeolles at The Neptune in Old Hunstanton (both Michelinstarred), have exploited a generous natural larder stocked full with cheeses such as Norfolk Dapple and Binham Blue, seasonal vegetables such as asparagus, and seafood from Thornham Oysters to Cley Smokehouse kippers.
STAY: Minutes from the golden sands of Holkham Beach, The Victoria at Holkham has rooms (from £125) overlooking the marshes of the nearby nature reserve and the restaurant serves meat from the Holkham Estate. victoriaatholkham.co.uk
MUST-EAT DISH: Sometimes only an al fresco snack, washed down with salty air, will do, and the ultimate is the platter from Cookie’s Crab Shop on Salthouse seafront. salthouse.org.uk
Istria, in Croatia’s north, has been part of four different countries in the last century and has the history, and the food, to show for it. A rugged, sun-drenched shoreline gives way to countryside flecked with charmsoaked villages. In contrast to beachy Dalmatia in the south, it’s relatively quiet and, for the moment, cheaper than neighbouring Italy – Croatia joins the EU in July, and won’t adopt the Euro for at least another year. Expect the food you would of Italy – cured meat, sheep’s cheese, pasta (gnocchi and ravioli), risotto, olive oil, grappa and golden malvasia wines. But most of all, expect truffles – the town of Buzet is devoted to the fragrant funghi. When you’ve had your fill, sample the culinary wizardry at Valsabbion in Pula, or retreat to the seaside towns of Opatija and Rovinj to feast on Kvarner prawns.
STAY: Monte Mulini in Rovinj has a spa and bedrooms with sea-facing terraces. From £146. montemulinihotel.com
MUST-EAT DISH: Restaurant Zigante specialises in truffle dishes from truffle-laced tagliatelle to truffled cheese. zigantetartufi.com
Oregon’s main city Portland is the Stoke Newington of America – organic coffee houses and bikes pepper the streets and the local food scene is burgeoning. Some of America’s freshest albacore tuna, salmon and Dungeness crab lie at its heart, as well as locally sourced black truffles, wonderful cheese and a glorious glut of micro-brewed beers and regional wines. Handily, the northwestern state also provides the opportunity to burn off the calories with hiking, skiing and mountain biking in the volcanic Cascade Range and along the 362 miles of jagged coastline. The same maritime weather that irrigates the bountiful landscape also aerates the vines of Columbia Gorge and Willamette Valley, famed for its elegant pinot noirs from vineyards like Domaine Drouhin or Dusky Goose.
Portland is also at the forefront of the food cart revolution, with 500 different vendors in the city, notably around SW 10th Avenue and Alder Street, where 60 different carts offer everything from Carolina-style barbecue to steamed Himalayan dumplings – many of which can be tasted at September’s annual Feast Portland festival.
STAY: The Jupiter Hotel is a classic mid-century motel given a seriously funky twist in central Portland, from £60. jupiterhotel.com
MUST-EAT DISH : The Woodsman Tavern cooks up incredible shrimp and grits in red-eye gravy. woodsmantavern.com
Central and North Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s civil war raged for 25 years, but since it ended in 2009, the north of the island has been slowly opening up to intrepid travellers. Those who venture here are rewarded with palm-lined beaches, untouched rainforests and jade lagoons. However the highlights – glorious sweeping beaches like Nilaveli and Kuchchaveli and the remote Mannar Island – are gearing up for mass tourism so the smart money is on visiting soon. In central Sri Lanka, you can feed elephant orphans at Pinnawela, check out the unique flora, mountain ridges and wildlife at Maduru Oya National Park – one of 100 protected areas in Sri Lanka – or tuck into the street food, called ‘short eats’, along the main street of Kandy including egg hoppers (pancakes), mutton curries and biryani. Alternatively go gourmet for the award-laden cuisine of chef Dimuthu Kumarasinghe at the Heritance Kandalama hotel, north of Kandy, or get a taste of British colonial living – and dining – in the Ceylon tea fields of the Bogawantalawa Valley.
STAY: Ceylon Tea Trails is the first Relais & Châteaux property on the island. It has four gorgeous tea planter’s bungalows on a lush hillside, 4,000ft above sea level, which offer superb accommodation (from £249 per night) alongside tea-infused dishes. teatrails.com
MUST-EAT DISH: Odiyal kool – a homegrown bouillabaisse from the previously war-torn Jaffna region.
Central Sweden ( Jämtland)
There is simply no better place for local, seasonal food than Sweden, particularly the region around Östersund in Jämtland. The country’s culinary capital in 2011 embraces husmanskost – hearty, regional dishes such as moose stew and pan-fried Arctic char. Tucked into a wild, bleak landscape Fäviken Magasinet, 90km north of Östersund, is number 34 in the world’s top 50 restaurants list and seats just 12. Here Magnus Nilsson creates a menu from what he hunts or forages, including scallops on burning juniper branches, and wild trout roe on dried pig’s blood.
In another remote spot, on a peninsular in Lake Häggsjön, the Njarka Sami Camp is run by two reindeer farmers. Staying in teepees, you can learn all about Sami cuisine, from fishing to baking in the embers of the fire. Östersund itself, a hotbed of artisan food producers, has a ‘Join Us For Dinner’ scheme where, for £18 you eat with local families.
This mountainous region might be little known outside of Sweden but the town of Åre is one of the country’s best places to go skiing – what better way to work off the husmanskost?
STAY: Fäviken Magasinet has rooms (from £192 for two people sharing) and dining (from £120 per person). favikenmagasinet.se
MUST-EAT DISH: Pickled herring and nettle pie – a local delicacy.
Puerto Rico has successfully merged Spanish, African and native South American food traditions for centuries. Beyond the designer shops and colossal hotels you’ll find the Spanish-style villas and creeping bougainvillea of the capital San Juan. Here tiny local restaurants serve up dishes such as mofongo (fried plantain stuffed with meat) and asopao (rice stew, usually made with seafood or chicken). Head down to the golden Atlantic beaches for street food such as deep-fried alcapurrias – meat or seafood in dough. In 2012 chef Juan Jose Cuevas brought his locavore (local food) instincts, honed in Spain and the States, home. His restaurant, 1919, in the five-star Condado Vanderbilt (once a summer house to the famous New York family) is now the toast of the Caribbean, serving only ingredients from the island.
STAY: The new Ritz-Carlton’s Dorado Beach will set you back £1,000 a night so you may want to consider La Concha, where £124 will do the job. laconcharesort.com
MUST-EAT DISH: Juan Jose Cuevas’ hamachi-fluke crudo – a delicious octopus carpaccio with picked sweet peppers.
London is suddenly awash with Peruvian restaurants including Ceviche and recently opened Coya. But Latin America’s most gourmet cuisine, which sees unusual native ingredients – maca root, jumbo corn, aji peppers and yellow potatoes – loaded with bold flavours, as with chilli-sauce topped anticuchos (skewered meat) or cuy (guinea pig), tastes all the better on its home turf. Since the millennium, Peru’s economy has been steadily building – no biting recession here – and with this new confidence clearly illustrated in the gentrified, vibrant cities, traditional Peruvian food has found its way out of the homestead and into the restaurants. And it’s in the capital, Lima, where the party atmosphere is most acutely focused; brightly coloured Spanish colonial architecture sits next to the Pacific, while locals sun themselves on stretches of sandy beaches. World-renowned restaurants Astrid Y Gastón and Malabar have chefs who sparkle, creating the likes of slow-cooked tubers and breadfruit pancakes with catfish roe. Alternatively, head to the high altitude, cobbled colonial squares of Cusco, southeast of Lima – the mountainous gateway to Machu Picchu – for hot shrimp ceviche or marinated pork in the remarkable glass cube and steel dining room of the minimalist MAP Café.
STAY: At Lima’s Miraflores Park Hotel, you can rise to sweeping views of the city and unforgettable Pacific sunsets. Rooms from £140. miraflorespark.com
MUST-EAT DISH: Astrid Y Gastón’s three ceviche sampler changes according to what’s caught that day.
While much has been made of Beirut’s hedonism, the smaller towns of coastal Lebanon remain relatively unexplored. The Foreign Office warns against travel to Tripoli or Sidon but the rest of this area is deemed safe – and with most settlements here dating back thousands of years, it’s a haven for history buffs, and foodies. Head north to Byblos, an ancient fishing port dominated by the ruins of a Crusader castle. At the many seafood restaurants here try sayadieh (fish with rice, onions and almonds) or saffron-tinged red mullet tagine. Then there’s the hummus, tabouleh and shish taouk and plummy Lebanese wines such as Château Musar from the Bekaa Valley. But it would be churlish not to spend time in Beirut too. At Le Chef, eat like you would in a Lebanese home, dunking bread into mujadara (lentils with rice). Or try high-end fare at Zuma and La Petite Maison (coming soon to Le Vendôme hotel). By night the beautiful people sip cocktails at Skybar, on the rooftop of Biel.
STAY: Beirut’s five-star Le Gray has a rooftop bar with a weekend chocolate buffet. Suites from £193. campbellgrayhotels.com
MUST-EAT DISH: Mana’eesh – a breakfast flatbread topped with anything from za’atar (a herb) to Nutella.
Thanks to gastronomic rock stars like Ferran Adrià of El Bulli fame, Spain is the toast of the culinary world. San Sebastián, with dozens of Michelin stars, is regularly lauded as the ‘foodiest’ city in Europe – but nearby, the lesser known region of Navarra is full of rugged charm. A diverse landscape fringed by the Pyrenees and carpeted with vineyards, it’s home to punchy wines, nutty Idiazábal cheese, olive oils and patxaran (sloe berry liqueur). Capital Pamplona (home of the infamous bull run) has its own, more refined version of tapas, pinchos – expect the likes of poached langoustine on a slice of melon. At hotel and restaurant Maher (an hour south of Pamplona) chef Enrique Martinez does things with vegetables that would make even the staunchest carnivore crumble, including salt-crusted roasted fennel.
STAY: Alma Pamplona is a sleek, modern addition the region. From £98. almapamplona.com
MUST-EAT DISH: Menestra, a local stew with asparagus, artichokes, sweet peas and broad beans.