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Surprise (!) Travel Finds

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  • Steve Sep 24, 2013 11:13 AM
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Chowhounds who travel just love to plan ahead and think about all the different and fantastic foods they will have access to that are normally very limited in their home territory.

But.... have you ever traveled to a place where you thought you weren't going to like the food... and were wonderfully surprised?

I have my own experience like that, but I'll let others go first......

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  1. Before I went to Burma, I didn't know much about the cuisine and I didn't think I wouldn't like it. However I was talking to someone who'd just come back and said the food was awful, so my expectations weren't high.
    The food was great though and after a few days concluded that the person must have eaten in the very different places to the ones we ate in. We mainly ate at stalls by the road and got the impression that he must have eaten in his hotel. I suppose different approaches can produce wildly different impressions.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Paprikaboy

      Wow, great, there are quite a few Burmese restaurant where I live, though I too heard that the good food is hard to find. The situation is probably changing rapidly. When did you go? Any more details on what you ate and/or how easy it was to find?

      1. re: Steve

        I went in February of this year. It's a little difficult to give specific details as a lot of the time we just came across a stall saw something good and just ordered it. Also if we saw someone with something that looked good we just ordered it.There's loads all over Burma.
        The best thing was all the little accompaniments that came with the main dishes. These changed depending on where we ate and just came with the dish.

        Here's my post on a Burma thread which may be helpful.

        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/886068

        1. re: Paprikaboy

          Thanks for the link.

          "There's loads all over Burma."

          Good to know. Burma was on so much lockdown before, I wasn't sure what the situation would be.

      2. re: Paprikaboy

        I recall one street snack in particular, at the long-distance bus station in Yangon. Brilliant combination of lentils, fried onions and I guess something akin to roti canai?

        Wish I knew the name!

         
      3. No, not really.

        Going way, way back, Hawai`i was a virtual unknown to us, BUT every Saturday morning, we would watch "The Great Chefs of Hawai`i," on PBS, so knew many from the TV, plus their concepts on food. When we finally went, it was almost like visiting old friends.

        Once, the food of the UK was panned, and in some circles, it still is. When we traveled there, for the first time, we did not know what to expect. We were in for a very pleasant surprise - great food, and not JUST international cuisine.

        Rome - no, we sort of knew what to expect.

        Paris - no again, we had been doing classical French in the US, and were just blown away, by the "original."

        Sorry, but we have not been surprised (if you do not count the UK, British food), in our travels, which amount to about 100,000 miles a year, for the last 15 years.

        Hunt

        7 Replies
        1. re: Bill Hunt

          So tell us about your great food in the UK..... is this just in London or elsewhere too? What did you have?

          1. re: Steve

            Most of our dining in the UK ARE in London, but also Oxford, Cambridge, Bath, and then tiny villages out in the countryside (somewhat close to London).

            We dine on a wide variety of cuisines, while in the UK - English, Scottish, French, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, and several others.

            We have enjoyed many meals at several of Gordon Ramsay's restaurants, plus Butler's, Rules, Marcus Wareing's, Anglea Hartnet's, Gravetye, Corrigan's, Wilton's and several others, for British Cuisine. While there have been some, that did not measure up, many did.

            Hunt

            1. re: Bill Hunt

              Thanks for the intel. Was there maybe one or two dishes you could mention that stood out? Particularly if they are part of British Cuisine....

              1. re: Steve

                At Butler's, the "Traditional British Roast Beef" (unlike what we so often get in the US), made an impression, and a good one.

                Chef Ramsay had many dishes, that were listed (copywriters DO take license) as "traditional," and were very good.

                Over the years, a few UK dishes, like Whitebait, and Potted Shrimps, have just not done it for us.

                Now, we have had several wonderful versions of Dover Sole, with the best being at Scott's, and also Wilton's. However, Wilton's let me down with their Fried Flounder (I am from the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where Fried Flounder {a cousin of sole} is a staple), and I was disappointed.

                There are many dishes, that have been listed as "traditional," which were variations, and all were good.

                Not sure that helps, or is what you are looking for, but if you help me a bit, maybe I can do better.

                There is also another "traditional UK restaurant, just off of Berkely Sq., that I cannot conjure up, or find the name of, and they were very good. Also, we were very, very unimpressed with J. Sheekey and The Wolseley, but maybe there were other things going on?

                We have also done The Ivy, and a companion restaurant (cannot recall the name, but in the same group), and neither one did much for us. Remember, we are both Yanks, so take my comments with a "grain of salt."

                At Rules, the Scallops w/ Braised Pork Cheeks, were delightful, though I think that we made some allowances for history. Still, I recall them being very good.

                Hunt

                1. re: Bill Hunt

                  Thanks for the rundown. It's always great to hear about specific successes.

              2. re: Bill Hunt

                I keep telling you, Bill, you need to get out of London and eat where most of we Britons eat. You'd be in for a treat away from the big hitters of the capital (although Rules remains probably my favourite London restaurant)

                1. re: Harters

                  Harters,

                  I do agree.

                  Last December, we went down to Bath, and had a lovely meal. We still need to get into the country, as there is so very much, that we have never experienced.

                  At least, over the last few years/trips, we have made it down to Paris (and then I took my lovely, young wife to Burgundy, but that is a tale for another thread). So, we ARE branching out a bit, from our regular 5-day London-only trips, and then, back to the US for a meeting.

                  One thing that we learned was that the Champagne restaurant at St. Pancras Station IS excellent! Such great fun, with so many lovely Champagnes ready for us. Glad that we got there about 3 hours early, as we used that time wisely. What a wonderful spot! Then, even in First Class (not Business First Class), we were horribly disappointed by the available Champagne. We had just left a 5-page Champagne list, and had plonk! I would think that on the EuroStar to Paris, the Champagne selections would have been excellent. No. Plonk! The French Dept. of Tourism should be horribly ashamed. They should see to it, that the EuroStar to Paris had some really good, small production Champagnes, at least in First Class. Surprise, and not a good one. Still, we had 3 hours at St. Pancras, so we DID get some really good stuff, some interesting producers, and at a fair (London) price. That made up for our disappointment, on the train.

                  Hunt

          2. Indonesia for sure. There's never been much of a sizable population of Indonesians in the US (sure, parts of California have 'em, but only over the past few years did I learn about the communities in Queens and Philadelphia), and the one time I visited Amsterdam I was more focused on stroopwaffels and pancakes, so my knowledge of Indonesian food was greatly lacking.

            However, after numerous visits to the archipelago, I've had too many bittersweet meals. In other words, the regional cuisines I like there aren't terribly easy to find outside of the big cities, let alone the country. Well, at least there's kolak, gado2 and rendang...

            Jonathan
            http://buildingmybento.com
            http://collaterallettuce.com

            8 Replies
            1. re: BuildingMyBento

              Wow, your blog is interesting, filled with detail, and mucho* fun to read. Great writing.

              I like this line: "The motivating factor for me in learning languages is to nonchalantly order food."

              Spoken like a true Chowhound.

              If you had to point to a couple of dishes that really surprised you (in a positive way) which ones would you highlight?

              *See, I dabble in languages too.

              1. re: Steve

                Boy, have I gotten myself in too deep by speaking "food" fluently but, nothing else.

                1. re: JAB

                  Sounds like you've got at least a short story in that statement if not the beginnings of a feature-length film.

                2. re: Steve

                  Many graciases, Steve. If you have any suggestions for topics, or a specific cuisine that you reckon I should write about, please let me know. Basically, mastering a menu is a broad goal in life. Sure, sometimes you'll get a curve ball- sushi with mango and asparagus, or a stuffed animal disguised as duck necks in China (well, that hasn't happened yet)- but that "skill" would be endearing to the locals, my guests and my palate.

                  Let's see, a couple of Indonesian dishes to highlight that I have yet to find outside of Indonesia. Well, if you don't mind, there's a particular cuisine, based in the city of Manado (on the island of Sulawesi), that's known for being fiery and mercilessly zoological. (I don't want to write about it, but if you're interested in an example of what I mean, search for "Tomohon Market.") That's not why I like Manadonese food though. Rather, there's a great sambal called dabu-dabu (it sounds simple, containing tomatoes, onions and bird's eye chilies, but it's very refreshing), and fish dishes also are excellent, IMO. Smoked tuna (Cakalang) is another regional specialty.

                  It's been a while since I searched for this cuisine to see if places outside of Indonesia offer it, and sure enough, there's apparently a place in Honolulu that knows the score.

                  Jonathan
                  http://buildingmybento.com
                  http://collaterallettuce.com

                  1. re: BuildingMyBento

                    For a while now I've wanted to go to Sulawesi in August to see those 'Day of the Dead' rituals, etc. I guess I now have another reason to go.....

                    1. re: Steve

                      Ah right, those are near Toraja. I haven't been/don't need to go, but everything is a hike from everything is Sulawesi. Forget about time management, but don't neglect the rainy season.

                      Oh I forgot to mention, Manado has a Catholic-majority, so it was easier to find grub during Ramadan. That also helps explain the wide variety of fauna to be found on the plate...apparently.

                3. re: BuildingMyBento

                  I love Indonesian food. I have never had or seen Indonesian food in NYC so it was definitely something new when I visited Bali for the first time. My husband and I got hook into their food. I couldn't believe how good the food was in Bali..from simply grilled fish over coconut shells to frangnant curry dish. One of the best food experience of my life.

                  1. re: Monica

                    Did you try the babi guling in Bali? It's their take on suckling pig.

                    Also, if you're on the hunt for Indonesian food in NYC, try Elmhurst in Queens. Also, there are a bunch of Chowhound threads regarding an Indonesian food bazaar in Astoria roughly occurring once a month from April to September.

                    Jonathan
                    http://buildingmybento.com
                    http://collaterallettuce.com

                4. I remember when this big city guy was visiting Prescott, AZ and was extremely surprised at the great meal at The Rose Restaurant.

                  1. Yes. It would be the USA - since the arrival of the internet.

                    We first visited the States in 1980 and have done so about every five years since (would love to come more often but it makes for a very expensive holiday).

                    The first several visits we ate badly - and we'd expected to eat badly. In Europe, I think we'd generally categorise American food as "fast food" and "chain food". And that's what we found.

                    Of course, since the internet, we've been able to research and now find the "great little place round the corner" that all the non-tourists go to. More recently, it's proved to be pretty much essential as we tend to holiday in areas away from the usual tourist centres visited by Europeans. Of course, that's not to say that places we've found on the internet do not appear in guidebooks. Of course they do. Good places will always get that sort of recognition.

                    So, we are literally just back from our most recent trip and have not had a bad meal in over three weeks. Which is good, because two of the worst meals we've ever had, anywhere, have been in America (evidence of the penalty to be paid for not researching)

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Harters

                      Great response! Good to know we have a few tricks up our sleeve. If you could elaborate on a couple of dishes you found particularly rewarding that would be great, especially if they fall into the amorphous category of 'Cuisine USA.'

                      1. re: Steve

                        We have returned from "The South" and have greatly enjoyed BBQ (as we always do in that part of the country). By BBQ, in this context, I mean pulled pork.

                        The last trip was to New England where the seafood was simply prepared and served and was delicious. Generally far outstripping the offerings on this small, cold island which sits off the coast of northern Europe. We seem to have an aversion to good seafood - odd when you think that none of us lives more than 75 miles from the sea.

                        Comparing those two parts of the eastern states, I am always impressed by the availabiity of vegetables in the south, compared with more northern offerings. Positively European.

                        As for "Cuisine USA", America continues to disappoint with steaks, compared to the UK. Yes, they're always tender (and big) but once in the mouth, I wonder where the flavour is. I have never been able to come to a definitive conclusion about why I find it so bland. I suspect much is due to the grain raising, where most of our good beef is raised exclusively on grass (and silage in winter) and may also be gettign more exercise whilst on pasture. It may also be due to different breeds and/or aging time. For both myself and my partner, steak is always the dish of last resort when we can't see anything else we fancy to order in American restaurants.

                        1. re: Harters

                          Thanks for your insights. I definitely know where you're coming from about the steaks. And it's smart to focus on the seafood in New England and pork in the South. I'm already 'kind of' aware of that, but it's always good to have the reinforcement from a different perspective.

                          1. re: Harters

                            Harters,

                            Regarding the US steaks, I must first state that Scottish Beef is usually very, very good. In the US, while there IS good beef (trust me on this), so very many "steakhouse restaurants," do not know about it. Too many charge a very high price, for mediocre beef. That does not mean that it does not exist here, but just that too many restaurants are not up to the task of finding great beef, and then serving it well. I hate dining at a "traditional US steakhouse," and having a steak, that pales to what I do every few nights at home, and then be charged US $60 for it. It all depends.

                            In the US, I have had the Top-10 steaks (usually Beef Tenderloin) of my life, but then Scottish Beef starts showing up about # 11, and features in, with regularity. That Scottish Beef has not cracked MY "Top-10," just shows how good some "domestic" beef dishes have been. Unfortunately, the Top-10 restaurants are few, and very far between - at least two no longer exist. While I am a US-diner, through and through, the traditional US steakhouse is usually way down OUR list of restaurants.

                            Next trip over the "pond," please let me know where, and what you would like, and if I can help, I will be glad to do so.

                            Travel safely,

                            Hunt

                      2. I guess I've been impressed by the foods in some regions I didn't know much about. I loved the food in Brittany, which doesn't have as much of a web presence as other gastronomic regions in France. I also have good food memories of a visit to Barbados. I love trying out small-town bakeries, konditerei and pastry shops, and any regional baked goods,wherever I happen to be. I really like visiting places where I find good food, regardless of whether I've done research beforehand.

                        Over the last year, I've tried some regional treats that were new to me, that I like. BBQ in Bowling Green, KY (I'm not crazy about the NC BBQ I've tried, and I know close to nothing abt US BBQ, but I was happy to discover I really liked what I ordered in KY) , and lardy cake in the Cotswolds! Also, I discovered the twice-fried Irish chips in an Irish pub (that hasn't been recommended by CH AFAIK, where we found ourselves with our trusty Irish tour guide) can taste better than the thick-cut chips I've found in Canada, the US or England. Any chips I ordered in England the following week didn't seem to compare.

                        I also was amazed by how good the food was in Porto and Lisbon (I knew I'd like the food, but I liked it even more than I expected) and the food in Brussels was better and more interesting than what I anticipated (and better than what I tend to experience in France).

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: prima

                          Twice fried chips (and, even, thrice fried) are a growing trend in both Irish and UK restaurants but are still much of a minority. As I suspect you already know, the first fry is really a low boil but in oil at a low temperature to cook the potato to softness. The second fry is a higher temperature to crisp them up.

                          1. re: prima

                            I don't hear much about Barbados.... what did you find there?

                            1. re: Steve

                              In addition to the jerk, curries, roti, etc that can be found throughout the West Indies, there were some pastries I haven't seen elsewhere (lead pipe- which looks like a lead pipe!). The food I ate in Barbados was mostly home-cooked, and more delicious than most of the hotel and restaurant food I've had on other islands. Fish and egg, a dish that uses fried flying fish and egg is a regional dish. The fruit and avocados (aka pears) were amazing.

                              1. re: prima

                                Home cooking in a situation like that is the glory of Chowhound.

                          2. Fried pickles when i was on business to Denver.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Monica

                              There was a place near me that made very thin and delicate 'frickles.' Terribly addictive. Alas, they are no more.

                            2. Lost somewhere south of Augusta, Georgia. Roaming the county highways looking for farm stands. Stopped at a shack and had some great BBQ. I had ribs and she had the pulled pork. Sat at the upwind picnic table.

                              He did it as a hobby on Saturday. What really set it apart were the spicy boiled peanuts and the neon orangy/mustardy sauce on the side. Wouldn't even sell it.

                              Never found it again.

                              1. Kyrgyzstan.

                                Mind you there is dreadful food in Kyrgyztan but we had several delicious meals at a guest house in Karakoy. A strongly flavored mutton stew is what I remember, and platters of delicious pilaf and roast vegetables.

                                Then when we went into the high country and stayed in yurts, we were fed an endless diet of fresh cream (and when I say fresh, I mean fresh from the cow that same day) and bowls of amazing jams and preserves and rounds of the traditional kyrgyz bread. They were delicious in a simple way. I had not expected them at all.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Roland Parker

                                  You're killin' me!

                                  Just finished reading the latest Nat. Geo. story on Kyrgyzstan's high country. That's quite the adventure you undertook! I will not argue with fresh cream from cows raised like that.

                                2. Vietnam. We have horrible renditions of the cuisine in Singapore and I remembered dreading my first-ever 1-month-long business trip to Saigon/HCMC a few years back. But what I found there was an epiphany - some of the best cooking ever, using freshest ingredients. It changed my impression of Vietnamese cuisine forever.

                                  Since then, I'd had Vietnamese in SF, LA, NYC, London, Sydney, Perth, Hamburg, Berlin - but none came near what I can find in Vietnam itself.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: klyeoh

                                    I have heard many fantastic reports about Vietnam.

                                    The only time I have ever been jealous of Tony Bourdain was the banh mi he had on his Vietnam show - it was a 'kitchen sink' banh mi topped, after everything else was stuffed inside, with a fresh omelette.

                                    If you could name a couple of things worth highlighting, what would they be?

                                    1. re: Steve

                                      Sure :-)

                                      (1) "Bun rieu cua" in Saigon - a delicious pork-crab-flavoured noodle soup dish. The soup itself is orange/reddish-hued from crab roe, the minced pork patties atop the noodles were fatty and absolutely bursting with flavour. I first came across this dish in one of Paris' Chinatowns: introduced by a couple of "Americans-in-Paris" pals who'd been going back to the restaurant for the past 10 years to enjoy what they called "red pho". I finally found out what it was called when I came across it again in Saigon's Ben Thanh Market.

                                      (2) "Bun cha" in Hanoi - Pork patties, barbecued over open flames, then served sizzling hot, bubbling fat and all over cold, poached "bun" (thin rice noodles) which absorbed the fatty flavours from the meat. You also add "nuoc cham", a sweet-salty dressing made from "nuoc mam" (Viet fish sauce), lemon juice, cut chillis. To-die for!

                                      1. re: klyeoh

                                        I am now on the lookout for red pho.

                                    2. re: klyeoh

                                      I had the same thing with Thai food in London. Didn't get on with it at all. . I realised though that it had to be bad renditions rather than the cuisine itself. Finally got to Thailand this year. The food was everything I expected it to be (but was not in London), bright, fresh spicy with flavours dancing on your tongue. Kroasan in Brixton is the only place in London that I've found that produces Thai food close to this.

                                      1. re: Paprikaboy

                                        I think it's also the availability of fresh ingredients that makes the difference - one of the very reasons David Thompson closed Nahm in London and now operates in Bangkok.