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Sep 24, 2013 11:13 AM

Surprise (!) Travel Finds

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.

        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.


        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.


            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.


                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


                  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.


          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...


            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.


                  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.


                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


                            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,