A huge part of traveling is eating. Thinking back on many of my past travel memories, a lot of them involve food. In some cases, it was the food itself that was memorable — a dish so incredible that my tastebuds still remember it. In other cases, it was the situation in which the meal happened that made it special — chowing down on dinner while marveling at a gorgeous ocean sunset or an impeccable landmark. And oftentimes, it was both — delicious chew and delicious view.
Here are nine of the most memorable meals from my travels (in chronological order):
1. Homemade noodles in Xi’an, China (2005)
Xi’an is famous for being home to the Terracotta Warriors — one of the greatest archaeological discoveries in history. After visiting the compound where the warriors were, we had lunch at a buffet-style restaurant. At the restaurant there was a section where chefs made homemade noodles right in front of your eyes. I distinctly remember watching these chefs with fascination as they spun out the dough and plopped them into the boiler before scooping them into a bowl to serve. The noodles were delicious, and I kept going back for bowl after bowl.
2. Stumbling upon a family-owned restaurant in Tokyo, Japan (2006)
While perusing the streets of Tokyo one afternoon, my mom and I got lost. We stumbled upon a small little restaurant that had photos of its food posted on a menu out front. It looked appetizing, so we went inside. We soon discovered that no one in the restaurant spoke a word of English, and we spoke no Japanese. Trying to find out what some of the dishes were proved nearly impossible. We ended up simply pointing to what we thought looked good and hoping for the best. The sweet older woman served us trays with various foods, which proved to be quite delicious! Eating authentic Japanese food at an off-the-beaten-path restaurant certainly added to the experience.
3. Flight attendant accidentally dumping a meal on me en route to Shanghai, China (2010)
Now this dining experience is far from conventional, but it is definitely one of my most memorable. On our flight from Dallas to Shanghai we had a lovely flight attendant named Ayako (also, coincidentally, my piano teacher’s name.) Dinner on the flight came in these small divided containers. The containers were hot, so the flight attendants put them on passengers’ trays with tongs. While Ayako was serving me, the container slipped out of the little tongs and spilled all over my shirt. I wasn’t burned, but it did make a mess. Ayako was so apologetic and sweetly offered to wash my shirt for me. She gave me her own personal t-shirt to wear while she scrubbed mine with soap in the plane bathroom, then hung it up to dry at the front of the plane for the rest of the flight.
4. Pasta, pizza and gelato in Italy (2008)
Pasta is my favorite food and I could eat it every day for the rest of my life, so Italy in itself was one memorable meal after another. The pasta, pizza and gelato I ate while in Italy was to die for. The pizzas were made with fresh ingredients and had such delectable, thin crusts. The pasta came in shapes I’d never seen before and with homemade sauces. We visited Milan, Bologna, Venice, Florence and Rome and I had gelato at least once a day every day. My favorite flavor was stracciatella — vanilla with chocolate shavings mixed in.
5. Lunch overlooking the caldera in Santorini, Greece (2012)
I honestly have very little remembrance of what I actually ate at this meal, but it didn’t even matter the view was so gorgeous. It was extremely hot on the Greek isle that day, but my mom and I hiked up some stairs to have lunch at a restaurant that overlooked the caldera. This was probably one of, if not the most, picturesque places I have ever had a meal. We buttered our bread while watching ships cruise along the perfect blue waters, and took in the famous Cycladic architecture — colorful and white-washed buildings that jutted out of the side of the cliffs.
6. Chicken paprikash in Budapest, Hungary (2012)
My mom loves traveling with guidebooks, and, many times, great meals have come from guidebook recommendations — Budapest was no exception. One of the books mentioned a place called Hanna’s Orthodox Restaurant (being Jewish, it intrigued my mom, even though we aren’t Orthodox.) The restaurant was down an average street and was pretty plain-looking on both the outside and inside. We ordered chicken paprikash (a famous Hungarian dish) and a cucumber salad. The chicken paprikash was incredible. I ate every last bite. When we came home from that trip, my mom started making chicken paprikash at home — not the same as the one from Budapest, but still a delicious reminder of that meal and that trip.
7. Meal cooked by a thermal geyser in Rotorua, New Zealand (2015)
Rotorua is famed for its many thermal geysers and geothermal activity — the entire city smells like sulfur (you can even smell it from the airplane.) We visited a Maori village that also was home to a geothermal valley. At the beginning of the tour, we got to fill a small box with food for lunch. During our tour, those boxes were put into a special underground oven in the geothermal valley. Our food was cooked by the heat from the geothermal hot springs and was ready for us to eat at the end of our tour. That was probably one of the most delicious meals I have ever eaten. It was simple food — just some chicken, bread and vegetables — but the flavors were incredibly rich and mouthwatering. And knowing that it was cooked by the earth’s own heat was pretty cool.
8. Apple cake in Tasmania, Australia (2016)
During my Melbourne internship this past summer, three of my intern friends and I took a long weekend to visit Tasmania. We rented a car and stayed at a cute little Airbnb in Hobart. Along one of the main roads near our Airbnb was a small grab-and-go pastry/sandwich/coffee restaurant. One day for breakfast we stopped here on our way out for the day. I got a little apple pastry cake that changed my life forever. I cannot begin to describe how amazing this little cake was — sweet, tangy, sugary, light. My friends made fun of me because I could not stop raving about. I made everyone go back to this restaurant the next day so I could get more apple cakes.
9. Icelandic lamb at an airport hotel near Reykjavik, Iceland (2016)
Coming home from Reykjavik in August we got stuck in the worldwide Delta meltdown. This was when Delta Air Lines’ entire computer system shut down, grounding every single Delta flight all over the globe. We spent the entire day in the Reykjavik airport, and our flight to Minneapolis ended up getting cancelled and we were rescheduled to fly out the next morning. We had an extra night in Iceland, but were too far from Reykjavik to really do any more in the city (the airport was over an hour away from Reykjavik.)
Delta put us up in a little airport hotel for the night and paid for our dinner at this restaurant across the street. We could choose from two dishes on the menu (it was all on Delta’s ticket) and my mom and I chose the Icelandic lamb. That lamb was the best lamb I’d ever had, and we eat a lot of lamb in my family. It was tender, juicy and packed with flavor. Not at all what I’d expected from a tiny little airport hotel restaurant in the middle of nowhere. We’d even splurged the night before on a lamb dinner at a fancy restaurant in Reykjavik, but this lamb was even better. Who would have guessed. Thanks, Delta!