20 Must-Have Dishes When Traveling
Every now and again, a chef creates a dish that resonates so much with locals, the destination adopts it proudly as its own – and it becomes known the world over as a signature food.
Try to think about po' boys, waffles and clam chowder without thinking about New Orleans, Belgium and Boston, respectively. It's impossible; it cannot be done.
When passing through the following destinations, it would be a travesty not to try their world-famous signature dishes.
Warning: this will make you hungry.
What to Eat in New Orleans: Po’ Boy
When pulling into New Orleans, grab a po’ boy, a sandwich originally filled with fried shrimp and oysters, but into which you can stuff pretty much any meat or seafood you desire.
Oyster po’ boys, also referred to as oyster loaves, trace back to the late 1800s in Nola. They're rumored to have received the name from the free sandwiches given to farmers, dock workers and streetcar workers – poor boys – by former streetcar conductors-turned-restaurant-owners Benny and Clovis Martin.
Where to Go: Domilise’s Po-Boy & Bar is so popular, Anthony Bourdain visited it for his “No Reservations” show in 2008.
What to Eat in Vienna: Apple Strudel
With a recipe that dates back to 1697, the Apfelstrudel has remained a popular apple pastry for more than 300 years. And with good reason: It’s delicious!
The apple strudel got its start with influence from the Turkish baklava pastry, eventually morphing into the strudel we know and love today. Traditionally, the pastry is filled with tart apples, sugar and cinnamon.
Where to go: You can watch bakers make the strudel based on the original Viennese recipe, and taste the treat yourself, at Schonbrunn Palace.
What to Eat in Paris: Macaron
If you think macarons originated in France, you are incorrect. They actually were introduced in Italy – macaron and macaroni both mean “fine dough.”
However, the paper-thin meringue pastry has been a staple of France for years. In 1533, Catherine de Medici brought the recipe to the country when she had the treat made at the time of her marriage to Henry II, 13 years before he became king.
The recipe was adapted in the late 1800s by Pierre Desfontaines, who created the double-decker macaron, filled with the creamy ganache Paris is famous for today.
Where to go: You can sample the "modern" macaron from the original location where Desfontaines worked his magic – in the Laduree Paris Royale tea and pastry shop in the 8th arrondissement.
What to Eat in Hawaii: Shave Ice
First things first: It is not “shaved ice," but simply “shave ice.”
As the name makes clear, this refreshingly cool Hawaiian favorite is made by literally shaving ice (versus crushing ice, as done in a snow cone), then topping it with a flavored syrup that gets absorbed into the shavings.
History shows shave ice as far back as the 7th century in Taiwan; it first came to America by way of the Japanese, when they arrived to work in sugar plantations. Although found around the world, shave ice is considered a Hawaiian specialty, especially on the Big Island.
Where to go: Original Big Island Shave Ice has been in operation since 1957 and traditionally gets picked as the state’s best.
What to Eat in Philadelphia: Cheesesteak
In the 1930s, Pat and Harry Olivieri, hot-dog street vendors in Philadelphia, grilled some steak and put it on an Italian roll. One whiff of the steak sandwich by a taxi driver started a revolution, as word spread fast and more cabbies started showing up to try the sandwich themselves.
The brothers opened “Pat's King of Steaks” restaurant in the 1940s, eventually adding cheese. Geno’s Steaks, the top rival to Pat’s, opened across the street in 1966, and claims to actually have been the first to add cheese.
No matter who did it first, the cheesesteak became the city’s claim to fame (until Rocky came along).
Where to go: The entire city of Philly argues whether the best cheesesteak can be found at Pat’s or Geno’s. Since the rivals are directly across the street from one another, try them both and decide for yourself.
What to Eat in Montreal: Poutine
Just outside of Montreal, a customer requested cheese curds on his fries at Le Lutin qui rit, in Warwick, Quebec. The owner, Fernand Lachance, exclaimed it would make a dreadful mess, or, in French, “Ca va faire une Maudite poutine.”
While that makes a great story, the original patent for French fries with curds and gravy was actually granted to Jean-Paul Roy, who owned Le Roy Jucep in Drummondville, about an hour outside Montreal.
No matter who invented it, the combination was such a hit that both Montreal and Drummondville now feature annual poutine celebrations.
Where to go: Le Roy Jucep is still serving its invention – and yes, it's definitely worth the drive to try it.
What to Eat in Naples: Pizza
No matter how good your favorite restaurant makes pizza, it will never compare to having a pizza where it originated: Naples, Italy.
A flatbread made for the poor in the 16th century evolved into the pizza made with oil and tomatoes that we know and love today. The Margherita was created specifically in the late 1800s to honor the Queen consort, Margherita of Savoy. This melt-in-your mouth and light pizza is made with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil: the red, white and green of Italy’s flag.
Where to go: The original Margherita, made by Raffaele Esposito, was made at Pizzeria du Pietro e Basta Cosi. Today, Pizzeria Brandi operates in this space and claims to have the oldest recipe in the city.
What to Eat in Boston: Clam Chowder
Boston Clam Chowder, aka New England Clam Chowder, is white chowder made with cream that's thicker than most chowders – perhaps to help ward off the harsh, cold winters the region is infamous for.
Made with clams, potatoes and onions, it's believed the recipe was first brought to the area by French, Nova Scotian or British settlers. In Boston, you’ll find it served with oyster crackers or in a bread bowl.
Where to go: The most famous clam chowder can be found at Legal Seafood, whose original location opened in Cambridge in 1968. For a taste of history, try it at Ye Olde Union Oyster House, the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the U.S., which has been serving "chowda" since around 1836.
What to Eat in Valencia: Paella
When you think of a Spanish dish, of course paella comes to mind.
Rice has been a staple of Spanish dishes since the Moors began growing it in the 10th century. Paella, which translates to “pan,” is a rice dish cooked in one flat pan that originated in Valencia in the mid-19th century.
Originally made with chicken, rabbit and lima or butter beans, with saffron and rosemary seasoning, most paella recipes now feature seafood, especially along the Mediterranean Coast, and Spanish chorizo sausage.
Where: While you may find this dish across Spain, having it in the city in which it originated guarantees authenticity, in any restaurant of your choice.
What to Eat in Brussels: Waffles
It should come as no surprise that the deep-pocketed waffles topped with powdered sugar known as Belgian waffles originated in, well, Belgium.
Dating back to the Middle Ages, waffles sprang forth from the irons used to make communion wafers for Catholic mass. Intricate designs were eventually added to the irons, and before long, Crusaders started adding flavors to the flour and water combination to create waffles.
In Belgium, these treats are typically a street food, served crispy and syrup-free, and eaten by hand.
Where to go: Locals love their waffles so much here, there are different types in different regions. With each region adding its own flair, why not sample waffles throughout your journey?
What to Eat in Key West: Key Lime Pie
These pies were originally filled with a combination of conch, key-lime juice and sweetened condensed milk, and topped with a meringue made with egg whites. Today, the tart dessert from the continental United States’ southernmost point eliminates the conch and uses egg yolks instead. The combination of egg, milk and lime juice thicken the filling without any baking.
Fishermen at sea without an oven in the early 20th century first created this dessert with the simple items they had on their boats (eggs, condensed milk and limes). The pie made its way to the masses after a recipe from Key West’s first millionaire, William Curry, began to circulate on land.
The pie didn’t get its name from its location, but rather from extra tart, yellow key limes, which grow in the Florida Keys.
Where to go: Visit the Keys during the annual Key Lime Festival, held over Independence Day weekend, and you’ll have a chance to sample all of those claiming to have the best pie.
What to Eat in Beijing: Peking Duck
This decadent dish features a duck roasted inside the stomach lining of a sheep.
To be able to have both duck and sheep for one meal obviously meant you had some wealth, which is why Peking duck is often credited to the Ming dynasty – although the original dish was cooked in the former capital of Nanjing before the Emperor moved it to Beijing.
Where to go: There are two methods of cooking this rare dish and two ancient restaurants that argue over which is better. You can try Bianyifang, in operation since the 15th century, which cooks the duck in a closed oven, or the 18th-century-founded Quanjude, which hangs the duck over a fire for roasting.
What to Eat in Istanbul: Shish Kebabs
The concept of meat on a steak dates back to medieval times, when soldiers would use their swords to grill meat over the fire when traveling.
In Turkish, “Shish” (actually “Sis” in Turkish) means sword or skewer, while “kebab” is the word for roasted meat in Arabic. An actual shish kebab includes only meat, and is never layered with vegetables, as has become the habit of backyard grillers in the U.S.
Where to go: Everywhere you turn in Istanbul, you’ll find kebabs and claims of being the best in town. If you’re in Istanbul, you won’t go wrong with any of them – you’re having the real thing!
What to Eat in Buffalo: Buffalo Wings
Found at sports bars and chain restaurants across America, the first buffalo wing was devoured in Buffalo, New York.
While Dominic Bellisimo was tending bar one night in 1964, his friends arrived late at night, hungry for something to eat. Dominic asked his mom, Teressa, to whip up some food, and she fried chicken wings that would have been used for chicken stock and tossed them in a secret sauce. The rest, as they say, is history.
Where to go: You might've tried lots of buffalo wings over the years, but you haven't really experienced the dish until you've eaten it at Anchor Bar, home to the original recipe.
What to Eat in Lisbon: Pastel de Nata
Locals and tourists alike stand in lines wrapping around the block to grab a fresh-out-of-the-oven pastel de nata, an egg pastry originally developed by monks.
Eighteenth-century monasteries used egg whites as starch for nuns’ habits, so leftover egg yolks were turned into a pastry topped with powdered sugar. When the monastery closed, the monks sold the recipe to the sugar refinery that bought the building, which sold the first pastel de Belem in Lisbon’s Belem district.
Today, only the original location sells pastel de Belem based on that first recipe (the name has been patented); any other shop in Lisbon will refer to their version as pastel de nata.
Where to go: Locals argue over which version is the best. The pastel de Belem can still be found at Pasteis de Belem, while the city agrees that the best pastel de nata is at Pastelaria Batalha.
What to Eat in Japan: Sushi
The Japanese first began preserving fish in salt-fermented rice during the Yayoi period of the 8th century. It took another five centuries before they began to eat the fish and rice together, perfecting sushi during the Muromachi period.
Hanaya Yohei is credited with opening the first sushi stall in Tokyo in 1824, hand-rolling freshly captured fish into rice with seaweed to begin the modern-day romance with Japanese sushi.
Where to go: There are more than 100 restaurants in the Hanaya Yohei chain restaurant, named for the creator of today’s sushi, but you’ll enjoy it anywhere in Tokyo.
What to Eat in Baltimore: Crab Cakes
The Chesapeake Bay’s hearty crop of crabs led the states of Maryland and Virginia to serve up even-heartier crab cakes.
For this dish, blue-crab meat from the bay is mixed with bread crumbs, mustard, mayonnaise and seasoning, then fried, grilled, baked or sautéed.
First introduced at the New York World’s Fair in 1930 as the Baltimore Crab Cake, Maryland's version is renowned for being the best in the country.
Where to go: The recipe that made crab cakes famous is a staple of Maryland restaurants. Thames Street Oyster House and Koco's Pub in Baltimore serve particularly revered versions.
What to Eat in Florence: Gelato
It’s not ice cream. No! Gelato is something far better than any ice cream you have tasted. Using less fat and churned at a slower pace, gelato’s flavor is much more intense. It’s also served softer and warmer than ice cream, so it easily melts in your mouth.
Gelato, credited to Florentine Bernardo Buontalenti, was introduced to the world in the 16th century. Catherine de Medici (the same woman who is credited with bringing macarons to the masses) was wowed by Buontalenti's creation, and summoned him to Paris to spread the frozen goodness across Europe.
Fun fact: Gelato actually means “frozen” in Italian.
Where to go: Gelateria La Carraia is a favorite in Florence. But don’t worry too much about where to sample gelato; instead, worry about which flavor is your favorite.
What to Eat in Budapest: Goulash
It may not be a fancy dish, but Hungarian goulash is one of substance that kept shepherds and herders working for days on end in the countryside during medieval times. Cooked and dried meat, carried in bags made of sheep’s stomach that could be easily carried, was mixed with water and reheated as a stew.
When paprika, a staple of Hungarian dishes today, was introduced in the 1600s, the spice added flavor to the dish, as did garlic and chili pepper.
Onions and other vegetables are a newer edition, making for a more rounded meal.
Where to go: Goulash is a national dish, proudly served in many Hungarian restaurants in Budapest, although many will suggest enjoying it in the Jewish Quarter.
What to Eat in Los Angeles: In-N-Out Burger
America is known for its fast food and burgers, and one of most crave-worthy fast-food burgers can be found at L.A.'s In-N-Out Burger.
When the first In-N-Out opened in Baldwin Park, California, in 1948, the intention was to serve fresh, made-to-order burgers – since then, the mission hasn't changed. Nor has the restaurant's simple but sensational recipe – a grilled patty on a toasted bun, adorned with fresh tomatoes, lettuce, raw onions and a ridiculously addictive thousand-island spread.
There are now nearly 350 In-N-Outs in California and the Southwest. (Pro tip: Order a burger animal-style, with extra thousand-island spread, mustard grilled patties and extra pickles.)
Where to go: The chain's headquarters is in Irvine, south of L.A. in Orange County, but there is also an In-N-Out next to Los Angeles International Airport. Not only can you sample what everyone is raving about, you can stand directly in the landing path of planes as they enter LAX, close enough to blow back your hair! (It also means that once you touch down in L.A., you don't have to wait long to get your fix.)