Now that staying home is the new going out, we’re looking for more ways to broaden our horizons, create memories and spend quality time together. We’re finding great opportunities to relive our past adventures (and whet our appetite for new ones) by cooking our favorite foods from around the world. Here’s a selection of our recommended foodie destinations, and cookbooks to match, until we can grab our passports and set out to explore the world in person once again.
Spain’s Basque Country
Northern Spain’s Basque Country has a lot to be proud of: a dramatic coastline with sleepy fishing villages and some of the best waves in Europe, a lush mountainous interior unique to the country, and the two captivating cities of Bilbao, a cultural and architectural powerhouse, and San Sebastián, which is home to a dizzying number of Michelin-starred restaurants.
This region packs bold flavors into its dishes, and you’ll often find large hunks of T-bone steak, grilled fish and sweet peppers on rather rustic menus, contrasted with lavish spreads of pintxos (small, tapas-style snacks). Make sure you stop by a sagardotegi (traditional cider house), where you fill your glass with local cider straight from the barrel, while tucking into plates of salt-cod omelettes.
Yummy croquetas are a staple of any pintxos menu, and José Pizarro’s version from his book Basque: Spanish Recipes from San Sebastián and Beyond can be adapted to suit whatever you have in the fridge, such as ham, mushrooms or sun-dried tomatoes (as long as you keep them suitably cheesy).
Start your next Basque meal with tomato soup with jamón and idiazábal cheese, and finish with chocolate pots — both recipes can be found in Pizarro’s cookbook.
Iran is both a treasure chest of ancient Persian history and a conflation of Eastern and Western cultures thanks to its central location on the Silk Road trade route. And that’s not to mention its varied landscapes of snow-capped mountains and vast deserts, as well as some of the most beautiful architecture on the planet, including the elegant turquoise-tiled domes of Imam Square, Ali Ibn Hamza Mausoleum’s glass-encrusted halls and Nasir al-Mulk Mosque’s mesmerizing kaleidoscopic stained-glass windows.
Middle Eastern cooking is a vegetarian’s playground: zingy salads, moreish dips and freshly baked bread all take center stage on the dining table, and the Silk Road brought cuisine all across the world straight to the country’s doorstep, resulting in a surprising fusion of flavors for the modern plate. Yotam Ottolenghi’s Simple is a fantastic place to start for recreating dishes of the Middle East.
These fritters can be made with whatever fresh herbs you have in the garden or in the fridge, so feel free to experiment with the recipe.
Try your hand at recreating Ottolenghi’s slow-cooked chicken with a crisp corn crust; or plum, blackberry and bay friand bake (think of it as a light cake) from Simple.
Lisbon’s terracotta-roofed houses, river views and narrow winding streets of trundling yellow trams, terrace bars and colorful murals, create a charming backdrop to Portugal’s excellent food scene. You’ll find everything from Michelin-starred fine dining to tiny patio restaurants serving small dishes to hip converted warehouses showcasing the latest food trends.
Pasteis de nata tarts are icons of Lisbon — tourists and locals alike devour their buttery pastry and creamy custard fillings by the thousand every day. There’s plenty of debate around where the best in the city are found. Pastéis de Belém, with its beautiful tiles, frequently tops most tourist lists, but Rebecca Seal, in her book Lisbon, recommends Manteigaria, in the Chiado area. The bonus of this local hot spot is watching the masters craft the pastries behind the counter while you sip on an espresso.
Making your own is a little time consuming — the laminated dough is nothing less than a labor of love. But you can cut corners and use an all-butter, ready-roll puff pastry as a reasonable substitute.
You’ll find plenty more dishes taken straight from the streets of Portugal’s capital, including chorizo pâté and spicy, garlicky prawns, in Rebecca Seal’s Lisbon.
Bangkok’s street-food scene is world famous, and any visitor to Thailand’s capital knows the first port of call should be one of the city’s many bustling markets to fill their bellies ahead of a day of exploring glittering golden temples, air-conditioned mega malls and cool rooftop bars.
Yaowarat, or Chinatown, was the first street-food market, and usually features high on any Bangkok to-do list for a delicious, and often bewildering, experience. You’ll come across favorites like pad thai, chicken satay and fiercely fiery soups, as well as a whole load of more unusual offerings like crispy ants and scorpion skewers. Once you’re back home, Leela Punyaratabandh’s cookbook, Bangkok, includes the city’s top eats for you to recreate in your own kitchen (minus the bugs).
And the great thing about Thai cooking is that a lot of the ingredients can be replaced if they’re tricky to find: try ginger instead of galangal and dried versions of the herbs instead of fresh. Or put in an order at an online grocery store and stock up.
Keep it simple with Thai classics like beef green curry, or get out of your comfort zone with the intriguing watermelon with fish dip, both from Leela Punyaratabandh’s Bangkok.
Almost everyone has a favorite vacation memory from Italy, whether it’s sipping Aperol on a stately Venetian piazza, exploring Tuscany’s medieval hilltop towns, or paddling the glittering azure waters of Sardinia. But there’s one thing we can all agree on — it’s almost impossible to recreate that perfect plate of pasta from your trip in your own kitchen.
Chef Evan Funke is looking to change that in his book American Sfoglino, using little more than a rolling pin and a select few ingredients. Expect step-by-step techniques for honing your sfoglia (pasta sheet) skills, as well as a variety of sauces and broths to bring your Italian noodles to life.
Start with fundamentals of pasta making, such as Funke’s tagliatelle recipe; he serves his with crisped prosciutto and butter, but you can adapt to suit your pantry stock.
You can also try out Funke’s Bolognese and his anything-but-basic passata di pomodoro (tomato sauce) from American Sfoglino.
Ghana may currently be flying under your travel radar, but if this little West African country’s food is anything to go by, it should be placed on your travel bucket list. As well as Portuguese influences and unique music style, hiplife — a combination of hip hop and Ghanaian culture; it has a stunning array of natural scenery, including golden-sand beaches and Kakum National Park. The park’s canopy walkway floats nearly 100 feet above the rainforest floor, which is home to forest elephants, leopards and more than 600 species of butterfly.
Ghanaian food is a relaxed affair — think fresh fish and seafood, hearty salads and spices that infuse every dish with flavor — well suited to home-cooked meals for the whole family. “For too long Africans have kept this incredible food a greedy secret”, says Zoe Adjonyoh in her book Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen.
Peanut sauce is a staple of Ghanaian cooking and can be paired with any combination of meat, seafood or vegetable — plantains or yams should be your first port of call, though, for a truly authentic experience.
For more West African culinary adventures, such as bean stew and suya goat kebabs, pick up a copy of Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen by Zoe Adjonyoh.
Photographer: Penny de los Santos
Sprawling Mexico City is not for the faint of heart — its colonial center and bohemian neighborhoods are home to more than 25 million people, making it one of the world’s largest metropolises. But it’s also easy to get swept up in the rhythm of this exciting capital with so much to see and explore from the country’s past, present and future: the carnival atmosphere of Xochimilco floating gardens, Palacio de Bellas Artes’ impressive Art Deco interior, the forward-thinking architecture of the Santa Fe business district, and the ancient Aztec ruins of Tenochtitlán, just outside the city limits.
The choice of dishes in Mexico City can be awe inspiring, too, as food from each state sits side by side there like nowhere else in the country. You can pick up inexpensive snacks of all shapes and sizes from street vendors on every corner — important for deciding whether you’re more of a taco, tostada or a torta lover. For those at home, there’s no better guide than Lesley Tellez, who runs a food tour company in Mexico City, and recommends dishes from her favorite haunts in Eat Mexico.
You’ll often find adobo sauce and chipotles in the world section of supermarkets these days, and corn tostadas can easily be replaced with flour tortillas. Or, be brave and try making your own.
Learn the Mexican basics, such as mole sauce, homemade tortillas and slow-cooked pork, with Lesley Tellez’s Eat Mexico: Recipes from Mexico City’s Streets, Markets and Fondas.
Manhattan itself needs little introduction — the Empire State Building, Central Park and the Financial District’s skyline have filled our movie and TV screens for years. But these days, intrepid visitors are striking out beyond these main sights to fashionable Brooklyn, up-and-coming Queens and The Bronx in search of adventure. With everything on offer in the Big Apple, it’s a wonder anyone has time to sit down and eat at all.
Of course, it’s difficult to narrow down the city’s most iconic dish from a whole range of worthy contenders (bagels? pizza? Waldorf salad?), but a slice of an extravagant New York cheesecake is a perfect part of your trip, whatever time of day. Try Junior’s in Brooklyn for the genuine article, according to Marc Grossman, author of New York Cult Recipes (the recipe hasn’t changed in nearly 70 years).
Don’t balk at this indulgent ingredient list, and certainly don’t try and skimp on the fat and sugar content. If you’re going to bake a New York cheesecake, embrace the decadence.
You’ll find other classics from many of New York’s diverse cultures in Marc Grossman’s New York Cult Recipes, including challahand brisket sandwiches, just like the ones you’ll find at Katz’s.
Sun-kissed Cyprus is a relaxing trip favorite because of its year-round balmy temperatures, sweeping sandy beaches and rolling vineyards, not to mention its wealth of ancient mythology and crumbling ruins — plenty to occupy those looking to explore beyond the resorts. It’s also known for its exceptional meze cuisine, which draws from Turkish, Greek and Middle Eastern cultures. And the glorious thing about meze? It’s made for sharing, so serve this up alongside warm pitas and a crunchy chopped salad, and let the family dig in.
Keftedes (Greek meatballs) is one of the island’s most popular dishes. Although it’s traditionally made with lamb or beef, Georgina Hayden puts a Cypriot spin on them in her cookbook, Taverna, by switching to fish.
This flexible recipe means you can use whatever white fish is available at the grocery store (or at home), whether that’s cod, haddock or pollock.
Discover entirely new dishes in Georgina Hayden’s Taverna, like comforting pastitsio (a cross between a lasagne and a moussaka) or livaneziko — a sweet set custard with Middle Eastern roots.
Most of us couldn’t experience all of India in a single trip — instead, explore one well-established route at a time, like northern India’s Golden Triangle to see the stunning Taj Mahal at sunrise and the Pink City of Jaipur, or the sleepy backwaters and palm-fringed beaches of Kerala, one of the country’s southernmost states.
And just like its landscape, you won’t be able to taste India in just one meal. From the hearty meat-and-dairy-filled curries of Rajasthan to delicately constructed dosas and vegetable-based dishes of the south, there are enough styles of cooking across this sub-continent alone to keep you occupied in the kitchen for many a month. Madhur Jaffrey’s Curry Easy is a beginner’s guide to mixing the right spices and trying new techniques for those approaching Indian dishes for the first time.
This simple baked chicken curry uses a lot of cupboard basics to recreate authentic India cooking in your own kitchen.
Recreate simple recipes from across India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, such as sweet and sour aubergines (eggplant), and salmon in a Bengali mustard sauce, with Madhur Jaffrey’s Curry Easy.
Previously published on Travelzoo.