It’s the fuel of our adventures and, for many of us, the sole motive for our travels. Cuisine is most captivating when it conjures a story; imparting a glimpse into another narrative entirely. The most inspiring dish is one that progresses beyond an investigation of its flavors to unearth the traditions that inspired it, appreciates the indigenous natural elements that birthed it, and witnesses the art of the process by the people who crafted it. From modern spotlight affairs of artful presentation to the simple beauty of authentic longstanding staples, here are three cities that exemplify this elegant intersection of cuisine and culture.
Inspired by its ample shoreline as much as its mountains and nearby fertile pastures, the gastronomy of Barcelona is graceful expression of geographical biodiversity. Perhaps it was this exact combination that set the stage for the explosion of the tapas movement. These small plates have become Spain’s means of exhibiting their culinary aptitude. Each meal is a course-by-course award ceremony showcasing the region’s ecological forte and dished up like tiny works of art.
If you’re familiar with only one name in the Barcelona tapas scene, it is most likely Adriá. Brothers Ferran and Albert Adriá were responsible for the famed restaurant El Bulli, which closed in 2011 after having gained global recognition as one of the most influential restaurants in the world. Today, six restaurants bear the illustrious Adriá name. Crafting everyting from Nikkei cuisine at Pakta, the only restaurant in Barcelona serving this distinct Peruvian-Japanese fusion, to high-end tapas at the (literally) flashy epicurean amusement park Tickets, the brothers Adriá have forges a culinary empire.
The newest Adriá venture might be the most curious one yet. Already joining the Michelin ranks the year of its debut, Enigma stays true to its name, requiring patrons to enter a secret cod to unlock the front door to the restaurant. What awaits (after agreeing to the strict photo policy, of course) is a dining experience shrouded in mystery, rumored to comprise of over 40 dishes on a dreamlike, four-hour journey advancing through seven surreal chambers, each with its own distinct theme. For those who have experienced it, their reviews are incredible, but the details remain elusive.
If modern mystery isn’t your style, try El Xampanyet, a nearly century-old, family-run bodega near the Picasso Museum. The space is small, and they don’t take reservations, but the prices are so reasonable that you can order two of everything. Be sure to try the boquerones and a glass of the house cava (after which the restaurant is named). Wherever you find yourself in Barcelona, the breadth of choice is wid. You’ll quickly learn that the mealtimes come often, run long and continue late into the evening—giving you plenty of time to experience the multifaceted tastes the city has to offer.
Many travelers hold sacred the culinary philosophy that the best dining experiences are solely those authentic to the immediate destination. English food has its signature strokes—and they can be delightfully gluttonous in moderation—but the heavy pies, cream-based accompaniments and butter-drenched morsels of traditional English cuisine compromise but a small wing in London’s larger gastronomic gallery; most works are international.
London is brimming with bold international flavors. From the up-and-coming chefs hidden amongst the Borough Market food stalls to the friendly local restauranteur around the corner, you could taste flavors from the far reaches of the earth in a few short Brixton blocks. As they say, the sun never sets on the British Empire. London is the living metaphor of contributions from previously colonized countries around the globe, and it’s these diverse fusions, adoptions and collaborations that make the city’s food scene so unique.
Indian flavors are so pervasive in the UK, you could visit an American fast food chain and find the big-name menu item with a tikka masala twist. As delicious as that would be, we recommend trying more authentic fine-dining experiences like the Michelin-starred Vineet Bhatia located in Chelsea, which unfortunately closed last year (2018). We can only that after the chef’s closing of the London flagship that he’ll open another restaurant to showcase his Mumbai heritage that inspires innovative takes on various traditional Indian dishes.
The city’s most buzzworthy Michelin addition is The Araki, the UK’s first three-star Japanese restaurant and one of just three London restaurants in the top tier of the 2018 guide. Chef Mitsuhiro Araki is no newcomer to the Michelin society, however; his now-closed three-star Tokyo location had previously been dubbed Japan’s most difficult restaurant to secure a booking. Perhaps the same will be said about the London establishment. With capacity for only nine people, every seat is at the chef’s table. The menu—an ode to original flavors—is meticulously purist and totally unyielding.
In French culture, enjoying fine food and wine is not reserved for celebratory occasions, nor is it considered an occasional luxury, but the primary benchmark of an abundant life itself. This is evidenced by the French term for an epicurean, “le bon vivant,” directly translating to “one who lives well.”
With restaurants boasting more than 140 Michelin stars, living well is easy in the city of Paris, perhaps most notably at the establishments of Alain Ducasse. Among the most esteemed chefs in the world, Ducasse holds a total of 19 Michelin stars across 23 restaurants in seven countries. His flagship Parisian restaurant is a beacon of epicurean fortitude, crafting unexpected combinations such as Brittany langoustine in lemon cream alongside golden Iranian caviar, Groix Island sole filets with héliantis roots and black truffle, and a dessert of Landes apricots with avocado and fresh almond tofu.
The French tradition that inspired Julia Child and countless others is known for marrying opposing flavor profiles and textures—like the pairing of a salty Roquefort with a glass of sweet Sauternes or the brittle caramelized crust atop a smooth crème brûlée. Part of the beauty of the Parisian experience is that hints of this ubiquitous tradition show themselves in subtle ways, both in swanky restaurants and modest local fromagerie like Androuet or Laurent Dubois. For dessert, be sure to grab a pastel-colored box of goodies from Ladurée.
Whether you speak the language or not, your best attempt at simple French pleasantries will go a long way in receiving stellar recommendations—and it’s often these authentic interactions that are most telling of the culture.
Let your taste buds guide you! Plan an unforgettable culinary adventure to Barcelona, London and Paris. Let one of Vacation’s on-call travel experts match you with an expert travel agent, who can customize the dream itinerary that you deserve.