Bar-hop for pintxos along the streets of San Sebastián, Spain, and you’ll get a taste of the soul of the city. The traditional small plates—Basque country’s version of tapas—range from simple, classic toasts to elaborate molecular gastronomy creations, and are best enjoyed with drinks over the course of a lazy evening, mingling with friends old and new at every stop. It’s the ultimate intersection of delicious, local food, long-standing tradition, and inimitable atmosphere—a story of the city and its culture.
That combination is what landed the experience in the top spot on Lonely Planet’s list of the world’s top 500 culinary experiences, compiled in their newly released book, “Ultimate Eats.” The book is a testament to that inextricable connection between food and place.
“There’s just something special that happens when you are eating a dish that’s been prepared a certain way for generations, in the place where it was invented, and using locally-sourced ingredients,” Evan Godt, managing editor at Lonely Planet, said in an email interview. “Kimchi in New York can be great, but it’s the kimchi you have in Korea you’ll be talking about for years.”
From beef brisket in Texas to curry laksa in Malaysia, each entry in the list describes an experience and the cultural importance behind it—what makes it so special, and why it goes far beyond just the food on your plate.
Nominations were crowdsourced from Lonely Planet’s writers, bloggers, and staffers, as well as 20 of the world’s top chefs and food writers, including TV personality Andrew Zimmern. With the help of TV chef Adam Liaw and food blogger Leyla Kazim, a team of food editors then evaluated and ranked the experiences according to taste, cultural importance, and atmosphere.
The resulting book is a one-stop culinary travel guide. But Godt offers hungry travelers a word of caution: “Be present with your food.”
“You should absolutely fit in these foods if you are traveling to the areas where they are local staples,” he said, “but don’t be in such a rush to check these off your bucket list that you miss out on the adventure. Savor the flavor and the experience.”
With that in mind, here are Lonely Planet’s top 10 food experiences:
- Pintxos in San Sebastián, Spain
- Curry laksa in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
- Sushi in Tokyo, Japan
- Beef brisket in Texas, USA
- Som tum in Bangkok, Thailand
- Smorrebrod in Copenhagen, Denmark
- Crayfish in Kaikoura, New Zealand
- Bibimbap in Seoul, South Korea
- Pizza Margherita in Naples, Italy
- Dim sum in Hong Kong
“Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Eats” by Lonely Planet Food, $29.99. For more information and to buy the book, visit LonelyPlanet.com/ultimate-eats.