2016 was a momentous year in which we traveled to 18 countries and over 80 cities. Here, we share our favorite travel experiences and by experiences we mean food. Grab your fork and knife or your chopsticks and check out the best food we ate in 2016!
After traveling for eleven months (so far), it’s fair to say that our heads are so full that they could explode. Not that we’re complaining.
Seriously, we experienced the Grand Canyon, the Cliffs of Moher, Angkor Wat and Halong Bay all in one year. And those were just the most momentous sights! We also saw huge swaths of Western Europe, Southeast Asia, Japan and Scandinavia after our seven week race across the United States.
In addition to checking out amazing sites and spending time with friends new and old, we ate a prodigious amount of food along the way – Carolina Gold Rice in Charleston, Hot Chicken in Nashville, Cuban food in Miami, Barbecue in Austin, Khao Soi in Chiang Mai, Pho in Hanoi, more Pho in Saigon, Sushi and Ramen in Osaka, Pâté en Croûte in Lyon, Jamon in Girona and Donuts – way too many donuts to count. (Our Instagram donut photo project nearly killed us until we gracefully ended the sugary mission once we left the Americas for Europe.)
After visiting over 80 cities in 18 countries and staying in dozens of hotels, motels, apartments and with dear friends (you know who you are!), we’re justifiably tired. Mostly, we’re excited about the experiences that we shared with each other as well as with our loyal readers.
We ate a lot of food that surprised us with new flavors and other food that comforted us with classic familiarity. We photographed food that was as beautiful to look at is it was to eat. We broke bread in luxurious comfort in some of the greatest dining rooms of the world, and we also dined while sitting on plastic stools so low to the ground that we could barely bend our knees. From grass-fed Aubrac beef to fish and chips and even meat on a stick – we ate it all.
The Best Food We Ate in 2016
So where do we start to summarize the first phase of the most epic journey of our lives? Well, let’s just say this was the best food we ate in 2016:
Dinner at Maison Bras in Laguiole
We planned one splurge meal before we left on our journey to taste the world – dinner at Maison Bras, the famed three star Michelin retreat high atop the rolling Aubrac hills. We even woke up in the middle of the night to call France to make the reservation at the restaurant founded by chef/innovator Michel Bras and now run by his more than capable son, Sebastian.
We don’t do bucket lists, but if we did, this restaurant would have been there. Ever since we saw the excellent documentary Entre les Bras about the groundbreaking restaurant and the father/son team behind it, we’ve been dying to eat at Maison Bras.
We built a trip to Laguiole just for the meal. Needless to say, our expectations were high.
High expectations can be a dangerous thing, but not this time. The meal was epic from the opening starters overlooking a stunning sunset to the perfect Aubrac steak. (See above photo.) Every course was a revelation and lesson in three star Michelin cookery.
Even the continental breakfast the following morning blew us away. A mix of in-house pastries and jams may sound pedestrian – except when they’re prepared by world-class pastry chefs. Also, there’s nothing like eating leftover cheese and charcuterie from the previous night’s extraordinary cheese cart. Watch our YouTube video for the full story.
We ate spectacular meals at seven other Michelin starred restaurants in Lyon, San Francisco, Strasbourg, Malmö, Banyoles and Belfast. We won’t mention the disappointing Michelin starred meal in Galway – oops, we just did.
Hamburger at Le Pied de Mammouth in Strasbourg
We didn’t expect to eat hamburgers in Europe and certainly not in France. We soon realized the folly of our thinking.
We thought we had the best hamburger of the year at Lyon’s Les Frangins until we had the Magistrat double burger with cumin Alsatian Munster cheese, smoked bacon, red onions and creamy herb sauce at Le Pied de Mammouth in Strasbourg. Although we could barely fit this monster burger in our mouths, the stretch was well worth the effort.
Generally, the French enjoy their burgers in civilized fashion with forks and knives. Be warned! If you order a double or triple burger at a high-end French burger joint, you’ll receive a sandwich with enormous, full-sized 1/3 to 1/2 lb. patties.
Yes, hamburgers in France can be a spectacle (we even heard of someone ordering a quad patty burger at Les Frangins) and we still haven’t figured out whether the French prefer their burgers this way or they’re just mocking American eating habits.
Barbecue All Over the World
We knew we’d eat good barbecue in Texas, and that’s exactly what we did at the big three BBQ houses in Lockhart. The Cheddar Jalapeño sausage at Kreuz’s Market with its juicy interior and snapping good skin was one of the best sausages we’ve ever tasted.
We ate more good barbecue in Kansas City, also not a surprise. The surprise barbecue was actually in Paris and Helsinki of all places.
Europeans have a knack for slow cookery, so barbecue would only seem like a perfect fit. In Paris, we chowed down on incredible brisket using beef imported from Arkansas at The Beast. (Apparently, the grass-fed cows of France are not fatty enough.) As you can see above, the French were more than capable of producing juicy brisket with a wonderful red smoke ring.
Khao Soi in Chiang Mai
Nothing speaks Northern Thai food more than Khao Soi. In our month in Chiang Mai, we enjoyed the dark, curry coconut stew/soup over more than a dozen times.
The deeply rich spicy, brick-red broth served with a spectrum of textures including firm boiled wheat noodles and crunchy fried wheat noodles made a simple bowl of Khao Soi a complete eating experience.
And did we mention how cheap it was? One bowl of beef Khao Soi at Khao Soi Khun Yai, in Chiang Mai’s old city, only set us back about 30 to 40 baht – about $1 Dollar American.
Watch our YouTube video to learn more about Khao Soi.
We ate a lot of other delicious Thai food in Chiang Mai. The food is so good in Northern Thailand!
Pho in Hanoi
Hanoi is the birthplace of Pho. Sure, many people say that they prefer the more accouterment laden bowls of Pho served in southern cities like Saigon, but we enjoyed the simpler soup served in Vietnam’s capital city.
Here, big flavorful bowls of beef (Bo) or chicken (Ga) broth are served with fresh flat rice noodles and simple cooked greens. Add some ultra spicy, sliced, red Vietnamese chili if you please and that’s it, you’re in for a pho-licious party!
We also loved Bun Bo Hue in Hue.
Ramen at Ryukishin in Osaka
On a typical Osaka night, locals line up outside Ryukishin’s Namba ramen counter to eat some of the best. And by best – we mean Potage Chili Ramen. (Just in case you were curious, it’s #3 on the ordering machine.)
Mindi likened it to Chicken Pot Pie Ramen. This ramen is rich and thick with a chicken potato broth straight out of Julia Child that somehow melds beautifully with the heat of mixed in chili flakes.
Add the kind of fresh, firm ramen noodles that you can only find in Japan, meaty chashu pork, and you have a party. To any chefs out there who may be reading this: you must try to make this stuff now!
Check it out in our YouTube video to find out why.
We also loved the sushi in Osaka. In fact, we’d like a big plate of it right now.
Coffee at Ristr8to in Chiang Mai
We drink a lot of coffee, especially when we travel. Sometimes we think that there’s more caffeine than blood in our veins. Okay, we’re not that bad, but we are bonafide coffee snobs who always sniff out the best coffee in town.
Can we say that Ristr8to serves the best tasting coffee in the world? Probably not. They offer filtered coffee pour overs, but that’s not their forte.
What we can say is that Ristr8to serves the most beautiful lattes we’ve ever sipped – and they also taste awesome – creamy with rich flavors of locally roasted beans.
The Chiang Mai coffee outlet’s incredible award-winning latte art has us eager to try coffee in new-to-us cities like Seoul, Singapore and Melbourne.
Generally, latte art in the U.S. essentially consists of hearts and leaves. Those are nice, but at Ristr8to you can order a Satan Latte, the signature drink, with a gorgeous angel or a fleur-de-lis like wreath.
They don’t skimp at Ristr8to. They only use the ristretto – the best, super creamy part of the latte pull in every coffee drink they make. If you want to see the Ristr8to baristas in action, then watch our YouTube video.
Beer at Pasteur Street Brewing Company in Saigon
Beer is plentiful in Southeast Asia, though usually of the cheap lager variety. We drank beer to wash down hot, spicy food in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, often adding ice to enhance the cooling effect.
The beer at Saigon’s Pasteur Street Brewing Company is another story. Brewed with local ingredients like passion fruit and coffee, this is true craft beer as good as any we’ve drunk in the US or Europe.
Sashimi Over Carolina Gold Rice at FIG in Charleston
Ah yes. Did we tell you about our epic, totally over ambitious U.S. road trip? OK, this is where we totally lay down our U.S. food street cred.
We traversed a good portion of the mainland United States (plus Toronto) in just seven weeks including amazing stops in Washington DC, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Asheville, Charleston, Miami, Houston, El Paso, Austin, New Orleans, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver and Portland.
We ate in so many cities in such a brief period of time during our kamikaze U.S. tour that our heads were spinning. There was so much great food, both old and new, all over the country.
Charleston was a food-centric city that did not disappoint. In our two days there, we ate a slew of appetizers at Husk and loved every one of them, but our truly special Charleston meal experience was at FIG.
FIG stands for Food Is Good. We may have to disagree with that assessment about FIG – their food was not merely good but awesome. If we had to pick one special dish from that epic meal, we would have to go with our first course that featured insanely fresh king mackerel over buttery short grain rice with benne (sesame seeds) that rivaled some of the best rice in the world – Japan and Italy included.
We’re still thinking about the hot chicken we ate in Nashville, another highlight from our road trip from hell.
Ice Cream at the Graeter’s Ice Cream Factory in Cincinnati
We have to admit that we haven’t missed many foods from the United States this year. But one thing we’ve missed is the ice cream from Graeter’s in Cincinnati. In our opinion, Graeter’s makes some of the best ice cream in the world.
Graeter’s has a unique process that uses specially built French Pot ice cream spinning machines to create product like their black raspberry chocolate chip ice cream. With huge chunks of rich dark chocolate in intensely fruit-flavored ice cream, this stuff is the bomb!
We saw the process up close while expertly guided by family member Bob Graeter. It was so great to see a company where such care is taken to produce ice cream of amazing quality. Graeter’s keeps that quality in the family, making their ice cream one of the greatest mass-produced food products in the United States.
Watch our YouTube video to learn more about our Graeter’s tour.
Saucisson Frais from F. Reynon in Lyon
This past year has taught us that ‘slow travel’ is a beautiful thing.
We can’t tell you how many times we’ve walked through some of the great markets of France gawking at the amazing product for sale – incredibly fresh raw milk cheeses, golden chanterelle mushrooms, charcuterie of all types, fresh fruits and vegetables – but unable to buy them. French restaurants serve amazing meals, but some of the best food in France can be found in public markets.
On our trip to Lyon, we lived like locals and rented an apartment with a kitchen, which meant that we could buy what we wanted and cook it at home. Score!
Some of our readers may be familiar with F. Reynon from Anthony Bourdain’s show Parts Unknown. We watched the show and had to check it out for ourselves.
F. Reynon may be one of the finest saucisson producers in the world. We decided to buy one of their plump, fresh saucissons on our first visit to the store. When we bought it, we were told that there was some cooking involved.
This made us cautious, but, once we slowly cooked the sausage at 190°F for about 40 minutes, we were rewarded with the juiciest, most flavorful sausage of our lives. This beat eating in any restaurant. We cooked other things in France – duck breast for a fraction of the cost of the same item in the U.S. and intensely flavored white asparagus to name a couple.
Fika at Fabrique Stenugnsbageri in Stockholm
We’ve learned a lot during our travels this year, and there are a few things that we will take home with us. One of those things is Pan Con Tomate in Costa Brava. The other is Fika in Sweden.
We mentioned that we’re coffee connoisseurs, and it’s surely no surprise that we like pastries too. In Sweden, people take daily breaks where they enjoy coffee and desserts like cardamom bulles (similar to Danishes in the U.S. but better.) The Swedes take these breaks at home and at work, giving themselves a chance to relax and re-energize with a tasty treat. Fika is a concept that we love.
We also loved taking a fika break in Malmö.
Patatas Braves at König in Girona
We ate a lot of great food during our 24 days in Costa Brava including a stunning Michelin starred lunch and many other wonderful meals. We ate some of the freshest seafood in the world, cheese imported directly from France and wonderful pastries. And don’t even get us started on the amazing wine.
We also loved the xuixo pastries, another local favorite in Girona.
Dinner at Shelter in Helsinki
As we close out the year, we can’t forget the exciting dinner we enjoyed at Shelter in Helsinki. Sure, the dinner was just last week. But we’d remember it vividly even if we ate it six months ago.
Chef Hanne Honkanen worked in Copenhagen and South America before returning home with mad skills and an appreciation for global flavors. We were more than happy to eat food like this siika with salted white fish, white fish roe, ginger-flavored milk and daikon. In fact, it was our pleasure.
Chef Honkanen’s baby lamb loin and neck with porridge, slowly roasted celeriac and pear was another winner in a meal filled with winners.
Final Thoughts on 2016
We could keep going with this list, but we need to go eat more food in Tallinn while we strategize our travel schedule for 2017. We don’t know exactly where we’re going, but we know there will be more great food to eat and photograph.
How long will we stay on the road? That’s a good question for which we don’t have a good answer…yet.
Stay tuned and stay hungry!
About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.
Original Publication Date: December 31, 2016