by Dayna Engberg


It’s the fuel for 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 four cities that exemplify this elegant intersection of cuisine and culture.
Borough Market, London


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 comprise but a small wing in London’s larger gastronomic gallery; most works are international.

From the up-and-coming chefs hidden amongst the Borough Market food stalls to the friendly local restaurateur around the corner, you can taste flavors from the far reaches of the earth in a few short blocks. 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 can visit an American fast-food chain and find the big-name menu item with a tikka masala twist. As tempting as that may be, we recommend the Michelin-starred Veeraswamy in Mayfair instead. A short walk from the theaters of the West End, London’s oldest Indian restaurant is awash with vibrant Maharajah-inspired décor, serving fine-tuned, innovative takes on traditional dishes.

Parisian Street Cafe


With restaurants boasting over 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 eatery, Restaurant le Meurice, 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 cafes alike. Witness it firsthand with the obligatory visit to a 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.

Cuisine in a Roman Cafe


Some of the world’s most inventive and influential culinary techniques were born from hardship, as is the case for the most pristine expression of the Mediterranean diet: southern Italian cuisine. Lacking the metropolitan infrastructure of the north, southern Italians cooked with what was available. They substituted labor-intensive products like butter, cured meats, and other staples of the wealthy north with the south’s abundant seafood, fresh olive oil, and local produce. Today, northern Italians still love their rich cream sauces and stuffed meats, but it’s the minimalist southern approach that has informed the evolution of popular Italian gastronomy.

In Rome, these roots have long since advanced beyond their poverty-born beginnings at the city’s first and only three-star Michelin restaurant. Perched atop a panoramic rooftop garden, a table at La Pergola comes with a breathtaking view overlooking the Eternal City, about a mile from the Vatican itself. Try the licorice-crusted John Dory with black truffle and parsnip puree or the red shrimp with white melon, herb pesto, and hibiscus — both part of a tasting menu that is modern while still exemplifying the traditional Italian philosophy that the best flavors start with the highest quality ingredients. 

These quintessential Italian tastes aren’t limited to Michelin-rated restaurants, either. The city is just as easily appreciated from the patio of a humble neighborhood trattoria. And however touristy they may seem, don’t skip fundamental Italian fare: pizza, espresso, and gelato. For the latter, order the Nocciola (hazelnut) at Giolitti, Rome’s oldest gelateria just steps from the soaring columns of the Pantheon. With an Art-Nouveau style marked by emerald marble accents and retro mint-colored seating outside the blush stucco exterior, it’s just as charming as it is delicious.

Tapas in Barcelona


Inspired by its ample shoreline as much as its mountains and nearby fertile pastures, the gastronomy of Barcelona is a 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 in a course-by-course award ceremony showcasing the region’s ecological forte complemented with its most flattering flavor siblings 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 Adrià. Brothers Ferran and Albert Adrià 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 Adrià name. Crafting  everything 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 Adrià have forged a culinary empire.

The newest Adrià 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 code 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.

To plan a culinary escape to Europe, contact your travel professional today.

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