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10 Surprising Must-Visit Foodie Destinations

France and Italy get all the glory, but there’s so much more global cuisine to explore. Here are 10 unexpected destinations for culinary travel.

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1. Croatia

Perched at the crossroads between Italy, central Europe and the former Ottoman Empire, Croatia is a country with a complicated history – and a diverse culinary scene to match. Inland, you’ll find that central European fare dominates, with a focus on meats, cheeses, noodles, beer and fruit spirits. Visit Istria, a Croatian-Italian bilingual region that borders Italy and Slovenia, for a strong local food scene that makes the most of the region’s excellent products: look for seafood, olive oil, mushrooms, truffles and prosciutto, washed down with wine and spirits.

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2. Jamaica

Yes, they’ve got jerk chicken, Appleton Estates rum and Red Stripe beer, plus all the tropical fruit you can eat, but there’s so much more to explore in this Caribbean nation’s food scene, often featuring ingredients difficult to find elsewhere. For breakfast, try ackee – Jamaica’s national fruit – fried up with codfish for a surprisingly egg-like dish. Broaden your carnivorous horizons by sampling stewed goat or oxtail, perhaps served with some steamed callaloo, a Jamaican leafy green. And wash it all down with a ginger beer or a glass of sorrel, the local name for sweetened, often ginger-flavoured, bright-pink hibiscus tea.

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Photo: Kat Tancock

3. Germany

Like nearby England, Germany has a reputation for stodgy food that isn’t really warranted. That said, you might want to plan for some hikes and bike rides to burn off the plentiful and flavourful strudels, pretzels, breads, sausages, noodles, potatoes, cakes and beer, though nowadays, there’s more than just sauerkraut to lighten things up: vegetarian and vegan options are showing up on menus across the country. Locavores will appreciate the country’s dedication to local food; visit during asparagus season and you’ll find special menus at many restaurants dedicated to the much-adored vegetable in both its green and white forms.

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4. Peru

When a country’s children name “chef” as one of their primary “when I grow up” occupations, you know it takes food seriously. Peru’s cuisine begins with the quality of its ingredients: abundant seafood, meats and produce are found here, including many so-called superfoods that the world has only recently taken notice of, such as quinoa, amaranth, lucuma and maca. Combine this with its multicultural population – indigenous peoples plus immigrant Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and more – and you get a thriving local food scene with regional variations that is just waiting to be explored by visitors.

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5. Burma

Also known as Myanmar, this southeast Asian country bordering China, India and Thailand is recently opening up to the world after long political isolation, and food lovers are flocking there to experience the local cuisine, a cousin to Thai or Vietnamese food but distinguished by local ingredients Westerners might identify as Indian or Chinese. “[Burma is] a touchstone place as it connects India with China,” said Naomi Duguid, author of cookbook Burma: Rivers of Flavor, in an interview with the Kingston Whig-Standard. “The flavour base is different than Thai or Vietnamese. You’ll get the same hot, sour, salty, sweet taste but the dishes are simple and the flavour quite distinctly its own.”

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6. Georgia

Also somewhat unknown to Western travellers – it was part of the Soviet Union until its breakup in 1991 – Georgia is a culinary giant as compared to its size, and just as Chinese restaurants are ubiquitous in Canada, you’ll find Georgian food and wine well represented and regarded in Russia. Come to this country bordering the Black Sea to sample a cuisine with millennia of tradition that celebrates its local ingredients – think walnuts, eggplant, kidney beans, pomegranate, hot peppers and plenty of cheese and meat – in dishes such as khachapuri, a cheese bread often baked with an egg on top; badrijani nigvzit, eggplant seasoned with walnuts, pomegranate seeds and other flavourings; and khinkali, a kind of meat dumpling eaten by hand that’s the country’s national dish.

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Photo: Kat Tancock

7. Switzerland

We know Switzerland mostly for its chocolate and cheese, each of which is enough reason to visit. On the sweet side, you can take the chocolate train, tour the Lindt factory, even get a chocolate spa treatment; besides the classic fondue, dairy lovers will want to head to the northeastern Appenzeller region to try the spicy local cheese made from grass-fed raw milk. Other popular local dishes include birchermuesli, the tasty and healthy breakfast dish found everywhere on breakfast buffets; and Züri-Geschnetzeltes, a Zürich-style minced meat dish served with gravy and often alongside rösti, the hearty Swiss potato pancakes. Also sample the plentiful cakes and tortes topped with seasonal fruits such as rhubarb, red currants, raspberries and plums.

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8. New Zealand

This land down under is globally renowned for its wine, but many are unaware that there’s a cuisine [] to match. Not only will you find high-quality, locally produced lamb and seafood – New Zealand is known for its mussels, oysters, whitebait and fish – but abundant local fruits as well, from the oft-exported kiwifruit, apples and citrus to less-known fruits passionfruit, tamarillo and feijoa, found atop pavlovas, flavouring yogurt or in desserts and baked goods. On the savoury side, watch for kumara, the local tuber that’s the local answer to sweet potatoes, and balance out meals at some of New Zealand’s higher-end restaurants with fish and chips served in newspaper as you make your way around the country.

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9. Sri Lanka

This island of tea and elephants sits off the southern tip of India and is home to a diversity of cultures, flora and fauna that belies its small size. Similar to southern India in terms of the ubiquity of rice and spicy curries, Sri Lankan cuisine is nonetheless that of an island, with plenty of foods featuring coconut and fish. Dishes to watch for include milk rice, or rice cooked in coconut milk; fried sweets made with ingredients such as coconut and rice flours, sesame seeds, cashews and local sweetener jaggery; and mallum, a salad made from shredded local greens, onion, chili, fish and coconut.

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10. Ireland

“We go to Ireland for the scenery and the people, but we don’t think to go for the food,” says Reader’s Digest food editor Valerie Howes, who recently travelled to the emerald isle. “But we should,” she adds, noting that Ireland, like many countries, has seen a food renaissance of late, an inevitable and welcome product of the blending together of quality local produce, classic national dishes and a generation of chefs with skills acquired around the world. Ireland’s food and drink specialties include meat and seafood, cheese and bread, potatoes and butter, prepped with modern techniques and foraged ingredients such as sea vegetables, wild garlic, mushrooms, herbs and elderflowers.