Leave it to Andrew Zimmern—the Travel Channel’s peripatetic Bizarre Foods TV host—to create the ultimate foodie traveler’s global bucket list. We love that no place is too fancy (a caviar bar in St. Petersburg, Russia), too humble (noodle soup at a wholesale market in Bangkok), or too far-flung (tuna and lamb ribs in Samoa) to make the cut. We caught up with Zimmern at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen last weekend to get the inside scoop on his picks. Check out the full list on Pinterest here.
How did you choose your 31 meals?
The word “meal” to me seems limiting: how do you decide on 30 meals in the world when there are hundreds of thousands of places to choose from? I love leading people to travel experiences where they can carve out their own food destiny for themselves. That’s why the majority of my choices ended up being markets. I’m more about people seeking out unique adventures and letting them decide for themselves what they like about it.
Markets can be overwhelming though. How can travelers navigate their way to the best eating experiences?
You should either ask locals for their recommendations, or just look for the longest line. There are hundreds of vendors at any given market, but there’s one guy who’s got the biggest line early in the morning. Guess what? That’s where you should be eating.
Asia’s famous Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo isn’t on your list, but Noryangjin Fish Market in Seoul is. Why?
The reason, very simply, is that at Noryangjin is not as touristed or fetishized as Tsukiji, and more importantly, there’s an entire restaurant culture that’s sprung up around the market where anyone can buy a fish or shellfish and take it to the restaurant and have it cooked. That doesn't really exist at Tsukiji market. To me, the essence of travel is about discovery, so I’d rather have someone go to Noryingjan seafood market and become a part of the action and ask around: where’s the restaurant where I can take this amazing yellow snapper to? It's the type of experience that you can go and participate in.
How does a Michelin-starred meal such as Mugaritz in San Sebastián, Spain, stand up next to a humble seafood shack like Badjao Seafood House in Palawan, in the Philippines?
You can’t say that a meal at Mugaritz is any better than a meal at Badjao Seafood House. The fish and shellfish at Badjao rivals what’s at Mugaritz. It’s as well tended, and it’s as beautifully created. You’re talking about a culinary experience in a magical restaurant versus a transporting little place where you walk out on a dock and sit in this little bamboo hut perched out over the water. “Best” and “most interesting” are relative terms.
We noticed that you included Kau Kee restaurant in Hong Kong—a favorite among T+L staff. What made it worthy of your top 31?
I like to go to Kau Kee and sit there for about an hour and a half, and every half hour I’ll have a bowl of brisket and noodles. It’s the essential Hong Kong experience: you’re in an old restaurant that only does one thing, and it costs anywhere between $1.50 and $3 per bowl. The reason I sit there for an hour and a half is not because I want time to have six bowls of soup. It's so I can watch all of Hong Kong go by—neighbors, families, shop owners—right from those tables. These are the types of experiences that make travel so unique.
Jennifer Flowers is the Hotels & Food Editor at Travel + Leisure. Find her on Twitter at @JennFlowers.