Do you travel mostly to taste food in different destinations? Is food the highlight of your holiday? Janne Apelgren and Joanna Savill have written Around the World in 80 Dinners for people like you. The book lists both the most exclusive restaurants and good places for cheap food and a coffee.
I caught up with Janne, who told me that food tourism is increasingly becoming a global phenomenon because people love to build eating experiences into their holidays. “Places like San Sebastian in Spain have become a tourist destination on the back of that,” she said. “People are now planning a year ahead because they want to eat like a local not like a tourist when they get to cities.”
I asked whether that really heightened expectations, especially if you’ve got to book a year in advance and you’re pegging everything on a trip to a well-known restaurant? “I think that restaurants are increasingly catering to those expectations,” said Jane. “It’s like Disneyland for grown-ups really. The anticipation builds. You see the place. You’re welcomed. You’re cosseted. You’re fed well. It’s three, four or even five hours of being spoiled rotten.”
Janne’s book highlights restaurants that offer you a sense of the place you’re visiting. “If you shut your eyes and you could be anywhere, it’s a restaurant you might as well skip. It’s about the location, the character of the place and where they source their food from.”
I asked Janne how she chooses the restaurants to include in her book, particularly as some major cities have so many places on offer? “Every city has incredible restaurants but also lots of bad ones too. Rome is a good example. People eat really poorly there and come away disappointed, so we try to guide them to what that city does well.”
“New York is another classic example,” she added. “There’s always a couple of restaurants that are really pushing the envelope. Momofuku Ko in New York was one that I visited. It had been on my bucket list for years and it was so difficult to get into that the New York Times reported that hackers actually wrote software to override the booking system. I always say it’s like a Bruce Springsteen concert. It just delivers on so many levels – both the entertainment and satisfaction are beyond what you can imagine.”
The book doesn’t just list high-end restaurants though. Janne said that people often ask for her recommendations on where to splurge, but also where to have breakfast or go for a coffee. “We’ve put those recommendations in the book. We’ve put the little places that you might not want to miss. One of my favourite things in London is to go to Borough Market and have the toasted cheese sandwich at Kappacasein, which is an exemplar of its craft. It is only £5 but it’s still a fabulous experience. Again, in LA, chasing down a food truck and queuing and with a whole bunch of film industry people to buy tacos for $2.50 is one of the very quintessential Los Angeles experiences. It is not always the top end.”
So are there any tried and tested ways to spot and avoid bad restaurants? “I’m always a bit wary when there is a menu out the front in about six different languages,” cautioned Janne. Another tip from Janne is to avoid the big, world cities. “This is the first time in recent history when everyone is travelling, so cities like Paris and Rome are probably more crowded than they have ever been. We found that ‘second string’ cities are rewarding places to go. Toulouse or Bordeaux may have a lot of the same charms as Paris and they’re worth seeking out.”
Australia’s second city of Melbourne is known for being a foodie destination but Janne says there are lots of other good places to eat down under too. “Adelaide also has some terrific restaurants and is a jumping off point for the Barossa. There are more than fifteen wine regions within easy reach and the outback is closer to Adelaide than anywhere else. Brisbane has a really lively restaurant scene as well.”Janne thinks that South America is a rising star on the world food stage. “Lima is one of the culinary hotspots featured in our book. There are some fabulous restaurants there and they have a real sense of place. They are sourcing ingredients that have been farmed or grown or cooked for thousands of years.”
I asked Janne why there is such a buzz about Peru? “When I visited 25 years ago there were armed guards on the corner of buildings and it was it was a very intimidating, polluted and scary place to visit. But you went there because it has some of the world’s greatest sites for travellers. Now there is an upwardly mobile middle class in the country. Food has always been important to the Peruvians and I think their chefs are travelling to other places and spreading the word about what they’ve got, which is an incredible food history. They gave the world chillies, tomatoes, avocados and potatoes. I think the fine dining scene there is pretty special at the moment.”
I asked if the food there is spicy? “Actually no,” responded Janne. “There’s a big influence on the culture from Japan. So the food can be quite subtle, with dishes like ceviche, which is marinated raw fish.”
“If you want to go to Lima and sample great food, then it’s going to be comparatively cheaper as a destination. South America is on the rise so I guess we can expect prices to go up too, but generally speaking people coming from the UK will find that it’s a less-expensive destination,” says Janne.
Hopefully the book will ensure that travelling foodies won’t have any more bad meal memories. Around the World in 80 Dinners is published by Penguin and available on Amazon.