Food & Wine magazine recently featured a series of articles on culinary destinations, or "...the world's best food pilgrimages," as they put it.
While it was indeed interesting, I must say that places like Bangkok, Rome and India are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to food travels.
The series does feature some domestic flavor -- Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the Finger Lakes make cameos -- but I think they missed a spot or two.
When I plan a trip, it starts and ends with what I'm going to eat, when I'm eating it and how far I have to walk afterward while bearing a second-trimester food baby. Here are five spots Food & Wine missed:
For me, any travel list starts with Tokyo.
You can go there for the sushi. You can go there for the Tsukiji fish market.
Get the former just about anywhere, and show up to the latter at about 4 a.m., when the top sushi chefs show up to start haggling.
Slip into any vendor's stand and sample the freshest catch. Or enjoy a bowl of ramen with the recently disembarked night fishermen.
There is so much more than just sushi. Japanese culture is fascinating, and the city's nightlife is brilliant with mind-bending neon light. It's a city of more than 12 million people. You can get pretty much whatever you want here, including all kinds of international cuisine and even Big Macs and Whoppers.
You can also get drunk from a vending machine.
In Japan, they curb underage drinking with stiff penalties and inventive technology. Vending machines in Japan offer everything from sodas to snacks to lunch, dinner and even cigarettes and beer. Vending machines that sell age-restricted items employ facial-recognition technology.
To buy a pack of smokes or a can of Sapporo, you have to place your face in front of the camera. A program can recognize and determine age from facial bone structure.
I'm sorry, Dave, but I can't let you buy this beer.
I don't really think a decent argument can be made that Chicago is not one of the best cities to eat to your heart's delight.
Deep dish really will win your heart. It often just means a thicker, more bread-y crust, but in truth, what you get at places like Giordano's and Lou Malnati's is a deep dish pan lined with a relatively thin crust and then filled with stupidly good toppings.
Stephanie Izard, former Top Chef winner, has Girl and the Goat, an outpost for the young and hip, featuring inventive, truly remarkable food. My meal there ranks as one of my top three.
Whatever you do in Chicago, do not put ketchup on your hot dog. When I was there, my girlfriend and I took a walking food tour. Our tour guide had about as much charm as Hayden Christensen in Episodes 4-6, and though we suffered from bleeding-from-the-eyes boredom, we did get to sample some good pie and an authentic Chicago Style Hot Dog.
We were eating in an empty bar, and when I thought no one was looking, I sneaked a squirt of ketchup onto my dog. Just as I dug in, the bartender strolled by. He'd seen the whole thing. I thought I had scored some cred by ordering a 312 Urban Wheat Ale, a local beer that, if you can find it, shouldn't be passed on.
"You're not supposed to do that," he said with a voice dripping disdain.
3. Oktoberfest -- Munich, New Braunfels and more
Oktoberfest has to be on any list. Beer, beer, more beer, then the best wursts you can snap your teeth into. This is all followed by dancing to polka and sharing a gigantic picnic table with complete strangers and getting hammered drunk. Who wouldn't want to do that?
For those of us who can't foot the bill for the full German experience, there's a closer option. Every year in early November, the 11-day Salute to Sausage known as Wurstfest in New Braunfels, Texas, takes place.
If you want to pay $17 for pitchers and groove to The Jimmy Sturr Orchestra, 18-time Grammy Award-winning polka act extraordinaire, then Wurstfest is for you. You can also get a deep-fried pork chop on a stick. It will make you forget what "kosher" is.
Some close friends of mine combined their honeymoon with a trip to Oktoberfest. Traveling with your significant other can be the best -- or worst -- of times, but it serves as an excellent litmus strip for whether or not the relationship will work out.
2. Big Texan Steak Ranch, Amarillo, Texas
Many travel bucket lists include Napa Valley, but frankly, sitting around wining and cheesing in tranquil, beautiful vineyards just sounds boring. I would much rather go to the Big Texan Steakhouse in Amarillo. This is a place that offers a 72-ounce steak challenge.
It's such a charming slice of Texas culture, firmly confirming to all who visit the truth that everything really is bigger here. It also helps that the Big Texan makes a mean steak -- yes, they serve regular, human-size portions as well. It's really worth the trip. Kitsch abounds in gift shops and tourist memorabilia, but the steak is no joke.
1. Paris, France
From the Big Texan, I would want to immediately hop onto an airplane and go to Paris. What could be better than going from over-the-top Texan pride to the birthplace of modern cuisine? From boots and spurs to béchamel and sous vide.
Food is as important to the French as guns are to Texans. The English language became irrevocably stamped with French influence after the Norman invasion of 1066, and it is apparent still in our vocabulary. Pretty much every cooking term -- including the word "cuisine" itself -- has French origins, just like sauté, entrée, crouton and frappe. We also owe the French for their wonderful gift of the crepe.
I think I'd go for the bread and champagne, alone, however.
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