Young Thais are drawn by the big city lifestyle
Eating can be the best part of travelling. To get you inspired, here are some of the world’s most mouth-watering iconic national dishes.
Tapas in Barcelona, Spain
Patatas bravas (potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce), calamares fritos (fried squid), boquerones (anchovies), croquetas de jamón (ham croquettes), chorizo (pork sausage), pimientos asados (roasted peppers), albóndigas (meatballs) and berenjenas gratinadas (cheese-baked aubergine) are just some mouth-watering examples of the Spanish snacks known as tapas. The vivacious Catalonian capital of Barcelona excels in the creation of tapas, particularly along La Rambla late in the evening when residents and tourists alike slowly graze their way south from Plaça de Catalunya. Leave the cutlery on the table and claim the tapas with a toothpick or your fingers.
Doner kebab in Istanbul, Turkey
The traditional doner kebab consists of a plate of grilled mutton on a bed of buttered rice, and many of Turkey's restaurants still serve it this way. Far more prominent nowadays, though, is its fast-food cousin, which takes the form of a pita-bread sandwich containing marinated meat that has been sliced from a rotating spit and bundled together with salad and a yoghurt-based sauce. It is de rigueur in Istanbul to equip yourself with a weighty doner and then wander around Sultanahmet or along the Bosphorus while casually wiping sauce and stray strands of lettuce from your chin.
Pasta in Naples, Italy
Food historians still debate whether Marco Polo introduced pasta to Italy by importing it from China in the 13th Century, or whether the Etruscans had already embraced it long beforehand. But it is generally agreed that by the 18th Century, Naples had turned the mixing of flour and water into a bona fide industry and was the world's pasta capital. As an encore, Naples also arranged a blind date between pasta and squashed tomatoes, and romance blossomed. So the next time you are wandering the crumbling streets of Naples' historic centre, make a beeline for the nearest trattoria and tuck into some authentic pasta napolitana.
Steamed dumplings in Shanghai, China
Shanghai dumplings have to be tasted to be believed. The Chinese call them xiǎolóngbaō, and they are one of the items most fought over during dim-sum feasts. These delicious morsels seem like ordinary dough balls until you discover that they are filled with a hot broth flavoured with ground pork, crab meat or vegetables. This little surprise is achieved by filling the dumplings with a hardened gelatin that liquefies when the bun is steamed. To avoid scalding your gums with hot soup, do not crunch the dumpling between your teeth but instead nibble it until the liquid seeps out.
Feijoada in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Taste buds stage their own Carnaval in honour of Brazil's national lunch, feijoada, a dark and spicy stew built upon a foundation of black beans and pork. Be aware that the feijoada prepared for mass consumption in Rio's restaurants usually just contains pared-down pieces of pig flesh, but it may also contain less familiar porcine treats such as ears, tongues and those cute curly tails. Also note that this hearty recipe is a challenge for any stomach to digest, so plan on hitting a couch rather than the waters off Ipanema after eating it.
Gumbo in New Orleans, US
Scooping out a steaming pot of gumbo is as central to life in New Orleans as listening to jazz, zydeco or swamp blues, or chomping on those sugary pastries called beignets. This Louisiana favourite is essentially a hearty broth of seafood or smoked meats, thickened with okra or a flour-and-fat mixture called roux, which is then splashed over a mountain of rice. But New Orleans serves up countless variations of the basic gumbo recipe, from classic Creole style to pungent Cajun. The Big Easy has not had it so easy in recent times, but at least it is home to one of the world's great comfort foods.