3 Extraordinary Culinary Travel Experiences to Indulge the Senses

A travel destination’s culinary delicacies will linger in your memories, and on your palate, long after you return home. A major thrill of any trip, sampling the local food enables you to dive deeper as you learn about a region’s gastronomic influences and its most cherished ingredients. Watching a cooking demonstration or taking a hands-on class offers a souvenir that keeps on giving, as recipes you cook later at home act as eternal reminders of your journeys. Delve into the depths of gastronomic greatness and form lifelong memories with these three culinary experiences.

1. Sample the Fragrant Cuisine of Morocco

Morocco is famous for its sweet-and-savory food combinations, as well as its lavish use of fragrant spices and herbs. Figs, olives, preserved lemons and apricots also star in many of the country’s dishes. These alluring ingredients can be found on display at the vibrant stalls inside food markets; red, brown, yellow and black spices are piled high in cone-shaped mounds, making for a photo-worthy sight indeed. 

Food enthusiasts are rewarded for interacting with the locals, taking tips on ingredients and learning about regional culinary customs. Gastronomic tips usually lead to Morocco’s famous tagines—rich stews named after the round earthenware vessel (with a conical-shaped lid) in which they are slow-cooked and served. Aromatic spices like cinnamon, cumin, ginger, saffron, turmeric and coriander meld with dried fruits like dates or prunes and succulent chicken or lamb to create a truly unforgettable culinary experience. Meat and vegetable tagines top grains of couscous made from semolina wheat.

There’s also pastilla—a flakey pastry, composed of many layers of phyllo dough and bursting with flavorful chicken or pigeon meat, sprinkled with a mixture of cinnamon, sugar and almonds. Most characterful of all, sipping mint tea from an intricately-decorated glass is a can’t-miss Moroccan experience. Brewed with springs of fresh mint leaves and lots of sugar, the tea is poured from height from a silver teapot and is consumed with each meal.

Tea in Caablanca, Morocco
Traditional tea in Casablanca, Morocco/Lucia Griggi

2. Indulge in the Festive Pintxos of Basque Country

In the Basque Country of northwest Spain, a signature experience entails bar-hopping to sample bite-sized morsels of seafood, meat, vegetables and eggs, heaped on pieces of bread or on skewers. This activity is so integral to the culture that there’s even a special word for it: Grazing with a group of friends and family from bar to bar on pintxos, or Basque tapas, is called txikitear.

These snack-like servings can be traditional, like salty Iberico ham served with poached shrimp and baby squid, or hearty portions of cod in a pil-pil sauce with garlic and olive oil. Modern and globally-accented pintxos enriches the offering: Think apple crisps with duck and peanut sauce or a stack of steak tartare with capers, onions, egg yolk and olive oil. One iconic pintxo is even named after a Hollywood movie star: The Gilda, with green olives, anchovies and pickled green chile peppers, is named after the hot-blooded character Rita Hayworth played in ‘Gilda.’

Bilbao’s seven neighborhoods for pintxo crawls range from Plaza Nueva, an arcaded square with about two dozen pintxo bars in the Old Town, to Ribera Food Market, a huge indoor food market with upstairs pintxo bars. Two Plaza Nueva gems are Gure Toki, whose specialties include grilled foie gras with apple and sherry and a soup of Idiazabal sheep’s milk cheese with mushrooms and a quail egg, and Café Bar Bilbao, a century-old spot known for a dreamy veal crepe with anchovies and mushrooms.

Pintxos in Bilbao, Spain
Pintxos in Bilbao, Spain/Lucia Griggi

3. Explore the Verdant Tea Plantations of Sri Lanka

The word serendipity, coined to mean a fortunate discovery by pure accident, was named for a Persian folktale about three princes from Serendip, which Arab traders dubbed Sri Lanka. That’s exactly what travelers feel when they see the velvety green slopes, blanketed with tea bushes, where mist rolls in on this pear-shaped island off southeast India’s coast. Some of the world’s finest teas come from Sri Lanka, and tea has been the major export of the country once called Ceylon since the 1880s.

Black tea, known for its bold flavor, is the most popular crop in Sri Lanka’s 11 tea-producing regions. Green and white teas also make an appearance. Like wine, the flavor of tea varies widely based on the terroir—the combination of soil, climate and elevation in which it’s grown. Tea industry pioneer James Taylor, a Scot, founded the first tea plantation in 1867 in the then-British colony, and London received its first shipment of Ceylon tea in 1873. But it was visionary merchant Sir Thomas Lipton, also a Scot, who founded Lipton Tea and popularized tea in the United States, after buying his first tea estate in 1890 near Dambatenne. It was Sri Lanka’s dramatic scenery that first enchanted him, and it still attracts visitors to this day.

Tea Plantation, Lipton's Seat, Haputale, Sri Lanka
Tea Plantation, Lipton’s Seat, Haputale, Sri Lanka/Lucia Griggi