PH has ‘most underrated’ food destination | Inquirer

PH has ‘most underrated’ food destination

/ 09:58 AM November 26, 2020

There are plenty of incredible foodie destinations that just don’t get the exposure they truly deserve. This might not be the best time to travel, but it’s certainly the best time to be thinking about your next foodie travel adventure.

So at Chef’s Pencil we’ve asked 250 chefs and foodies to tell us which place they thought was the most underrated foodie destination. They could name countries, cities, or regions – no restrictions whatsoever.

We’ve put together a list of the most underrated foodie destinations based on their responses – the ones just off the beaten foodie traveler track – where you’ll find exquisite food, delicacies to savor or avoid, depending on just how gastronomically adventurous you are, and mouthwatering delights.

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Some of the places might already be well-known and appreciated for their gastronomic excellence, but people felt they still lack the international recognition they truly deserve.

If you like to think beyond the obvious, want a foodie adventure and perhaps discover the next foodie fad, here’s a list of the most underrated foodie destinations there are (city rankings are available here).

  1. Philippines

This east Asian country rarely gets a mention in the top foodie destination lists. And that’s an awful shame as its cuisine is a unique fusion.


Originally similar to Malaysian and Indonesian cuisines, trade and migration created a rich mix of cuisines. Trade brought Indian influences – rice-based dishes such as puto bumbong for example, and the very popular kare-kare and atchara pickle. China contributed pancit noodles, soy sauce, tofu, and those so delicious spring rolls, not to mention pork, which is a big part of Filipino cooking.

As well came influences from the West. Spain ruled the country for centuries so no surprise that the sofrizo is heavily used here, and the national adobo dish that was heavily influences by the Spanish adobo.

After the Spanish came the Americans, bringing hot dogs, hamburgers, ice cream, and convenience foods. But don’t let that put you off! This is an east-meets-west cuisine that truly deserves a visit.


And for the daredevils among you, it’s where you can try probably the most challenging of delicacies, balut. It’s a boiled fertilized egg that crunches as you bite in.

  1. Vietnam

Over the last few years more and more people have chosen to visit Vietnam. Why? For the pristine beaches, mountainous highlands, its laid back-ness, and the historic sites that mark the spirit of the Vietnamese in fighting off their US invaders.

But its food? Pho! you’ll say. But there’s so much more.

This is a simple, healthy cuisine that uses fresh ingredients, little fats and sugars and is almost always gluten-free, using rice noodles rather than wheat.

It’s also a cuisine steeped in the philosophy of the region. Meals balance the five elements – spicy, sour, bitter, salty, sweet; five nutrients – powder, liquid, minerals, protein, fats; and five colors – white (metal), green (wood), yellow (earth), red (fire) and black (water).

Try banh xeo, a crispy pork-filled crepe, or nem ran, bite-sized crunchy spring rolls dipped in a tangy sauce, and Banh khot, a pancake made with coconut milk and filled with shrimp, mung beans, and spring onions, and Bun bo nam bo, noodles, slices of beef, crunchy peanuts, and bean sprouts flavored with herbs, shallots, and a splash of fish sauce and fiery chili pepper.

There is just so much deliciousness going on here, the country really needs a food-focused visit.

  1. Mexico

Mexican food underrated? So it seems. Though Mexico does feature on some top foodie destination lists, our chefs and foodies clearly think it should come much higher up.

Originating with the Maya, who domesticated maize, and the Aztecs, it is, of course, heavily influenced by Spanish cuisine, much as in the Philipines. But here is another ingredient that makes it unique. Mexican food is spiced with African influences as a result of the slave trade.

Though Mexico does feature on some top foodie destination lists, our chefs and foodies clearly think it should come much higher up

But perhaps it’s the Tex-Mex label that has most shaped our perception of Mexican food. Developed in the border regions with the US, this is heavily based on shredded cheese, meat, beans, peppers, spices, and flour tortillas. Burritos, chili con carne, chimichangas, hard shell tacos and enchiladas, queso dip, nachos, and fajitas are all Tex-Mex.

There’s a movement today to reclaim the authentic Mexican dishes of the Maya, Aztec, and Spanish. These use fresh and healthy ingredients, traditional spices such as coriander and epazote, maize-based tortillas, soft tacos, white cheese, cooked corn grains, and frijoles prepared from scratch rather than Americanized refried beans.

So if all you know is Tex-Mex, perhaps it’s time for a trip to discover the true Mexican cuisine while savoring ancient monuments, amazing landscapes, incredible architecture, and the walking dead.

  1. Croatia

Croatia has become a really popular place to holiday over the last few years. And who can blame all those holiday makers for reaching for pristine Adriatic waters, spectacular beaches, sublime Mediterranean climate, atmospheric Roman ruins, incredible national parks and soaring mountains… Haven’t I mentioned the food yet?

And maybe that’s why it’s an underrated foodie destination – the country has so much going for it, the food has to fight for attention.

Though it’s hard to pinpoint Croatian cuisine as it varies so much from region to region. Dalmatian food is typically Mediterranean with lots of fish, veggies, and olive oil. Istrian cuisine is similar although they have their own special approach to beans and pasta here. In Zagreb there’s more of a European vibe with meat and a special attachment to cabbage, while in Slavonia its pork and more pork and lots of paprika.

Just as a taster though, there’s sheep’s cheese and cured ham, black risotto, octopus salad, brudet – a slow cooked fish casserole, whole fried shrimps in oil, garlic, and wine, sarma – mince and rice stuffed cabbage leaves, and whole roast lamb on a spit.

If that’s left you wanting more, you know where to go.

  1. Thailand

Yes, the Thai government engineered a massive expansion of Thai restaurants in the US – and thank you very much!

Sure, we already knew about and loved Thai food, but that official push of this wonderful cuisine brought the tastes of Southeast Asia to millions more.

But what better than to leave the Reclining Buddha, make your way along bustling streets, shade yourself under banyan trees, and find a restaurant where you can savor the delights of this delectable cuisine.

Much better to savor the famous colorful Thai curries when immersed in the climate and culture of the country than walking into a Thai restaurant on 9th Avenue straight from the office.

  1. Peru

The four staples of Peruvian cuisine are corn, potatoes, quinoa, and beans. Not much to write home about you might think. But that’s over 60 different types of corn and 3,000 varieties of potato native to the country, and it’s that abundance of produce that makes this cuisine so distinctive – and of course the mild, fruity aji amarillo peppers often served as a sauce on the side.

The Spanish added rice, wheat, beef, chicken, and pork to the mix, which together with Chinese and Japanese influences makes this a fusion of tastes and styles worth traveling for.

So respected is it that Peru has won the World Travel Awards’ Leading Culinary Destination in South America not once but seven times, only losing out to Argentina in 2017.

This is a regional cuisine, reflecting the geographic diversity, although these days the most popular dishes can be found pretty much all over the country.

One of Peru’s many national dishes is the Spanish inspired ceviche – raw fish marinated in lime juice (which ‘cooks’ the fish), chili, and spices, served with something sweet like sweet potato or corn to counteract the sharpness. It’s an unexpected taste explosion.

Another top favorite is chifa, a fusion of Peruvian and Chinese, that today is best experienced in the dish lomo saltado – a beef stir-fry with tomatoes, red onions, and amarillo chilies creating a mouthwatering sauce.

Delicious empanadas, the curious cuy, stuffed very very hot peppers, and a very special drink you might want to check out, the pisco sour, all make Peru a foodie destination worth a visit.

  1. Australia

Look at any list of top Australian foods and you’ll invariably find Anzac biscuits, Vegemite, Lemingtons cake, and witchetty grubs. No wonder the country finds itself an underrated foodie destination.

The truth is that Australia has one of the top culinary scenes in the world. It certainly did have a reputation for dreary and unadventurous, but that has long passed.

The truth is that Australia has one of the top culinary scenes in the world.

Modern Australian cuisine, or Mod Oz, or the today preferred contemporary Australian cuisine defines the fusion of immigrant influences that make up the country’s culinary fayre. A unique blend of Anglo-Celtic, Mediterranean, Asian, and Middle Eastern, Australian food is so much more than the barbeque it is famous for.

Australia is now looking to its long-ignored indigenous ingredients, it is a leading pioneer in plant-based cuisine, and is developing a decidedly Australian food culture, making the country probably one of the most exciting culinary discoveries there is at the moment.

  1. Jamaica

Jamaica does have its fine-dining scene, but the key word for a foodie visit here is casual. Beachside stalls, corner shops, jerk shacks, and fruit stands all lend a laidback, chilled out vibe to dining that so fits the country that gave us reggae, ska, mento, dub, and dancehall.

Jamaica is also becoming well-known for its farm-to-table experiences. Showcasing the diversity of local produce and driving sustainability, you can eat farm-to-table around the island, from rustic to gourmet.

Jamaican cuisine is another rich fusion, including English, French, Portugese, Spanish, Indian, Chinese and Middle Eastern, but with strong African traditions that reflect the island’s history of slavery. It is shaped by the abundant local produce: fresh fish, lobster, and shrimp; exotic fruit – try the callalo, cho cho, guinep, or otaheite apple; and local spices.

The island is most famous for jerk, both a method of cooking and combination of spices. It was developed by the resilient Maroon people, runaway slaves who lived in the mountainous interior. To conceal their location, they prepared meals underground over coals and pimento wood.

Another famous dish, a breakfast favorite, is salt fish and ackee, lightly sautéed with peppers, onions, and spices. Then there’s escovitch fish, a clear Spanish influence of fish marinated in vinegar and spices and eaten with bammy, a cassava flatbread descended from the island’s original inhabitants, the Arawaks.

Curry goat, fried dumplings, rice and peas, patties, green bananas washed down with Red Stripe or the forever-flowing rum, followed by coffee from the famous Blue Mountains – all consumed on a tropical island drenched in vibrant sun and washed by deep blue waters…

  1. Portugal

Portugal was seen as the place of hearty home eating. But then after years of deferring to French and Italian cooking, Portugese chefs began to look to their own country’s larder, its recipes and techniques. And that’s when the food scene in Portugal began to take off, making it serious competition for its Mediterranean cousins.

Food tourists had been flocking to the country up to the beginning of 2020, fast making Portugal one of the world’s top culinary destinations.

Being a coastal nation, key ingredients of Portugese cuisine come from the sea. With Europe’s highest fish consumption per capital, the Portugese know how to cook a fish – grilled, marinated, pickled or braised – and they are said to have 365 ways of cooking bacalhau (cod). Shellfish features highly too, with caldeirada being most popular – a stew of fish and shellfish with potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, parsley, garlic, and onion.

But the national dish is meat based – the cozido. This has variations throughout the country but generally it is a great medley of greens, rice, numerous veggies, and chicken, pork ribs, bacon, pork ear, trotters, parts of beef, and if that wasn’t enough, smoked sausage – chourico, farinheira, morcela, and blood sausage, all spiced with red pepper paste, white pepper, and cinnamon.

If you know nothing else about Portugese food, you will now the nata – the delicious egg custard pastry, which is just one of the tasty sweets to be found here. And the cheeses, oh! and the bread, an important part of any meal and produced in many varieties, and then the wine…

Portugal has everything and let’s hope its newly won foodie status picks up again.

  1. Norway

Long winters, infertile land, rain and more rain, it is little wonder the key word for Norwegian cuisine for many years was bland. So hostile is the environment that even the farmers didn’t want to stick around – in the 19th century a third left for the States.

But that was before the country discovered the gastronomic treasures it already had. And that discovery was reliant on the discovery of oil. Oil led to wealth, wealth led to using indigenous ingredients for cuisine rather than simply food.

Today the vibrant food scene is based mostly on the raw materials readily available on the mountains, wilderness, and the coast. Game, including moose, reindeer, mountain hare, and rock ptarmigan, and fish, most famously smoked salmon, are key ingredients for high cuisine. Conserved foods figures a lot, essential given the long winters. Fish and meat is pickled, salted, smoked, or fermented.

Things to try: Kjøttkaker, minced meat mashed with onions and rusk, simmered in gravy; pinnekjøtt, salted, air-dried sheep that is rehydrated and steamed over birch; raspeballer, a dense ball of mashed potato and flour simmered with fatty meat cuts in stock; bergensk fiskesuppe, a delicate, subtle fish soup.

Norway’s fine dining has also developed rapidly and the country is now the host of 11 Michelin rated restaurants. No small feat for a country of just 5 million.

But the ultimate experience for a foodie has to be getting out into the wild nature of the country and foraging for mushrooms and berries. With more than 1,000 varieties of mushrooms and berries that are small and packed with flavor, Norway is well worth a forage.

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TAGS: Filipino cuisine, Filipino food, food, gastronomy
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