12.05.11

Eight Great Food Experiences in Kauai, Marrakech, Tuscany, More

From cooking classes in Marrakech's venerable La Maison Arabe to a locals-approved food truck in Kauai serving traditional Hawaiian laulau pork, The Daily Beast reveals can't-miss travel destinations for food lovers.

So you like to travel and you like to eat. You couldn’t be living at a better time. Go to Hawaii these days and you won’t know whether to spend the time snorkeling, surfing, or hitting the local food truck. Some cities, such as New Orleans, have always been about food (but even there the game is always changing). Nowadays you could spend a week in just one Brooklyn neighborhood and never eat in the same place twice—not that you wouldn’t want to. And if you’re tired of passively sitting there waiting for someone to feed you in Tuscany or Marrakech, there are schools and workshops that teach you how to cook for yourself. Can a nation’s cuisine reveal the country's soul? If you don’t do the research, you’ll never know. So get going. Here are eight gastronomic hotspots to explore.

Kauai

This Hawaiian island works well for food fans equally up for five-course meals or food-truck fare. For a well-worth-it splurge, order the tasting menu with wine pairings at celeb chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Kauai Grill at the St. Regis Princeville, featuring dishes with local twists like soy-glazed short ribs with a green papaya-jalapeño puree. After a morning of surfing in Hanalei Bay, head to Hanalei Taro & Juice Co., a food truck where locals go for a lunch of laulau, a traditional Hawaiian dish of pork wrapped in a taro leaf. For fish, visit Peter Merriman’s eponymous restaurant in Poipu (start with the “Pupu Taster” for fresh ahi and crab cakes and an order of the Keahole lobster mac and cheese). Be sure to reserve one afternoon for a bike ride along the coast in Kapaa—pull up to the window of Mermaid’s Café for the tropical ahi tacos, then stop by the Coconut Cup Juice Bar for ice-cold milk straight from the coconut.

Miami

Visitors to the city will find myriad restaurants from some of the country’s top chefs (Daniel Boulud, Philippe Ruiz, Michelle Bernstein and Pascal Oudin, to name a few). Among the newest additions is 1500 Degrees from Paula DaSilva, featuring farm-to-table Floridian fare like Wahoo ceviche and grass-fed wagyu ribeye. Another noteworthy newcomer is Andrew Carmellini’s The Dutch at the W Hotel, offering Southern-inspired specialties like fried-oyster sandwiches with creamy pickled okra sauce. And, of course, a culinary visit to Miami isn’t complete without Cuban food. Try the steak sandwich at the hole-in-the-wall eatery Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop or, in Little Havana, stop by stalwarts like the family-owned Islas Canarias for fried kingfish or local favorite Versailles for roast pork and mariquitas con mojo (plantain chips with garlic sauce). Turistas who want to sample several spots should spring for the $59 Little Havana Food & Walking tour along Calle Ocho.

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Marrakech

With restaurants housed in ancient riads, artful piles of dates, almonds, and spices displayed on copper dishes in the souk’s stalls, and charming Casablanca-esque cafés purveying sweet mint tea, Marrakech offers a feast for the eyes and the stomach. Visitors can learn their way around a tagine thanks to an increasing number of cooking classes offered around the city; one of the most popular is held at the restaurant at La Maison Arabe, where the chef leads a half-day workshop in traditional cuisine. Hotels like La Mamounia also offer classes with their executive chefs as well as culinary-focused tours of the Medina. If you’d rather have someone else do the cooking, book a table at the dramatic Dar Yacout (think soaring ceilings, mosaic floors, and glowing lanterns). Also not to be missed is a visit to Jemaa El Fna, the main square filled with food stalls purveying spicy brochettes, harira (a lentil soup with beef or lamb), and, for the more adventurous, boiled sheep heads.

Williamsburg, Brooklyn

This ever-evolving Brooklyn neighborhood is already home to some of New York City’s top restaurants—stalwart steakhouse Peter Luger and barbecue joint Fette Sau both nabbed the top spots in their categories in the 2012 Zagat Guide. This year also saw a surge of new culinary endeavors from Manhattanites crossing the East River, like gastropub Allswell from Nate Smith (The Spotted Pig) and rustic eatery Isa from Taavo Somer (Freeman’s, Peels) and chef Ignacio Mattos (Il Buco). Also new this year is Smorgasburg, the Brooklyn Flea’s all-food market where noshing options range from gourmet grilled cheese to artisanal s’mores. And out-of-towners now have the chance to stay closer to this food scene thanks to the recent opening of Hotel Williamsburg, the neighborhood’s first and only luxury hotel, which plans to pack a culinary punch of its own with Pillar & Plough from Andrés Grundy, a former chef de cuisine at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon.

New Orleans

From gumbo to remoulade, muffuletta to jambalaya, gourmands could spend a week here and still not sample all the Cajun/Creole dishes this Louisiana city is famous for. There’s the classic crawfish etouffée at K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, fried shrimp po’boys at Uptown spots Domilise’s or Guy’s, and the mustard and cornmeal fried catfish with cheese grits and creole sauce—and divine pecan pie for dessert—at Brigtsen’s in Riverbend. Spend one evening dressed up at the venerable French Quarter eatery Galatoire’s, where dishes like poisson meunière amadine are shuttled by tuxedo-clad waiters. For quintessential NOLA food and music, hit the Sunday jazz brunch at Creole classic Commander’s Palace in the Garden District, which includes a spicy Bloody Mary made with local yellow heirloom tomatoes and turtle soup spiked with a splash of sherry. End the trip on a sweet note at the French Market and circa 1862 Café du Monde, legendary for their fried dough and powdered sugar beignets.

Not to be missed in Marrakech is a visit to Jemaa El Fna, the main square filled with food stalls purveying spicy brochettes, harira (a lentil soup with beef or lamb), and, for the more adventurous, boiled sheep heads.

Tuscany

From the upscale restaurants of Florence to countryside markets, this region of Italy has long been a food lover’s paradise, and, thanks to a growing number of culinary schools, an ideal spot for cooking fans to vacation. Florence’s Cucina con Vista, run by former restaurant manager Elena Mattei, offers small, one- to four-day cooking classes in a picturesque villa, as well as food-focused activities like a visit to the St. Ambrogio Market in Florence or a wine tour through the countryside. Writer and chef Faith Willinger hosts lessons like the steak-focused Bistecca 101, a gelato crawl across Florence, and Lessons in Lunch, an eight-course meal including tastings, tips, and cooking demos. Cooking Vacations offers packages like a 6 Day Tuscan Cookout at the 17th-century Villa Ortaglia, ideal for travelers who want to cook, stay, and tour around in the countryside without the fuss of driving. Carb lovers should investigate Villa San Michele’s Symphony of Pasta, with three chefs from around the country, each instructing students on the art of making dough into delicious dishes.

Kyoto/Osaka/Kobe

Boasting more three-star Michelin restaurants than Paris or New York, the Kansai region of Japan should be on every foodie’s bucket list. In Kyoto, birthplace of the country’s traditional multi-course meal kaiseki, seasonal specialist Kikunoi’s artfully plated menu might include courses of Scorpion fish, steamed turnips, and sea eel with rice." The city is also home to the centuries-old Nishiki Market, packed with food stalls selling everything from fugu (pufferfish) to wagashi (the traditional Japanese confection). In Osaka, top restaurants include the four-generation-old Fujiya 1935 and owner-chef Hajime Yoneda’s relative newcomer Hajime, which opened in 2008. Other Osaka specialties include takoyaki (grilled octopus balls) and okonomiyaki (savory pancake), easily found at food stalls and cafés throughout the city.

Buenos Aires

Argentina’s capital city is rich in eating opportunities, particularly for meat lovers, as steak stars on many menus across town. For some of the city’s best beef, visit Cabaña Las Lilas in Puerto Madero, which offers over a dozen cuts and mollejas de Corazon (sweetbreads), as well as an excellent selection of Argentine wines. Oenophiles should also plan to stop by Duhau Restaurant and Vinoteca to sample the long list of local Malbecs. The city is famous for tango, so take in a show while you dine at Esquina Carlos Gardel in Abasto. Empanadas (fried pastries stuffed with savory fillings like meat and cheese) are the city’s must-try snack, with some of the best served at El Sanjuanino in Recoleta. Be sure to save room for a scoop of dulce de leche at one of the many heladerias, or a flaky, sugary churro dipped in melted chocolate, available at most cafés.