Born in Nigeria to Irish parents, Brian Johnston was destined to become a travel writer: he has lived in Switzerland, the UK and China, and now calls Sydney home.
As a connoisseur of good global food, we decided to catch up with Brian to find out more about his favourite food destinations:
Food is one of travel’s great pleasures, not just for its flavors but for the way it reveals a destination’s cultural influences and social habits. Here are three of my favourite cities that are sure to get your tastebuds tingling.
Apart from Osaka Castle, this Japanese city isn’t about conventional sightseeing, but rather about enjoying the tremendous urban vibe and a mindboggling array of shops, nightlife and neon-lit neighborhoods. It also has a terrific food scene, Japan’s best.
At the top end, Osaka’s critically acclaimed restaurants are the place to try kaiseki, Japan’s equivalent of haute cuisine, featuring multiple courses of elaborately arranged, utterly beautiful food, often served by kimono-clad hostesses in traditional tatami rooms.
For less formal meals, sit at the counter in the ubiquitous kappo restaurants and watch chefs at work, or head to the pub-like yakatori joints that serve charcoal-grilled chicken, usually accompanied by sake or beer, the after-work destination of choice for locals. Noodle bars are also everywhere.
Lastly, Osaka’s street snacks include stuffed omelette-like pancakes (okonomiyaki) and fried octopus balls (takoyaki). Don’t miss the food halls of department stores either, a marvel of bento boxes, sushi, dumplings and elegant pastries.
Related journey: Majestic Japan
A visit to Ho Chi Minh City gets you buzzing. The French colonial town with its ‘tropical baroque’ architecture is emerging as a fastpaced city in the throes of economic change. Even better, it’s one of the world’s best cities for street food, and you don’t have to wrestle with a foreign-language menu: just point, tuck in and soak up the neighborhood atmosphere too.
You’ll find many street stalls around Ben Thanh Market in Dong Khoi. Vietnamese dishes to try include chicken-and-mushroom soup; crispy pancakes; seasoned beef with peanut sauce wrapped in mint leaves; and rice dishes with chicken and shrimp. Sandwiches combine baguettes from the French colonial era with Vietnamese sausage, salted pork or pickled vegetables.
Nothing beats the Vietnamese obsession with national dish pho, however. The soup contains rice noodles in beef stock and is garnished to taste with meat, fresh chilli and herbs. It’s utterly delicious, and the perfect stomach filler.
Sri Lanka’s capital packs in colonial heritage, waterfront walks, museums and fascinating temples along with the clamour of business life and lively cafés, but its cuisine will linger most in the mind.
Spices and coconut are dominant flavors in Sri Lankan cooking, which features influences from centuries of trade with India, China and the Middle East, and from its Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial era.
You’ll enjoy a glorious range of often fiery curries, accompanied by lime pickle and caramelized onion relish. Fish and crab curries are Colombo specialties. Restaurants along Mount Lavinia beach in the southern suburbs have great Sri Lankan seafood.
End the day at seaside promenade Galle Face Green, favored for sunset strolls, peoplewatching and street snacking. Stalls sell typical treats such as finger-licking roti, spiced chickpeas and shrimp fritters. Leave room for Sri Lankan desserts based on coconut, tropical fruit, honey and treacle, accompanied by a cup of Ceylon tea.
Related journey: Classical Sri Lanka